If you’ve ever been to Germany, or lived in an American city with an authentic German bakery, you know that Germans love their baked goods and take great pride in creating them. German bakeries produce dozens of variations of breads and rolls and buns and, especially, fabulous desserts. Germans aren’t low-carb people, and a fine strudel, a light torte, or a beautifully decorated kuchen is as important to German culture as a perfectly flaky croissant is to France or a delicate, crunchy cannoli is to Italy.
That’s why what is happening now in Germany is so painful. Rising energy and wheat prices, caused by supply shortages resulting from the Russian invasion of Ukraine, have put many German bakeries out of business and are leaving others teetering on the edge of closure. The bakeries have been hit by a double whammy: the cutoff of Russian natural gas has caused the cost of maintaining ovens and cooling rooms powered by natural gas and electricity to skyrocket, and the loss of Ukrainian wheat means that the cost of flour–the most basic ingredient of German baking–has surged.
We aren’t talking about modest price increases, either. One German baker in Dusseldorf quoted in the article linked above said his monthly electricity bills have more than tripled, from $6,000 a month to $22,000 a month, and the price of flour has more than doubled. A baker in Bremen says his energy costs have increased tenfold, and that bakers in his city are having to recycle leftover bread to make new bread in an effort to reduce costs. The price of the oil that is another key ingredient in German baking has tripled.
Staying in business in the face of such price increases would be a huge challenge for any business, and many German bakeries haven’t been able to manage it. Family businesses and larger firms that have been in existence for decades have had to declare bankruptcy, close their doors, and mothball their ovens. German bakers have been protesting and seeking government help to try to stay afloat, but so far their efforts have not produced much in the way of relief. And with Germany heading into the heart of winter, when energy supplies will be even more stretched, bakers are fearful that worse times lay directly ahead.
It’s hard to imagine Germany without bakeries, and without the succulent smell that greets any customer lucky enough to visit one. The plight of German bakeries is just another example of how interconnected we all are, and how the ripple effect of Russia’s unwarranted invasion of Ukraine will continue to have unexpected, unwanted consequences.