In Germany, asparagus is called the “Queen of Vegetables.” This regal title does, however, not refer to the skinny, green variety, but to the fat, white stalks with tender violet tips that are only grown and harvested from May to late June and carefully cultivated in certain German regions. It takes 3 years for the plant to produce its first tips. When asparagus season rolls around, markets, shops, restaurants, and German housewives and hobby cooks get all excited. For a few months, this delicacy with the nutty and bitter/sweet flavor can be enjoyed fresh. The rest of the year, it comes out of a tin or jar, but it is not the same. There are special steamers the asparagus is cooked in so it doesn’t break, special tongs to fish it out of the pot, and peelers to thinly take off the outer layer that might be a bit hard. Nothing is wasted though. The peel is used for soups and sauces. The traditional way of eating the white asparagus is to drizzle it with browned butter and sprinkle it with bread crumbs or sauce hollandaise and tiny new potatoes. Often, a slice or two of smoked ham is added. Because of the short season and the huge demand, the vegetable is expensive and sold in bundles of five to 10 stalks, called stangen in German.
Germans love to celebrate their favorite foods and drinks with festivals and there are a few lovely festivals during Spargelzeit (asparagus season).There are even organized bus tours reaching Baden Wurttemberg, Lower Saxony, and Beelitz — the asparagus centers of Germany — traveling from farm to farm to sample the best asparagus. Purists claim that you must eat asparagus with your fingers, as the metal of the cutlery can ruin the flavor. Asparagus season coincides with strawberry season in Germany, so a typical meal could be a generous helping of asparagus followed by a big bowl of ripe strawberries with cream; a delicious and healthy treat.
We’ll take you there and familiarize you with this delicious vegetable, so often underappreciated outside of Germany.
1. Beelitzer Spargeltag
Beelitz is a small town just 1 hour’s drive south of Berlin. Due to the favorable soil, Beelitz is most famous for its asparagus cultivation, culminating in April with a festival known as Beelitzer Spargeltag (Asparagus Day). Live music, dancing, and entertainment accompany an avid consumption of the vegetable. This year, there is an added bonus because the festival coincides with another, bigger event, a gartenschau (garden festival) with exhibits of flowers, fruit, and other agricultural products. Both festivals start on April 14. There are several asparagus farms and many with restaurants attached. The best known and most traditional is the lovely Jacob’s Hof. You might start your own festival there. If you want to learn everything there is to know about asparagus and its culinary history, visit the Asparagus Museum in the center of Beelitz, just behind the Old Post.
Berlin, as well as historic Potsdam, are so close to Beelitz that you might combine your asparagus feast with a visit to both of these fascinating places.
2. Schwetzinger Spargelfest
Schwetzingen is the starting point of an entire asparagus route in the northern part of Baden Wurttemberg. Southwest of Heidelberg, it runs for approximately 100 miles to Reiling, Karlsruhe, and Rastatt. Schwetzingen, which is a very pretty baroque city, calls itself the “Asparagus Capital of the World” and the asparagus route is very nearly a pilgrimage for thousands of German asparagus enthusiasts during the season. Whilst in Schetzingen, visit the beautiful baroque palace and garden with a mulberry tree alley. Also, don’t miss a lovely statue, the Spargelfrau, or “asparagus lady,” that stands near the castle.
Being such a center of the white asparagus, it’s no surprise that the locals celebrate a festival, this year on April 24. It’s not only that the Germans eat the asparagus, they also arrange races around the theme. During the festival, with live music and lots of white wine and white asparagus, there is a competition of a special kind: The fastest asparagus peeler is crowned. There is also an asparagus king and/or queen.
3. Aparagus Village Walbeck
Walbeck is a small village in northern Germany, close to the Netherlands, and located on the left bank of the Rhine River. Small it may be, but Walbeck is big on asparagus once the season starts. Farms and restaurants are everywhere. One of the oldest and best known is Haus Decker in the market square. Asparagus harvesting is a tedious job because nothing can be done by machines, and special skills are necessary, so as not to ruin the delicate vegetable or break the tips.
Therefore, Walbeck honors its asparagus cutters with a lovely statue. After enjoying your asparagus meal, pay a visit and give a short salute to all the hard labor that goes into making it possible for you to indulge in your asparagus feast. There is even more to see in Walbeck like the Steprather Muehle — one of Germany’s oldest windmills still in operation — and the Walbeck water castle.
On the April 24, a festival is held in Walbeck to celebrate asparagus, during which an asparagus princess is elected. During the festival, flower-covered floats are driven through the village with the newly crowned princess riding in one of them in her finery.
4. Schrobenhausen Asparagus Queen
Schrobenhausen is a small town in Upper Bavaria, located on the Paar river and approximately 22 miles northeast of Augsburg. This is another white asparagus hot spot during the season, this time in the south of Germany. This small town is the location of the European Asparagus Museum, housed in a three-story tower of the old city wall. The ground floor is dedicated to the cultivation of asparagus and the significance of the vegetable in science and medicine. The second floor is all about the consumption of asparagus, including some very valuable crockery and cutlery — a delight for art lovers. There is another remarkable museum in Schrobenhausen which is the birth house of Germany’s most famous portrait painter of the late 19th century, Franz von Lenbach.
Of course, in such an asparagus center, there is also a queen. In previous years, the queen was the daughter of the Kling family, who hosts one of the best places to enjoy asparagus in Schrobenhausen.
5. Lower Saxony Asparagus Route
This route in the north of Germany is one of the longest asparagus pilgrims will cover when the season of their beloved vegetable rolls around. The Lower Saxony Asparagus Route reaches approximately 470 miles across the lovely Lueneburger Heide to Braunschweig and Osnabrueck. The big loop alone is a remarkable trip through one of Germany’s most beautiful regions, full of purple heather, sheep, and timber-framed houses. It’s also one of the most sought after asparagus growing regions thanks to its sandy soil favored by the vegetable. Many smaller towns and even villages sit along the route, all with huge asparagus fields and, if you are lucky, a farmer will even allow you to harvest your own asparagus.
The small village of Nienburg features a particularly cute asparagus museum. Housed in a timber-framed former rauchhaus (smoke house), you will find and learn everything about asparagus from the past to modern times.
On May 15, Nienburg celebrates its asparagus festival in the beautiful Biedermaier Garten of the Quaet Faslem house with live music and the coronation of an asparagus queen. This is of course accompanied by eating plenty of asparagus and preferably drinking Silvaner wine, which goes best with it.
Pro Tip: Some chefs are getting creative and serving the delicate white asparagus with any kind of heavier white sauce, schnitzel, grated cheese, or scrambled eggs. My advice, being a great asparagus fan myself: stay away. Keep it as simple as possible so as not to ruin the unique flavor.
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