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Eating bread is not an art – baking it is. What you should know about German bread culture

You’d think you wouldn’t have any language problems going on holiday in the same country: Well, think again! When northern Germans go visiting in the south, they sometimes wish they’d taken along an interpreter – especially when trying to decipher the menu or making a purchase at the local baker’s shop. This can also happen to foreign visitors who find their laboriously learned school German to be suddenly completely useless. So what to do? Withdraw into embarrassed silence? With a bit of background knowledge, you won’t have to. I’d like to tell you my story and how I learned to navigate the world of Brötchen, Krapfen, Bagel and Bretzel. Then nothing more will stand in the way of a deliciously decked breakfast table…

My first meeting with a Semmel

I first came to Bavaria when I was 10. I remember trying to buy a bread roll, which in any German dictionary is called a Brötchen, and failing utterly. The saleswoman, in her pretty, perfectly ironed frilled apron, muttered what sounded to me like incoherent babble. All I could do was point at what I wanted. “Girl, those are Semmeln!” Well, thanks for the tip. Today I always recite the same mantra before entering a bakery: “Brötchen are Semmeln, Brötchen are Semmeln.”

Bakery

Semmeln, Brötchen, Schrippen, Wecken, Rundstück… what to do?

But Germany has so many regional dialects, that even this mantra fails me sometimes. In Berlin, the bread roll is called Schrippen, in Hesse they are Wecken, in Lower Saxony – sometimes – Rundstück. No wonder if you’re confused.

Bagels come from Poland?

A recent newcomer is the breakfast bagel, which doesn’t even come from America, like I thought, but originated in Cracow where it was first mentioned in the year 1610 – did I say “newcomer”?!? Local insider: grab a delicious bagel for breakfast at andel’s by Vienna House Cracow :-).

andel's by Vienna House Cracow: Bagel

Brezen, Bretzel or Bretze?

If you want a pretzel, at least you can’t really go too wrong. After all, Brezen, Bretzel and Bretze all sound pretty much the same. But who knew that the name actually comes from the Latin word brachium, meaning “arm”, because its shape is reminiscent of a pair of folded arms? This makes the pretzel a so-called Gebildbrot, a bread baked in the shape of a figure or symbol. This reminds me of the Weckmann, a pastry in the form of a little man – somewhat like the Gingerbread Man – that we always had for St. Martin’s Day. I would look forward to the milky sweet taste of the Stutenkerl, as he is also called, for weeks in advance. I always saved the raisins and his little pipe for last.

Pfannkuchen vs. Krapfen

Speaking of symbolic breads – is a Berliner shaped like someone from Berlin? This doughnut-like fried pastry without a hole was originally called Berliner Pfannkuchen, which is why Berliners call it simply Pfannkuchen and everyone else says Berliner – or, to keep things complicated, Krapfen. You can find over 1,200 different types of pastry and 300 kinds of bread in Germany’s bakeries. That is the greatest diversity in any country worldwide – just one reason why German bread culture has made it onto the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List.

Doughnut

Culture you can eat, beguilingly fragrant, golden, crisp, crunchy, warm… I’ve got to stop now – I’m off to the nearest baker’s! 🙂

In keeping with the motto “Get lost”, Eva is constantly exploring the world. She travels light and with her eyes open, wandering through villages and cities, forests and deserts, sunshine and snow. Along the way, she collects fascinating stories and amazing adventures.

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