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HEALTH

How Germany’s marvellous bread helped me overcome food anxiety

Back in the UK, Rachel Loxton avoided eating bread after reading too many articles on its alleged health risks. But seeing how readily Germans snacked on wholegrain Schrippen caused her to re-evaluate her attitude.

How Germany's marvellous bread helped me overcome food anxiety
Photo: DPA

We've updated this to celebrate the Day of German Bread on May 5th 2020.

It was only as I bit into my second Laugenstange (pretzel stick) of the day that I realized I had rebuilt my problematic relationship with bread.

That was a few weeks ago, but for years I had tried to avoid any kind of bread, believing it was the root of my problems. It’s not that I had an intolerance to gluten and I’m not a sufferer of the debilitating coeliac disease. But I had read countless articles on why eating bread would lead to piling on weight and health difficulties.

I struggled with self-esteem and body confidence issues during my 20s and took these warnings to heart. Cheese on toast and tuna sandwiches were banned from my stomach, but this only led to cravings – and, looking back, it didn’t actually make me healthier at all, only more anxious.

Despite it being an integral part of our meals historically, bread today has become controversial and even a victim of the war against carbohydrates that rages in some parts of the world.

Yet in Germany, although the diet industry does exist, peoples’ love of bread seems to have endured. Thankfully, this has rubbed off on me and I am now no longer scared of a loaf.

READ ALSO: Five delicious breads you have to try in Germany

Brotzeit

I had only been in Berlin a few weeks when my first German flatmate arranged brunch or Brotzeit (literally bread time). We’d sit on the balcony of her Neukölln flat as friends brought over huge slabs of cheese, or apricot jam, fresh honey, cucumbers, fruit or pretend salami (for the veggies). There was every kind of spread available, from cream cheese to bright pink beetroot spread.

I watched in awe at how she laid out all the ingredients of the brunch with so much care, as if it was a theatre production. She would empty brown crinkly bags filled with Sonnenblumenkernbrötchen (sunflower seed rolls) or Kürbiskernbrötchen (pumpkin seed rolls) into a big bowl.

From Roggenbrot (rye bread) to Zwiebelbrot (onion bread) or Vollkornbrot (whole grain), there was never a shortage of carbohydrates.

To start with I was cautious and only nibbled on a small roll. It was only after several months of watching people in Germany eat up bready goodness with such gusto that I built up the courage to really enjoy it too.

'Quality and variety'

German bread is different to other kinds in Europe. It’s composed mainly of whole grains, like rye, spelt, millet and wheat, making it more dense than fluffy ciabatta or baguettes. It’s a huge part of the country’s food culture, from Munich to the Baltic Sea.

Bernd Kütscher, director of the German National Bakers Academy in Weinheim and head of the German Bread Institute in Berlin, says it’s the “quality and variety” that makes it special.

“While most countries only know wheat bread, we like to bake with rye, spelt and other grains that grow in different parts of Germany thanks to our different soil conditions,” he says.

Kütscher, who also runs a bread blog, adds that the rye needs to be mixed with sourdough, which helps to produce a distinct flavour and makes it easier to digest and conserve.

Bernd Kütscher. Photo: German National Bakers Academy

“In addition, only qualified master bakers are allowed to open a bakery in German,” he adds, emphasizing the skill needed to bake good bread.

Kütscher says the German Bread Institute has found that more than 3,200 different types of bread are offered in 11,000 German bakeries every day, which highlights its popularity.

Berlin-born writer Ursula Heinzelmann, author of Beyond Bratwurst, a History of Food in Germany, agrees that the choice is “legendary”.

“Germany is in the middle of a continent, we cover a lot of very different areas climatically, that makes not only for good bread, but great diversity of form,” says Heinzelmann. “That really is something special.”

Part of German culture

My ultimate favourite, I’ve learned, is Laugenbrötchen (pretzel buns), which taste salty and have a pleasing sheen to them like they’ve been varnished. This is the lye they’re dipped in.

But it’s not just traditional German bread I’ve fallen in love with. There are also many Middle Eastern supermarkets that sell huge breads covered in flour or poppy seeds. Dipped into a fresh dip like hummus or Paprikapaste, they can provide a nourishing meal when there’s no time to cook after a long day.

Kütscher says bread is “firmly established” in German culture, “starting with breakfast, break-time snack and ending with supper in the evening”.

In fact, the German way of having a big cooked meal for lunch and a lighter ‘evening bread spread’ or Abendbrot in the evening is one of the culinary habits I’ve picked up since arriving here almost a year and a half ago, along with maintaining strong eye contact when clinking glasses and saying ‘Prost’ before a sip of beer.

SEE ALSO: Prost! Why Germans make eye contact when they clink glasses

It’s clear in Germany that bread is king – you only have to look at the queues in bakeries with their mouth-watering goods. But has it always been this way?

Heinzelmann, who grew up in West Berlin, can remember bread being a huge part of her childhood menu. “The typical everyday bread was a large sourdough loaf with a bit of wheat – Mischbrot,” she says. “We would have called it grey bread which was not a derogatory term. It’s not white, it’s not black, it’s Graubrot.”

“Rolls were only for the weekend or special occasions. Something special and more expensive than bread.”

However, Heinzelmann points out that not all bread is equal and hopes that a new breed of artisan bakers will ensure quality is on offer in Germany.

“Nowadays you have, at every corner, the so-called bakers who are part of a larger chain and are really quite industrial. They have pre-baked doughs which they just finish.”

“We need a large base of affordable reliable quality at every corner for everybody.”

Photo: DPA

Journalist and author Samuel Fromartz, who worked at Weichardt Bakery in Berlin as part of his research on his book, In Search of the Perfect Loaf, says he found high quality bread on offer in Germany.

“There’s a bread culture in Germany so people eat and appreciate breads,” he says. “I love that you can buy pretty good bread all over.”

“Not all the bread I had in Germany was great but what I loved was the variety of breads and all the things they were doing with wholegrains, seeded loaves and how sourdough was essential to fermentation of their breads as opposed to just using commercial yeast.”

“All of that increases the spectrum of flavours and textures that you can get from bread.”

Fromartz says his favourite loaf is a Rogenweißen (rye wheat) from Weichardt. “It’s marvelous,” he says. “You have a couple of slices and it’s almost a meal in itself.”

'Everyone should eat bread'

Although I’m sure there are people who don’t like the wheat stuff, not one person I’ve met here yet has had a bad word to say about it. There also seem to be far fewer scare-mongering articles displaying how you can lose weight by ditching bread from your diet.

READ ALSO:

Kütscher says there is a trend in western media to sell “new nutritional wisdom” which creates uncertainty for people over what to eat.

But he says cutting out bread isn’t healthy. “Everyone should eat bread every day, including some wholegrain bread,” he says. “A hundred years ago people ate twice as much bread without being bigger than nowadays.”

For me, things changed when I left a city and job that made me unhappy and decided to take the plunge and move abroad. Perhaps shedding off the worries I’d built up led me to also ease up on my food anxieties and accept the German love of bread.

I’ve never looked back and I hope the popularity of bread in Germany continues. Eating Laugenstangen without guilt may be a small step for bread-kind, but it’s a giant leap for me.

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HEALTH

What you should know about Germany’s plans to roll out e-prescriptions

Germany is taking a big step towards a more digital-friendly health system, with plans to roll out e-prescriptions nationwide. Here's what you should know.

A person holds the e-Rezept app in a pharmacy in Oldenburg, Lower Saxony.
A person holds the e-Rezept app in a pharmacy in Oldenburg, Lower Saxony. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Mohssen Assanimoghaddam

What’s happening?

From January 1st 2022, people in Germany will receive their prescriptions digitally (known in Germany as an ‘e-Rezept’) from healthcare providers.

Patients should be able to get their prescription from their doctor via a QR code sent to an app, which can then be transmitted to a pharmacy. The pharmacy can then let the patient know whether their medicine is in stock (or if they want to order it), and when it is ready for collection. 

This model is to be mandatory for people with statutory health insurance from the start of 2022, replacing the good old paper prescription.

However, the QR code can also be given to the patient by the doctor on a piece of paper if a patient does not have access to or doesn’t want to use a smartphone. 

READ ALSO: The changes around doctors notes in Germany you should know 

How exactly will it work?

In theory this is the plan – you’ll visit the doctor or have a video consultation. After the examination, the doctor will issue you with an electronic prescription for the medication that has been prescribed to you. 

A prescription code is automatically created for each ‘e-Rezept’, which you will need so you can get the medicine at the pharmacy. As we mentioned above, patients in Germany can either open this QR code in the free e-prescription app developed by Gematik and the Health Ministry, or receive it as a printout from the doctor. 

Next, you can take the prescription QR code (either in the app or as a printout) to your pharmacy of choice to get the medication needed.

One of the major differences and timesavers under the new system is that you can also select the pharmacy you want to get the prescription from digitally, order the medication (if needed) and you’ll be alerted when the prescription is ready. You can also arrange to have it delivered if needed. 

A doctor’s signature is not required, as e-prescriptions are digitally signed. 

The aim is that it will save on paperwork, time at the medical office and trips to the pharmacy. 

Some patients have already been receiving digital prescriptions. The ‘e-Rezept’ was tested out successfully in selected practices and pharmacies with a focus on the Berlin-Brandenburg region of Germany. The test phase started on July 1st this year.

Pharmacies and doctors’ offices nationwide have also been given the opportunity to test the new system from the start of December. 

“This will enable practice providers and pharmacy management systems to better prepare for the mandatory launch on January 2022 1st,” said aponet.de, the official health portal site for German pharmacies

The new e-prescription app.
The new e-prescription app. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Mohssen Assanimoghaddam

READ ALSO: 10 rules to know if you get sick in Germany

There is some leeway though – if there are technical difficulties, paper prescriptions can still be issued in individual cases until the end of June next year.

The National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians estimates that it could take until mid-2022 until all users are equipped with e-prescription applications nationwide.

The obligation does not apply to privately insured people from January next year. Private insurance companies can decide voluntarily to make the preparations for their customers to use the e-prescription.

What’s this about an app?

To be able to receive and redeem prescriptions electronically, people with statutory health insurance need the Gematik ‘das e-Rezept’ app. 

One issue is that the app appears to only be available at the moment in German app stores. We’ll try and find out if there are plans to change this and widen out the access, but it seems likely for that to happen. 

Germany’s Covid-Warn app, for example, was initially only open to German app stores but was gradually widened out to many others. 

As mentioned above though, those who don’t have access to an app will be able to use the paper with the code on it to access their prescriptions. 

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about making a doctor’s appointment in Germany

Has it all gone smoothly?

As you might expect, there have been a few hiccups. 

Originally, the introduction nationwide was planned for October but was postponed due to many providers not having all the tech requirements set up. 

Now though, more than 90 percent of the practice management systems have been certified by the Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians – a prerequisite to issue the e-prescriptions.

The e-prescription is part of Germany’s far-reaching plans to digitise and streamline the health care system.

The head of Gematik GmbH, Markus Leyck Dieken, recently spoke of a “new era” that is “finally starting for doctors and patients” in Germany. 

Useful vocabulary:

Prescription – (das) Rezept

Doctor’s office/practice – (die) Arztpraxis

To order – bestellen 

Pharmacy – (die) Apotheke

Video consultation – (die) Videosprechstunde

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