Wednesday Jan 30, 2019
Sausages on the menu, sausage motifs on the wallpaper, sausage mobiles hanging from the ceiling — and to top it off, a sausage-shaped pillow on your bed.
What sounds like a vegetarian's nightmare is the audacious dream come true of Claus Boebel, a fourth-generation butcher and proprietor of what he calls the world's first and only sausage-themed hotel.
Located in a tidy village, a 40-minute drive south of the German city of Nuremberg, the Bratwurst Hotel has done brisk business since its opening in September, with guests from across Europe and overseas popping in for a visit.
In a slope-roofed stone house, the inn with seven rooms and two conference spaces caters to foodies and tourists looking for a splash of local colour.
Behind the quirky initiative is a Hail Mary bid to keep alive the local butcher's shop — an institution in most towns that was once a pillar of Germany's "Mittelstand" economy of small and medium-sized businesses — in the face of big-box store competition and slacking meat consumption.
"I want to show that small craftsman shops like mine can survive when you have clever ideas," said Boebel, seated on a stool shaped like a tin of minced sausage.
"Plus I love life here in the countryside and, rather than leave, want to draw customers here to Rittersbach," population 300, he added.
The Boebel family has produced and sold meats here since the 19th century.
But Sunday roasts, big multi-generational meals at home and a heavily carnivorous diet are fading from German life, with meat consumption down eight percent since 1991.
And despite a slight increase of late in food spending in Germany, to around 10.6 percent of monthly household expenditure, the people of France (13.2 percent) and Italy (14.2 percent) still fork out significantly more.
Thus family businesses that pride themselves on quality produce often need to get creative to bring in the punters.
Boebel, 48, is a rosy-cheeked entrepreneur of boundless enthusiasm who speaks in the rolling r's of the Franconia regional dialect.
It's not the first time he's got creative to promote his brand, beginning in 2003 with his "Wurstbrief", or sausage letter, featuring a vacuum-packed envelope with the meat and a postcard inside ready for mailing to friends and family.
Boebel's bright green delivery car — matching the hotel's wooden window shutters and the striking facade of the butcher's shop — zips through the village's narrow roads as a "Wurst taxi" bringing meat to hungry customers.
Never one to dream small, Boebel also launched a global online shop, sending his canned wares made from locally sourced livestock to a clientele in far-flung places like Hawaii and Jamaica.
But the hotel, in which he's invested some 700,000 euros ($800,000) in the renovation, takes things to another level.
In the narrow lobby of the hotel, the word "sausage" is emblazoned on the wall in the languages of the world including Russian (kolbasa), Japanese (soseji) and Greek (loukaniko).
The decor includes coat racks recalling butcher's knives and giant pigs on the frosted glass doors to the bathrooms, where sausage-shaped soap awaits in the shower.
Boebel's whimsical approach is his answer to a business environment that's growing ever tougher.
The number of German butcher's shops has tumbled in recent years to just over 12,300 in 2017, with 1,100 folding that year alone, according to industry data.
Older proprietors often can't find a successor when they retire, or they succumb to the stiff competition from big supermarket chains, discounters and even Amazon.
Joerg Ruckriegel, 47, of the municipal tourism office, said businesses like the sausage hotel were helping to reverse the trend and put Franconia more prominently on the tourism map.
"You have a lot of small villages with so much history — palaces and castles and beautiful landscapes, plus the regional cuisine," he said.
"The small butchers' shops that still make their own products are a big part of that."
Tourist Jovina Sperling said she felt "right at home" at the Bratwurst Hotel.
"I'll go back to Nigeria knowing how to make sausage — danke Boebels!!" she wrote in the guest book.
"It's made our little village famous — people come from around the world," said Stephanie Volker, 30, a local chemist who stopped into the butcher's shop at lunchtime.