Has German bread yeast

Interview in the Akademie Deutsches Bäckerhandwerk
German bread, what a wonderful food!

Bread is not just a food made from flour, water and yeast. Bread has a long history, it has character, maybe there is even a philosophy in the dough.

Bread in Germany

In 2014, German bread was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site “not only because of its popularity all over the world, but also because of its unique diversity”. In January 2018, a special postage stamp with a face value of EUR 2.60 was issued in Germany to highlight the value of German bread as a cultural asset. In that year 1.75 million tons of bread were sold in Germany with a total turnover of 4.4 billion euros. Each household spent an average of 17.80 euros per month on bread.

The Germans, who usually do not make a fuss, are of course not upset by such statistics. Seventy percent of the population put butter on bread for dinner as always, followed by a slice of ham or cheese, as an addition, a few slices of cucumber, radishes, a little onion or parsley, plus a pot of tea - simple and plain .

The sourdough - the key to success

German bread is nutritious, tastes good and is well known - there is no question about that. In Taiwan, on the other hand, European-style bread has become very fashionable in recent years and a group of fans has emerged who discuss the time-consuming and complicated process of growing the necessary yeast yourself with almost religious zeal. A prominent baker claims that he uses imported fresh yeast and flour for his bread-making and that the suspended solids displayed in glasses in his shop are this mysterious, sensitive product that requires careful maintenance under strict regulation of humidity and temperature .

Oh, these sourdough mushrooms, which are widespread everywhere, and whose mysterious power Goethe described in the “Sorrows of Young Werther” as “the sourdough that sets my life in motion”. Six thousand years ago, the ancient Egyptians invented leaven, which then spread to Europe. The initial rejection turned into a gradual habit and finally to an outspoken love for its special aroma. At the same time, people learned to appreciate the fact that the dough rises as a result, and not only is its scent attractive to people, it is also good for digestion. Until the Middle Ages, however, the sourdough was gradually forgotten, only on some country estates and in monasteries it was still used to bake bread in laborious work.

Interestingly, the later renaissance of sourdough is due to the well-known and popular German beer. It's not strange at all, because both are made of grain, water and yeast. In the 15th and 16th centuries, breweries and distilleries began supplying yeast to bakers, but people were concerned about this new food and worried that it could be harmful to health. From a bakery near a beer brewery, the yeast found its way back into the brewing trade in a mysterious way and, with its special aroma, made an important contribution to "liquid bread". In 1670 brewer's yeast was given a legal basis, but only on the condition that it was mixed with sourdough beforehand. These two important foods have thus complemented each other and created a sustainable "win-win" situation.

Rising interest

World Bread Day is celebrated every year on October 16, when the German Bread Institute selects a type of bread to be awarded the title “Bread of the Year”. Last year wholemeal spelled bread received this honor, this year the dark farmer's bread was convincing. Both breads belong to the classic types, sometimes they are completely sprinkled with sunflower seeds on top, which not only makes them even more filling, but also increases their nutritional value. They are firm and substantial, come in a round or square shape and weigh up to a kilo. If they were thrown down from a house from above, a passerby who was hit would definitely end up with a bruised nose and swollen face.

Of course, I've never seen German bread as a weapon, I just eat it and enjoy it quietly. If you only look at the appearance, then the dark color is not really appealing, but it wins through its internal content, through the wonderful light acidity in the aroma that comes from the fresh yeast. Today I can't go without it for a day, and when I returned to Taiwan after graduation, I started baking at home.

Academy of German Bakery Crafts

Photo: © Meng-Ru Yang The German vocational training has always enjoyed a good reputation and if a trained, professional baker with a master craftsman's certificate wants to go further, then the "Academy of German Bakery Crafts" is not the only option, but a certificate from here is highly regarded in the industry and opens up even more possibilities. Many business owners therefore invest generously and send their employees to the courses. They come to deal with cakes and pies or bread during the two-day courses, materials and ingredients as well as three meals a day are included and everything costs around 500 euros. For participants who have come from afar, the Academy even offers single rooms in the guest house for a fee.

The establishment of contact with the Akademie Deutsches Bäckerhandwerk went smoothly and pleasantly, and I soon received the promise that I could come over for a visit, where I would also have the opportunity to interview the director of the academy, Bernd Kütscher. Three months before my departure I had already prepared and sent a few questions at the academy's request. In the middle of October, when the Frankfurt Book Fair was just over, I took the train to Weinheim early in the morning and then took the bus from there. The cool wind swept away my tiredness after getting up early and I entered the quiet rooms of the academy.

When we contacted each other before the trip started, both sides knew that I would be arriving an hour and a half early because of the bus schedule. The lady at reception suggested that I sit down and rest in the staff canteen, so I picked up a copy of the “Allgemeine BäckerZeitung”, drank a cup of coffee and began to read in it. Then I took photos outside, then sat back in and a master baker came up to me and invited me to take a look around.

We put on the white work clothes, visited the classrooms, the kitchen and the accommodation one after the other and in order to make the most of my time, I spontaneously asked him the questions I had prepared. For example, has the academy ever thought about offering courses for interested tourists? Can't the expensive course fees discourage people from taking this career step? Bread is not suitable for export, what does the academy think? In addition to the actual art of baking, the academy also runs courses on food photography and marketing. How much does this contribute to promoting the craft and the industry?

Photo: © Meng-Ru Yang Mr. Kütscher, director of the academy, comes to us after the end of a course and answers my questions in a nutshell: “What the Akademie Deutsches Bäckerhandwerk sells is knowledge.” Otherwise there actually was a Japanese tourist group who had registered for a visit and was taking a course, but that was a special case. As far as the export of German bread is concerned, the most durable variety is Pumpernickel, which only experts can bake successfully and which is not part of the academy's program. “What we market is knowledge,” he emphasizes again.

But the academy he headed took my visit very seriously: from the reception, the staff canteen to my persistent questions, I was by no means given the cold shoulder, even though the chance that Taiwanese master bakers would come here especially to attend courses, is rather low.

The academy director suddenly smiles and adds that everything that is baked in the courses is donated to charities, so no bread is sold here. (Did he already suspect my next question?)

The tall, slim and cultivated headmaster involuntarily makes me think of the old saying by General Zhang Fei from the classic novel "The Three Realms": "Zhang Fei sells steel needles - people have a solid character and the goods stab the hand": Means something like: like the person, like the product - firm and to the point! This is probably the essence of German bread!


Meng-Ru Yang (楊夢茹) is a graduate of the Chinese Faculty at Soochow University and the Institute for German Literature at Frankfurt University. Among other things, she has translated the “Sorrows of Young Werther” and one of her works is “From the depressed to the opulent: Goethe's great life” (從 憂鬱 到 豐美 : 歌德 的 精彩 人生). What she loves most is the roaring surf of the turquoise blue sea. She enjoys brooding over the philosophy of Hanfeizi and thus overcoming the difficulties in life.

Translation: Günter Whittome
Copyright: © Goethe-Institut Taipei
March 2019

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