- The Washington Times - Monday, September 15, 2008

BERLIN — President Bush reputedly once turned down Germany’s ubiquitous currywurst, the curried sausage cherished as a national institution, but now it’s starring as the hero of a new film - and is headed for a museum.

Nicknamed “the poor man’s steak,” currywurst is gobbled up at the rate of 800 million every year in Germany - that’s 10 per person. Songs have been sung, books written and plays crafted in honor of what may be the nation’s favorite snack.

The museum devoted to currywurst is due to open in Berlin next year in tribute to what organizers call a “piece of German cultural and social history.”

The sausage itself is not curried, but the meat is drenched in a simple but unforgettable melange of pureed tomatoes sprinkled with curry powder.

Most loved in Berlin, Hamburg and the industrial Ruhr region, it is served sliced up at Germany’s omnipresent outdoor snack bars any time of the day or night in a cardboard dish with a plastic or wooden fork, accompanied by a roll or chips. It is former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s favorite snack.

According to Ulla Wagner’s new film “Die Entdeckung der Currywurst” (“The Invention of Curried Sausage”) a woman named Lena Bruecker accidentally came up with the recipe in bombed-out Hamburg just after World War II.

The film delves into more than sausages. Bruecker (Barbara Sukowa) falls for a young sailor (Alexander Khuon) in 1945 and hides him in her flat so he can avoid going to war.

This is an echo of the 2003 film “Good Bye Lenin!” In that movie, a young man keeps the demise of communist East Germany secret from his ailing mother; Bruecker does not tell her sailor that the war is over in order to keep the fun going.

The game and the affair soon end, but about 10 minutes before the film is over, Bruecker, fragile after losing her love, drops a bottle of ketchup and a jar of curry powder. She licks her fingers while cleaning up the mess and suddenly thinks: This tastes good. Currywurst is born.

The whole story may be untrue - not only the love affair, but also the bit about the sausage. “As far as I know, it’s a work of fiction,” says a spokeswoman for the publishers of the novel behind the film.

In truth, or so Berliners insist, the currywurst’s true inventor, Herta Heuwer, made it on a rainy Sept. 4, 1949. A plaque at Stuttgarter Platz in the German capital pays tribute to her.

Organizers of the planned Deutsches Currywurst Museum in Berlin also insist it was invented in the German capital and that it is as much part of Berlin as the historic Brandenburg Gate.

The “wurst” of it all, Berliners say, is that Hamburgers believe the story of Lena Bruecker. Shortly after novelist and children’s author Uwe Timm’s 1993 book came out, a plaque in Bruecker’s memory was put up in the northern German city. However, Mr. Timm reportedly claims to have tasted currywurst in Hamburg in 1947 - two years before its supposed invention in Berlin - and others give credence to the Hamburg story.

The Currywurst Club Hamburg accuses Berlin of rewriting history and claims to have documentary proof that Bruecker was the inventor. It even suggests that new evidence from Ghana suggests that the real story may be that Bruecker’s lover was not a German, but an Allied soldier from Africa who brought the recipe with him.

As a popular saying goes, “It’s all sausage to them anyway” - meaning it matters little.

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