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