October 8, 2014
Local government by sausage flavour
Perhaps one of the reasons that we struggle in this country to have a system of local government that anyone believes worthy of the term ‘local’ is because it has long since lost any connection with the cultural traditions which may previously have defined a region’s distinctive sense of place. In Germany by contrast, where regional identity is strong, and is reflected in its powerful ‘lander’ system of local government, regional differences can actually be tasted.
De Gaulle once complained about how difficult it was to govern a country with 246 different cheeses. He did not know how lucky he was. Germany has more than four times as many types of sausage. What those sausages tell you is that the regional identity of Germany is still flourishing in a way that has probably never been the case in England, where there has been a centralised government in a dominant London for 1,000 years. Because of Germany’s political fragmentation until 1870, and the deep differences in dialect and local history, there is a lively regional variety in Germany, expressed gastronomically through wine, beer and sausages, and politically through the Länder system. Each Land, or state has its own two-house parliament. Hamburg, for example, has survived unbroken as a city state since the early Middle Ages.
One of the big questions for a country that has never had fixed frontiers at its edges, and contains an extraordinary range of diversity, is: what does it share? Language, beer and sausages are among the shared things, and all have pronounced local flavours. Even today you can tell where you are in Germany by what kind of sausage you are offered and the way people – of every class – pronounce their German. Pretty well all Germans carry both a local accent, and a memory of their local sausage.