Germany and bread have been all but synonymous for centuries. The country produces more kinds of bread than any other – over 300 varieties of dark and white breads, not to mention hundreds more rolls and mini-breads – and the nation still thrives on bread products today. The north of Germany in general is famed for its dark and heavy breads (such as rye) and the south for its lighter, wheatier loafs, but wherever you are you’re sure to encounter a broad range: a variety of brötchen (rolls) for breakfast, salty pretzel snacks during the day, a sandwich or ‘wurst im brot’ for lunch, or the casual evening meal known as Abendbrot, which typically consists of bread with a variety of toppings (sliced meat, cheese, pickles). But despite, or perhaps because of, the continued ubiquity of bread, the art of making it fresh – that is, without chemicals and additives – is often lost to mainstream mass production. However a growing army of independent bakers has been bringing back original baking techniques, while also modernising by using organic and regional products, reducing waste and, in some cases, supporting social causes. In addition, there has been a parallel trend in the capital for more international bread products such as burgers and baps, no doubt inspired by the burgeoning street food scene.
Situated on a trendy, boutique-lined street in Mitte, this modern café and bakery has raised the bar for urban baking. From the rustic, wood-filled interior – parquet floors, designer lamps and chic grey walls – to the open kitchen where you can watch white- hatted bakers working their floury magic, the entire experience feels fresh and contemporary. The resultant baked goods are laid out neatly on wooden shelves like exhibition pieces – dark rye-spelt breads including Bauernlaib and lighter-coloured French-style Pain Artisan loaves – while a spotless glass vitrine showcases quiches, sandwiches and paninis as well as outsized cinnamon rolls, chocolate breads and a delectable selection of cakes. The café’s breakfast menu offers compelling bread- combo breakfasts (bread with something sweet, bread with cheese, bread with meat and cheese) as well as cooked eggs. Whatever you order, you can rest assured that all the ingredients used here are certified bio and organic (including externally produced items such as muesli and fruit juices), that energy used on the premises is carbon neutral, and that any leftover food at the end of each day is donated to the homeless.
The main source of Berlin’s current and seemingly indefatigable hunger for buns and burgers is the city’s expanding street food scene, which began slowly and quietly around 2008 and has since become a fixture across the city. Aside from regular pop- ups, there are now several major street food events such as Street Food Thursday at the renovated Markthalle Neun in Kreuzberg, and Street Food auf Achse, which takes place each Sunday within the handsome grounds of Prenzlauer Berg’s historic Kulturbrauerei. At these events you can find a dizzying array of bun-and-bap-themed food from around the globe: Indian naan bread filled with veal and pork from vendors Chai Wallahs, Taiwanese fried chicken and Asian coleslaw inside a steamed bun from Bao Kitchen, and imaginative burgers from Gorilla BBQ, including “Break Ya Speck!”, with date-onion chutney, goats cheese, pear, walnuts and honey-thyme sauce. Such has been the success of the bun-and-burger revolution that some of these vendors now have their own permanent shops throughout the city, including Bao Burger in Prenzlauer Berg, the Korean-style Shiso Burger in Mitte and Piri’s Chicken Burger in Kreuzberg.
Another bread product enjoying a renaissance in Berlin is the humble bagel. Until recently, the only examples of this Jewish-American import to be found in the city were the sub-par kind sold in chain stores – but a small group of individuals have recently been stepping up to the rolling pin. Although comprised of very basic ingredients (flour, water and yeast) bagels – which should always be boiled before being baked at a high temperature – have traditionally been embellished with the addition of salt, sweeteners like barley malt, honey or sugar, as well as eggs, milk or butter. At Berlin’s Fine Bagels, run by American-born Laurel Kratochvila, you can find all the classic varieties – sesame, poppy, onion or garlic – as well as sweet versions flavoured with cinnamon and raisins and a range of cream cheese schmears from chive and avocado to horseradish, beetroot and fig. “It seemed that the Berlin definition of a bagel was a bread roll with a hole in the middle, whereas a bagel is a lot more than that,” she says. “I was unable to find one to my satisfaction in this city, so I started doing them myself.”
Malin Elmlid began the Bread Exchange in 2008, after spending a year learning how to bake her own sourdough bread. Landing an internship with Swedish sourdough maestro Manfred Enockson, she went on to work at Lars Gustavsson’s bakery in Höje, and then – after moving back to Berlin – decided she needed to get rid of all the yeast- free sourdough bread she was baking in her flat. Her plan to gift it to friends yielded some interesting and unexpected results, in that people began to repay her with their own gifts: homemade marmalade and home-grown herbs, wine and flowers, guitar lessons or a place on the guestlist. After building up a network of around 1000 of these casual ‘traders’ – “mostly like-minded people into travel, design and food” – she decided to make a book about her baking process and subsequent social experiences. The Bread Exchange includes her personal stories of travel and connections, as well as over 50 recipes. “My bread has taken me to Afghanistan and opened a door to the art-collecting elite in Switzerland,” she writes. “It has taken me over the Atlantic and got me invited to underground farmers markets in California. But most of all it has made me realise the value of the most simple and essential things that surround me.”