"Elite" asparagus conquers Germany's former East

Tue May 22, 2012 1:41pm EDT
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By Alexandra Hudson

BEELITZ, Germany (Reuters) - Present a spear of finger-thick white asparagus to a German and watch their eyes light up.

Come spring-time each year Germans shed their typically sober attitude towards food to swoon over the freshness, the flavor and the girth of their asparagus.

This enthusiasm, fanned by a rising consumer appreciation of local, seasonal food, has transformed whole regions of the former East Germany in recent decades as farmers re-introduce a vegetable once viewed by the Communist authorities as a pretentious, expensive delicacy and a waste of labor and land.

Ernst-August Winkelmann grabs a handful of soil at his asparagus farm in Beelitz, 50 km (30 miles) southwest of Berlin, and allows its sandy substance to run through his fingers.

"Beelitz asparagus is really very fine. Other German asparagus is good too, but the Beelitz crop is nuttier. The soil is sandier, it grows particularly fast and is extremely tender," he said.

At the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 just 10 hectares of land in Beelitz were dedicated to asparagus production after a long decline.

In the late 1930s, 1,000 hectares were farmed for asparagus in the area but with the outbreak of World War Two Germany's Nazi rulers decided asparagus was not rich enough in calories to justify such labor-intensive production.

The young women of the Nazi Bund Deutscher Maedel (German girls association) who had helped pick the vegetable were sent to make armaments instead.   Continued...

A workers harvests asparagus in the field of an asparagus farm near Beelitz, south of Berlin May 10, 2012. REUTERS/Tobias Schwarz