One of the best or worst things about America, depending on your viewpoint, is the prevalence of so many fast food places in even the smallest of towns. From the chain places like McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, etc. to local burger or pizza places, America does not lack for easily finding fast food. In fact, in some places, driving along any town’s main street, it is not too uncommon to see one right after the other. Fast food has become very popular because it is both “fast” and “cheap”….note, the word “food” is maybe a little to be desired here. As a culture that is always on the go, the fast food industry has continued to expand just as fast as the American waistlines.
Instead of focusing on the negatives of fast food, this is a post to identify the types of fast food found in Germany. While the golden arches are here in Germany, there are some differences regarding the type of fast food found in Germany. This difference is determined by the cultural association that food plays in the overall German society.
In an unscientific survey, I would estimate that the most popular American fast food restaurants found in Germany are as follows (by number of locations that I have seen): Subway, McDonald’s, Burger King, Starbuck’s, KFC, and Pizza Hut. The last three are definitely not as popular regarding number of locations compared to the first three. Other than these six places, I have not seen any other American fast food places in Germany. In the larger cities, there may be more than one location for each of these places, and maybe only one in the small to mid-size cities. In the smallest of towns, good luck in finding any! Compare THAT to the US, where it is easy to find multiple McDonald’s locations within a few miles of each other.
As far as other American chain restaurants, these are even fewer to find: Berlin has a Tony Roma’s, Frankfurt has a Chipotle Mexican Grill, and there are a few Hard Rock Cafe’s here and there. Other German locations for “American” food which would be hamburgers, pizza, fries, etc. would be “American-themed” diners or restaurants. These are typically found in areas popular with American tourists or near the US military bases.
The six main American fast food places found in Germany are mainly found in buildings along a pedestrian area, in some larger train stations, and in some of the break areas found along one of the Autobahns. The “Drive Thru”, an American invention, are at some McDonald’s & Burger Kings, but that is all. Drive Thrus are not common in Germany! To prove this, a “cup holder” in a car is an “optional” feature here, compared to a standard feature in America. In fact, I do not think I have ever seen anyone in Germany either drinking or eating anything, while driving. But, then again, the last thing you want to do is have a hot bag of french fries in your lap, a burger in one hand, and a tag team of your other free hand and knee driving a car going 130 miles per hour!!
As far as a food comparison between these six places in Germany versus the US, the menus are basically the same. There may be a few selection differences like the example of a tuna pizza at Pizza Hut. And, as far as taste, the menu items taste about the same with the differences coming from the mayonnaise & ketchup (because fructose corn syrup is not allowed in most of Europe), the bread is not as “fluffy” (I think again due to some additives not allowed in Germany), and anything with lettuce & tomatoes (tomatoes taste so much better because, most are naturally grown and taste like they are straight from a small garden).
There are other types of “fast” food places found in Germany however. But, before looking at these, we have to mention a couple of differences between American & German culture. America is a “car” culture versus the German “public transport” culture. As a result, most “fast” food type places are found near public transportation stops and along the town pedestrian areas. Also, because the culture in Germany is people that are not in a hurry like in the US, it is rare to see a German even walking while eating. For a German, food is meant to be enjoyed in the company of good friends and a nice glass of wine or beer.
That being said, in Germany, the main fast food item would be anything sold at a local bakery. While the States may have competing fast food places on the same street block; here in Germany you will find competing Bakeries. All of the Bakeries sell various assortments of breads (brötchen) either plain or as a small sandwich (belegte brötchen), various types of pasteries, as well as coffee. Bakeries are your quintessential fast food places in that the food is delivered fast and usually inexpensive.
Another fast food is thanks to an import of the many Turkish citizens in Germany, and this is the wonderfully delicious Döner Kebab (usually lamb meat placed within a flatbread). Most Döner places are walk-up window stands where you place your oder with the toppings you would like. The meat is cooked vertically so the fat drains off the meat, and the attendant will cut the slices direct off the meat and place them inside a warm flatbread pita. The toppings are lettuce, tomato, onions with a dill-type of sauce. They can be messy to eat, but oh so delicious!
Nordsee is a fast food type place that sells seafood, mainly breaded fillets. Nordsee offers fish sandwiches, but most will get a type of fish plate with usually pommes frites (french fries), and possibly some vegetables. It reminds me of a Long John Silvers back home.
In Germany, next to the Döner, the most popular fast food has to be Currywurst!! Basically, this is a pork sausage (bratwurst) that is cooked, sliced and covered in curry sauce, which is a type of ketchup with curry powder mixed in. While the description does not sound appetizing, I can say that this is an especially delicious treat, especially on a cold day during a street festival.
Regarding German fast food, the above covers I would say at least 75% of the type of fast food found here. The remaining would be regional fares found throughout Germany, like Pretzels in Bavaria. Also, there are several places that sell Chinese and Indian food, but neither tastes quite the same as back in the US.
And, let’s not forget about pizza. There are a lot of pizza places in Germany, but as an American and as one who has lived a few years in New Jersey, these pizzas do not taste anything like back home in the States. But, if I find myself really craving an American pizza, I will venture into Mannheim and stop by Pizza Hut.
While there are fast food places in Germany, they are just not as common as they are in the US. Outside the American establishments that are here, the German fast food places seem to offer more of what I would call “real” food, as opposed to a 99 cent hamburger or taco that are a little questionable as if it is real food or not. The attitude about fast food is greatly different in Germany than in the US, but if you are in a hurry or just want to try something German, stop by for a Currywurst…..just don’t drive while eating!!
Also, if you want to know more about differences in German vs. American food that I have experienced, check out my other blog post here…. or, if there is a fast food place or food type that I missed in Germany, we would love to hear your comments.