Food & Drink

German “bread sommelier” becomes UNESCO cultural ambassador

Holger Schueren loves everything about bread. And he has now been tasked by Germany’s UNESCO commission with spreading his obsession as far as possible in order to keep his country’s world-famous bread tradition alive.

Renowned German baker Holger Schueren has an unusual mission in life: Recently named a cultural ambassador for UNESCO, he has been tasked with promoting traditional baking methods.

“The variety of German breads must be maintained,” says Schueren, who runs a bakery in the town of Nuthetal, just outside Berlin. Schueren loves everything about bread: the smell of a freshly baked loaf, the feel of it in his hands and, of course, the taste. And as the first certified “bread sommelier” in the state of Brandenburg – he applied to the Academy of German Bakers for the qualification last year – he’s keen to pass his passion on to his customers.

German bread baker

Image: blickpunkt-brandenburg.de / Jana and Holger Schüren at their small bakery in Bergholz-Rehbrücke near Berlin

His appointment is part of a campaign by Germany’s UNESCO commission to preserve intangible cultural heritage in the realms of dance, theatre, music, oral tradition, science and crafts. “We want to show with our campaigns what value it has,” says spokeswoman Katja Roemer.

Currently 429 customs, performance arts, crafts and sciences from around the world have been recorded on the list, including Germany’s co-operative model for business, Cuba’s rumba, traditional Chinese medicine and the Italian art of violin-making.

Within Germany, the commission has named ambassadors for all sorts of differing specialities. “We want to show that our intangible heritage doesn’t belong to the past,” says Roemer. The ambassadors are supposed to keep up traditions which still have a place in today’s society.

In 2014, Germany’s bread culture – which boasts around 3,000 different sorts – was added to the country’s register of cultural heritage, giving recognition to its 12,000 master bakeries and their 273,000 employees.

Schueren’s fascination with all kinds of baked goods, from rye bread rolls to German cream cake, is obvious. “We’ve got around 3,000 different types of bread in Germany, that’s hard to beat,” says the 48-year-old.

At his bakery, the bread is made by himself, his wife and employees. Not everything is “quick, quick, quick like in an industrial bakery,” he says. Each individual loaf produced by bakers who work from scratch can look different from one day to the next depending on the ingredients, temperature, humidity and other factors, he says.

German bread sommelier

Image: unesco.de

“One thing remains the same: the quality,” he says. Real bakers have to differentiate themselves from the competition, he adds. They can’t compete in terms of price, so the best way is to ensure top quality. “Customers have to find out so much about the bakery and the products that they’re prepared to dig a bit deeper in their pockets,” he says.

German households bought 1.8 million tons of bread in 2015, 1.8 per cent less than the previous year, according to the market research company Gesellschaft fuer Konsumforschung. The reasons lie in the changing population and habits. More Germans are eating hot meals in the evening now, as opposed to bread, cheese and ham as in the past.

But Schueren still starts and ends every day with a slice of bread. “Bread brings back childhood memories,” he says. “We can’t forget the taste.”

Thanks – Potsdam, Germany (dpa)

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