By Bob Mumby
An Over-Analysis Of An Alternate History Recipe
Beware SPOILERS for both Wolfenstein: The New Order and Wolfenstein: The New Colossus.
On the surface, the alternate history scenario offered to us by Wolfenstein is a cartoonishly simple one. It is the 1960s, and the world has been conquered by Nazi Germany. Not simply divided with Imperial Japan a la Man In The High Castle, we’re talking total world conquest. And as we discover over the course of the games, the Nazis have stretched their hands out to grasp the cold surface of the Moon and the hot toxic clouds of Venus. This is a world of pulpy extremes, with the Nazis utilising monstrous cyborg supersoldiers and mindless robotic automatons, including the especially frightening Panzerhund, against our square-jawed American Patriot William Joseph Blazkowicz
But beneath the surface, these are games with surprising depths. After our initial introduction to heroic jarhead BJ in The New Order at the turning point of the Second World War in 1944, we spend the best part of the next twenty years in a vegetative state, subhuman in the eyes of Nazism, ‘life unworthy of life’. In the New Colossus, you spend about half of the game crippled by the exertions of the first instalment, horribly aware of your own mortality and that you probably won’t live to see the revolution you are fighting for brought to fruition. The New Colossus also establishes BJ’s mixed Polish-Jewish-American heritage, and confronts the player with the bleak consequences of Nazi world conquest when BJ discovers that his father sold his mother out to the Nazis in return for preferential treatment.
Scattered through both games, but more so in the second are numerous newspaper clippings bringing additional depth and knowledge of the changed circumstances of the war, and what brought about America’s ultimate defeat. Even the trailers of the New Colossus went to efforts to flesh out the world you would be fighting in. At the same time that BJ is fighting to bring about a Second American Revolution, his country is inching towards the abolition of the English language and the institution of German as the only legal form of speech. And finally we come to the point of this article. In the atomic bomb ruin of what was once New York, you can find a ‘cook book recipe’ describing a Sauerkraut Burger.
You might think a burger can’t tell us much about the world of Wolfenstein. And you might be right, but assuming you aren’t, what can it tell us. Drawing on what we know about the world, from both games, we know that despite the war being officially over there is an active Resistance movement in Africa where virtually open warfare continues to be waged (the character Bombate is a veteran of this conflict, and we meet them in a concentration camp in The New Order). The nature of the Nazi regime, privileging the military over civilians, the expense of conquering the world and maintaining totalitarian law and order across the planet, as well as pursuing an ambitious space programme means its likely that the Reich has maintained rationing well into the 1960s. So assuming that the Sauerkraut Burger doesn’t rely on black market beef for its patties and is an entirely legal meal, what does it tell us about the world of Wolfenstein?
1. Fry or grill a patty of ground hamburger meat 2. Put patty on top of bottom half a whole grain bread roll 3. Spread a thick layer of German mustard on the burger meat 4. Add a hearty dollop of sauerkraut on top 5. Place thick strips of speck on the sauerkraut 6. Put top half of bread roll over the speck and squeeze gently 7. Serve the burger with pickled cucumber, boiled potatoes and a stout of robust German beer
German rationing in WW2 was based on weight of the product you were buying (unlike in Britain were meat was rationed by price to encourage eating cheaper cuts of meat). As the recipe has no strict measurements, it is hard to infer much from that alone. But one thing is clear from the outset. The sauerkraut burger is an attempt to fuse the German and American cuisines, perhaps in a way which isn’t totally natural. We see this in the game world, most obviously in Roswell where traditional 1950s Americana blends with Nazi iconography in an initially jarring fashion.
First of all, there is the meat – a hamburger patty and an unspecific number of thick strips of speck. In real life the average German received a ration of 700 grams of meat a week in 1939 or 250g in 1945. A quick Google tells me the average weight of a hamburger patty is 45g before cooking and we’d be talking about nearly 100g when thinking at least two ‘thick’ strips of speck. So that’s about half your weekly meat ration gone in one meal. Even if we assume the meat ration has returned to 1939 levels, consuming just under a quarter of your ration in one meal seems rather extreme – especially when this is just fast food. So I think it’s safe to assume that either the meat ration is more generous than it was in WW2, or there simply isn’t a ration on meat. In our own timeline, the Nazis wanted to exterminate the Slavic population of Eastern Europe, planning to populate the region with Wehrbauer (soldier-farmers), and recreate a semi-mythical forested land which was home to a recreated aurochs. Assuming that by the time of the 1960s, this reforestation has occurred, and the aurochs has been bred back into existence, perhaps it is not unreasonable to assume that the Reich has a thriving meat industry.
One thing that does stand out in the recipe is the lack of fresh vegetables, aside from potatoes. Everything else has been preserved, either pickled or fermented. Considering that a burger is usually considered naked if bereft of lettuce and tomatoes, this does lead to me wondering what the state of Germany’s vegetable industry is. Like Britain, Germany never rationed vegetables, but their availability was often severely limited. The vision of Berlin we are offered in The New Order is Albert Speer’s dream, a concrete hellscape crowned by the nigh-impossible dome of the Volkshalle. This hardly seems like a city where people are expected to ‘dig for victory’. While the Reich has obviously conquered vast tracts of arable land in its march across the planet’s face, it seems that the cultivation of vegetables was not a priority. Assuming we were correct in assuming a reforestation of Eastern Europe, then that reduced the land area that can be given over to agriculture and greater emphasis may have been given to grain and potatoes than to fresh greens. What vegetables are cultivated are either a highly sought after luxury or have been preserved in some fashion to increase their shelf life. The unfortunate subjects of the Reich, if they haven’t been exterminated or otherwise imprisoned or killed, may have to worry about a shortage of important vitamins and minerals.
Another glaring anomaly to an OTL observer is the lack of fat or oil mentioned in the recipe. No butter is spread on the bread, the options of grilling or frying the patty never mentions heating oil in a pan, and the potatoes are boiled, rather than cut into chips and fried. Considering that IOTL the Germans had a weekly ration of 280g of butter a week (compared to Britain’s 57g, though we had a separate lard ration of 57g and a margarine ration of 113g), it seems that this is one area in which the Reich has actually fallen substantially behind wartime levels of consumption, to the point where fats and oils are used far less than we would consider normal. Perhaps with cattle given over to beef production and arable land used for the cultivation of carbohydrates, little space is left for the dairy and vegetable oil industries. Only six years of total war almost eviscerated Britain’s diet, in the dairy industry especially where governmental restrictions destroyed dozens of cheese varieties virtually overnight. Germany in the world of Wolfenstein has been waging a war across the planet and pouring resources into terrifying wunderwaffen and the frontiers of space for nearly two decades. While private enterprise continued to exist in Nazi Germany, and indeed corporate interests thrived on the spoils of war, the direction of resources into weapons of war has undoubtedly crushed some industries under foot, so thoroughly it seems to have reshaped the diet of its subjects.
Perhaps a simple burger recipe doesn’t tell us much about the world in which it was created. But some of what I have mulled over while writing this speaks to the nature of the Nazi Regime, one in which careful plans were drawn up for the systematic extermination of hundreds of millions, the transformation of landscapes to match a mythical Germanic dream, the glorification of war and the direction of all efforts into a chauvinist project of global subjugation at the expense of individual humanity. I have cited a few numbers about German rationing during the OTL war, but perhaps one more statistic gets across the horror of the Reich – the rations were designed to provide a daily calorific allowance, for Germans this was 2613. For non-Germans deemed suitable for Germanisation, and those of mixed race, this was 669. And for non-Aryan subhumans? They were allotted only 184 calories a day. If nothing else, we can infer that the sauerkraut burger is intended for nobody else but the pureblooded German conquerors of America, not their subjects.