What is a Kohlfahrt?
That, my friend, is a good question. Unless you are from north-west Germany, chances are you will never have heard of this flatulently-suggestive German word.
It was the same question I had several weeks prior, when some friends invited me “to go on” one. This further deepened the intrigue… What does one do on a Kohlfahrt?
We can try to break it down. Kohl = Cabbage. Fahrt = Trip.
Cabbage trip. Great.
Let’s have a quick history lesson to discover why I was about to depart on this so-called cabbage trip.
Back in 19th century Bremen and Oldenburg, wealthy businessmen would drive to country inns by horse and cart to eat Kale (German: Grünkohl) – the hero of this story . Grünkohl is a hearty winter vegetable that only develops its full flavour after the first frost and only once the celebrations of the Christmas seasons were out of the way would thoughts would turn to the Kohlfahrt.
As the years passed the horses vanished from the equation, cross-country entertainment was devised and this quaint tradition morphed into today’s schnapps-soaked winter ramble.
Kohlfahrt in seven easy steps:
1. Prepare (your schnapps glass). It should be tied around your neck to ensure it is not lost on the way (even if you are). Rain jackets, decorated umbrellas, rubber boots and dress-up items are recommended.
2. Begin the Fahrt (not forgetting your handcart to transport refreshments/tipsy Fahrters) and set forth into the wildnerness. Stop on the orders of your Kohl King/ Queen and at every crossing and bridge.
3. Here, use the aforementioned schnapps glass. Liberally. It’s cold outside and the traditional accompaniment to the forthcoming fatty feast is spirits in large quantities.
4. Compete in a series of utterly serious* games on the way. Our events of the inverse gumboot throw (pictured), the hammer race and frigid, German sayings charades may or may not be typical. Like Swedish Midsummer, the ‘how’ is much more important than the ‘why’, but be careful of rising victorious at the end – the new King or Queen must organise next year’s Fahrt.
5. Enjoy the ride; the Kohlfahrt journey is at least as enjoyable as the destination, despite what your frozen toes may be telling you.
6. When you finally reach the Inn (for us, a flat in the northern wilds of Wedding), glowing from biting cold or Jägermeister, you will eat one of the heaviest meals in your life. Grünkohl, smoked Pinkel sausage, potatoes and pork neck. More schnapps will more than likely be present.
7. Sleep. Hopefully you have planned ahead to stay at the inn or at least have someone picking you up. Otherwise, you my friend have a long Fahrt ahead.