So I am taking a bread baking course at the local Volkshochschule, which is like a community education class. I had two sessions of four hours, led by a retired Bäckermeister, master baker. He worked in different bakeries, owned his own, and then decided to retire from the business because of competition amongst other reasons.
Sad. Because in Germany, there are many more traditional, family-owned bakeries which make their own dough and and have their own recipies and specialties. But increasingly, there are chain bakeries which get their dough from the factory and bake it on-site but don't make it themselves (like chain bakeries in the US such as Panera). So this is a trend which unfortunately is spreading...But Germany truly still does have a bread culture totally different from that in the US.
The Germans will put up their noses and scoff when the conversation turns to the white bread you can buy in the US. They call this "Toast Brot" and love to talk about how mushy it is, how you can push one end to the other and press it together flat. German bread is solid, fresh, usually denser and usually not 100% white.
In any bakery there are tons of different kinds, and usually you buy the whole loaf. You can ask them to slice it for you, if you prefer. They have a machine there in the bakery which slices it. But most people cut their own bread at home one slice at a time...and many households even have a small "Brotschneidemaschine" (bread cutting machine). The mere fact that this exists proves one huge difference between the US and Germany. While trying to fall asleep last night I was thinking about the expression "the best thing since sliced bread....."
So anyways, I did a baking course and learned a lot of helpful techniques and tips for making yeast doughs, sweet doughs and sourbread doughs. I definitely need a lot more practice, but it was super interesting and also a true social experience being in a course with 11 Germans who want to perfect their bread-baking techniques, and one master baker who looks at us curiously sometimes and smiles.... "No, don't ever put dishwashing liquid on your bread pans! They're clean! You're just going to bake with them again, just wipe them out! Dish soap is the worst thing for them!" Or his commentary about the baking industry, "Yeah, bakers used to get there at 3:00 or 4:00 am to start making the bread for the day, now some of them are even starting now [around 7:00 pm] to make your bread for tomorrow! That's what it's come to!"
Another thing that is typically German are Brötchen, which we can only translate as rolls but they aren't like any rolls you can buy in the US. Like the French have croissant for Sunday breakfast, Germans have Brötchen. There are lots of different kinds, white bread, whole wheat with sunflower seeds, or pumpkin seeds, or made from a milk dough with raisins... Like German bread, they always have a hard crust and a soft inside. If you touch the crust of a loaf of German bread it's always hard, and Brötchen, too. Crunchy outside and soft inside. Not like a loaf of bread you can get in the US which would be soft to the touch.
Here's what I made last night: A Kräuter-Quark bread (herb and quark), and also a loaf of rye with dried fruit. Last week I made a garlic bread and a sweeter dough for making breakfast rolls.
Next up: the same baker is doing a course on Torten und Kuchen (tortes and cakes). I am already signed up.
below: Kamps, a chain bakery in a shopping mall (but they still do have great Rosinenschnecken)