Thursday, March 24, 2016

The German Bakery

Most Americans will arrive and somewhere in the first month....stop at a German bakery.  They've noticed them as they passed or had someone suggest a visit.  The visit will probably lay down the framework for more visits....because there is something unique and uncommon with these German icons.

There are two basic types.

There is the industrial-run operation where four clerks will sell the production line of such-and-such bakery complex which is twenty-odd miles away.  Somewhere around 1AM.....twenty folks will show up....cigarettes dangling from their mouth with triple-dose of coffee, and make enough bread, cakes, and brotchen to fill up twelve trucks....which must leave by 5:00 to make forty-one drop-offs by 7:00.
While the guys and gals back at the production line have a knowledge level that would be worth 500 pages of discussion.....the four clerks at the store have enough knowledge to fill up sixteen 3x5 cards.  If you asked what was in such-and-such product....they'd look at you in a dazed sort of way.

The neat thing about the industrial-run operation is that prices are stable and fairly cheap.  The products won't be bad.....or even marginal.  You might even come to appreciate some of the things....like cheese-cake.

So, you'd sit at the cafe or bakery operation....sipping a four-star coffee (rarely does Germans allow the sale of anything less than that), and go through some cherry glazed roll.....and gaze over the morning news.  People come and go....business thrives.

The second type of bakery is that the one where Hans (the baker) runs himself.  Hans is married and his wife is the chief clerk.  Somewhere around 1AM, Hans will show up with his apprentice Ursula (a sixteen-year-old teenager).

Ursula will typically be the type of school graduate that you might ask what one-quarter of an hour would be and she'd be standing there for three minutes trying to analyze this and think of a correct answer.  You could run through the typical questions....what German state do you live in....what's one-tenth of 66 kilograms....or can pumpkins be used to sweeten anything?  And Ursula will utterly fail.  Hans knows this and has to be direct, firm, and continually reviewing her work.  The thing is.....Ursula will eventually get smart enough (by the third year) that he only has to supervise her fifty percent of the time.

In the front of this little operation of a bakery and cafe.....will be one helper for the wife.  The helper.....Heike....will wear mostly loose fitting blouses and the old retired German guys who come in at 9AM to have their daily coffee and cake.....will ask her to pick up one cake out of the lower tray (giving them an eyeful), then change their mind and ask for a second cake instead....thus getting a double-eyeful.

The thing about this second operation....is that Hans makes superior products.  It'll cost ten-to-twenty percent more but there's some type of mythical magic that he puts into his products and they taste better.

The industrial guys have probably taken over 98-percent of the cafe and bakery operations in Germany today.  There are few private operations that thrive or survive.

On a weekly basis, I will probably venture into a bakery or cafe at least three or four times a week.  You can call it a habit, or just a desire for superior coffee and bakery products.

Better than Starbucks?  Well.....yeah.

I know that Starbucks is some kind of package deal where you get their 'atmosphere' and a five-star cup of coffee.  But you just can't compete against the German bakery products and occasionally the old fashion atmosphere of a cafe.

In Wiesbaden, if you wanted the old-world experience of a cafe......you'd go to the center of the shopping district....to the Cafe Maldener.  On Saturdays or holiday periods.....you'd have to make a reservation because there's just too much traffic going into the cafe.  You'd have to dress half-way decent because you kinda feel like it's not the cheapo sip-and-go coffee shop.  Waiters come at your beckon call....well....if you wait long enough.  The place has charm.

The other shop in Wiesbaden that I always admire....is the Living Bakery along Bierstadter Strasse.  With jazz in the background and the best coffee in town, it's a place where you marvel at a 300-calorie cheese cake for a while.

2 comments:

Troy Swezey said...

As a baker I enjoyed this post. I used to like to go to Café Harmonie at Beethovenstraße 29 even though I could look right in their front door from the balcony of my flat.
One of the things I loved about living in Germany and visiting France and Belgium and etc etc is it was easy to find a bakery to wander into and order in the German language. The clerks were almost always kind, the goods were almost always delicious and they could not care less if you sat at the patio tables all day.
This was in the early nineties, I think before Starbucks and these sort of coffee houses they have now in the States where people will basically set up office. Not sure the German shop keepers will go for that though will they?

R Hammond said...

Starbucks entry into Germany....I would venture to say....is a stumbling affair. Line up a hundred Germans and probably less than five will say they've visited a Starbucks. The chief issue is that regular German cafes and bakeries already served four-star coffee. The Starbucks pastry options are always the lesser of good picks, compared against German bakeries (even the industrial situation). I admit, Starbucks does have a 'image' but half of the cafes/bakeries that I've been in....have an 'image' as well. My gut feeling is that Starbucks will have at least one shop in every town of 100,000 in Germany but that will be the maximum growth pattern. Why would a German (the thrifty minded type) go and pay that much extra for coffee and a roll? Add to this that once a German develops a habit....they rarely change (go ask a 70-year-old German baker about his recipe list....he'll admit it's the same process and ingredients that he's had since he was eighteen years old).