A Gift of the Gods | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 22.12.2001
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A Gift of the Gods

Did you know that the forerunner of Germany’s favourite Christmas goodie, Lebkuchen, is Egyptian?



Lebkuchen is a traditional German Christmas speciality. But its roots go as far back as Egyptian times.

The ancient Egyptians, the Greeks and the Romans treated honey as a gift of the gods with magical, healing qualities. Honey cakes were said to be so life-enhacing, that they were not only eaten, but were even worn into battle as a talisman.

Honey cakes were especially prized around the winter solstice as protection against winter spirits who were thought to be out and about during the twelve nights of Christmas.

It was in the 13th century, in a monastry, that honey cake became 'Lebkuchen', the spicy gingerbread cake which is so popular today.

It didn’t take long for the monastry’s tasty secret recipe to reach fame. Lebkuchen bakeries sprang up like mushrooms, as early as 1395.

Today, Lebkuchen bakers can look back on a 600 year tradition.

In Germany, gingerbread is closely linked to the city of Nuremberg. It is said that the reason for the Nuremberg Lebkuchen tradition lies in the city’s location.

Nuremberg lies on what used to be an important point on the ancient trade routes which carried sacks of spices from the East via Venice and Genoa.

The second essential ingredient for Lebkuchen, honey, was also abundant in the woods surrounding the city.

It took more than a century for the city council to approve the founding of their own Nuremberg Lebkuchen baker’s guild.

The 14 member bakers were respected far and wide. The 30 Years War however, destroyed the Lebkuchen success story, as it became increasingly difficult to gain access to spices with the interruption of the trade routes.

It took two centuries for the old Lebkuchen market to be built up again.

However, today Nuremberg is still regarded as the Lebkuchen town in Germany.

Besides Nuremberg Lebkuchen, there are other regional variations.

In Austria and Bavaria, they are called "Zelten", in the region around Aachen, "Printen".

The recipe for the original Nuremberg Lebkuchen is a still a treasured secret. It includes nuts, eggs, honey, sugar, flour, and various spices, such as cardamom, clove, cinnamon, and coriander.

The taste of Lebkuchen is so popular that during the festive season, you can get Lebkuchen-liqueur, Lebkuchen-ice-cream and Lebkuchen-yoghurt.

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