American Expat in Germany Experiences His First ‘Green Cabbage Walk’ (Grünkohlwanderung)

Bregenwurst Grünkohlwanderung potatos kartofeln

At the end of an arduous journey through the snow, who WOULDN’T want to see this steaming pile of horror?

Winters in Germany last a long time, and by long, I mean like half the year. They are cold, windy and darker than your worst nightmare. As a result, there are lots of fun social traditions during the winter months to keep people happy and less inclined to go down on the business end of a shotgun. In Niedersachsen, as I’ve recently learned, there is an old tradition known as ‘Grünkohlwanderung;’ large groups of people taking long walks through snow-covered forests with frequent stops to take shots of liquor and play extraordinarily humiliating games. At the end of the walk, everyone gathers in a restaurant to eat green cabbage (kale) and fatty sausage, hence the name Grünkohlwanderung, AKA:”Green Cabbage Walk.”

Recently, one of our German friends had a birthday. To help celebrate, we joined 20 other people and went on a Grünkohlwanderung through the Eilenriede forest in Hannover, Germany. We knew we were in good company because there were two wooden wagons chock-full of beer, liquor and party favors. To start things off, all the men had to stand to one side, dangle a tea bag from their teeth and swing it to see who could toss theirs the farthest. I thought I was pretty clever dousing my tea bag with beer on the sly beforehand — you know, to give it more weight — but it landed like 2 yards in front of my feet anyway. That earned a few laughs and absolutely no respect from the Germans, so I spiked my beer and pounded it with great haste.

We walked and talked, and everyone had a great time. I even got to meet a couple who brought their baby along with them. My favorite part of that particular conversation was when the mom readjusted the baby’s blankets and — without missing a beat — freed-up one hand by sliding her beer in the milk bottle-holder of the stroller. The gesture was so fluid it was like watching poetry in motion.

Thank Christ I didn’t have to participate in the next game we played: the birthday girl made two teams compete against each other in a whistling competition — while chewing on mouthfuls of dry white bread — and the rest of us had to guess the songs they were attempting to whistle. You should have seen the bread crumbs fly. It was spectacular. I have no idea which songs they were whistling, because most of them were traditional German drinking ditties, but I definitely heard some Lady Gaga in there.

We kept walking and drinking until I discovered one of the people in our group was a medical student. I went to great lengths to convince him Germans are taller on average than Americans. I even tried to get scientific about it:

ME: “Look! Look at those two handsome bastards in front of us. They’re like 7 feet tall!”

DOCTOR: “Those are my cousins. They are exceptionally tall.”

ME: “No dude, all of you guys are tall. In America, I’m the average.” (Note, I am 5′ 10,” standing up straight, with shoes on and tall thoughts in my mind.)

DOCTOR: “You think so, huh?”

ME: “I know so. I think it has to do with the climate. You guys need more surface area to absorb sunlight because the weather in Germany sucks.”

DOCTOR: *Laughing* “It probably has to do with diet…”

ME: “Damn. I hadn’t thought of that.”

*A squeaky voice chimed in behind me, and I turned around to see the shortest German woman in the entire world.*

SUPER SHORT GIRL: “Not everyone in Germany is tall. Look at me.”

ME: “Nobody asked you, Short Round!

Finally, we arrived at the restaurant, and I gotta tell you: kale, sausage and skinned potatoes may look like hell, but after a long, cold walk and copious amounts of alcohol, they taste amazing.

grog whiskey water hot drink medieval germany modern funnyCheck it out! That’s real German grog right there! The drink of vikings! (Somehow, I always imagined grog would be a mixture of moonshine and beer, but apparently it’s just hot water, whiskey and lemon juice. Whatever. I still felt like a berserker when I ordered it.)

Grünkohlwanderung potatos kartofelnThat’s my wife fixing up a couple of plates for us. I will never understand why Germans don’t like to eat potatoes with the skins on. That’s where all the vitamins are! (Or so my mother always taught me.)

Bregenwurst Grünkohlwanderung potatos kartofelnAnd there you have it — the Grünkohl meal. I have seriously desired this food every night since I first had it, but if I ate it all the time, I would be typing this blog post from a hospital bed with clogged arteries and a pacemaker in my chest. “Nurse! My bedpan is full! Also, this hospital grog tastes like steaming pee pee.”

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69 responses to “American Expat in Germany Experiences His First ‘Green Cabbage Walk’ (Grünkohlwanderung)

  1. Have you considered that your Mom told you that all the vitamins were in the potato peels so she didn’t have to peel the potatoes?

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  2. I can verify: You eat like that every day, you can expect your first heart attack at age 53, and three more mild/moderate ones in the ensuing years, a defibrillator implant, quadruple bypass, and a pacemaker. The evidence is my German father-in-law! Thank goodness for our Canadian healthcare system!

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  3. Loved it! I think I will plan one of those woodsy walks with libations, games, and great food at the end for MY next Big Birthday! That gives me a year to plan! I have discovered that Germans are very creative in thinking up wonderfully humiliating games and hilarious charade-dancing to enhance any party! We Yanks who live in similar latitudes should take a lesson from them!

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  4. Great, now I want Kale and sausages for dinner. And just saying, you understand — the drink of Vikings is MEAD. We are quite expert at producing it, and ONLY Vikings could drink that potent death-by-fermented-honey all night and still get up to go raiding!

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    • That’s true. I forgot about all the mead I saw at the Finnish portion of the Christmas market this year. Mead doesn’t make me want to go berserk though. It’s so sweet. Now whiskey, on the other hand… :)

      Thanks for reading, Syrbal! Where are you from anyway?

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      • Ah, first things first. Mead, properly made, is NOT sweet. We make only dry meads. Commercial mead makers, acting on the apparent public perception that mead must be sweet ADD more sweetner after the yeasts are exhausted. Properly done meads are not sugary in flavor and can have the light fine quality of either a white wine or a red — if made with dark berries like black currant, for instance.

        Me? I was born in Kansas and escaped. I was an Army brat, an Army member who served in Berlin, and an Army wife who lived in Bavaria and loved it. I now live in the Pacific Nor’west of America— the closest I can get to the Bavarian climate.

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      • Nice! Are you in Portland, by chance?

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      • Alas, no….about 3 hours north of there, near Mt. Rainier and Tacoma.

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  5. I feel like I failed at being a real lower saxonian as I have yet to go on a Grünkohlwanderung.
    Didn’t they have any Kasseler?
    At least the Pinkel (that’s the sausage, depending on where you’re from) looks like it wasn’t soft and chewy but “knackig”.
    That’s smoked pork roast (I think) and it tastes delicious.

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  6. this post excites me. i have just moved to hannover (two months is still “just”, ja?) and there are a few birthdays (by few, i mean my one but one sounds so boring and alone) coming up and I KNOW WHAT WE ARE GOING TO DO. they will all be so impressed with my niedersachsen knowledge (of this one thing).

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  7. this post excites me. i have just moved to hannover (two months is still “just”, ja?) and there are a few birthdays (by few, i mean my one but one sounds so boring and alone) coming up and I KNOW WHAT WE ARE GOING TO DO. they will all be so impressed with my niedersachsen knowledge (of this one thing).

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  8. Love those German traditions, but having just returned from Cuba I am curious, why is the German “grog” being served in a Cuban Rum glass ;-)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Havana_Club

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  9. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m getting the correlation between grog and the havana club…..rum……..But great tale…. So glad I’m in Canada.

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  10. “Winters in Germany last a long time, and by long, I mean like half the year. They are cold, windy and darker than your worst nightmare.” Says somebody whose home country is stuck in a polar vortex since about Christmas???

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  11. ” I went to great lengths to convince him Germans are taller on average than Americans.” You were right, but the difference is not that outstanding:
    Average male US-American: 1,76 m, average Brit about 1,77 and average male German: 1,78

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    • I was thinking about this today, and I think averaging the heights skews things. I’ve seen some super short people here, and a ton of super tall people. I just think the tall people here are… taller. :) Really, it’s a subjective observation.

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  12. Always causing me to laugh. My German wife doesn’t always see the humor though…

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    • I know. I hear that a lot. :) My German readers are often like, “What? What’s funny about this? That’s the exact translation.” They just need to hang around more people trying to learn German. Direct translations are hilarious in any language. :)

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  13. I want to do this. And, I have played the ‘whistling game’- only with Saltines…double whammy. Beer is a must. Sometime I will post my touristy Hauf Brau pics (spelling?) – just for you guys. Happy Monday/ Tuesday!

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  14. So, do you know “Kloatscheeten”, too? This would be the time for it.

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  15. This is great! And all the while I thought England has the crappiest winter/weather ever. Oh and My husband will absolutely enjoy the walk, the food, games and mostly the beer you mentioned here :)

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  16. Lieber Gott im Himmel, I now have this craving for Bratwurst, Bratkartoffeln, & Rotkohl. A high-cholesterol curse upon thee!

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  17. Sounds like a rather nice evening considering you could be stuck here in Seattle with rain (no snow in the lowland areas) and a broken hot tub. But alas my sauna is working and I’m enjoying your blog so it isn’t all bad. Thanks for sharing your latest adventure!

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  18. Grunkohl and wurst, when done right, is the most delicious winter meal. My husband is very tall…and Norddeutsche. As you go South, I think the Germans get smaller.

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  19. Gotta love those weird, cool traditions. Do Germans do any gross out things? What do they get if they win/lose one of those games in the woods? Koreans in a group will often mix various things and make one unlucky person drink it all together. They also like physical/humiliating punishment when someone loses a game.

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    • Jesus! The Koreans sound like they take all the innocence right the hell out of it! :)

      I don’t think there were any awards during the Grünkohlwanderung. Maybe an extra shot for the winner, but that could be a punishment too…

      Have a great day, David, and thanks for commenting!

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  20. With each German winter that you survive you somehow feel older, wiser and a hell of a lot tougher. Not to mention the fact that you will also most likely be on the verge of being diagnosed with a wicked case of rickets. Hope all is well and that you’ve been graced with at least a little of the sunshine we’ve been getting down here in Franconia!

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  21. I love the post! I think you went through a couple really funny traditions there, didn’t you? *grin*
    I too learned quite early that the vitamins are in the potato peel, I still don’t understand why so many people insist to peel them… However French Fries would look a little weird with the peel on front and back. LOL
    I don’t envy you what you had to go through with the cabbage… I can’t eat it. *sigh*

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  22. My old grandma always peeled the potatoes, and apples, and pears etc., because she said that there are NO vitamins or goodness in the skin. The skin is natures “wrapping” fruit and veg to stop them from drying out too quick. If you bought a cake wrapped in cling film to keep it fresh you wouldn’t eat the cling film would you? Oh, I don’t know, it probably would taste better than the cake!

    The only think you will find on the potato skin is bacteria, pesticide and insecticide residue, and small bits of insects droppings. Bon appétit (Was ist das in Deutsch?)

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  23. Oh, I forgot to mention that my Grandma was German (from Minden). She was a war bride in 1918, married my Grandad, a soldier, and came to England. My Dad said it was her that started WWII ! She lived to be 97, because she didn’t eat potato skins. . . .

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  24. I miss the “Grünkohlwanderungen” I really do. I would start one here, we have kale, schnaps, a German butcher in Alpine Village for the meat sausages ….. but it’s just too warm.
    I’m surprise that you haven’t mentioned the Pinkelwurst that is only used for this dish ;)

    Anja

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  25. Really enjoy your blog and your view on strange german customs what always appeared absolutely normal to me…until reading your posts. ☺
    Also often learn here about differences inside Germany. Hundred kilometer more north we drink the Grog with Rum. Maybe that’s the reason the northern Germans are taller? The average german size is definitely spoilt by the Berliner…most of them appear to me like dwarfs.

    By the way…your mother was nearly right about the potatoes. The best of potatoes is directly under the skin. For that very reason it’s better to peel them after cooking (anyhow easier). Dependant on the sort of potato the skin can contain alkaloids what is toxic. Normally that doesn’t kill but can spend some headache or longer sessions in the restroom. The newer sorts of potatoes contain less alkaloids but I would always remove the potato-skin since I’m not able to decide what kind of potato just smiles on my plate. And avoid to eat potatoes which turned green. For more details you can read here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solanine#Solanine_in_potatoes

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  26. The Grünkohlwanderung sounds like a scream as does the “throw the teabag” game and “sing whilst also chewing a slice of bread”. That does sound rather difficult!
    I’ve learnt to love green cabbage and sausages as I’m a British person married to a German. I’ve tried to convince my husband to have potatoes with the skins on too but it has been a definite “no can do” situation!
    Thank you so much for sharing :)

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  27. Awesome stuff!
    As a compadre (also married to a german frau and living in das vaterland), I find your writing hilarious your early stuff was brilliant (which is not to say that the latter stuff aint good) – reminded me of my own predicament when I landed here not knowing a word of deutsch . I’m pretty sure people must have thought I was insane when I’d laugh aloud and no one understood why – the wife would look at me with a mix of sympathy and perplexion.

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  28. Ok, not to appear pedantic but these are not skinned but peeled potatoes. I gather you know the difference (see Marlies’s comment). In one thing you are absolutely right though, we Germans don’t like the skin, it’s tasteless, without any nutrition and you have to swallow it whole because you can’t break it with your teeth. Hence we skin or peel the potatoes.

    I absolutely loved your observations about the baby’s mother. We Germans are obsessed with our children getting enough “fresh air”, probably because winters are so long and we have to spend a lot of time indoors. Had a big giggle at the thought of her not needing the bottle holder for a milk bottle (probably breastfeeding as we Germans are also obsessed with that) and simply converting it into a beer bottle holder. After all, baby should get a chance to participate in the drinking fun, too :D

    If flight prices are right I might pop over to Germany beginning of April for my Grandads funeral. And whatever else I’m doing, I will have some Grühnkohl! I love that stuff and am glad to say that I have converted my British-South African husband to cabbage as well :) Thanks for the reminder!

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  29. Interesting! Thanks for another great post.

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  30. the Havana Club — how I’ve missed that “restaurant”.

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