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Battered, Fried, Flipped: The Cultural Legacy of Junk Food

As the modern world continues its saucy and long-standing love affair with fast food, a Berlin museum has whipped together a feast of alimentary icons in an exhibition which explores the social phenomenon of junk food.


Snack shacks like this dot the streets of Berlin.

Be it standing, moving, on the go or in between meals, we all eat fast food -- even German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. Be it in Helsinki, St. Petersberg or closer to home in Paderborn, people are addicted to fast food, a panacea for spontaneous cravings. Welcome to the microcosmo of plastic packaging, plastic forks and deep-frozen foods.

Imbiss am Nordbahnhof

A new exhibition at the Domäne Dahlem museum in Berlin seeks to shed new light on the social phenomenon of fast food. It's an elemental experience for junk food junkies and provides the chance for them to get their biggest fix yet. Room upon room of exhibits paint the bigger picture of the sometimes delicious, sometimes depressing world of the universal snack bar.

From french fries to pizza

"Imbissbuden - Essen ohne Grenzen" (Snack Bars - Food without Frontiers) is a cooperation between the museum and publicist Jon von Wetzlar which seeks to explore the architectonic, culinary and sociological effects of these urban anarchists on their surroundings. With photos, videos, paintings, visuals, sound installations, light effects and even smell sensations, the exhibition, like most snack bars, has something for everyone.

Hamburger, Pommes und Hot Dog

An array of items contributed to the show by artist Patricia Waller include crocheted French fries, hamburgers and pizza slices that have proven especially popular with the show's younger visitors. The walls are lined with photographs depicting the kitchy uniqueness of dozens of snack bars discovered by von Wetzlar during a research odyssey around the outskirts of Berlin. The images, which include joints with glaringly green artificial lawns and compulsory high tables, were shot by photographer Christoph Buckstegen, have been compiled in a book entitled Urban Anarchisten - Die Kultur der Imbissbude (Urban Anarchists - The Culture of the Snack Bar).

Modest beginnings


According to the show's curators, Berlin got its first taste of fast food some 200 years ago when a pioneering foodie opened a cinnamon pretzel stand in the city's Spandau district. It was then 120 years later that the popular bockwurst sausage made its first fast food appearance, followed by a Berlin creation that is still a firm favorite. The Berliner Currywurst, sausage smothered in sauce, is like a large Frankfurter sausage cut into pieces then doused in tomato ketchup and sprinkled with a generous helping of curry powder. It was the brainchild of Herta Heuwer, whose contribution to Berlin's culinary landscape was so highly regarded that a commemorative plaque was erected following her death in 1999.

Even the great pillar of fast food culture, the hamburger, is believed to have its roots in Germany. In 1906 an entrepreneur and son of a German immigrant who went by the name of Erich Playowski, began serving small meatballs covered with melted cheese in white bread at his snack bar next to an Ohio football field. He named them after his home town of Hamburg, and a legend was born.

The tradition evolves

Döner Kebab Imbiss in München

From pizza to hamburgers, sushi to falafal, the fast food menu is growing all the time. Berlin alone boasts a massive 2,000 fast food stands with representatives from Italy, China, Japan, Turkey, Greece, the Arab nations and northern Africa. Nonetheless, the supply never seems to be fully exhausted and, it seems, as long as foreigners continue to knock at Germany's door, Berliners will continue to be wooed by a growing array of exotic and greasy taste sensations.

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