Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Nazi's, Gum Shoes and Hamburger Buns

So over a decade ago I read the Phillip Kerr trilogy that sets it's focus on a Private Dick named Bernie Gunther. Just like today's present Pope, Bernie was a typical Joe trying to make an honest living when the Nazi's grew in power and started to mess with his neighborhood.

I think I enjoy Bernie so much because he's such a smart a** and seems to be more clever than intelligent. The first book takes place prior to WW2, the second during the brunt of the conflict, and the 3rd is post war, and most of the action goes down in a bombed out Berlin.

Some of it can get a little racy (like when Bernie had a "situation" with the young blond girl that was a member oh the Hitlers youth" but most of it is easy reading. I have always loved history, and Noir is the cats meow in my book.

Anyways, I read the books and then there were no more. That is for 12 or 15 years ago, but recently I just found out that he's released 3 more since then (like 08-09 & 2010) and has one coming out on April 16th. I went on e-bay and purchased the back copies, and for the first time in my life, I preordered the next upcoming book.

As I've been reading these stories it's made me think a little bit, as some of you know...Sue McGleno is a Jew, and my children are Jewish enough where they could have qualified for plight, had they lived in the wrong place at the wrong time.

As a kid, like elementary school age, me and all the boys were obsessed with 2 things.

#1 The Titanic

#2 The Berlin Wall.

During recess when it rained out we would carefully examine photo books that showed how people escaped from East Germany. The focal points of the photos always had their eyes covered with a generic looking black box. It added a certain air of creepiness to the attempted escape.

When President Reagan demanded "Tear down the wall Mr.Gorbachev." I remember thinking how cool he was, it reminded me of the Old Testament story where all the kings were trying to build a wall around Jerusalem, and for whatever reason they failed.

Then the prophet Nehemiah came and whipped the thing up in what, like 5 minutes?

Sometimes all you need is confidence and organization. with this tandem anything is possible and probable.

About 10 years ago I was running a literal ton of burger dough each day off a small 2 pocket Blodgett (or was it a Kemper?) bun popper. When ownership gave me the blessing to upgrade, we brought the bun line over from SuperMoms. We were pretty certain we wouldn't need the 2 pocket anymore, so I told an equipment rep, and a couple months later he told me that some cat from Toronto wanted to look at it.

I live 4 hours from Cananda, and for no particular reason, I've never visited my neighbors to the north. It's my loss. I've talked with a hoard of their bakers, and they are really pro and hippie Zen cool to boot.

So I was expecting some Bohemian to stroll into the shop, but instead an old man came in. He moved slow, but he wasn't feeble. I don't remember his name, but when he spoke he had a German thick accent.

He was sent to look at the machine, and if he liked it, he was going to ship it to some grocery concept in the Caribbean. As I mixed some bun dough to run through the machine, the Old German stuck his head in the bowl and talked about ingredient percentages of the bun dough.

Another reason I am the LAST AMERICAN BAKER is because only Old School understands that for every sexy loaf of sourdough you sell, you'll need to move 50 dozen hamburger buns.

To feed a city, the key is always have the best bun dough. The Old timer knew it, he wasn't some guy who just pimped equipment, he was a baker.

In Germany, I've been told that if you want to open your own shop you have to be certified, and the certification is not an easy course by any means, it is akin to passing your CPA or Law boards in the USA.

In America....any thug or dimwit can purchase a food production facility and produce products that will eventually be consumed by little leaguers, Nuns and nurses.

When you phrase it like that, it seems a little creepy huh?

We ran the dough, the piece of equipment worked well so the guy bought the machine, but he didn't leave the shop.

I know that feeling. If you are a baker, sent abroad on business, you want to be in a bakery. You understand what they are doing there. You don't want to be alone, caste into a culture where you don't know the customs, currency or have residence. Being with other bakers is like being with cousins you never met.

And unlike chefs.....bakers welcome one another, we are too dumb to have egos. We simply will take anybody into our social circle.

I really wish I remembered the guys name, because he was noble, he deserves to be remembered, but anyways when we sat around B-S ing, I asked him how old he was during "The Big One" and if he fought for the Germans.

The Old Man kinda stared out across the plant and said something like.....................

"I was an apprentice baker during the war. Back then we knew that craziness was overtaking the world, but when you are a baker, the worlds events don't resonate with you like they do with most people. You are working when they are sleeping, and while you sleep...that's when they campaign and get into mischief.

I'll never forget the night it happened. Most people think that you had a choice as to whether you wanted to live in east or west Berlin, but it didn't happen like that.

The bakery I worked at was in West Berlin and not far from the "wall", Most of us assumed it was built to keep intruders out, not locals in, but I remember our pastry man (he called him be name as if it were just yesterday) would come to work each morning at 5 a.m. He rode a bicycle. On one particular morning we were nervous because he was late, He was never late. 1/2 hour turned into 1 hour and 1 to 2.

Around 7 a.m. we went outside and noticed people were not allowed to leave the eastern side. Our pastry man was taken from us and none of us ever saw him again."

This story blew me away. The Old guy didn't cry, but you could tell that he was still affected by this 55-60 years later.

As soon as I burn through the rest of these Phillip Kerr books, I'm on to John Burdett's "Bangkok" series. The detective is a guy whose father was an American soldier, and the mother was an Asian resident, I guess there is some pent up rage in it LOL,

I got turned on to it by Executive Chef Joan Ida, but she is a story for another day.


  1. Nope. Nothing seems right when powerful, wealthy beyond belief, and politically connected people turn the world upside down for those who just want to go to work and make something people really need. In this case I am thinking of the USDA and the decision to allow GMO alfalfa after negotiating deals with mega food companies. The organic farmer/baker/miller just wants to work under fair conditions and make truly healthy products; but in America that may be no longer possible.

  2. Danny, you never cease to amaze me. A great post.

  3. Danny Klecko responds.......

    @Sandy - Thanks, i love when you allow me to amaze you. I really do.

    @Bakerdude, I couldn't agree with you more.Some of the problems are that the USDA makes deals based around knowing what American families budgets are.
    Even if the Independents, hippies, organic, artisan food producers are left alone, the demographic of people needed to keep their concept a float usually won't be big enough.
    GMO is a bad bay, but other countries that are less scientific than us have disturbing issues as well.
    I was talking with a Muslim friend of mine who lives outside of Moscow. We were discussing "organic" concepts. Where she lives....there is no regulation over what qualifies as organic, and she told me of some disturbing "processes" that their food went through before it made it to her table.