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Friday, March 30, 2012

Down to the Bäckerei For a Morning Cup


300 Varieties of Bread

Looking from the inside out

One of the chain bakeries, Reichhart, has a small shop within walking distance.  Some mornings I get there for coffee and sometimes I linger to write, or finish reading a book.  Tough life. 

You can learn a lot idling over your caffeine fix.  For instance, Germans always greet each other on entering and leaving.  Used to be you’d hear “Guten tag” and “Weidersehen. “  Now you hear “Hallo” and “Tschüss.”  The later is pronounced ‘chew-ss’ and is more or less the German version of ‘ciao.’

Germany is one of those fabulous countries that sports two or three corner bakeries in every town.  Granted, most are owned and operated by big corporations. Private Bäckerei seem to be disappearing rapidly.  One statistical source shows a 40% decline since 1990.  Sound familiar?  We’re seen the same thing with cookie-cutter malls in the U.S.  All the big boys driving out the Main Street moms and pops.

In Germany it’s a bit different.  Even many of the chains are small bisto-style bakeries located on street corners in every village.   They bake their own bread and make their own pastries. Hours are usually 7 to 7, with perhaps a half-day on Sunday.  None of this 24/7 stuff that really puts Mom and Pop at a disadvantage.

A line forms as you step into a German bake shop.  When it’s your turn, the counter salesperson gives her undivided attention.  For that moment, she is there only to serve you.  Lots of eye contact.  Makes you feel special.  Thinking of sending my wife to bakery school.

There are so many varieties of bread, from Graubrot (crusty rye-wheat) to Vollkornbrötchen (whole-grain).  There were 300 types at last count and another 1,200 types of rolls and pastries, so it’s hard to choose. But one thing for sure, Germans go for extreme freshness and heavy, wholesome bread.  Goodness knows, they eat enough of it.  192 pounds per person each year.  Compare that to 121 pounds per person for the French, no slouches themselves in the bread department.  Taking bread and baking seriously extends to the employees.  By the time a salesperson gets behind the counter, she is well trained, sometimes working months or years to get to full time.

What about the bread itself?  Food laws specify what can and cannot be used in practically all food preparation.   These days most bakeries have gone a step further and sell Bio bread, which is organic to the max, including the seeds and nuts sprinkled on top.  Even the non-Bio bread has no preservatives or flavor additives.  Also, it’s uncut until you buy it.  “Schneiden?” the lady will ask, holding up your fresh purchase.  Do you want it sliced?

The only downside to ‘freshness first’ is that you have only a day or two to consume your purchase before it starts to become a laboratory experiment.  Ah, the price lazy appetites pay to eat healthy.
Lunch available, or maybe a more sustaining breakfast than sugary treats?  You bet.  Lots of brötchen (rolls) laden with slices of cheese, tomato, pickles, and eggs.

What about the coffee?  I love German coffee, most of which comes from automatic espresso machines.  Of course, not everyone agrees, but those are the poor souls who won’t drink any coffee that doesn’t rhyme with up-chucks. The German word for coffee is pretty much the same as ours, Kaffee.  Want café au lait, better ask for Milch Kaffee.  If you just want the counter help to add a bit of milk, order Kaffee mit Milch.  No big deal.  In most places you can simply order Kaffee and add the milk and sugar yourself.  Need it ‘To Go?”  Just say, zum Mitnehmen.  Often you can get a coffee and pastry at a special price, Angebot.

Getting to be a regular at a Bäckerei has its own rewards.  Now I get my coffee after I walk in the door, and if only for a moment, I have a smiling, special friend, who makes a lot of eye contact.

1 comment:

  1. ahhh pretzel bread!! (i have yet to find it in NYC) Love lingering over coffee fixes too