Germany at 25: Onions and lots of them

Photo taken by Micha Riesler Source:

The onion: Love it or leave it, it is one of the vegetables that is considered the remedy for human life. Egyptians from 4000 years ago worshipped it as a symbol of eternal life. Ancient Greeks used it to improve the flow of blood. Doctors in the 16th century used it to increase fertility among women. And believe it or not, like salt,  onion was an important trading commodity in Europe during the Medieval Ages.

Onions had their purpose, no matter where they were cultivated, hundreds of years ago, as they still do today, but for the purpose of pure consumption. While many people do not like onions because they irritate the digestive tract and the nasal cavity (in addition to them crying when they are cut open), others love onions because of the advantages they present, in terms of health. Prior to my arrival in Germany in 1999, I had only associated onions with them being breaded and fried in a form of onion rings. Part of that was because of me learning the secret recipe of making them while working for a restaurant owner in Iowa, two years earlier (he still makes them to this day but at a small bar and grill in a rural town in Minnesota).  Yet I never was a fan of onions because they were really irritating to the tongue.

That changed in an instant when setting foot inside an onion market! 🙂

Every year for a weekend in October, hundreds of thousands of people converge on Weimar to visit the Onion Market (German: Zwiebelmarkt). For three days, they can take advantage of trying out different delicacies using that particular ingredient. Apart from broiled meat with mushrooms and onions, one of two key products of the market is the Zwiebelkuchen (broiled onion pie) with Federweisser, a new fermented wine whose bottle must not be closed tightly nor laid on the side to avoid an explosion. Its origin and ingredients can be found here.  There are many recipes for Zwiebelkuchen, but none as typical for the Weimar market as this one (click here). It is considered a quiche with onions, eggs and bacon, but each recipe is different. The one I tried at the onion market in Weimar tasted really good, enough to change my opinion about onions. Since that time, apart from having Zwiebelkuchen during the fall months, I have eaten onions raw with liver as well as for cold plate, as well as included them in any hot dishes I make at home. This is in addition to having them with the homemade hamburgers and of course, the onion rings.

But the Zwiebelmarkt also has onions in the form of artwork, which a person can purchase for their home. This includes the other key product, the Zwiebelzopf, a form of artwork that features a plait made of straw with onions and garlic lining up in rows, similar to the picture above. This popular decoration has been around for over 600 years and had originally been used to repel illnesses carried by people from the outside. The Zwiebelzopf is considered the main object at the Zwiebelmarkt in Weimar.

The market itself has been touted as the largest “Volksfest” in the state of Thuringia, but its origin dates back to the Renaissance period, when it was known as the Zippelmarkt (flea market). Originally, the market was a three-day event, but it was reduced to one day in 1900, and remained that way for 90 years. In 1949, the second Saturday in October was declared the right time for the market. However, since 1990, it was held for three days on a weekend, mainly in the first or second weekend in October. The market has also increased in size, for instead of having it near the Frauenplan at present-day Schillerstrasse, it has expanded to Goetheplatz and the Old Town, attracting as many as 350,000 visitors annually. Music and a marathon accompany this event.

Onion Market in Weimar: one of the oldest and most well-known markets of its kind. Photo taken in October 2010
Onion Market in Weimar: one of the oldest and most well-known markets of its kind. Photo taken in October 2010

The onion market is the best remedy to cure all doubt when it comes to onions. Onions can be irritating for consumption and many people prefer them to be cooked or fried. However, when reading this article about it, one can see that the onion, to this day, still has its many uses that are beneficial beyond its taste. Germans love to consume onions in many ways, as much as they use onions for decoration purposes. And while some believe in it being the holy remedy, many take pride in it just looking or even tasting good. And for those, like me, who had had his preference prior to the visit, onions can be a good eating therapy, served to coax the person into embracing this lovely bulb, either raw or cooked. Enjoy! 😀

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