By William Johnsson
All night while we slept, God was at work painting the world white. We woke up to a winter fairyland: blue skies, crystalline air, evergreens bending under the weight of new burdens, and ankle-deep powder leveling the landscape, smoothing over ugliness, wrapping everything in a soft, clean blanket.
I joined the cat sitting at the kitchen window, looking out on the birds feasting at the feeder a couple of feet away. Then, bundled up in heavy boots and coat, I set off trudging through the snow.
Already others were up and out before me, walking their dogs, breathing in the fresh clean air.
Occasionally a cyclist came by but not a car. This is a society where people prefer to stretch muscles instead of sitting behind the wheel of an automobile. (Unless it’s on the autobahn, where they cast every skerrick of German reserve to the four winds.)
Several walkers seemed headed for the same destination. What could it be on this brisk winter morn? Then I began to notice others coming toward me, some with dogs in tow, carrying small sacks. They had been out early doing some shopping. Then I got it: not far ahead a store was open that attracted these early walkers.
Suddenly I found myself in a village and I saw it, large letters proclaiming Bäckerei (bakery).
Of course. In Germany you don’t buy your bread from a supermarket. And you definitely do not put it in the freezer when you arrive home. That would be close to sacrilege.
Germans get their bread fresh from the local bakery. They walk to the bakery—because no matter where they live, in city, town, or village, a bakery is just a few minutes’ walk away.
Bread sustains the German culture. One of the words for work is Broterwerk, literally, “gaining one’s bread.” There is even a postage stamp celebrating German bread culture.
And yes, there is a German institute for bread. Its register indicates that there are more than 3,200 officially recognized varieties of bread in the country. German bread culture was officially added by UNESCO to its intangible cultural heritage list in 2015.
Bread is a staple for most meals in Germany: at breakfast, lunch, and break time (sometimes called pansenbrot or “break bread”). In fact, the German word for dinner is abendbrot, literally “bread of the evening.”
Bread even stars on TV. For German children, a talking loaf named Bernd is a popular character. The comedy series Bernd das Brot (Bernd the Bread) has been airing on the children’s channel since 2000.
On my morning walk I follow the lead of people ahead of me and enter the Bäckerei. Several customers are lined up at the counter; some have dogs, which sit perfectly disciplined by the entrance. The store has a small selection of pastries, but one product dominates the shelves—bread.
Bread, bread, bread.
Brown breads, black breads, white breads.
Breads in sizes small and round, in regular loaves, in strange shapes, breads plastered with seeds, breads baked from wheat, rye, spelt.
This village bakery offers a cornucopia of breads. I can buy ciabatta, seedlicious, Uncle Arnold’s seed bread, multi-grain, caraway rye, honey molasses, sourdough wheat, egg bread, cranberry walnut, focaccia, potato bread, or organic breadsticks.
Bread—I love it. But not just any bread, real bread. Bread with backbone, bread that your teeth sink into, bread that will stay with you for hours.
Not the flaccid, spongy, spineless imitations stuffed with preservatives and sugar that you can find on the shelves of supermarkets in America. Those monstrosities are a disgrace to the human race.
Bread—I love it first thing in the morning. What could be better to kick off the day than whole wheat bread just out of the toaster, glowing golden brown with a soft, delicious aroma? Take it, butter it, and devour. (Cold toast is an abomination in my book.)
As a boy I walked to the local elementary school some 10 minutes away. My mother sent the same lunch every day: a cheese sandwich, a cookie or piece of cake that she had baked, and fruit.
I never grew tired of the same menu. When you have good bread and a nice cheese, you don’t need much else.
I have a bread test. Whenever I sit down to a meal with unfamiliar bread, I simply spread a small piece with butter. One bite tells me whether this loaf is worthy of further discovery. A good bread can stand on its own feet without the aid of fancy spreads.
Thank God for the simple gift of bread.
It has to be good bread. One spring, many moons ago, Noelene and I spent several weeks at a college in southern France with the sheer face of the Salève towering above and Lake Geneva shimmering in the distance. The setting was exotic.
The food, however, was less so. The chef baked once a week, but he sadistically held back the long narrow loaves for several days. They looked tempting until we took a bite.
I reckon that the Lord knew what He was talking about when He taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.”