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UNESCO

Breadmakers: ‘we knead UNESCO recognition’

German bakers are calling for their breadmaking to be recognized by the United Nations' cultural organisation, UNESCO, as "intangible cultural heritage," alongside Argentina's tango and carpet weaving from southwest Iran.

Breadmakers: 'we knead UNESCO recognition'
Photo: DPA

“It’s a sense of home,” German master baker Karl-Dietmar Plentz muses, dipping his hands into a tray of flour and letting it run through his fingers as 26 types of bread bake in the ovens of his 136-year-old family business.

Behind him a worker deftly kneads two pieces of dough into identical loaves, one in each hand, as they roll off a cutting machine. They belong to a batch of “potato bread”, one of Plentz’s specialities that is still partly made the way his grandfather did it.

Pondering why Germany’s rich assortment of bread should be considered a global cultural asset, Plentz, a 46-year-old fourth generation baker from northeastern Germany who grew up behind the Iron Curtain, says “individuality” is important.

That’s not necessarily easy with supermarkets and petrol stations jostling to sell bread, cakes and pastries, and a changing on-the-go lifestyle meaning that Germany’s traditional ‘Abendbrot’ – supper of bread with cold meats – is on the wane.

About 500 bakeries closed over the past year, according to the German Federation of the Bakery Trade.

Peter Becker, federation president, said “diversity” was key to the UNESCO bid and would recognize the “pride in our products,” which are often crafted from recipes passed down from one generation to the next and may also reflect a regional identity.

“In France there are excellent baguettes, in Italy outstanding ciabatta, but worldwide, I think, only Germany has this variety, from wholemeal bread to good wheat bread,” he told AFP.

German bread ‘second to none’

Germany is due to become the 153rd state party to UNESCO’s 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage this week, with its 16 regions now collecting proposals for possible inclusion on a national inventory – a prerequisite for later UNESCO listing.

Germany’s history initially muddied plans to join the convention by raising fears that traditions distorted by the Nazis or the East German regime could be proposed, Benjamin Hanke of the German Commission for UNESCO said.

But other reasons also caused Germany to originally hang back, he said, including a general failure to grasp and clearly define the concept of heritage based on know-how rather than something concrete.

The baker’s federation threw its first “Day of German Bread” gala last month, appointing two “Brotschafter,” a neat blend of the German words for ambassador and bread, and trumpeted its ‘Bread Register.’

Around 3,000 speciality breads have so far been logged.

German bread has enjoyed high-profile endorsements recently. Outgoing US ambassador to Berlin Philip Murphy’s wife Tammy told reporters it was one of the things she’d recommend to visiting First Lady Michelle Obama.

“It’s second to none,” she enthused, while the frontman of US rock band 30

Seconds to Mars, Jared Leto, told fans at a concert “I love the German bread.”

The vast array of bread is partly down to Germany’s varied climate which allows all types of crops to thrive, Becker said.

History has ‘left its mark’

But history and geography too have played a role, he added, explaining that bread had been one way for the small princedoms that formerly dotted across Germany to carve out their own identity.

“Germany is located on the way to the sea. Many nations have come through here, the French for instance. Napoleon stopped over in Hamburg and we have here a ‘Franzbrötchen’ (French bread roll) which certainly originates from the French period.

“I believe it has all left its mark,” Becker said.

The baker’s trade now uses social media to attract fresh blood after an almost 30 percent drop since 2007 in apprentices amid a shrinking and ageing German population and an image problem over the early start to the workday.

“We found each other via Facebook. He wanted to become a baker and we were looking for an apprentice,” Plentz said of Spanish trainee Guellem Xanxo, 24,

who begins a two-year apprenticeship in August.

Family tradition

With a son and four daughters, Plentz does not know yet to whom he will hand over the reigns of the business he joined from school. It now employs about 100 people and counts five branches in the region around the town of Oranienburg, about 35 kilometres (22 miles) from Berlin.

He used to help out as a boy and went into the business after leaving school when the East German regime clipped his ambitions to study due to his Christian beliefs and failure to join communist youth groups.

But he says he has no regrets.

He proudly mentions “passion” and “creativity” when describing his work, adorning his bakery with bygone tools of the trade for myriad breads, some of whose intriguing names even he is at a loss to explain.

“Kaviarbrot”, it seems, has nothing to do with fish.

For Plentz, UNESCO recognition would be a stamp of approval and a celebration of age-old methods such as the wood-burning oven where he bakes on market days on the village square opposite his bakery.

But he also embraces change — as long as quality is maintained.

“I tried using a machine (to roll out the potato loaves), but I’m convinced of the craftsmanship and there was a difference in quality,” he said.

“So we do it like my grandfather did.”

AFP/kkf

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CULTURE

‘Sandals mean freedom’: Eight tips on how to dress like a German

Germans have an international reputation for enjoying functional clothing. A top German fashion expert told The Local whether the stereotypes of German fashion are really true - and what Angela Merkel has to do with modern style.

‘Sandals mean freedom’: Eight tips on how to dress like a German

‘Comfortable and practical’

“It’s pretty easy to define German style,” says Bernhard Roetzel, the author of books on men’s fashion such as ‘Gentleman: A Timeless Guide to Fashion’. “Nowadays the basic dress of a grown-up man is mainly blue jeans, some kind of sweatshirt and an anorak. The shoes are usually comfortable sneakers. This is the basic German fashion that everyone from workers to doctors wears, and it is suitable for 90 percent of occasions.”

The basic theme, he says, is comfort and practicality. “That is very important.”

According to Roetzel, this love for the practical stretches all the way back into the 19th century when most other Europeans still had strict public dress codes.

“It began with a movement called Lebensreform, which valued things like vegetarianism and woollen clothes, which were supposed to be healthy,” he says.

“Even if Germans at the time didn’t like political freedom, they loved the freedom to wear sandals. Freedom for Germans is to wear sandals in places where it is not appropriate!”

A woman lies on the shore of the Schwarzachtalsee in Baden-Württemberg still wearing her sandals. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Thomas Warnack

Dressing down became even more acceptable after the First World War, when Germany became a republic and the aristocracy, with its formal sense of dress, lost its importance. “The Nazis also propagated being active outdoors,” Roetzel notes. “Fashion was seen as something awful created by the French and the Jews to bring about the downfall of German culture.”

When the craze for casual wear crossed the pond from the US in the 1960s, Germans were slow to adopt it. But now jeans are even standard clothing for septuagenarians, he says. “Twenty years after jeans arrived people started to realise that they are great for all occasions – and now everyone wears them. This was the last blow to formal German clothing.”

Dress down for work

The German love for all-purpose clothes means that it is perfectly appropriate to wear jeans to work, according to Roetzel. 

“If you don’t work in a bank or law firm you can probably wear jeans in most offices. A non-iron, short sleeve shirt is also very important. German men love these shirts, despite the fact that you get hot in them.”

You can even wear sneakers in the office. Or, if you have to look a bit smarter “some very cheap, comfortable leather shoes” will make you fit right in.

“In business, it is very important that you don’t stand out,” Roetzel advises. “If you are smartly dressed people will ask if you have an important meeting or will think you are looking for a pay rise. For everyday business, you dress as casually as possible.”

A woman cycles to work in jeans and a simple jacket in Hamburg. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Christin Klose

Nothing too sexy

Meanwhile, women’s workplace style, perhaps even more than men’s, is based on the principle of ‘the more forgettable the better.’

“Women in German business must not look too sexy,” says the fashion writer. “If you wear a skirt, for example, it should not be too short and heels should not be too high.” A “boxy, mouse grey suit” including a jacket that doesn’t complement one’s figure completes the look.

“Whereas in Italy, businesswomen carry Chanel bags, in Germany they usually carry a laptop bag or something very practical. Makeup is also rather reduced, not too much lipstick, nothing that is too obvious,” he says.

No door policy

Ties are basically a redundant piece of apparel in modern Germany, meaning wearing one really is a matter of choice in most settings.

“There are very few places where you are not allowed in if you don’t wear a tie,” says Roetzel. “I don’t know a single restaurant that wouldn’t admit you if you don’t wear a tie. You might not be allowed into Cologne Cathedral if your shorts are too short, but basically, you can wear everything everywhere and Germans love this!”

Funerals and weddings

Even the most formal occasions, such as weddings, funerals and important birthdays are much more informal events than they once were.

“At funerals, people will wear black but they rarely wear a black suit, most people will wear a black sweatshirt and jeans,” says Roetzel.

Copy Merkel

Angela Merkel’s unpretentious style appealed to Germans. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Fabian Sommer

Anyone looking for inspiration need look no further than recently retired German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who famously wore variations on the same trouser suit for most of her career.

“She had different colours and fabrics but that was her uniform and she also found her hairstyle and that was it. I don’t think she had a stylist,” Roetzel says. “That’s what Germans love. It’s recognizable and it doesn’t look expensive.”

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“In Germany, one thing you should never admit to is wearing expensive, tailor-made clothes,” he explains. “As a politician, you can admit that you like drinking but you should never admit to having an expensive wardrobe.”

In fact, the cheaper the better. “Olaf Scholz has always earned a lot of money but his clothes are awful, his suits are awful – this is just perfect for Germany,” says Roetzel.

Splash the cash subtly (or on outdoor clothes)

This is not to say that all Germans wear cheap clothes, but they don’t make a big fuss about the brands that they do wear.

“People want to express status by wearing certain brands,” Roetzel points out. “But in Germany, this is done in a very subtle way. You will see small details in the clothes and glasses of a professor or doctor that will tell you a lot. Class exists but people hide their status because it is negative to show it off. This can be hard for foreigners to detect.”

There is one major exemption thought to the rule of not flaunting your wealth – outdoor apparel.

“Outdoor clothes are really a big thing here,” Roetzel says. “It gives people a sense of freedom and healthiness. Spending €800 on an outdoor jacket is perfectly okay. But it is a sin to spend the same amount on a tailor-made suit – you will destroy your image if you admit to doing this.”

Moreover, anyone who wants to impress Germans through their possessions would be better advised to buy a good car or modern kitchen, the fashion expert says. “It is perfectly normal to have a very expensive kitchen, but your clothes should still be cheap.”

Focus on inner beauty

The German (dis)interest in fashion can actually tell us a lot about deeper German values.

“There is an old Prussian saying of mehr sein als schein (content is better than appearance). Germans feel that if something is too beautiful there must be something fishy about it. Anyone who is too smartly dressed could be a conman,” says Roetzel.

“Germans are very honest, they like to be very direct. They say “what’s the point in not wearing sandals if it’s hot?’”

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