Fritz and Co., Berlin's Queerest Sausages
Berlin is known for many things – nightclubs, anti-capitalist riots, a wall whose collapse culminated with the warbling of David Hasselhof – but the city’s history would be incomplete without currywurst. An archetypal Berlin foodstuff, currywurst was invented shortly after the war, when traditional pork sausages were spiced up with ketchup and curry powder, ingredients carried by many of the occupying British soldiers. Flavorful, filling, and readily available, it fast became a favorite among the construction workers rebuilding the flattened city. In fact, it’s safe to say that it was currywurst which helped repair Berlin.
Today the city is home to hundreds of currywurst outlets, but there’s one establishment which combines this historical recipe with something else Berlin is known for: its vibrant queer culture. Fritz & Co opened fifteen years ago, and has since become a local landmark. Clad in colorful queer caricatures created by artist Sven Marcell, the stall depicts all aspects of Berlin’s LGBT communities: pretty green-haired punks stand proud next to the structurally-improbable wigs of drag queens, themselves shadowed by the bulging pectorals of leather daddies (many of whom look as though they’ve been hiding the stall’s wares down their pants). Of course, there’s also the obligatory blond hunk suggestively stuffing a sausage into his mouth, alongside two twinks who lovingly share their fries.
Though this might sound like something at the center of the city’s gayborhood, Fritz & Co in fact stands in the Wittenbergplatz: a junction between two very different worlds. Just one subway stop to the east lies Nollendorfplatz, the heart of gay Berlin since the hedonist days of the Weimar Republic. In the 1920s Schöneberg hosted hundreds of bars and nightclubs, each clamouring to provide for the city’s ever-growing queer population: ranging from drag cabaret to establishments for lesbian pipe-smoking fetishists. Though today some of its diversity has drifted toward the younger, queerer, and trendier Kreuzberg/Neukölln districts, the area boasts a healthy number of leather stores, fetish bars, and sex clubs – and still serves as a terminus for horny gay men.
Yet a single subway stop in the other direction lies Kurfürstendamm. Designed as the city’s answer to the Champs-Élysées, it boasts luxury boutiques, upmarket restaurants, and its fair share of irritable rich people. In fact, Fritz & Co’s defiant and outlandish caricatures gaze across the square at Kaufhaus Des Westens, Europe’s largest department store and a gathering place for the city’s wealthy elite (alongside flocks of tourists). The stand’s location straddles both Schöneberg’s sexual and market hedonism, representing the kind of diversity Berlin has become known for: a place where young queer anarchists protest their gentrified gay neighbours; where noisy drag queens stroll by yuppie parents and their 500 Euro strollers.
“It’s at the beginning of the gay quarter, so we thought we’d open a place catering to the scene,” explains owner and manager Friederike Exter, who runs the establishment alongside her father. With her hair pulled neatly back above stylish thick-rimmed glasses, Friederike appears the archetypal Berliner. “Gay people eating here mix with heterosexual families. Berlin is a city where that can happen.” And it’s true – children and straight parents can be found dining in front of these illustrated sausage-munching queers and their flesh-and-blood counterparts. In fact, she reveals, the response from locals over the past decade and a half has been overwhelmingly positive, and they rarely encounter any hostility or homophobia. The flamboyant establishment is an accepted landmark.
But it’s not just its LGBT-friendliness which sets Fritz & Co apart. For starters it uses only organic (German: ‘bio’) ingredients, a plus for both the environment and the food itself. Unlike the majority of the city’s currywurst stands, the frying oil is changed daily, ensuring the product is healthier and fresher. The subject visibly animates Friederike. “Very few places do it, but for us it’s really important,” she emphasises. “We want to sell the best quality possible. It’s the philosophy of my family and the company.”
Though this might seem high-minded for a fast food outlet, the benefits are apparent. The fries are freshly prepared from bio potatoes, and customers can choose from a range of locally-made and organic beverages: from German Fritz-Kola (a high-caffeine cola drink whose name is purely coincidental), to Berlin-brewed beers. As is typical for a currywurst stand, the food options are limited, but are served with a variety of condiments, all made in-house. These include the standard ketchup and garlic mayo, to a lightly spiced peanut sauce – providing a vegan-friendly option when served with the satisfyingly chunky fries.
On warmer evenings the menu is extended to include special Fritz & Co cocktails. “In summer we have a lot of music here,” Friederike explains, with guests joining the establishment’s evening parties on their way to Schöneberg’s bear and leather bars. Its location also places it at the center of LGBT events: the stall experiences a surge in customers during the city’s leather week, as eager fetishists stop by for cocktails in between examining the delights of Berlin’s many fetishwear workshops. In June the Christopher Street Day parade passes the stall on its way toward Nollendorfplatz, and for many jubilant queers Fritz & Co serves as a rest stop on the march, a place to grab a snack – and maybe even find new friends and fuck buddies.
“It’s really part of the scene by now,” adds Friederike. And she’s not kidding: many of the employees are active members of Berlin’s queer culture. Houseyin Chavushoglu exits the kiosk to speak to me. Houseyin is a handsome man whose dark beard (a mandatory feature among the city’s man-loving men) is sprinkled with grays, and as he speaks he maintains the sharp gaze of a seasoned activist. It is no surprise to hear that he was a veteran LGBT rights campaigner back in his native Cyprus, where he was the first openly gay man to be interviewed by the country’s newspapers. He arrived in Berlin three years ago, drawn to the freedom the city promises so many. “I wanted to find something new. It was clear I could live freely here,” he describes during a break in his shift. It was in the queer-oriented Siegessäule magazine that he saw the advertisement for a job at Fritz & Co.
“It’s very popular,” he expounds, visibly proud of the establishment in which he works. “Not only with tourists, but the gay community. Local people come here often. All our customers say we’re the best currywurst in the city.” Houseyin appreciates the rapport Fritz & Co enjoys with the public, and its role in the district’s gay scene. “It’s like a rainbow here. We see every side of the population. That’s Berlin – it’s multi-kulti.”
Wittenbergplatz is a busy place, and the eatery benefits from some hefty foot traffic. With the shopping district, several gay bars, subway station, and tour bus stops all within a few hundred feet, the stand sees a healthy trade throughout the day and late into the night. As another round of customers queue for the city’s queerest sausages, it’s clearly time to return to work. This leaves one final question: which of the illustrated queers is their favorite?
“Fritz, of course!” Friederike answers, pointed to the ginger twink by the stand’s name. “But also the drag queen with blue hair. We like the variety. The pictures are diverse because we don’t want anyone excluded. We cater to everyone!” With its strong principles and ongoing popularity, it looks as though Fritz & Co will continue to do so for the foreseeable future – with the red-headed Fritz proudly waving his currywurst for all of Wittenbergplatz to see.
BY REDFERN JON BARRETT