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1. Life / Food & Drink / Breads, Cereals, Grains, Pulses & Pasta
1. Life / Food & Drink / Food Issues
2. The Universe / The Earth / Europe / Germany / Frankfurt
The Brezel Bub - Selling Pretzels in Frankfurt am Main
The soft pretzel, soaked in a solution of dissolved baking soda and sprinkled with coarse salt grains, is considered a staple food by many families in the south of Germany. Children as young as toddlers can be seen sucking on or chewing a soft pretzel, and it's not surprising that pretzel vendors are to be found throughout the region.
The pretzel boy, or Brezel Bub as he is known to the locals in Frankfurt, is just as identifiable with the town as are the Ebbelwei-Express, Handkä s mit Musik - a round cheese with a dressing of vinegar and chopped raw onions, served with a slice of rye bread and butter - or the famous Green Sauce. He is a well-known sight at local festivals, in pubs, taverns and wine bars, going round and ringing the bell on his large wicker basket to draw the attention of the pub-goers to his fresh soft pretzels.
Little is known about the origins of the profession of Brezel Bub, although it probably has a very long tradition, dating back to the Middle Ages. It is not known where the pretzel comes from, nor who was the first to give it a bath in its baking soda solution, nor why they might have done so. Most sources agree that the first pretzels were made by monks in the 7th Century. Whether baked as a meal for Lent or as communion bread, the original purpose of the pretzel is as much veiled in the mists of time as everything else about its beginnings. However, pretzels most probably got their German name of Brezel (Old German: Brezitella) from the Latin word brachius, which means 'arm', due to the fact that the pretzel resembles arms crossed in prayer. Because of the pretzel's religious background and its resulting popularity, it didn't take too long for the pretzel to become the symbol of the guild of bakers. The first documented pretzel-sign for a bakery dates back to 1111.
The Early Times
In the beginning, bakers used to go and sell their produce in the streets and in markets, or have children go and do it for them. Local festivities such as fairs were another opportunity to sell pretzels: even in winter, pretzel vendors were out and about, as can be seen in a painting of 1828 by Peter Fendi.
Until the late 1950s, Frankfurt's drinking establishments didn't serve meals with the apple wine, so people either had to cater for themselves - or wait for the Brezel Bub to come along and sell his pretzels.
Although you can usually get a snack like Handkä s mit Musik or potato salad with sausages nowadays, you don't have to do without your pretzel to go with your apple wine or beer, because the pretzel boy still comes around. Over the years, the range of products on offer has grown and, recently, cheese sticks have become even more popular than the original pretzels. Prices range from € 1.10 to € 1.70, depending on whether you buy a simple pretzel or a stick with ham and cheese or onions and cheese.
At the time of writing, there are 16 pretzel 'boys' in Frankfurt - in fact, two women and 14 men. They each have their own area and, according to them, rivalry is not a problem. Each also has the required trade licence and tax number, as well as a health certificate. They are self-organised and manage to serve up to 40 pubs and taverns in one evening, selling more than 150 items per night. It is up to the pub owner whether or not to allow them access. Some refuse it altogether, while some only allow it after the kitchen closes at 11pm, but most have a good relationship with 'their' Brezel Bub, as do the regulars. Let's hope that the Brezel Bub will still roam the pubs in years to come.
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