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Kaffee und Kuchen: The history behind a very German tradition

This leisurely afternoon ritual is key to the German lifestyle.

Kaffee und Kuchen: The history behind a very German tradition
A family takes part in the Kaffee und Kuchen tradition in Zellingen, Bavaria. Photo: DPA

The mid-afternoon is a signal to many Germans for a traditional pick-me-up in the form of “Kaffee und Kuchen” – literally, coffee and cake. 

Be it with coworkers, friends, or family, the culture of “Kaffeeklatsch” (the act of catching up over the two delights) enjoys nationwide popularity, typically between the hours of 3 and 4pm. 

READ ALSO: Nine German treats you'll want to eat right now (and one you won't)

You might invite guests to your home to show off your own hand-baked goods, or if you prefer to trust someone else to take care of the baking instead, countless cafes and the more authentic ‘Konditorei’ are dotted all over the country – and as a general rule of thumb, the more old-fashioned, the better.

A typical selection at a Konditorei. Photo: DPA

A longstanding tradition

The origins of the beloved custom can be traced back to the 17th century, when coffee was first imported to Germany. In these times, it was only the aristocracy who would indulge in the pastime, but by the 19th century the indulgent treat became more accessible, and the combination has since become a cultural staple.

Whilst the working world often only allows for a quick, shop-bought treat during the week, Germans will often make use of the weekends to celebrate with large pots of coffee and a selection of delicious sweet treats.

READ ALSO: A brewing moment: Germany's baristas compete to create world's top coffee

And despite being somewhat comparable to the English custom of ‘afternoon tea’, the cakes you’ll find in Germany are nowhere near as dainty.

Expect to see a big slab of decadent Bienenstich, Erdbeertorte or Baumkuchen enticing you from behind the glass counter of the patisserie. 

Regional variations

Exactly how your ‘coffee and cake’ set-up may look differs across the country and time of year, as traditional German cakes vary according to both region and season. 

In the Black Forest, cafes are known for their Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte – indulgent layers of whipped cream and chocolate sponge (with added cherry liquor as the secret ingredient) are topped with chocolate shavings and cherries. 

A slice of Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte. Photo: DPA

In Bavaria, it’s the Prinzregententorte, which combines seven layers of sponge and chocolate buttercream to symbolise its seven districts, finished with apricot jam, dark chocolate and cream. 

Frankfurt’s speciality is the Frankfurter Kranz, a Bundt cake layered with jam and buttercream and sprinkled with caramelised nuts. Over the festive period, Germans enjoy Stollen, a Christmas speciality from Saxony – a fruit bread made of nuts, spices and dried fruit and coated with icing sugar. 

Bringing together the chance to catch up with friends and to sample some delicious German delicacies, indulging in ‘Kaffee und Kuchen’ really is the perfect way to spend your Mittagspause (afternoon break).

 

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CHRISTMAS

German word of the day: Die Bescherung

One word in front of this word of the day can change everything...

German word of the day: Die Bescherung
Gifts under a tree in Hamburg. Photo: DPA

Die Bescherung 

What does it mean? 

Most years in Germany, after a hearty Christmas dinner and maybe a church service on December 24th, there will most likely be a Bescherung

Gifts wrapped up and ready for opening on Christmas Eve. Photo: DPA.

This is the moment when everyone gathers around the Christmas tree and opens presents. Die Bescherung is a noun, describing the event and is based on the verb bescheren, to give or bring, especially presents. 

Where does it come from? 

Bescheren has its roots in the Middle High German word beschern, which means “assign” or “deliver.”

Historically, it was associated closely with notions of fate and God’s allotment to humans. 

As a result, gifts were often seen as coming from Christ, as divine presents. 

Now, German children celebrating Christmas receive gifts on Christmas Eve either from Der Christkind or Der Weihnachtsmann

READ ALSO: Why “Das Christkind” vs. “Der Weihnachtsmann” is a big debate in Germany

Animals want a Bescherung too! A gorilla in Stuttgart receives his Christmas gift. Photo: DPA. 

Double meaning? 

Bescherung is one of the interesting cases where a word can have two completely opposite meanings based on the situation it is used in. If you use it as part of an excited expression on Christmas it has a positive connotation. 

However, if you hear a German say “Da haben wir die Bescherung!” or “schöne Bescherung” it might mean something a bit different. These are colloquial phrases used to note an unpleasant surprise. 

A 1998 production of “Schöne Bescherung” as a play in Düsseldorf. Photo: DPA.

In fact, the German title of the “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” movie is “Schöne Bescherung.” Uncle Eddie’s arrival at the Griswold’s is a classic example of a schöne Bescherung

Example sentences:

Wann haben wir die Bescherung? 

When do we open the presents?

Er bescherte mir ein wunderschönes Geschenk.

He gave me a wonderful present.

 
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