When my great-grandmother was bombed out of their apartment during the war, she took her little son and left Berlin. They moved to the town of Coburg, an old city rich with history in the very northern part of Bavaria. Today, when my grandfather had a few beers or glasses of wine, he’ll hint at pranks and silliness that he and his friends pulled in the prime of their “Lausbubenjahre”.
My great-grandma never moved away from Coburg, but would usually visit us in Munich for christmas, which is why we’d only refer to her as “Weihnachtsomi” (christmas oma). Every now and then my grandparents and occassionally my parents and us kids would visit her there. I can barely remember those trips, but apparently they always followed the same pattern: upon arrival in Coburg one would head straight for the old market place and have the first Coburger Bratwurst - a long, coarse, deliciously spiced sausage that they grill in little stalls on the square and serve in a crunchy, fluffy bun. Before leaving Coburg, the last thing would be to pick up 15-25 uncooked sausages to bring back home and barbeque at my grandparents’.
My great-grandmother died a few years ago at the tender age of 97. She had always refused to move to a seniors residence even after she broke her head of femur and continued to climb the two flights of stairs to her apartment until the end.
Today - luckily for us - my grandfather still visits Coburg frequently: he, like my father, is quite interested in genealogy and apparently there is still some unfinished business in Coburg. He continues the tradition of heading to the market place and having a sausage before tending to anything else. My grandparents know all about which place has the best sausage, a wisdom I hope to inherit some day. Of course some people sear by one butcher others by another, but there’s one thing that all Coburger Bratwürst have in common: they all have to be the same length, defined by the length of the rod that the city’s patron statue Roland is holding in his hands. For us, my grandfather’s visits mean that a few times a year we flock to my grandparents’ garden on fine summer evening for a delicious barbeque.
Now, barbequeing Coburger Bratwürst isn’t just regular barbequeing. The key ingredient - besides the fresh sausages - are the “Kühle”. Those are small pine cones that create just the right amount of smoke to give the sausages additional flavour. The forests in our region are mainly “Stangerlwald”: tall and lanky fir trees with skinny bare trunks. So when my mum spots the right spruce somewhere, she’ll sometimes stop at the side of the road and collect a bucket full of pine cones to replenish her dad’s reserves for the next grillfest.
Lighting the fire has always been my grandfather’s job, but slowly my brother has worked his way through the apprenticeship and has become a partner at the grille. They light up the coals with a gas torch, add the Kühle and start to fan the flames to get the ambers just right, a ritual I never even got to try.
The combination of the smoke and the sizzling smell of the bratwürst is the smell of a perfect summer evening with my family. Despite the setting, it’s peacefully quite only while everyone is munching away on their sausages. As soon as the second round is ready the discussion of who ordered how many sausages and who still needs to dig in to eat their share picks up. There’ll always be voices saying either “Ah, should we get more next time?” or “Oh, we should have gotten less, now someone really needs to eat that last one!”, yet there’ll never be left overs and everyone always leaves happily filled.