Hi, I’m Grace and I’m German. My grandmother grew up in Germany during the second World War and immigrated to America after meeting my grandfather in a Konditorei (cafe with a swimming pool). This woman endured the destruction of her area, she survived tuberculosis, she moved to a foreign country without knowing the language, and I have failed her. I have failed her because the other day I finally learned what schnitzel is– and that I have been eating my entire life.
Let’s rewind. From birth, I have been quite immersed in German culture. I grew up reading German picture books, visiting family there, and even learning some of the language. Though my grandmother is the only one of her siblings to immigrate to the US, we still carry on tradition. My grandparent’s 50th wedding anniversary was celebrated in Germany, and at one of my grandmother’s birthdays we held a Steinholding competition. Steinholding is when competitors hold a full one-liter beer stein out in front of their bodies as long as they can. We even celebrate Oktoberfest which is just a huge festival of music, beer, food, and dancing. On special occasions, my grandmother makes Pfannkuchen (German pancakes), which are like crepes… but thinner and better. Around the holidays she makes German chocolate tortes, spritz cookies, and lebkuchen (honey squares). Large family dinners consisted of rouladen (which is just veggies & meat wrapped in meat and baked), spätzle (dumpling noodles), sauerkraut (fermented cabbage), schwäbischer kartoffelsalat (German potato salad), and the list goes on. As Cody Ko would say, we eat good.
From all of that, one could conclude that my grandmother has made a lot of German food in my lifetime. In fact, one of her most iconic dishes is when she breads and fries a thin tenderized meat (typically veal or pork). I cannot emphasize how good it is, and I’m a vegetarian. Though she made it quite frequently, I never knew it had a name, let alone any ties to her homeland. I just thought it was something she cooked, and that was that. At the same time, I had always wondered what schnitzel tasted like. I couldn’t even tell you what it looked like, but I thought it was some kind of German sausage considering the word ‘wiener’ typically preceded it. The character Schnitzel from Chowder looked a little too flat and I had seen Hoodwinked’s schnitzel on a stick (iconic film btw if you have not seen it, shame on you), but it never processed.
For 20 years, it was never processed that schnitzel was the thinned, tenderized meat that I had been enjoying for the majority of my adolescence. My whole life has been a lie. How can I call myself German if I didn’t even know what Schnitzel is? The answer is simple. I can’t.