Bread Culture Hard Crust, Soft Core

A selection of various German bakery products.
A selection of various German bakery products. | © Christine Haas

Germany enjoys the reputation of having the greatest variety of bread worldwide. The art of German baking is appreciated even on the other side of the globe; Sydney boasts a number of German bakeries.

The flour in Thomas Becker's bakery has travelled more than 15,000 kilometres. Importing some of his ingredients from Europe, Neustadt native Becker offers authentic German bread at the BrezelBar in Sydney's east. The extra cost and effort is worth it: "Many customers come here especially for the bread," Becker explains. "They love that everything we offer is of German standard."

Brewery Crust, Pumpkin Seed Loaf, Spelt Baguette – the Bread Registry of the German Bakers' Confederation currently lists over 3,200 creations. "All over the world, German bread is valued for its unique diversity," the German Commission for UNESCO explains. Mini states, regionally different types of grains and a willingness to experiment provided for the plethora of different shapes, recipes and baking processes and explain why German bread culture has been listed as Intangible Cultural Heritage since 2014.

No German style bakery without pretzels. No German style bakery without pretzels. | © Christine Haas Even at the other end of the world, German bread has found its aficionados. For ten years now, the Lüneburger German Bakery chain has served Sydney with a number of branches, in addition to small businesses like Thomas Becker's. Among their clientele are the many Europeans who live or holiday in Australia. But the locals also enjoy their German bakery goods – even if it can take some time to win them over to this unfamiliar alternative. 

Australia's Staple: Toast

In the beginning, not even Thomas Becker's friends wanted to try his bread. When he opened his bakery in 2012 a stone's throw from famous Manly Beach, wholemeal bread baked according to a German recipe was set to become one of the specialties of the house. However, the Australians were sceptical at first: "They said, 'It looks so firm, you'll have to chew it,'" Becker recalls. "Here, people are used to toast, which practically liquefies in your mouth."

Indeed Australian and German bread culture don't have much in common. Granted, it's possible to find firm variants at weekend markets, next to impressive creations using chillies, garlic and many other spices. However, bakeries are rare, and at the supermarket, even the "wholemeal" alternatives can usually be compressed like a sponge.

"In Australia, the focus is very clearly on white bread with a soft crust," Krystal Day, member of the executive team of the Baking Association of Australia, explains. "Toast is an Australian staple. From an early age, parents will give their children sandwiches to take to school in the morning." Other varieties don't play a role in many households, and while bread is such an essential part of the German diet that it has even informed the term "Abendbrot" ("evening bread") for the last meal of the day, Australians often choose other foods.

Thomas Becker and his team. Thomas Becker and his team. | © Thomas Becker "This is in part due to the fact that we don't have this diversity of bread here," Thomas Becker believes. That's why he aims to educate: If new customers enter his shop, he will often step out from behind the counter, explain the ingredients of his various bakery goods and offer little bites for people to try. "By now, most of my customers are Australians," he says. He is often sold out by midday; the BrezelBar has won the Local Business Award twice in a row.

Import comes at a high cost

Becker scores brownie points with his imported flour and its comparatively low gluten content. "People appreciate that," he says. "Many Australians follow a gluten free diet." However, importing also comes with high costs: "Our profit margin is comparatively low. We just can't set our prices accordingly because we wouldn't be competitive."

That's why Thomas Becker and his wife did as much of the work themselves as they could, especially early on, opening the bakery around four in the morning and only leaving again at night. "However, in the long run we'd like to get back our lives outside the shop," Becker says. A total of eight employees now work in various shifts and a manager is set to take on a large part of the work.

Then Thomas Becker will finally be able to enjoy the sun at the beach outside his door again. After all, that was why he came here in the first place: "I was tired of scraping the ice off my car windows in the morning."