Do aubergines have webbed feet? Can a potato sprout antlers? Over the last ten days vegetable fantasies such as these seemed possible, as ravenous Berliners pulled on their Wellington boots, grabbed a shopping bag and trekked off to the Grüne Woche.
Since 1926 this remarkable international exhibition has brought the world’s food, agricultural and horticultural industries to the city. This year over 50 countries created pavilions or stands to promote their produce: Norway marketed its salmon, sensational strawberry jam and ‘gomme’ boiled goat’s milk, France opened oyster and champagne bars, Serbia splashed out glasses of fiery Loza grape brandy, Belgium gave away complimentary chocolates, Australia flogged emu steaks and Britain’s village fair stall displayed Tetley tea bags (I do not jest). Hungary, this year’s ‘partner country’, occupied a whole hall where enthusiastic young Magyars plied passers-by with glasses of Tokaj, sweet ‘palacsinta’ pancakes filled with nuts and chocolate sauce, Kuglóf coffee cake and sausages... sausages... more sausages.
Alongside the foreigners, eight of Germany’s federal states – Brandenburg, Lower Saxony, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Schleswig-Holstein, Saxony-Anhalt, Bavaria, Saxony and Thuringia – also offered their tastiest and more intoxicating produce to voracious visitors, myself included. Over the course of a single day I sampled more varieties of German pig (acorn-fed, Bio-organic, Holstein and Thuringian, without casing, with added veal, ginger and nutmeg) and tasted more varieties of beer than I had in the previous year. According to the Messe Berlin marketing department, as many as 100,000 different culinary titbits are given away over the duration of the fair.
Beyond the Fair Trade and Bio Markt sections were the agriculture and forestry halls where children climbed trees (safety harness provided), prize-winning cattle chewed the cud and rabbits slept off their nocturnal exertions. Audiences watched indoor horse shows and the Berlin-Brandenburg Carriage Racing Championship. Salesmen marketed rape-seed-powered cars, domestic solar panels, combine harvesters, livestock inseminators, worm compost and good hygiene. Over 30,000 flowers bloomed in the flower hall, as did a similar number of hobby gardeners.
Over the years the fair has welcomed 30,000,000 visitors and – on the last Sunday – most of them seemed to turned up once again. At the end of Green Week, in its final hour, most exhibitors sell off their produce at bargain prices. The Australian Food Council does not want to fly its remaining half-ton of kangaroo sausages back to Oz, so they’re flogged for a song. Kilo wedges of Appenzellerat are all but given away by the Swiss delegation. Austrian butchers stand in the aisles offering bulging €10 bags of pork. Bargain-hunting Berliners arrive at the fair with shopping carts and rucksacks, scavenging the 26 exhibition halls for tasty deals. Like many residents, my refrigerator is now full of the most peculiar products: Canadian bison steaks, jars of Japanese wasabi, fermented Korean cabbage and a stinking box of overripe French cheese.
The Grüne Woche is one of Berlin’s busiest, tastiest, most enduring and exhausting events: book your flights now for the 2011 fair – especially if you like sausages.