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Bonkers over Bread

Irène Bluche (jam)
March 13, 2005

Germany has more kinds of bread than any other country and every year new varieties are released to an enthusiastic public. They call bread the staff of life and indeed, Germans would have a very hard living without it.

Love that yeasty stuffImage: AP

In many countries, the local bakery or the bread aisle at the supermarket might carry a couple of different kinds of bread: there's the ubiquitous white, the brownish whole wheat, and maybe a baguette if you're lucky.

Walk into a German bakery, though, and prepare to be astounded by the sheer number of different doughy products on the shelves. There's dark rye, light rye, white bread, black bread, müsli rolls, vegetable bread, potato bread, whole wheat, etc, etc. The varieties run the gamut, from light-and-fluffy white to nuanced mixed-grain breads to ultra-heavy black breads with a consistency approaching that of a brick.

"In addition, you get the trendy breads that come out every year. This year, low carb is the big thing," said Bernhard Rott, head of the baker's guild in the city of Bonn. "In Germany, everything is turned into bread, so we have such things as carrot bread and herb bread. You'll find it all here."

Bakeries galore

All those breads need bakeries to bake and sell them, and Germany has risen to the occasion. There are more than 18,000 companies dealing in the doughy stuff, with their countless outlets that feature on nearly every German street corner.

Obernkirchener Stiftsbrot
Image: presse

One type of bakery that is popping up more often these days are the organic ones, since Germans are showing an increasing interest in buying healthy foods.

"Germans have a strong affinity to organically grown foods, and bakeries are typically German," said Andrew Murphy "If there's one place in the world to open an organic bakery, Germany is it."

Medieval tradition

Grimme Preis Spezial 2004 für Bernd das Brot, Tommy Krappweis und Frank Beckmann
"Bernd the Bread" has his own hit show.Image: AP

Why the German passionate love affair with the loaf? Indeed, a children's show featuring a grumpy, talking loaf called Bernd (photo). It's a hit with adults.

Experts say that mystery is not easily solved, since it's shrouded behind medieval mists. However, historians think that medieval guilds did play a large part in making bread one of the most beloved of foods.

"The guilds not only controlled the price of baked goods, but its quality as well," said Andrea Fadani, head of a bread museum in Ulm -- perhaps particularly German institution. "Out of that, a taste developed and you could say bread entered the overall culture."

It's stayed there.

Love it dark

Although Germans will eat almost any kind of bread, the dark varieties are particularly popular. Tourists may turn up their noses at the sight of almost-black breads darkening the bakery shelves, but for the Germans, the darker the better, it seems. Rye is considered something akin to nectar of the gods, and German bakers are virtuosos with the grain.

"We have a special relationship to dark breads," said Fadani. "Rye is easy to cultivate and doesn't need outstanding soil types."

According to Bernhard Rott of the bakers' guild, it's not easy to bake with rye, but then again he said, German bakers are celebrated around the world for their yeasty talents and are in high demand.

"It's amazing what they can accomplish with just a little mix of wheat and rye," he said.

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