Sandeep Joshi is a German Chancellor fellow from India,currently on a research stay
in Germany, sponsored by the Alexander von Humbolt Stiftung.
“If you have two loaves of bread, sell one and buy a lily.”, says a Chinese proverb. Well, if you are Chinese, and you believe in proverbs, AND you happen to own a bakery in Germany, you will end up with a hell lot of lilies.
A traditional German Bakery has an amazingly vast variety of breads and bread-looking stuff that can blow anyone away. Well, anyone who is not from Germany. Have a look at the photo I am attaching here. And this is just the outside display. Imagine what it would be like inside this bakery. Now be prepared that your imagination will be dwarfed by many orders of magnitude. Now enter the bakery. Ta da… the most beautiful spread of breads for your eyes.
I have deliberately said for your eyes only because not all these breads necessarily taste good, certainly not to all palates. Most certainly not to Indian palates. But don’t mistake me, there are several really delicious varieties. I will not be mentioning which ones I find delicious, I will leave it for you to experiment and find your own favourites instead. But I will list down what I think are some of the interesting types of breads that you find in German bakeries.
Firstly, bread is a really important part of German cuisine. Yet, almost no German family bakes bread at home. They rely solely on their reliable neighbourhood bakeries. Remember the Sunday story? Well, if it is any relief, many of these neighbourhood bakeries do open on Sundays, but only for a couple of hours in the morning. And guess what, they sell something called Sonntagbrötchen (meaning Sunday Bread Rolls). It is quite a German thing to have Sonntagbrötchen for breakfast on a Sunday (or any day really, but then on other days, they are just called Brötchen).
So, coming back to the importance of bread, it is quite an important part of Germans’ breakfast, their ‘second’ breakfast (Zweite Frühstück: yes, it is a thing, google it.), many times their lunch and dinner. Actually, the German word for dinner is Abendbrot (literally, evening bread). The first really German bread type is the Brötchen, the bread rolls. These are small bun-sized pieces of bread come in many shapes, sizes and colours. The most common one are golden in colour and are had with butter and/or tea/coffee as breakfast.
German bread tends to be denser and heavier than what one may be used to. Also, forget about finding the standard sliced white sandwich bread in a traditional German bakery. They simply don’t sell it there. You may find it in most supermarkets though, but sadly not in a fresh, right from the oven deliciously warm variety.
Apart from the Brötchen, you buy usual bread mostly in the loaf form and you usually buy them by count or by weight. Many bakeries either offer to slice it for you or there’s a self-service slicing machine kept handy for the customers to do it by themselves. And these bread loaves come in an insane number of varieties. Start reading about German bread on the internet and you will find that there are about 400 types of loaf bread and some 1,200 types of Brötchen. I am not throwing random numbers here. These are actually what the internet will tell you.
For a basic understanding, just understand that Weizenbrot is wheat bread, and this one is most closely relatable to the bread we are used to. Vollkornbrot means whole grain bread. It is whole grain but the grain may not necessarily be wheat so it is best to ask for confirmation. Interestingly, just like the almost legendary German beer purity law (again, google it.), there is law in Germany that if a baker wants to call her bread whole grain, there has to be at least 90% whole grain flour in there. It is a law. Compare this to the Britannia, Modern Bread or whatever we get in India and read the ingredients on the “whole wheat bread” they sell there. Let me know in comments if there is any with more than 25-40% whole grain.
German bread flour doesn’t restrict itself to wheat only. Rye is, from what I have seen, the second most used grain. You can even buy pure Rye bread. The taste may not be to everyone’s liking but it is a really standard accompaniment with many German meats. For the other mixed grain breads, here’s a handy way to remember: a 5 grains mixed bread is called Fünfkornbrot, a 3 grain one is called Dreikornbrot and so on. Once you know basic German words like numbers etc., it will be fairly easy to understand.
Lastly, expect to see many kinds of seeds on top of (and also inside of) the breads that German bakeries sell. Sunflower seeds, sesame, cereals, whole grains, melon seeds, pumpkin seeds… there’s a huge variety there. I can go on and on as I am still amazed by the selection every time I step into a German bakery. I would really urge you to give it a try whenever you are in Germany, even when you are in here for a short time. Just to keep you motivated, the bakeries also sell sweet stuff, cakes and pastries, donuts (without the hole, and they call it a Berliner), cookies, muffins. Trust me, all of these would taste like nothing that you have been having so far. Add these to your must-try list, on my recommendation.