Before I lived in Germany, I periodically met German people as they were traveling or living abroad. They always talked about the bread from home. A far away look would come across their faces, it was almost like they were thinking of a lost love, and then they would talk about the bread for a while.
I could never really relate to them. Often bread is served at restaurants in the United States and I have always felt that it just takes up room in my stomach and makes me full before I get to the really delicious food. I can only think of one actual bakery near my parent’s house and that is mostly known for sweets.
So, when I visited Germany for the first time, I tried the famous German bread. And to be honest, it was one of the very few things that I didn’t fall in love with, at least not right away.
It’s a bread with a very hard crust. The bread itself is relatively soft, but it tastes a little bit healthy. They call it a rye bread but it doesn’t have seeds and it doesn’t really taste like any rye bread I’ve eaten before. Sometimes they say its a sour dough and I would say it does taste kind of sour or kind of yeasty, but also not like any sour dough bread I’ve eaten either. Generally it’s eaten with butter or with soft cheese and a number of different wursts, sometimes smoked fish and pickles.
After living here for a while and enjoying many a brotzeit (you can read about brotzeit, here and here.) the bread has really grown on me. I feel like another bread wouldn’t go with the wurst and the other brotzeit food. And if you re-read my description of the bread it’s clear that there certainly isn’t anything else like it. It’s an absolutely integral part of the meal and not just a side dish taking up space in your stomach.
What’s really neat about this bread is that it usually comes in a round form and you can buy it at every bakery in town. People stop by the bakery on the way home and pick it up for dinner or for the weekend. It is really a staple, something everyone knows and loves.
One thing I love about Germany is the number of bakeries. This is something we just don’t have in the US. Practically everywhere you look there is a bakery. And I mean everywhere–even at home repair shop (i.e.home depot)– there is a bakery attached. I can think of 6 bakeries walking distance from our house.
I had my first experience going alone to the bakery to pick up bread the other day. I purposely chose a locally owned bakery in the downtown. It’s neat because at the locally owned shops, it is usually the owner or someone really invested in the business, who is serving you. This is great because if ask a lot of questions, you will get really good answers. But what is funny is that you won’t get this super friendly greeting that you might expect. Here at least you will get something we like to call “Franconian Friendliness.” It’s somewhat cold, somewhat course, but very professional. I asked for Roggenbrot and she explained the different varieties and I chose the one I thought was best for that evening. But honestly I’m not sure if during the entire encounter she even smiled at me AND I had the baby with me, who is usually a sure fire smile getter.
Sad to report however that Baker, specifically, is not a very desired profession as of late. Really sad for a culture that is so wrapped up in baked goods. Butchers are having the same problem. Careers in hard physical labor are not what young people are interested in pursuing. But can you imagine a Germany without bread and meat in so many assortments? I really can’t.
Also sad to report that just like everywhere else, locally owned businesses are becoming fewer and fewer in Germany. There are stores in Forchheim closing all the time. This week a lone I visited two shops that are closing this spring. In light of that, I think as a shop owner, I would be friendly to everyone who walked in, stranger or not, because I’d be happy that they were keeping me in business.
What’s interesting is that with so many refugees and displaced people looking for work, some apprenticeship programs have developed and nearby too (I read about one for bakers in the paper and another for wood workers.) This is great news! A career for someone who needs it and the continuation of the cultural traditions.