What Working in a German Bakery Is Like

April 25, 2020
What would you say is the most common answer to a baker's question; what invites people into a bakery? Is it the smell of freshly baked bread? The view of the kitchen where the bakers knead and shape the bread? Or is it the array of baked goods shining behind the counter?

Well, I work in a bakery, and only the third option would apply, and perhaps it's not even the correct one. The scene I just described would perhaps be true for a small independently run bakery, however, the company I work for has a chain of bakeries. So even though the smell of buttery goodness baking in the oven is one of the best part of baking, it's not part of my day to day work life, since the bread and cakes are freshly delivered every morning from the production factory, already ready for sale.

Don't get me wrong, the items are freshly baked daily, and a lot of the items are even hand shaped and hand-worked, it's just that they're made in a dedicated 'factories' by the bakers.

So if the items are already done, does that mean I'm just a cashier? Well.. yes, but not quite.

First, there are some things you need to know about the items sold in the bakery and the German love for bread. We have different types of bread loaves (Brot), from simple wheat bread, to bread made with mixed flour (commonly dinkel aka spelt), to seed-only bread, even. And then there are the Brötchen (the best translation will be bread rolls, but I don't think they're the same thing), again made with different flour types, topped with different seeds like sunflower and poppy, amongst others.

The Brötchen came pre-baked (vorgebacken), meaning they are no longer dough, and look like they're meant to already, but they're still inedible. So we still have to bake them in the oven in store, though customers can bake them at home as well. This can sometimes be tricky, because they do take time to bake, and you have to gouge how many you will need continuously throughout the day and bake them as you need them to keep them as fresh as possible. It's not seldom that I would have disappointed customers because their particular bread was just sold out and they have to wait for the next batch that's still baking in the oven!

In between serving customers, packing their rolls (and cakes or other sweet items) in bags, and baking rolls, many customers would ask to get their bread sliced as well, though some prefer to slice the loaves at home, either by hand or (not uncommonly) with their own at-home bread slicer.

Many bakeries also have some sort of café space, so they do sell coffee (and specialty coffee), hot cocoa, or iced tea in summer. On top of that, many have an assortment of sandwiches that are made in store with their own bread.

Growing up in a country with rice as the main source for carbohydrates, I felt like I got to know a whole different aspect of the German culture when I started working. At home, I've only ever known pre-sliced white bread, so no wonder it took me weeks to remember all of the bread types and their names. I also felt rather ignorant when I found out bread slicer had settings that are accurate to a half millimetre, never having seen or used one before, and the significance of the slice thickness to Germans. Who knew a 8.5 mm thick slice can be so different to a 9 mm??

I never realised how much work was done behind the scene to get a humble slice of bread before I started working in a bakery. From the bakers who are continuously perfecting the recipe, to the drivers who deliver the product before dawn, to the sellers behind the counter who has to deal with heat, stress, and (sometimes) cranky customers with a smile, most of whom work for minimum wage (myself included).

That being said, I do enjoy the job. Even though after my shift I'd be exhausted from walking and talking non-stop, it gives me a balance to the uni work I do otherwise, not in the least because it's so different from each other and it does help pay the bills (not enough to cover all of my monthly expenses, since I only work part-time). It can be stressful when you see a 20-people line at 7.30 am in the morning, and having to wake up at 4 am just to make it to the opening shift is not easy at times. But I've come to enjoy the simple things, like getting to know the regular's orders, like the elderly couple who come everyday at noon, the guy who'd order dozens of rolls for his whole family every Friday, or the lady who'd sit with a cappuccino and a newspaper for an hour in the morning. Sometimes, simple honest work can mean quite a lot.


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