food / travel

A Kebab With Your Salad, And Other New Paths To Healthy Eating

Well-known German Doctor Dietrich Gronemeyer is on a mission to rethink the approach for healthy eating. It's about balance, rather than saying 'No,' or 'You Must.'

All you can eat Kebab (Alex Kehr)
All you can eat Kebab (Alex Kehr)
Iris Alanyali

BERLIN - Dietrich Grönemeyer is among Germany's most famous doctors and medical professors, having written bestsellers about the human heart and back. And now, he's taking on healthy nutrition for children.

I make a note to sit up straight during our lunch interview, and to order only a salad. In walks Grönemeyer, wearing jeans and a checked shirt, and carrying a backpack. My shoulders relax. He looks like the sort of man one could enjoy a meal with -- of, say, currywurst (pork sausages served with curry ketchup) washed down with beer.

And indeed Grönemeyer says that "first currywurst, then a movie, then a kebab" is an occasional favorite of his, although when he cooks he prefers Ayurvedic -- no meat, lots of vegetables and spices. He also likes Thai food. But we're in the Berlin neighborhood of Steglitz, not exactly known for good cuisine, and if Grönemeyer has chosen to meet me here it's because it's a stone's throw from the new branch of his Institute for Microtherapy.

Over a vegetable strudel (pastry) with tomato and herb sauce, a small salad, and a large bottle of mineral water, the doctor tells me that drinking a lot of water, especially during the summer months, is crucial. His book notes how important it is, especially after drinking any type of "ade:" a liter of orangeade, for example, contains half an orange and 39 sugar cubes, but if you drink lots of water immediately after consuming it "helps dilute the harmful substances and activates elimination."

This is typical of Grönemeyer's book -- "Wir Besser-Esser: Gesunde Ernährung macht Spass" (We're the Better-Eaters: Healthy Eating is Fun) -- that never once says: "Stay away from sugary fruit drinks!" Or: "No French fries!" Instead it says to drink lots of water after drinking a fruit "ade," and that it's better to have fries with ketchup than with mayo.

"Food should taste good, but balance is important too. Just because you enjoy currywurst or kebabs doesn't mean you can't also eat salads," he says.

A Grönemeyer trademark, a big part of his credibility and success, is that he bases his advice on the way people actually live. For instance, he got input from real school children from Cologne. Since his days as a medical student in Kiel, this inventor of a minimally invasive operating method has espoused a "humane medicine" that combines high tech and ancient wisdom with a healthy dose of good old common sense. Currywurst and Ayurveda, for example.

A field trip through the body

In his new book, Grönemeyer has children take a "field trip" through the mouth, esophagus, stomach and bowel in the company of a little fellow named Medicus who can travel through bodies.

For years, Grönemeyer has been teaching health in German schools through programs run by the foundation that bears his name. He says that nutrition "is something that has to be rethought. Not only as something that delivers energy and protein, but as something that can change you. If you eat too much, or eat too many fatty things, it not only makes you fat but it can cause all kinds of symptoms, like headaches."

I asked what kind of food was served in his family when he was growing up. There were three boys: Dietrich, the eldest; Wilhelm, an art gallery-owner who died of leukemia in 1998; and Herbert, the youngest, a well-known German actor and singer born in 1956. "We grew up with regular meals, breakfast, lunch and dinner. And huge quantities of bread made from quark dough." He's eaten so much quark (cottage cheese) in his life, he says, that he devoted a whole chapter to it -- "Stark durch Magerquark" (Low-fat Quark Makes You Strong) -- in his book.

All in the family

What he believes gave him a relaxed, happy relation to food was the Saturday night ritual of watching sports with his brothers. "The three of us would sit in front of the TV with toast that we'd made ourselves, that we put cheese, some tomato and a slice of orange on."

Then there was the vegetable garden behind the Zeche Friederika mine where his father worked as an engineer. There were raspberry bushes and apple trees in the garden. When they weren't climbing those trees, the brothers were outdoors -- and active -- playing tennis with rackets they made themselves, and soccer.

Their father went to the gym, played volleyball and tennis with his sons; their mother was into track and field. Unlike others who think of stress and sweat when they walk into a school gym, Grönemeyer says that to this day a gym floods him with feelings of happiness. "It was a generation of group activity."

But it wasn't all peace and joy, food-wise, in the Grönemeyer household: the brothers had to eat pork belly and fatty rind, Brussels sprouts. "Every bit of food that was put on the table had to be eaten. This was the post-War period. And I couldn't stand it, especially the fat, but we had to eat it all because it supposedly made children "big and strong."" To this day, Grönemeyer can't stand bacon.

"That you torture kids by insisting they have to eat certain things"No, they don't! Children have a different sense of taste. For one thing, they don't like things that taste bitter. They don't like Brussels sprouts. And if you force them to eat such things they're going to start throwing up. The way I used to."

Read the article in German in Die Welt

Photo - Alex Kehr

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Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum


SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.

It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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