White asparagus is the non plus ultra of seasonal foods in Germany. A lot of previously seasonal produce is now available year-round in flown-in-from-Chile form, but not Spargel. It remains defiant in appearing only during Spargelzeit, which starts in April and ends with quintessential German precision on the Feast of St. John (June 24). I’ve heard mixed things about how taboo it is to buy, sell or eat Spargel after June 24, but I have personally seen supermarket workers urgently pulling all the Spargel from the shelves on June 23. Spargelzeit is the most intensely observed food season I have ever witnessed. Everywhere you go during Spargelzeit you see restaurants advertising special asparagus menus. Little huts selling Beelitzer Spargel from Brandenburg dot the city.
The reason I’m translating Spargel as “white asparagus” and not just “asparagus” is that in Germany white is the normative asparagus color; in North America all asparagus is green. Which leads me to my personal relationship to Spargel, which is that the sight of it always makes me think of Bunnicula. Bunnicula is a vampire rabbit who starred in a series of children’s books of the late seventies and early eighties. His thing as a vampire rabbit was to sink his fangs into vegetables and suck the life out of them until they turned white. The Bunnicula books had a lot of descriptions of the pale carrots and celery the vampire rabbit left in his wake. To me Spargel looks like asparagus that has been ravaged by Bunnicula.
Bunnicula has a German precursor: the Wolpertinger (above left), a mythological Bavarian fanged and winged bunny pictured in this 16th-century Dürer drawing. Later, in the 19th century, Dürer’s picture and local mythology inspired the practice of creating Wolpertinger through mashup taxidermy:
Some of these taxidermy Wolpertinger are bunnies, and others are squirrels. They were sold to gullible tourists; I guess 19th century tourists would have had no way of knowing that the foreign region they were visiting was not in fact inhabited by flying fanged bunnies. Wolpertinger were also displayed in Bavarian pubs, where you can still sometimes see them.