With more than 160 years of activity to its name, the G. Buchwald bakery continues to use the family’s traditional recipe to produce its famous “Baumkuchen” (skewered cakes) on Bartningallee in the Tiergarten district of Berlin.
Since May 2015, master pastrycook Andrea Tönges, the fifth of her generation, has been at the head of Berlin’s oldest bakery. She is the third woman to head the family enterprise, after her mother Ursula Kantelberg and her grandmother Käthe Dielitz.
Founded in Cottbus in 1852 by Gustav I. Buchwald, Andrea Tönges’ great-great-great-great-uncle, the family business moved to Berlin at the end of the 19th century. Situated 130 kilometers from Cottbus, the great city of Berlin at that time already had a robust gas system used for lighting, heating and cooking. This brought about a considerable improvement to production and the ensuing success of the house’s specialty, the Baumkuchen (literally, “tree cake”), cooked on a spit of sorts over an open flame. The King of Prussia was so impressed by the quality of these cakes that he granted the establishment a royal warrant of appointment.
Still going strong in the 21st century, the house specialty is as sought-after as ever. This is evident from the impressive queues to be seen each Sunday in front of the cake displays, to say nothing of the many orders the bakery receives from South Africa, the United States and Japan. So far, the establishment has never undertaken any form of advertising. “Our satisfied customers spread the word, that’s our best form of advertising” points out Andrea Tönges, to justify this choice.
She has no intentions of making any upheavals in this respect, and is clearly more concerned with safeguarding the bakery’s tradition. In her view, this tradition rests on qualified, experienced staff and a love of manual labour. Furthermore, production must be limited and quantifiable.
The bakery has always sought to offer other variants of the renowned cake, and a number of other cakes and tarts are available. Other new features have recently been introduced: for the past two years, customers have been able to attend a one-hour presentation of the Baumkuchen’s history to learn more about traditional pastry making. Then, in early 2015, a new “breakfast” offer was launched.
So where does the secret of this family enterprise’s success lie? Ever modest, Andrea Tönges explains that it boils down to a combination of “dedication, know-how and a sprinkling of good luck”. On this last point, she is certainly right given the events of the first half of the 20th century. In fact, in 1929, Gustav II Buchwald lost the family business on what became known as “Black Friday”. Despite that, production continued. Then, during the Second World War, with production reduced to staple foods, the pastry shop and café closed. Worse, towards the end of the war, a bomb partly destroyed the building. Miraculously, the café’s ground-floor back room remained largely intact. In 1952, the establishment celebrated its centenary year, a feat that would not have been possible without the vigorous support of one of its most ardent employees, Willi Pauli. He would remain faithful to the family business for 60 years.
Today, G. Buchwald employs a staff of 15, including Andrea Tönges and three other master pastrycooks. The young director’s son is also lending a hand. In keeping with family tradition, he too would like to become a master pastrycook.
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