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The Munich startup trying to tackle old-age loneliness through Oma’s baking

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The Munich startup trying to tackle old-age loneliness through Oma’s baking
Rosemarie Rottmann, aka Oma Rosemarie. Photo: Christine Madden
14:06 CET+01:00
An innovative Munich start-up employs pensioners to bake old-fashioned, traditional cakes. It offers them the opportunity to earn money, feel useful and meet people – and their customers, to enjoy cakes baked with love.

The sweet, warm fragrance envelopes you as soon as you walk through the door. Hidden in a courtyard from the busy street, the Kuchentratsch cake shop entices you in. Just beyond the counter, the doorway to the expansive kitchen stands open, affording a view to the bakers hard at work. Despite the size and industrial fittings of the bakery, you could imagine you’ve called in at your granny’s. The bakers here are all over 65.

Brought into being as a start-up by Katharina Mayer – who, in her 20s, is far from pension age – Kuchentratsch (translation: cake chat/gossip) is not simply a bakery. It’s also a social enterprise and thriving experiment. As an answer to the question “What kind of society would I like to live in when I’m old?”, the company was established to give pensioners the opportunity for suitable employment that also puts much-needed extra funds in their coffers.

“I started by asking myself, ‘Where can you get a really good piece of cake?’ But I always got the best cake at my own granny’s,” says Mayer. She also noted that, on a recent trip to Brazil, she had often purchased sweets from youngsters on the streets – sweets cooked up by their grandparents. Her idea, she explains, was to “give elderly people a place to go where they could make contacts and meet new people, as well as a mini-job so that they could earn something to supplement their pension.”

Mayer, who studied business with a focus on social and health management, worked with her then partner Katrin Blaschke to satisfy the many regulations needed to start up her gastronomic venture.

“It’s important to me to do something positive for society,” she says. They funded their project with a combination of crowdfunding, convertible loans and the Munich Gründerpreis, which they won in 2015.

Photo: Christine Madden

The concept is brilliant in its simplicity as it ticks multiple boxes. Why couldn’t you get a slice of good, old-fashioned cake anywhere, the kind your granny makes? Kuchentratsch jumps into that breach by hiring Omas (grannies) – and Opas (grandads) – to bake those cakes and sell them to delighted customers. 

The cakes are all baked to tried-and-tested, traditional German recipes and taste astonishingly, delectably homemade. “Our approach was to instil tradition into our work, as well as the experience and knowledge and, in particular, the love of our Omas and Opas,” says Theresa Offenbeck, PR manager at Kuchentratsch.

It’s not just an advantage for the consumer. The elderly in western societies feel increasingly marginalised as pensions grow smaller and the cost of living far outstrips their means. Despite frequent calls for an ever increasing pension age, over-65s find it difficult to find any – let alone suitable – employment. And as they are often impoverished, without daily, meaningful occupation, loneliness becomes yet another affliction in their daily lives.

Instead, as an employee of Kuchentratsch, they can partake in part-time employment that makes the most of their skills while giving them the flexibility and extra consideration an older worker requires. The company now boasts 35 pensioner-bakers – 33 Omas and three Opas. They earn a modest monthly income under threshold in Germany for income tax and health and social contributions – and engage in a fulfilling occupation that gets them out of the house and into a working team. The deal is sweet in every respect.

After a successful trial of a pop-up café in Munich’s trendy Schwabing district, Mayer and her team are hoping to open their own café somewhere in the city. With regard not only to the clientele but also to the working Omas and Opas, they need to find an appropriate premises centrally located and within easy reach of public transport – not an easy feat in a metropolis with skyrocketing rents. But Mayer does not readily throw in the towel, and the search continues.

Katharina Mayer and "Opa" Norbert. Photo: Kuchtratsch

The old-fashioned cakes they bake – from “Marmorkuchen (marble cake) von Oma Astrid” and “Käsekuchen (cheesecake) von Opa Norbert” to “Schokoladenkuchen (chocolate cake) von Oma Magdalene” and “Nußzopf (nut loaf) von Oma Inge” – can be ordered directly or purchased at various cafes across Munich.

Since last year, several of them can also be delivered throughout Germany. The selection also includes seasonal varieties – currently, in the run-up to Easter, they also feature the traditional sweet yeast bread and Osterlamm (Easter lamb) cake popular at this time of year. For the winter season, they offer the ubiquitous, ornate Christmas biscuits so popular in Germany.

“I love to bake,” says Rosemarie Rottmann (age 77), aka “Oma Rosemarie”. She has been working one day a week at Kuchentratsch since May 2017. “It’s not worth it on your own, though. Now at least I can do some baking.” She travels an hour and half each way from Königsbrunn to Munich for the pleasure and profit of it.

To the question of his age, “Opa Günter” (Günter Haun) reponds, “Do you want to know how I feel or what’s in my passport?” The 50-55-year-old (his passport alleges he’s 77) has been with Kuchentratsch since October 2017. He happened across an article about the company. While he was still working, all he knew how to prepare were eggs and coffee. Now he bakes cakes once a week and is pleased continually to learn new recipes he can bake for his grandchildren at home.

It’s something special, says Opa Günter, to get an old-fashioned cake “that has been baked with love."

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