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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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COVID-19 VACCINES

Italy’s constitutional court upholds Covid vaccine mandate as fines kick in

Judges on Thursday dismissed legal challenges to Italy's vaccine mandate as "inadmissible” and “unfounded”, as 1.9 million people face fines for refusing the jab.

Italy's constitutional court upholds Covid vaccine mandate as fines kick in

Judges were asked this week to determine whether or not vaccine mandates introduced by the previous government during the pandemic – which applied to healthcare and school staff as well as over-50s – breached the fundamental rights set out by Italy’s constitution.

Italy became the first country in Europe to make it obligatory for healthcare workers to be vaccinated, ruling in 2021 that they must have the jab or be transferred to other roles or suspended without pay.

The Constitutional Court upheld the law in a ruling published on Thursday, saying it considered the government’s requirement for healthcare personnel to be vaccinated during the pandemic period neither unreasonable nor disproportionate.

Judges ruled other questions around the issue as inadmissible “for procedural reasons”, according to a court statement published on Thursday.

This was the first time the Italian Constitutional Court had ruled on the issue, after several regional courts previously dismissed challenges to the vaccine obligation on constitutional grounds.

A patient being administered a Covid jab.

Photo by Pascal GUYOT / AFP

One Lazio regional administrative court ruled in March 2022 that the question of constitutional compatibility was “manifestly unfounded”.

Such appeals usually centre on the question of whether the vaccine requirement can be justified in order to protect the ‘right to health’ as enshrined in the Italian Constitution.

READ ALSO: Italy allows suspended anti-vax doctors to return to work

Meanwhile, fines kicked in from Thursday, December 1st, for almost two million people in Italy who were required to get vaccinated under the mandate but refused.

This includes teachers, law enforcement and healthcare workers, and the over 50s, who face fines of 100 euros each under rules introduced in 2021.

Thursday was the deadline to justify non-compliance with the vaccination mandate due to health reasons, such as having contracted Covid during that period.

Italy’s health minister on Friday however appeared to suggest that the new government may choose not to enforce the fines.

“It could cost more for the state to collect the fines” than the resulting income, Health Minister Orazio Schillaci told Radio Rai 1.

He went on to say that it was a matter for the Economy and Finance Ministry, but suggested that the government was drawing up an amendment to the existing law.

READ ALSO: Covid vaccines halved Italy’s death toll, study finds

The League, one of the parties which comprises the new hard-right government, is pushing for fines for over-50s to be postponed until June 30th 2023.

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni had promised a clear break with her predecessor’s health policies, after her Brothers of Italy party railed against the way Mario Draghi’s government handled the pandemic in 2021 when it was in opposition.

At the end of October, shortly after taking office, the new government allowed doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals to return to work earlier than planned after being suspended for refusing the Covid vaccine.

There has been uncertainty about the new government’s stance after the deputy health minister in November cast doubt on the efficacy of Covid-19 vaccines, saying he was “not for or against” vaccination.

Italy’s health ministry continues to advise people in at-risk groups to get a booster jab this winter, and this week stressed in social media posts that vaccination against Covid-19 and seasonal flu remained “the most effective way to protect ourselves and our loved ones, especially the elderly and frail”.

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