Germans Have Mastered the Fine Art of Second Breakfast
The best way to do zweites Frühstück
Germans have a lot of idioms related to breakfast. If you’re beating around the bush, you’re talking around the hot porridge. If you’re sweet-talking someone, you’re smearing honey around their mouth. If you don’t care, it’s all sausage to you; conversely, if you refuse to stand up for yourself, you’re letting someone nick the sausage from your bread. In many parts of the German-speaking world, in fact, breakfast is so appreciated that many people eat it twice. Throughout much of Germany, they call it zweites Frühstück—literally meaning second breakfast—while in Bavaria, it goes by Brotzeit (bread time). In Austria, this meal is called Gabelfrühstück (breakfast with a fork) or Jause.
Each day, German schoolchildren have a mid-morning recess where they stop for a snack—Pausenbrot. Many offices have something similar, with a structured second breakfast sometime before 11 a.m. It’s from this that the German term for “figurehead” is derived: Frühstücksdirektor. This person is the “breakfast director,” an executive whose responsibilities have been reduced only to organizing the in-office second breakfast. But maybe it should be thought of as an honor, rather than a step down. After all, it’s not a task anyone can afford to mess up.
First breakfast in Germany might include cheese, bread, ham, jam, honey, oats, or some combination of the above, eaten around 7 a.m. Second breakfast comes two or three hours later, and is often similar, though it varies by the region. In some areas, it’s as simple as a pastry; in others, it’s a full-blown meal, with silverware. And perhaps alarmingly often, for those used to breakfast libations like coffee or OJ, second breakfast is accompanied by beer.
Perhaps the most famous example of second breakfast in Germany is Bavarian Brotzeit, served in the area around Munich. After breakfast, but before noon, local pensioners and businessmen file into beer halls to gorge themselves on pretzels and Weisswurst, a soft, pale sausage about an inch thick, with flecks of green parsley visible beneath the surface.
The sausages, the story goes, were developed by a young butcher in the mid-19th century in a moment of panic. Sepp Moser’s customers were hungry, but he had ran out of the usual hardy casings. In a pinch, he replaced them with thinner ones. Terrified that the cases wouldn’t stand up to grilling, he poached them instead, and served them to guests in their pot of hot water. Moser waited for the criticism, but it never came. The experiment was a riotous success—so much so that Bavarians have all but adopted the sausages as their official snack.
As is typical with Germany, and even more so with something as serious as a sausage, there are rules. Weisswurst is prepared each morning using fresh meat. Traditionally, it is said that the sausages should be eaten before 12 p.m. and never allowed to hear the chimes of the noontime church bells. What’s more, you can’t order just one, and since even numbers are said to be bad luck, a mid-morning snack suddenly becomes a full-blown three-sausage extravaganza. Mustard is all but compulsory (the sweet brown kind), as is a bronzed pretzel. The appropriate drink for this meal is Hefeweizen, a gentle, unfiltered wheat beer. It’s so solid that it’s sometimes referred as bottled bread. Eleven might seem early in the day to start drinking, but in Bavaria, it’s unquestionable. Only tourists order Weisswurst after noon.
Elsewhere in Germany, there’s a little more flexibility on second breakfast. Office workers will halt their efforts sometime between 9:30 and 10 a.m. to carefully unwrap a liverwurst sandwich from home. Roger Boyes, who was the Berlin correspondent for the Times of London until 2010, describes walking through the city at 9:30 a.m. on a weekday and noticing something striking: “All my fellow workweek mountaineers were sitting in their trucks eating Leberwurst on bread at precisely 9:30 am,” he writes. “It’s almost as if the stomachs of the whole German population have been programmed to rumble since their first Pausenbrot at school.”
Across the border, in Austria, it’s more serious than a simple sandwich. In the past, laborers broke up their mornings with a steaming bowl of traditional frühstücksgulasch, a stew made with meat and paprika. These days, as the clock strikes 10, the hoards gather at outdoor stands selling still more sausage, sold by the pair on a cardboard square. It’s a social occasion, and a time to grouse about your loathed boss or horrible son-in-law, as much as it is an opportunity to refuel before lunch.
Meanwhile, well-heeled Viennese folk head to old-fashioned cake shops, where they enjoy creamy cakes of multiple stories, like sachertorte or gugelhupf, the prefered breakfast of Emperor Francis Joseph. If you can’t handle quite that much cake, writes Jill Knight Weinberger, whose husband is Austrian, “There are myriad gabelfrühstück pastries, many of which are not at all gooey or overly sweet,” among them poppyseed schnecken, pastry pockets, and apricot jelly doughnuts. “These satisfy completely that modest mid-morning hunger.”
Second breakfast is often maligned as the preserve of hobbits and gluttons. It’s less marketable than brunch, less obvious than first breakfast, and less justifiable than lunch or dinner. But perhaps the Germans are onto something. After all, who could say no to a codified mid-morning wheat beer, and three—or even five—sausages?