German Bread - A Cultural Staple

German bakery Enlarge image Freshly baked bread at a German bakery (© picture-alliance/ dpa) Germany has 300 different kinds of bread

Every German who has visited friends or family around the Mediterranean, in the Middle East or in America knows what they will say when asked what they would like as a present: “Oh, please bring a nice fresh loaf of wholemeal bread with you!” German bread is one of the things most missed by Germans living abroad. In countries where white bread is part of the staple diet they long to get their teeth into a hearty slice of crusty bread from back home. After all, the tasty dark breads with their crunchy crusts are generally seen as typically German. “You can’t get proper bread in the States,” complained Bertolt Brecht in his diary during his American exile in 1941, “and I love eating bread.”

Delights from Germany

Internationale Grüne Woche in Berlin Enlarge image There is no need for visitors to go hungry at International Green Week. (© picture-alliance/ ZB) Why exactly Germany’s bread culture is so highly diversified, with around 300 different kinds (plus 1,200 cookies and small pastries) goes back to the unfathomable depths of ancient bread baking times. It’s a fact that the type of bread made by the ancient Egyptians was baked in these parts even before Christianization. From time immemorial, the basic ingredients of bread have always been the same: flour and/or coarse meal, water, yeast or leaven, and salt. But in Germany, especially in the north, wheat and rye flour was mixed together in very early times to form the basis of typical German bread: two-thirds of all the different kinds of German bread contain rye. Other popular ingredients now include oats, barley and spelt, or onions, nuts, special types of grain, herbs and spices.

In the south and west – in the direction of baguette-eating France – the bread tends to be lighter in colour because it contains more wheat flour. In stark contrast to this, pumpernickel was invented in Westphalia: probably the darkest bread ever, it consists mainly of grainy rye flour and isn’t baked but steamed. This makes it very firm and juicy with a slightly sweetish flavour. Apart from this, it stays fresh for a long time (and thus is a handy gift for friends and relatives living outside Germany).

Visitors from abroad entering a baker’s shop in Germany are invariably amused by the many unpronounceable names of the wares. For instance, the universal German name for the ordinary bread roll is Brötchen. But the regional terms for the same item vary considerably from Semmel, Wecke, and Schrippe to Schusterjunge or Pfennigmuggel. Thank goodness we have fingers to point at what we’d like to buy!

© Magazine Deutschland

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