Legend has it that beer and Bratwurst are the cornerstones of German food, and Brits like to call Germans “Krauts” for their love of Sauerkraut, but both is not quite accurate. The actual core of German nutritional needs is bread; so much, that it found its way into everyday language in terms like “Abendbrot” (dinner), “Pausenbrot” (school food or worker’s lunch), or “Brotzeit” (lunch in Southern Germany). Germany’s love for bread manifests in a consumption of 85kg per person every year. Brits make it to just 27kg in the same time.
The German language is so very riddled with references to bread that “Wagner Deutsches Sprichwörter Lexikon” lists more than 500 proverbs using the word bread. “Making a living” for example translates to “earn his bread” in German: “sein Brotverdienen.”
But it also shows in the behaviour of expats. If you ever find a supermarket shopper poking the bread on offer with a finger to test how soft and wobbly it might be, chances are that you are watching a German trying to find a decent loaf of proper bread: Firm, with a strong own taste and a solid crust.
When we moved to England, nearly a decade ago, we had a good look at London before settling for Manchester. The main reason? When visiting Hammersmith, we ran into Bäkehaus, a German bakery. For a German expat coming from Finland, this felt like good karma.
Of course, in a more or less united Europe and a global economy, it’s not really that difficult anymore to find German bread in Britain. Even the most picky enthusiasts will find something that suits their needs. In recent months the supermarket chain Lidl has even introduced in-store bakeries that produce pastries and breads, highlight: The “Brötchen”, known in England as breakfast rolls. These delicious little loafs of white bread are an essential part of German breakfast that comes with lots of butter, jams, honey, Nutella and maybe sausage or cheese. While shops traditionally were closed on Sundays in Germany, bakeries always opened early in the morning, so shoppers could have a quick stroll to get fresh Brötchen straight from the oven.
The bakery: Home of delicious food and tempting scents
You will find twice as many bakeries as pharmacies in German towns and cities, and most of these offer much more than just bread and pastries. Bakeries have turned into full-blown diners where you will find fast food of high quality and in great variety. Rolls, baguettes and flatbread, filled with all kinds of cheese, vegetables, coldmeat and sauces, but also pizza and salads are available. Germans nevertheless still fancy the classic, the “belegte Brot” or the “Butterstulle”. This is the essential piece of white or gray bread, topped with butter and either cheese or sausage, a proper snack for lunchbreak, dinner or sometimes breakfast.
The exact kind of bread enjoyed is a matter of taste. The official “German Registry of Bread” (yes, that is a thing) lists 3,200 different recipes. These come in white, gray or black colours, to name just a few. Rye bread has for centuries been the bread of the “poor people” but is now among the common favourites. The famous Pumpernickel, black rye bread, is now quite well known in the UK as well.
The diversity of German bread, by the way, hails straight from history. During the time when Germany was known as the “Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation” (962-1806), the country was actually split into over 300 different small nations plus 360 territories, ruled by Imperial Knights. After the reform of the Empire in 1848 there were still 39 different states that together formed the German Empire, and every one of these places developed own tradition and heritage, bread being among them.
Today the quality of good bread is standardized by the Central Association of the German Bakery Trade (Zentralverband des Deutschen Bäckerhandwerks), with a proper education to become a baker taking up to 3 years, topped by another 2 years of “Meisterschule” if you want to open your own bakery as a master of your trade.
While this might seem excessive, it has helped the German bread to survive the age of chain shop bakeries on the high street and ready-made bread mixes delivered from factories rather than being home-made in the traditional “Backstube”. German bread, just like German beer, is still an original.