In one of Germany’s oldest bakeries, Arnd Erbel produces bread, pretzels and Lebkuchen in the traditional way. With no additives or baker’s yeast. We met the only “free baker” in the country
Baker Arnd Erbel
In the early hours of the morning, the aroma of freshly baked bread, chocolate and spices wafts through the streets of Dachsbach. The fragrance can be traced back to Backstube Erbel – one of Germany’s oldest bakeries. Here, the staff and trainees are preparing the bakery goods for the day ahead.
They are led by master baker Arnd Erbel. He is the twelfth generation of his family to run this business, founded in the year 1680. Using tried and tested traditional recipes, he creates and sells Bavarian products that have been avidly consumed in the Free State for more than 250 years.
Bavarian pretzels and their myths
Many of his creations have a long tradition in Bavaria – such as the gingerbread, the shaped bread and the pretzels. They are closely associated with Bavaria both at home and abroad. However, there are many different stories about their origins: One legend states that in the year 610, the first pretzel was baked during Lent by a monk in a monastery in the south of France. The distinctive shape represented arms crossed in prayer. According to another tale, the pretzel is a successor of the bread ring, and dates back to the 11th century.
Despite these contradictory histories, one thing is certain: The world’s oldest pretzels have actually been found in Bavaria by archaeologists. With less fat than in other regions of Germany, thicker arms and a torn surface, the pretzel has become a staple Bavarian snack. Arnd Erbel is well aware of their importance and bakes them every day for his customers, using tried and tested recipes. He is preserving the Bavarian baking tradition, but constantly introduces new ideas to give it a distinctive style of its own.
Free baker with heart and soul
The master baker takes a sustainable approach to his products and is utterly devoted to them. For Arnd Erbel, his daily work is far more than just a job – it is his life. That much is clear from the ingredients he uses: Instead of simply getting his flour delivered, he goes out to the fields himself. “I tremble, rejoice and suffer with the crops, anxious to see what the weather will do and whether the corn will ripen well,” says the master baker. Changing weather conditions, different seasons – Arnd Erbel takes the grain as it comes rather than relying on standardised flour.
Artisan baking – then and now
He is a “Freibäcker” (free baker) – the only one in Germany to hold this title. It means he can set his own standards and is completely independent. Free to choose his own ingredients with no preservatives, Arnd Erbel simply follows his intuition and his senses. Even in the preparation he bucks the trend: His baking is all done without the aid of modern machines.
Feeling the dough with his hands, tasting the individual ingredients, sensing the heat of the oven on his skin: “These are the most wonderful, sensual sensations,” explains an enthusiastic Arnd Erbel. He follows the tried and tested methods of his predecessors. Precious traditional knowledge, which he in turn passes on to his trainees. Visitors to his traditional bakery find themselves being transported back in time. They see the love that goes into the products, along with the highest culinary aspirations and irresistible aromas.
From toddlers to top chefs
His bakery goods are more than just a matter of taste: Arnd Erbel’s attention to detail and the quality of his products have long been delighting guests in gourmet restaurants. The master baker is proud of that achievement.
Yet he gets the same pleasure from thrilling all his customers – children, pensioners and top chefs alike. For Arnd Erbel the important thing is that everyone enjoys it. “For me, the positive feedback is my true motivation, rather like the applause for an artist.” And that is what he is: an artist who is preserving the treasures of the Bavarian art of baking for the next generation and involving his guests in that enterprise with every last crumb.