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Netherlands sends fishy thanks to western German medics

Ian P. Johnson
June 10, 2020

Some 4,000 new-season herrings are to be delivered to German medics as thanks for treating Dutch Covid-19 patients. The salty delicacies go to Münster clinic staff who coordinated Dutch transfers to German hospitals.

2015 file photo: Angela Merkel tackles a herring whole on a German trawler.
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/J. Büttner

The Dutch Fish Marketing Board on Wednesday said that 2020's first catch of herrings — which are typically auctioned off for a good cause at a major public event — would instead be presented as a gift to the neighboring German state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW). The decision was to show gratitude for German assistance treating some Dutch coronavirus patients. 

The roughly 4,000 salty herrings — a delicacy known as maatjes in Dutch and Matjes in German — would be handed over to NRW's Health Minister Karl-Josef Laumann and the director of the university clinic in Münster, Hugo van Aken. 

NRW, bordering the Netherlands, in early April took in coronavirus patients from three EU member states, including 28 from the Netherlands, to  help overburdened intensive care units. Similar initiatives took place in other states involving other countries.

In all, more than 100 Dutch were reportedly treated at clinics in NRW and as far afield in Mainz in the state of Rhineland Palatinate, with Munster's "International Patient" hub coordinating transfers with its counterpart in Rotterdam.

NRW's health minister, Karl-Josef Laumann told the Westfälische Nachrichten newspaper in April that it was "self-explanatory that we help." At the time, Germany had 28,000 intensive care beds ready for Covid-19 patients, 6,000 of them in NRW, of which 2,400 were not occupied, he said.

The catch typically runs from June to August, and the start of the season is usually marked with a large gathering and public auction of the first catch, typically with the proceeds going to charity. 

Matjes are fileted herring, tail included, marinated in salty brine, with the inside flesh reddish, indicating fish enzymes yearned for taste by connoisseurs.

Classically served, the herring portions come garnished with onions, gherkins and salad, alongside boiled potatoes and sometimes mayonnaise sauce.

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