The German-US relationship has meant many things over the years; wars, burgers, and a string of poorly-dubbed TV shows spring to mind. Those aside, the greatest representation of Germany in the States is one humble concoction of flour and water – the pretzel.
Roll it out in your head. Comprising of humble ingredients, the popular snack is often topped with a wealth of flavours; cinnamon, chocolate and jalapeño being among them. At the end of the lunch-break, however, it’s just bread.
The monks and clergy of the Middle Ages dressed up this bread as something more exquisite, to make it more apt for Easter celebrations. Today’s politicians and public figures live in a constant bakery, twirling, knotting and dusting their bread to make it more appealing for public consumption.
Take today. David Cameron is prominent in the politics section for expressing ‘serious concern’ over the somewhat murky situation between Gibraltar and Spain. The whole piece is pretzel politics – devoid of any real action or importance, the statement has been salted and fed to the media.
This is an age-old technique. The Battle of Flodden Field in 1513 was dressed up as one of the greatest English military victories of the century; yet it was against the Scots, inferior both numerically and militarily, and the English army, rather than being pared to the bone in favour of Henry VIII’s simultaneous French campaign as intimated by the propaganda, was still left with its greatest tactical leader and a great deal of soldiery. Catherine of Aragon dressed up this bread to cement her husband’s favour and demonstrate military prowess to her discombobulate father Ferdinand. Bread rolled in cinnamon.
The Germans themselves are experts in such doughy areas; in an exemplar of non-governmental pretzel politics, Michael Schumacher is portrayed in his homeland as the greatest man ever to have pressed the accelerator – the epoch of automotive brilliance – ignoring the serious qualms over the legitimacy of his 1994 championship, subsequent cheating and mammoth superiority of his Ferrari (hence rendering actual driving skill required negligible) in the early part of this century. Bread embedded with jalapeños.
Pretzels are as central to politics, and indeed business, as meaningful accomplishments, actions and skills. It is in this regard that the modest little snack is truly diasporic.