Is asparagus a ‘bourgeois vegetable’?
Lady Muck has recently returned from a trip to Berlin to visit family, and reports that the asparagus season is in full swing there with various festivals and events to celebrate its joys. Of course being spring time the rather obviously phallic shape of the spears has certain fertility connotations, but what I hadn’t realised is that its popularity in Berlin and that eastern part of Germany is at least in part a reaction to it being very much disapproved of in the old GDR where it was denounced as a ‘bourgeois vegetable’. Cultivation being pretty much banned until 1990 (doubtless there were a few fields where it was grown for the delectation of ‘leading Party members’ who could be relied upon never to fall for bourgeois delights of any kind) the joy of being able to eat it without restriction subsequently, must have made the pleasure all the sweeter. It is a useful coincidence that the flat fertile farmland immediately to the south of Berlin, stretching out towards Wittenberg, is peculiarly suitable for its cultivation. Actually come to think of it, Martin Luther might have had a word or two to say about its cultivation too, and for not entirely different reasons than those of Party officials in the GDR 450 years later.
My friend Gunter, a long time Berlin resident tells me that back in the day Agriculture Ministry officials in the GDR, really divided up vegetable growing into those that could be produced on a large scale – suitable both for collective farms, and for mechanisation, and those like asparagus, that couldn’t. Naturally potatoes were an approved proletarian vegetable. More surprisingly so too was rhubarb. So much so that in the GDR rhubarb was more popular than potatoes (surely not as an accompaniment to fish!). But irony of ironies, rhubarb was very difficult to obtain in bourgeois West Germany and the souvenir of choice for west Berliners returning from a day trip to the East in those days was a supply of bottles of rhubarb juice, completely unobtainable in the West. Gunter still has some souvenir bottles – the genuine stuff from the GDR days, in his memorabilia collection.