My local German Bäckerei-Konditorei (bakery-pastry shop) is the German equivalent of a British pub, but without the alcohol. I’d guess half the community flows in and out on a typical morning. All shapes and sizes and ages come in for a coffee, rolls, cakes, or breads. Workmen in scuffed boots and paint-stained, white overalls order lunchtime sandwiches called Belegtes, made with one of the many types of German rolls (Bröchen or little bread) and filled with anything you can name.
Office workers pick up armfuls of pre-ordered treats for their colleagues.
My favorites are the Laugen Eckers (three corner rolls, painted with an alkali solution to make the outsides crisply brown and the insides as flakey as a croissant. Usually, I chose a filling of cheese, or soft cheese, or ham, all three with a smear of mayo and additions of lettuce and sliced tomato.
But, let’s stop there with descriptions of the baked goods. That could go on forever and what I really want to talk about is the bakery as a taste of community. Yes, folks, you can recapture the America of the 1950s right here in Germany!
I stroll through the countryside most mornings on my way for a coffee and roll. My three faithful readers will know I’ve recently written about my morning stroll. But, I can’t divulge their names for reasons of national insecurity.
I walk in and the clerks behind the counter give a short wave and call me by name, as does the manager, Stefen, who right away asks me what size and type of coffee I want this morning. Unlike some of the regulars, I’m a fickle coffee drinker, jumping from Cappuccinos to milk coffees or tea. “Anything to eat?” he asks. Not this morning. I’m trying to cut back on enjoyment.
|The Boss at work|
I sit down at one of the three tables, right next to Hubert, a retired gray beard who always drinks his coffee black, is hard of hearing and is always smiling. You know when he chuckles he didn’t hear a thing. We chat anyway. Mostly he chuckles.
Then there’s Helmut, a retired German soldier and policeman. Helmut lost a leg serving in Iraq. Chopper pilot there, as he was with the police in Bavaria. Huge guy. Likes to wear a Stetson and offer loud baritone remarks as blue as the ocean, and just obtuse enough to not offend anyone in particular, but everyone in general. “Wow, that looks good! I may come back tomorrow and see if it’s still here.” Every now and then one of the female clerks will call out, “Still trying after all these years!” or “You need to find another fishing spot.”
Helmut laughs and comes back with, “I may have a wooden leg, but the rest of me works.”
Marian, a beautiful, dark haired middle-aged clerk and often the cause of Helmut’s suggestive remarks, brings me my coffee with a smile.
“Where is your wife?” Marian asks.
“My wife?” I give a perplexed look.
She puts her hands on her hips and says, “Yes! Your wife!”
“I’d forgotten about her.”
Marian grimaces and waves a dismissive hand, as though speaking to a man who’s likeable enough, but an idiot.
Ditmar, the Postman comes in, dressed in uniform. Big guy and friendly. He’s not the guy who delivers to my house, that’s Ralph. Ralph stopped me the other day and asked if I’d be home in half an hour. Said he had a couple of packages for me. I left the garage door open and he parked the packages there.
Ralph’s daughter works at the bakery on Sunday mornings. Yes, she and I exchange German-English language conversations when she’s not too busy. She’s as OCD as a computer doing calculations and may not notice me if there are rolls fresh from the oven to be put out, or a line of customers. When she sees me she always apologizes for not seeing me.
Another guy, Kareem comes in. Kareem is from Eastern Turkey, but has lived in Germany for forty years, raised his many kids here, but goes back to visit his homeland about three times a year. He and I always shake hands and often have jumbled, but understandable German conversations, usually influenced by heavy use of gestures and laughter.
I get another coffee from Stefen. He’ll skate upstairs to his office presently, but Sabina, the assistant manager will be at the counter a while longer. Management likes to stay tuned to the personal side of the business. They know most people and greet everybody, even the odd Americans who come in to make pointy-talkie selections. Stefen likes to tell me jokes that get lost in translation. He laughs. I laugh. It’s all good.
|The Assistant Boss|
This bakery is big business, supplying a half dozen outlets, as well as restaurants.
Besides Marian, two other clerks are working the counter this morning, Silka and Anna Marie. Anna Marie told me she likes my house. My first thought: How does she know where I live? It must have been the look on my face. She goes on to say, yes, you live down this street and turn left and then turn right at the next street. She likes my house. In America, the first thing on your mind might be STALKER! But, no. Anna Marie lives in the only high apartment in the town and she can see three quarters of everything from her balcony. On inclement days I drive to the bakery, so she knows my car and she knows my wife. And on that thought, I must make a note to be very careful.
Marian comes back and asks if I want something to eat. I tell her I want a Käsestande, a long roll with a sprinkle of cheese on top. She asks if I would like her to warm it. I blow her a kiss. She smiles a rueful smile and says, “Oh, Bill!” In minutes she comes back with a nicely warmed roll. Some language is universal.
|The Boss' daughter|
Over the course of an hour or so, mothers come in with their children and so do dads. The children always get offered a treat. One of the counter ladies will motion the little ones to follow and give them a small roll or a piece of soft candy.
Teenagers come in and get something to eat on the way to the bus stop. Few German schools offer dedicated school buses. Kids take the regular buses from the communal bus stops.
Time for me to slurp the last few drops of coffee and start the rest of my day.
Silka rings up my damage. I tell her two cups of a coffee, a Käsestande and two whiskeys. She keeps a straight face and tells me, “I’ll have the whiskey delivered to your house.”
I wave to everyone and get a chorus of Ciao!, or Tschüss (like putting Ch and Use together). Used to hear Auf Wiedersehen, but now you seldom hear it said by anyone younger than seventy.
Don't’ care how it’s said because it’s always said with a smile at my bakery and they know I’ll be back tomorrow, along with all their neighbors. And they know where I live.