Classic Dortmund: how the city and its inhabitants tick

“The best thing about wine is the beer after it.” This quote from former lord mayor, Günter Samtlebe, says it all really: The people of Dortmund are direct but not rude, honest but not harsh.

Of course, it’s easy to generalize. But there are usually a few characteristics that set a city’s people apart.

Woll and Wonnich – Dortmund dialect

The outside of the soccer stadium "Signal Iduna Park".
© Stefan Reinke „Brussia“ Dortmund

Not only geographically but linguistically too, Dortmund is sandwiched between rural Westphalia and the industrial Ruhr valley. Thanks to its role through the ages as a major trading centre Dortmund became a melting pot for these regional dialects. Its inhabitants developed a distinctive twang that the trained Dortmund ear can still detect among older natives, particularly in the southern districts.

Away from home, people from Dortmund tend to recognise each other as soon as they open their mouths. It begins with the pronunciation of the city itself: Doatmund. And it’s only in High German that BVB becomes Borussia with an “o”. Otherwise “Brussia” or “Berussia” will do just fine.

Some of the favourite examples of Doatmund dialect are the words “woll” and “wonnich”. They are used like question tags in English: “The weather is nice, isn’t it?” would be “Wetter is gut, woll?” and “The weather isn’t very nice, is it?” would be “Wetter is nich gut, wonnich?”. In the end they can both be translated as “innit” or “ain’t that so”, just like in the rest of the Ruhr Region where people simply say “ne?” or even “nä?” after just about every statement they make.

Fancy a beer? The peculiarities of Dortmund’s beer culture

Three glasses filled with beer. Capacity 0.1 litres. In Dortmund this is called a "Stößchen".
© DORTMUNDtourismus 3 "Stößchen", please!

If you order a beer in Dortmund, you’ll be given a pilsner. It might be 300ml or, in more traditional pubs, 200ml – so roughly two gulps. True Dortmund beer, however, is export. As for how to serve it, pilsner is drunk from a tulip glass, whereas export usually comes in a willibecher.

Sometimes you can get pilsner in a willibecher too, but then you have to ask for a “durch” – not a pilsner. It’s extra cold and refreshing, having been poured in a single pull. The saying that a good pilsner takes seven minutes comes from the time it takes to pour a perfect beer into a tulip. So if you’re in a hurry, just order a “durch”.

And then there’s the stößchen. Despite extensive research, no one really knows how, when and why the stößchen was invented. What we do know is that it exists and that people like it because it can be very practical (more on this below). To cut a long story short: The stößchen is a tiny glass calibrated with a line at 100 ml but usually filled with up to 150 ml.

In Dortmund pubs you will tend to see people drinking stößchen at the bar. The advantage is obvious: the smaller the glass, the fresher the beer.

Schocken: a popular pub game for young and old

“Give us a cup and thirteen beer mats, would you?” is something you’ll often hear in traditional Dortmund pubs. The landlord or landlady will have several cups lined up, each with three dice, and of course 13 beer mats (which, by the way, aren’t really beer mats so much as purpose-made plastic discs stacked on a metal pin).

Normally you will be able to casually join in a round of Schocken, and no one will mind. After all, a new loser is always welcome. But find out which set of rules they are playing by first.

Schocken is popular with people of all ages because it brings people together. The atmosphere at the table or the bar can be almost as good as in the stadium.

A lot of people prefer Stößchen to normal beers while they play Schocken, the reason being simple: the loser has to get a round in. So, if you win often but you’re a slow drinker you won’t be able to keep up, and that’s when Stößchen can be extremely useful.

Salzkuchen, Pfefferpotthast and Currywurst: traditional Dortmund food

"Salzkuchen" with minced meat and onions. A kind of bagel sprinkled with salt and caraway seeds, filled with minced meat and topped with onions.
© DORTMUNDtourismus Typical Dortmund: "Salzkuchen" with minced meat and onions

So, you’re in the pub enjoying a game of schocken, and you start to feel a bit peckish. A braumeister schnitzel with bacon, sauté potatoes and a fried egg won’t fill you up for ever.

For emergencies like this we invented salzkuchen, and our favourite comes from the iconic Fischer bakery near the city hall. Obviously, salzkuchen has got nothing to do with cake – that would be too easy. In fact it’s a bread roll topped with caraway and salt - and it has a hole in the middle. You could call it the Dortmund bagel. Or you could call bagels New York salzkuchen.

The best thing about salzkuchen, by the way, is the hole. No, really. If you order a classic Salzkuchen mit Mett (minced raw pork), it comes with onions on top. And when the onions mingle with the caraway and the salt and the mett – you just wish there were more holes in your roll. Vegetarians, on the other hand, will probably prefer Salzkuchen with cheese.

Another local dish is pfefferpotthast, a rustic stew typical of Dortmund’s hearty and unpretentious fare. The annual Pfefferpotthast Festival at Alter Markt is a great opportunity to try it. It originates from the Middle Ages, when Dortmund’s wealthy merchants were first able to procure exotic and expensive ingredients from faraway lands. Although recipes vary, three ingredients are to be found in every authentic potthast: beef, capers and bay leaves. It goes without saying that every Dortmund family has its own recipe.

A little less rustic, but available in an ever-growing number of guises is the good old currywurst. Unlike in Berlin, here in the Ruhr Region the fries are served alongside the sausage, preferably with a good dollop of mayonnaise on top.

For those who want to take this exquisite combination to another level, several up-market snack bars now include beef or veal sausages on their menus, as well as different types of mayonnaise.

One variant you’ll only find in Dortmund is the curry fleischwurst, made with a piece of fried (or deep-fried – oh no!) fleischwurst instead of the classic grilled sausage. It’s as filling as it sounds and will certainly keep you going until the next salzkuchen.

Dortmund and its neighbourhoods: these are the places you should get to know

Big street sign saying: Live and shop well at the "Kaiser"-quarter in Dortmund
© DORTMUNDtourismus Welcome to the "Kaiser"-quarter.

Forget everything you’ve heard about the northern quarteraka Nordstadt! It might be a little rough around the edges, but you’ll find plenty of treasures tucked away in this part of town, including several trendy pubs, an excellent independent cinema and a superb burger joint. And of course the legendary Borsigplatz, the birthplace of BVB.

The Nordstadt quarter is huge - about 100,000 people live in this city within the city. Its reputation among some as a crime hotspot is rather one-sided and belies its burgeoning young arts scene. This is also where you’ll find the largest collection of attractive pre-war architecture. It’s no secret, though, that a lot of its buildings are somewhat down at the heel.

More off-radar watering holes in the Hafen neighbourhood cater to the needs of the growing studentpopulation. Two other things are in no short supply here: kebab shops and cheap flats. This makes the Nordstadt quarter appealing to young people and is the reason why more and more students are migrating north of the city centre – although gentrification is still a long way off.

Popular not just with students but also young families, a different atmosphere altogether is to be found in Dortmund’s other quarters, Kaiserviertel, Saarlandstraßenviertel, Kreuzviertel and Klinikviertel. These four neighbourhoods stretch from east to southwest along the old city wall and are noted for their beautiful old houses and urban flair. These bustling districts are where you will find the best independent shops and cafés. The Kreuzviertel in particular offers a combination of good restaurants and unique, cosy pubs.