“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day” I said to Francesca. ” Unfortunately, breakfast time in Germany is between 6 and 8 in the morning.”
At this time of the day, I can´t imagine to eat anything at all ever again for my whole lifetime. Even to look at anything edible makes me sick.
This has been a constant cause of battle between my mother and me. When I went to school, I had to leave the house at 6:30 to catch the bus. As a good German mother she insisted on me having a substantial breakfast. As a not-so-good German child I resisted. Who can eat Graubrot-grey bread, the staple diet for breakfast in the seventies, at 6:00 clock in the morning? It tasted the way it was called: grey and muddy. My mother tried Müsli-oat meal flakes. No fancy mixes then, but pure, wholemeal plated oat. Who can eat the staple diet for horses, at six a clock in the morning?
Finally, we found a compromise: two soft boiled eggs, and nothing else. This was victory. Soft-boild eggs traditionally are reserved for Sundays. On this day, Germans enjoyed the pleasures of eating: A big breakfast with Sonntagsei, homebaked Hefezopf and cooked ham started the day. Three hours later, the Sonntagsbraten followed: roasted pork with gravy. Another three hours later, the “Kaffee und Kuchen“. Another two hours, finally, the Abendbrot, a light meal with frankfurters or a Wurstsalat, a salad made of finely chopped sausages.
As on Sundays my parents allowed themselves to sleep in, I harbour sunny memories of these breakfasts after eight. The only other time my early morning rhythm and German work ethics came together nicely was when I worked on a farm. “Pigs and cows first” – this working order woke me up at 5 o´clock in the morning. I pulled on my dungarees and went out to feed the sows, piglets, cows, calves, bulls, hens, cats, kittens, dogs and puppets that cried for forage. Three hours later, I happily sat down to a voluptous feast of rolls and eggs and homemade jam.
“The French work to be able to eat. The Germans eat to be able to work”. I´m not sure which nations invented this saying. but both sides use it as a diffamation of the other. So, to skip the early morning meal means not to prepare yourself properly for a day of work.
Ironically, I breakfasted most when I worked least. At college, we established the nice custom to start each early morning study group at a kitchen table laid with everything our hungry stomachs wished for: fresh rolls, good cheese, the sausages sent by our mothers in weekly parcels full of food. Unfortunately, politics soon spoilt this simple pleasure. Müsli-cereals-became the only accepted dish for the early hours. When I say Müsli, I don´t talk about those harmless varieties, sugarcoated, sweetened, processed. I´m talking about the real thing: oat grain flaked by hand. Though even this could get worse. The ulitmate fad in eco-conscious nutrition was a dish made of handgrained wheat or oat, soaked in water the night before. In the morning, this slimey pulp was served with – nothing else. Only the most audacious dared to add a halfspoon of honey from freerange bees.
In the nineties, breakfast cafés became fashionable, though only in cities. In the countryside, nobody would dare to sit in a café at nine o´clock in the morning so everybody would see he/she wasn´t working. In the cities, this was the sole purpose: to be part of the in-crowd that were so smart they didn´t have to slave their hours away in a nine-to-five job.
After the seven years of sumptuous two rolls-one croissant-ham-eggs-freshly-pressed-orange-juice luxury at eleven clock in the morning, the meagre years brought Latte Macchiato, the triumph of the dairy industry. Now, even women who are on a diet since the day they were born drink half a pint of milk every morning.
My Latte is waiting for me. As it is after 8 o´clock in Germany, a Saturday morning and my spouse brought home a big bag from the bakery, I might dip in a croissant, the way the French do it.
Though they stick to Café au Lait, as Starbucks had to learn since it opened its first shop in Paris in 2004.
The French have very impressive ways to say Non, especially when somebody endangers their food traditions.
But this is another story.