We need to talk about North Hesse, the area around Kassel in the heart of Germany.
'Old sausage' or Ahle Wurscht in local dialect, is the typical sausage from the region. Made with fresh pork meat and various spices, it's dried or smoked and laid to rest for several weeks (hence 'old'). In taste it's quite similar to salami – but of course better. The sausage has acquired cult status in North Hesse, and nowadays you'll spot it on the menus of everything from gourmet restaurants to burger bars. With up to 35% fat allowed in production it's certainly no diet product, but it stays good outside the fridge for weeks or even months and therefore makes the perfect souvenir to take home from Kassel. Get a fresh Ahle Wurscht from one of the butchers in the Markthalle market hall for around €6.
Besides Ahle Wurscht, local specialities include meaty dishes like Mett, Weckewerk and Sülze. The first may not seem too appetising to foreign cultures; Mett is raw minced pork, often enjoyed on a fresh bread roll as a Mettbrötchen, garnished with onions and spiced up with salt and pepper and perhaps garlic. Kasseler Sülze is a summer dish of meat jelly, served cold. Known as head cheese or brawn, it's made with flesh from a calf or pig's head plus some offal such as heart, tongue and feet, and natural gelatin and spices. The Kasseler variety includes pickles, vegetables and egg in the jelly. Weckewerk sausage is a typical North Hesse delicacy made from Sülze meat with pork broth and stale bread (Weck is the Hessian term for roll); sometimes it's served fried. To avoid any disappointment, we need to make clear that the famed salted and smoked cut of pork named Kassler is not a local speciality at all; it was possibly named after a Berlin butcher called Cassel.
Kassel enjoys the dubious distinction of being Germany's raccoon capital. There may be half a million of them in Germany in total, but it's Kassel that attracts most attention from the cuddly-looking but invasive omnivores. Ironically, the North American mammals were introduced around the nearby Edersee lake in 1934 in an experiment 'to enrich the local fauna'. By now, they're something of a plague and any attempt to manage their numbers seems doomed, with a lack of natural predators and so much forest around. Some 28,000 Kassel-based raccoons were captured and killed in 2015-2016 alone, many of them in city centre areas. The clever ones have specialised in slipping into attics by lifting up roof tiles and then destroying the insulation. And it seems they're here to stay.