Butchered Swan Disappears From German Menu After Protests

Swan meat has disappeared from the menu at a hotel restaurant on the Baltic island of Ruegen after protests from environmentalists in German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s home constituency.

Axel Diembeck, the chef at Gutshaus Kubbelkow, wrote in a statement on the hotel’s website that he is no longer serving the meat “out of respect for the feelings of swan-meat opponents and to end the emotionally charged discussions.”

Shooting swans is permitted and regulated in the German state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. About 600 mute swans -- the only species that it is legal to hunt -- are killed each year between November and February. Hunters say that the swans damage crops, especially rape, by eating seeds. Local wildlife-protection activists question whether the hunting is necessary.

“I was astonished to find out that swan meat would be offered in a restaurant,” said Manuela Heberer, a spokeswoman for the Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania branch of the wildlife protection agency Naturschutzbund, based in Schwerin. “We don’t see the need to shoot swans. There is also a danger hunters could shoot protected species that look very similar.”

The regional Ostsee-Zeitung newspaper drew attention to the unusual menu item with a front-page article headlined “Swan on the Plate: Ruegen Restaurant Provokes Outrage.” A survey of readers found that 46 percent were opposed to turning swan into a delicacy, while 51 percent saw no reason why not.

Ruegen is part of Merkel’s electoral constituency, which also includes the port of Stralsund. An employee at Merkel’s regional office in Stralsund declined to comment on whether the chancellor has visited the restaurant or eaten swan meat.

Local Produce

Diembeck’s cuisine at Gutshaus Kubbelkow is described by Michelin Guide inspectors as “ambitious international cooking.” The hotel’s website stresses the emphasis on local ingredients, saying it uses “the best fresh produce that Western Pomerania’s fishermen, hunters, slaughter-houses, dairies, and fruit and vegetable farmers have to offer.”

The April menu includes dishes such as spring salad with oysters, aubergine puree and tomato pralines, and Baltic cod in a brioche crust with spinach and red-onion soubise. A three-course menu costs 39.50 euros ($51.11).

Swan no longer features.

“The swan is of course an elegant and beautiful creature,” wrote Diembeck, who said he is also a hunter himself. “A calf, a lamb, a duck, a deer is just as elegant and certainly not worth less than the pure white bird. Hunted game from our region is prized as a natural, healthy source of nutrition and is eaten with pleasure.”

Rapeseed Threat

Kati Ebel, the general director of the regional hunting association, said only cygnets are shot because swans mate for life, and killing one of a pair is cruel to its mate.

“We have a problem with rapeseed -- swans feed on the young plants,” Ebel said. “It is normal to eat hunted game. I have eaten swan myself -- it tastes like duck or goose.”

According to the book “Swan” by Peter Young, roast swan was a dish fit for a king at medieval banquets, served to Henry VIII, for instance, at his Hampton Court feasts, outside London.

Potted swan became fashionable in the mid-17th century and was still considered a delicacy in the late 19th century. The British 19th-century cookery writer Mrs. Beeton included a recipe for black swan, roasted or baked, in the Australian section of her book “All About Cookery.”

In the U.K. today, swans are protected under the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act and it’s an offence to injure or kill them.

“There are plenty of other nutritional options,” Heberer said. “We should take this as an opportunity to question whether swans should be hunted at all and whether this is appropriate today. We don’t see the damage done to farmers by swans as serious. This could be addressed with compensation.”

In German cultural history, swans have a mythical status thanks to Lohengrin, the son of Parzival. A knight of the Holy Grail, he arrives in a boat drawn by swans to rescue a maiden who may never ask his true identity. The medieval story is the subject of Richard Wagner’s 1848 opera “Lohengrin.”

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