One aspect that I have always loved about living in Europe compared to the US is the overall higher quality of food. Tomatoes taste like sweet sunshine and smaller Old World apples are crispier and sweeter than their mammoth American cousins. Then there are those products that are special to Germany such as the bread and sausages which we expats or former expats have written or talked about ad nauseum. That’s why I was surprised to once hear that Germans, compared to their EU neighbors, spend amongst the least amount of money on food per capita.
The more I thought about it, the more it made sense though. Putting aside my own main habits of shopping at the local market in southwest Germany, the best butcher in town and having my pick of bakers specific to whatever baked good I was planning on buying (Berliner from Baeckerei Walter, Seele and Briegel from Munz, and Nussecken from the Biobackerei), I recalled the disappointing experience of shopping at the markets in Coburg or Moenchengladbach where there were far fewer stands of less than fresh looking produce often not organic and even in the case at Coburg, not particularly local.
On the other hand, if I want to find the best price for cream cheese or chocolate bars, I’m spoiled for choice. Discounters abound in Germany: Penny, Aldi, Lidl, Netto, Norma to name just a few. You won’t be getting the same brands at all of these chains (Aldi, for example, has its own brand), but you can get a cheap price. Although normal grocery stores are more comprehensive, I have to express my general disappointment with German grocery stores. Unlike the discounters, normal grocery stores at least take their products out of the packing boxes. But often dingy looking and with less than inspiring displays, Kaufland and Edeka are no comparison to the attractive and chic offerings at UK’s Waitrose or the irresistible and abundant displays at Whole Foods, otherwise known as Whole Paycheck. Anything comparable in Germany is usually the Biomarkt or organic grocery store such as Denn’s if your city has one.
There is no wonder that there is a thriving culture of discounters and unposh mainstream groceries. Certainly during this time of intense scrutiny and talk of austerity measures and bailouts amongst EU member states, discussion of German frugality has been a byproduct of the analysis. Functional, efficient and to the point: the Germans have spared aesthetics in this area of daily life.