Mobile Grill Bauchladen – Unique to Berlin

What on earth is a Bauchladen you might ask? Roughly translated, it is a “belly shop” and simply put, a Bauchladen is a wooden or cardboard tray that a mobile vendor fastens to the front of his torso. Once secured, the gizmo becomes his “shop” from which he hawks his goods. The tray is equipped with a sturdy strap that fits around the neck so that the tray ends up right in front of the belly and becomes a sales counter. During and shortly after World War II, it was popular to sell cigarettes by way of the Bauchladen. In the United States today, you might see these contraptions being used at sporting and promotional events where snacks are sold.

Although Berlin is best known for its historic buildings, museums, theaters, operas, exhibitions, shopping and nightlife, there is also an idiosyncratic side to the city: The use of the Bauchladen. In several prominent tourist spots near Berlin’s historic center, you might catch a glimpse of vendors with such a contraption strapped to their torsos. Carrying a Bauchladen makes street vendors quite mobile so that they can get closer to the people who might be interested in what they have to offer. Although a Bauchladen enables street traders to hawk their wares without being tied to a fixed location, they still need a city license.

Berlin’s unique type of Bauchladen

Although the Bauchladen is in use in many German cities, the mobile grill Bauchladen appears to be unique to Berlin. Sausage with mustard and a bun are still a favorite fast food in Germany. The mobile grill takes the place of the fixed Wuerstchenbude (sausage stand).  Vendors with a mobile grill Bauchladen strapped to their torso are generally referred to as grill-walkers. In addition to the food items for sale, grill walkers have to carry the grill and a gas tank. The tank is usually strapped to the vendor’s back. Added paraphernalia usually include an umbrella for protection from sun and/or rain. I am told that a mobile grill weighs close to 40 pounds, not including the food for sale. I imagine that grill walkers have sore shoulders and backs by the end of the day.


Grill-walker with Bauchladen near the reconstruction of the Berliner Stadtschloss (Berlin City Palace), Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017.

Grill-walker with Bauchladen near the reconstruction of the Berliner Stadtschloss (Berlin City Palace), Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017.

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is my story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.


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