Saturday, October 15, 2011

Let them eat cake

The Week in Germany
Dear TWIG Readers,

Image: dan /

Bread - it is the one thing Germans miss most when they go abroad.
And now it looks like German bread will be canonized by the United Nations.
"If things go as planned, this centuries-old tradition will soon be accepted into the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list – and the chances are looking good," Frankfurt-based freelance journalist Karoline Rebling recently reported in a feature published by the Goethe-Institut. (See this edition of The Week in Germany to read the full article.)
Surely most Germans could not agree more wholeheartedly that their beloved bread deserves to be deified via such a lofty list.
Once they've moved on to solid food, German kids are weaned on bread of all different shapes, sizes, and textures. There are myriad varieties of Graubrot ("grey", or rye, bread), Multikornbrot (multigrain bread), Schwarzbrot ("black", or pumpernickel, bread) and Weißbrot (white bread), including Brötchen (rolls).
All of these different types of bread are eaten for breakfast (especially Brötchen), lunch on the go (belegte Brote, or sandwiches) and dinner, or Abendbrot (evening bread), which traditionally consists of denser varieties of Graubrot or Schwarzbrot served with various kinds of cold cuts, cheese and pickled or sliced vegetables. Children also grow up on their midday Pausenbrot (breaktime bread), sandwiches their Moms make for them to take to school in their Schulranzen (knapsacks).
As adults, when they travel or move abroad, Germans long passionately for their bread, the likes of which they cannot seem to find anywhere else in the world, bar perhaps a few neighboring countries with similar baking traditons, such as Austria, Switzerland, or Poland.
"Great place, great people - but the bread is awful!" is the refrain you will hear from Germans about a lot of other countries, including the United States, Canada, Australia, Japan, Brazil, India - just about anywhere else on the planet, really. (Even the famous French baguette is found lacking by many Germans, who are amused by it as a fun diversion, but find it hard to take truly seriously because it is considered a "lightweight", wimpy, alternative to the wonderful world of German bread.)
The only way my American mother claims she managed to convince my German father to return to the United States after he first moved here in 1963 was via one specific type of dense, sliced, square-shaped, packaged pumpernickel bread she happened to find in a local Washington DC area supermarket. This bread, produced in the Chicago area, was aptly entitled "Mr. Pumpernickel".
"It was the only kind of Schwarzbrot available at the time," she recalls, "and it's how I kept your father in America."
Food for thought, to be sure ... what was that old saying about "The way to a man's heart ... "? (They've been married since 1967, and according to my mother "Mr. Pumpenickel" - plus her signature recipe for rabbit stew - really helped seal the deal.)
Throughout the remainder of his adult life based largely in the United States, bar a few postings to Paris and Nairobi as an international economist, my father has continued to eat his Abendbrot. This "old country" tradition of a cold supper consisting of the "evening bread" topped with a variety of cheese, cold cuts, liverwurst, or fish, is something he carried on religiously in the "new world".
As a child I yearned for some mushy American "Wonder Bread" because I thought I could play with it in my hands like Play Doh, something 1970s era TV commercials may have convinced my young, impressionable mind would be a really fun thing to do. My father scoffed at this sliced, white bread, claiming it was "gefüllt mit Luft" (filled with air), tasteless and unsatisfying. It was almost like the "forbidden fruit" in our home, which was always stocked with "Mr. Pumpernickel", a single package of which weighed at least as much, it seemed, as a cinderblock. (It could do some serious damage if it fell on anything small, like a pet or a toddler.)
Years later, my brother became addicted to Sonnenblumenkernenbrot (sunflower seed bread) when he lived in Hamurg. After I moved there myself I realized that I really liked it too. On a rare trip from Hamburg to Nairobi to visit my family in 1998, I was asked to bring along at least six packages of sunflower seed and pumpernickel bread. The Lufthansa officials at the Hamburg airport were, however, not amused by how much my suitcase weighed, for which I was charged extra. To my father, however, this treasure trove of dense, high-fiber German bread was worth its weight in gold. (My family eventually discovered a German baker in Nairobi, and everyone breathed a deep sigh of relief!)
Germans are always in search of good bread.
Karen Carstens
Editor, The Week in Germany

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