The German word Butterbrot (literally: butter bread = bread with butter) describes a slice of bread topped with butter. The words in formal and colloquial German and the different dialects for butterbrot (different from belegtes Brot - with cheese, sausages etc.), simply Brot ("bread"), Butterstulle, Stulle, Schnitte (all three Northeast/Berlin dialect), Bütterken (Rheinland dialect) to Bemme (Saxon dialect) or Knifte (Ruhr dialect). Although it is increasingly replaced by other foods, it remains a common staple food in Germany. Since 1999, the last Friday in the month of September was made the day of butterbrot by the Marketing Organization of German Agricultural Industries.[1] Russian adopted the term as buterbrod (бутерброд) to refer to open sandwiches in general, even ones without butter.

Comparison with sandwiches

Butterbrot with ham slices and bruschetta
Caviar butterbrot, typical Russian zakuski

A Butterbrot is commonly a single slice of bread and one "ingredient" on top of the butter or margarine. For breakfast, this ingredient tends to be sweet and can be marmalade, jam, honey, chocolate spread, hazelnut spread, or the less common peanut butter. For dinner (in Germany, during the working week people in general eat only one cooked meal per day, which is either lunch or dinner) or as boxed lunch, and often also for breakfast, the Butterbrot is eaten with something savoury on top, usually a large slice of cold meat or cheese or sliced German Wurst, or one of the countless cream cheese varieties, or even an entire Schnitzel or halved mince meat patty, or hard boiled egg slices or egg salad, or other spreadable creamy salads, or smoked salmon, or various savoury spreads like liverwurst, including also a wide range of vegetarian spreads. Boxed lunch Butterbrot can be folded for easier handling, and as such remotely resembles the sandwich. In Austria Butterbrot only refers to a slice of bread with butter. If a topping is added it is named after the topping (e.g. Käsebrot "cheese bread", Wurstbrot "sausage bread").

Wurstbrot and Wurstbrötchen.

The derivatives of the British sandwich and the Butterbrot of the German-speaking countries differ in some ways: The Butterbrot is usually made from the typical bread types of German-speaking countries, which are much firmer, juicier and fuller in taste, and with a crispy crust, compared to English sandwich slices. One popular type is Vollkornbrot (wholegrain bread), which has a sourish full savoury taste, due to the use of sourdough as a leavening agent, and which often contains rye, albeit bread made from wheat flour is usually the most common variety. Vollkornbrot exists in dozens of varieties with respect to taste, shape, color, etc. However Germans also know a large variety of white or mixed bread kinds, baguette or ciabatta are so common they are sold in every supermarket, and many modern German families simply eat toast with topping for breakfast, as it's cheaper and faster. Another very popular bread type is Brötchen (bread rolls), of which countless varieties exist in any possible shape, size and made from any possible flour combination.

Some of the countless varieties of Brötchen in Germany

The frequent claims that Germans would constantly eat hard and tasteless Graubrot and Schwarzbrot are likely urban legends, or prejudice, possibly originating from soldier tales during World War II.[citation needed] Especially since those kinds of bread are usually the strongest in sourdough flavour.

Likely even more important are differences with respect to what is eaten on top of a Butterbrot or in a sandwich. Although exceptions exist, a Butterbrot is commonly not expanded the way sandwiches are. One slice of cheese and one or (in case of thin slices) maybe two slices of cold meat are commonly considered sufficient; adding lettuce, tomato, pickles, onions, mustard, mayonnaise etc. happens only following individual preferences. Also the ratio of bread and "topping" is relatively constant, thick fancy sandwich fillings have almost no equivalent for the Butterbrot.

German speakers differentiate between the German-style Butterbrot and the British-style sandwich by using the English word "sandwich" for the latter. As the English language does not contain both words, English speakers commonly describe both Butterbrot and sandwich with the word sandwich, which may lead to some confusion.

As a conclusion one may say that the Butterbrot is a type of open faced sandwich, using well made savoury bread slices, and with simpler straightforward toppings. However one of the reasons why the Germans prefer just butter and simpler toppings is because they take such pride in the quality and taste of their breads.


The butterbrot has been displaced gradually in the last 40 years by muesli, breakfast cereals or toast for breakfast and take-away bakery products during daytime.

Nonetheless, it remains a common staple food among many Germans. In addition it remains popular in the evening. It is also eaten a lot on hiking trips. In many parts of Germany the butterbrot is still very common for second breakfast at school or work (much more often eaten than, for example, fast food).

Usually in September every year, the Central Marketing Society for German Agriculture (CMA, the agricultural industry's now-defunct lobby group) used to declare a "day of the German Butterbrot". The 8th Butterbrot day's motto in 2006 was: "Re-Experience Enjoyment".[2] The celebration was one of many "Days of..." and not very well known in Germany.

Urban legends

Butterbrots (correct German plural: Butterbrote) and their variants are said to always fall to the floor (and especially on a fuzzy carpet) with the buttered side downwards (see: Murphy's law). A common explanation is that the top side is usually heavier than the bottom side. This applies more to Nutella/jam breads than cheese/meat breads. Another is tied to the common height of tables. The subject has been researched by various sources, e.g. the famous children's series Die Sendung mit der Maus, and the scientific German TV series Quarks & Co. It is often joked about what would happen if you tie a butterbrot to the back of a cat, in the same manner that hypothetical buttered toast attached to the back of a cat is sometimes joked about, with it being debated whether the feline would still honour the popular axiom, that a cat "always lands on its feet", or if the butterbrot would be "stronger", making the cat fall on its back — alternatively, it is sometimes humorously suggested that the cat would simply levitate, as it would be unable to satisfy both criteria for landing.

See also


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