Dieser Hinweis auf den Berlin-Brief des neu in Deutschland "beheimateten" "Tribune senior correspondent" John Crewdson erreichte uns im Rahmen einer Korrespondenz mit einem Leser aus den USA, der um die Übersetzung eines unserer Weblogs angefragt hatte.
Da das Datum seiner Veröffentlichung "LETTER FROM BERLIN" mit "November 17, 2004" angegeben wird, werden wir diesen auch zu diesem Zeitpunkt für die interessierten englischsprachigen Leser hier ins Netz stellen.
Surviving German cuisine
Their diets are to kill with, but as correspondent John Crewdson found, Germans seem healthier than Americans.
A few years ago former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl published a cookbook with his wife, Hannelore, celebrating the virtues of German cuisine.
Kohl’s book included a recipe for his favorite dish, Palatine Sow’s Stomach: 10 pounds of Schweinefleisch slow-baked with onions and potatoes inside a pig’s intestine.
No doubt that helped make the 350-pound Kohl a cultural hero in a country where lunch can be a plate heaped with glistening spareribs, pigs’ knuckles oozing fat, Wursts the size of MX missiles, and mounds of potato salad drenched in sour cream.
Wait! Here’s a stein of beer the size of a traffic cone to wash it all down. Save room for the cherry cheesecake torte.
Been awhile since lunch? The traditional afternoon snack, the German equivalent of high tea, is available from ubiquitous sidewalk kiosks: a sausage hot off the grill, accompanied by a paper cone overflowing with french fries.
Not lethal enough, mein Herr? Let’s douse those fries with mayonnaise. As John Travolta’s character, Vincent Vega, observed in "Pulp Fiction" after returning from a trip to the Netherlands: "I seen ’em do it. And I don’t mean a little bit on the side of the plate."
The German Paradox
In a nation where breakfast isn’t breakfast without six kinds of cheese and where a day without Schweinefleisch is like a day without sunshine, how can anyone be left standing?
And yet, about 82 million Germans were still alive at last count. Moreover, they appear to be healthier, on average, than hyper-fat-and-cholesterol-conscious Americans. In fact, the German with a Weisswurst in one hand and a kielbasa in the other actually has a better chance of living to see 70 than the American washing down non-fat yogurt laced with wheat germ with sips of green tea.
Call it the German Paradox.
Annual deaths from heart disease are 5- to 10-percent lower in Germany than the U.S., depending on how you count. Not only that, Germans are in better cardiovascular shape than people in the rest of Central and Eastern Europe, where national diets are essentially similar.
According to the latest data from the American Heart Association, the Germans even have a slight edge on Greece, the land of milk, honey, olive oil and omega-3 fatty acids.
German cardiologists have long pondered what Professor Hans Martin Hoffmeister of Tubingen University calls "the obvious discrepancy" between an "alarming" increase in risk factors for heart disease and the country’s continuing 20-year decline in cardiac mortality.
At this year’s annual meeting of the European Society of Cardiology, held in Munich, researchers underscored that the most important risk factors for heart disease are high cholesterol levels, cigarette smoking, high blood pressure and obesity.
Beer a possible tonic
The incidence of overweight in Germany and the U.S. is almost identical: about one person in five. On every other score—cholesterol, blood pressure, smoking—studies show that Germans do worse than Americans by a ratio of 2 to 1.
No sooner had the cardiologists left town than Munich become host to Oktoberfest, 15 days in late September and early October when millions of Germans and foreign visitors gorge themselves on some of the world’s most hazardous foods.
The results from this year’s fest are not yet final. Last year, according to the organizers, 381,270 sausages and 56,036 pigs’ knuckles were washed down with 1.6 million gallons of beer. As with previous Oktoberfests, most of this year’s participants appear to have survived.
One explanation suggested by Professor Hoffmeister is beer, drunk on a more-or-less continuous basis by 8 in 10 German men and more than half of German women. The more beer consumed, according to Hoffmeister’s data, the lower the risk of death from cardiac disease.
But the added protection alone isn’t sufficient to resolve the German Paradox.
There are some non-alcoholic explanations that make more sense. One is that while the traditional German diet is unarguably too high in fat and cholesterol, the portions served in most German restaurants are realistic.
In the typical American restaurant, observes Dr. Ernst Schwarz, a German-trained cardiologist at the University of Texas, "one plate has enough for four people. And you eat it all, because it tastes good."
More walking, bicycling
Moreover, fast food - burgers, shakes, tacos, pizza and fried chicken - makes up a large percentage of the average American diet. There is American-style fast food in Germany too, but, as Schwarz notes, "not yet a McDonald’s on every corner."
And, as any visitor to Germany immediately notices, Germans walk more often and farther than Americans, and use bicycles for transportation rather than weekend sport.
Schwarz offers two other factors that may tilt the cardiac equation in the Germans’ favor: The average German has access to faster and better medical care, especially emergency care, and German patients are more likely than Americans to do as they are told by their doctors.
So the German Paradox looks pretty much like a wash. Germans smoke more, but they get more exercise. They eat unhealthy food, but not as much of it. They are never far from the next glass of beer, or the nearest hospital.
So throw the green tea down the well and order another round of Currywurst. Make sure to ask for extra-spicy curried ketchup on the side. But please, consider holding the mayo on those fries. Remember what happened to Vincent Vega.
Copyright © 2004, Chicago Tribune