Soaring goose prices threaten German St Martin’s Day celebrations

Martinsgans – or martin goose – is eaten around 11 November, but restaurants are dropping dish to save cash

Soaring inflation threatens to cast a shadow over one of Germany’s most popular cultural festivities, which culminates in eating roast goose.

A Martinsgans, or martin goose, is eaten on or around 11 November – St Martin’s Day – when the 4th-century Roman soldier-turned-saint who shared his cloak with a poor man is remembered throughout the country in lantern parades, song, bonfires and theatrical reenactments of his life.

Tradition has it that out of humility, St Martin hid in a barn full of geese to avoid being ordained a bishop, only to have his whereabouts revealed by the gaggle’s squawks.

To commemorate him, people fatten up on goose before a period of fasting, and often eat it again at Christmas, six weeks later.

However, a combination of avian influenza and a sharp rise in costs of animal feed and fertiliser has led to as much as a 100% increase in prices being demanded for the bird, which is traditionally served with red cabbage, dumplings and gravy.

Some restaurants have said they have had no choice but to drop the dish from their menus altogether, despite it being a mainstay of the culinary calendar, in the German-speaking world in particular. Others have said they will ask diners for advance payment before putting their orders in with goose farmers out of fear that unwitting guests will balk at the cost and refuse to pay, or fail to turn up, leaving restaurateurs with an expensive bird and no takers.

Lorenz Eskildsen, the head of the National Association for Rural Goose Keepers (BBG), said the price rises were justifiable because of the rising costs and higher risks faced by poultry farmers. “I believe they are reasonable and that restaurants won’t have a problem implementing them.” Goose is such a popular dish for both St Martin’s and Christmas, he told German media, “that it is hardly imaginable that it will disappear from the menu altogether”.

Eskildsen said prices for the majority of geese, imported mainly from Poland and Hungary, had doubled, from €4.50 (£3.94) to €9 a kg, while German geese were about 15% more expensive, costing about €17.50 a kg.

Organic poultry farmers have been less affected, because they do not use chemical fertilisers, which are in short supply and have shot up in price as a result of the invasion of Ukraine.

However, Ingrid Hartges, the head of the German Hotel and Public House Association (Dehoga), said it was unpredictable what might happen, especially with many restaurants already struggling with high inflation costs and consumers cutting back on eating out. “No one can really envisage whether people will be prepared to pay,” she said. “It could well be that no small number of businesses are forced to take goose off the menu.”

André Berthold, owner of the traditional restaurant pub Neugrunaer Sportcasino in the eastern city of Dresden, said Martinsgans formed the backbone of his winter trade, but that he had been forced to drop it from his menu this year. “The purchase price has more than doubled, so that I would have to ask €35 per portion. But my customers don’t have that sort of money,” he told the Bild newspaper.

Berthold said he was prepared to buy in goose for customers who paid him in full a week in advance. “For those that are prepared to do that, I’ll fetch the bird, stuff it, roast it and serve it up.”

Hunters of game with a licence to sell to restaurants have meanwhile reported an upsurge in interest in wild boar and venison as more affordable alternatives.

“I will be making sure that roast venison and wild boar goulash is on the menu instead,” Berthold said.


Kate Connolly in Berlin

The GuardianTramp

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