By Heidi Noroozy
Everyone should get lost in a foreign country at least once in life. It’s the best way to discover the heart of a place, the cultural gems that don’t make it into the guide books: a tiny restaurant without a menu in English translation, a roadside shrine to a local saint, a pretty park where you can watch the life of the city ebb and flow around you. I’ve gotten lost like this more times than I can count, but one experience stands out from all the rest – the cold day in February when I discovered a rare private bakery in the heart of Communist Leipzig.
|City Tower, Leipzig|
Photo by Dundak
I wasn’t a tourist but a student living in a city steeped in history. Leipzig once was home to the likes of Bach and Mendelsohn, and it inspired Goethe to write his masterpiece, Faust. By the time I lived there, though, Leipzig had lost its mojo. The Auerbachskeller, which Goethe used as a setting in Faust, still existed and so did the St. Thomas Church where Bach worked as musical director. But for the most part, Leipzig had become a city of soot-stained buildings and filthy air, polluted by the coal refineries just outside town.
Every chance I got, I’d go exploring and try to find a hint of the grand old days. Usually, I managed to find my way around with a good map and directions from the locals. But one day, I got completely lost. It was the dead of winter, the sideways slick with gray slush, the chill air freezing my breath into clouds of steam. I wandered through streets that all seemed to have the same small grocery stores with half empty shelves, the same stout matrons sweeping debris off their stoops, the same ethnic restaurants where all you could get was German food, due to the scarcity of imported ingredients.
|Factory Bakery in Leipzig, GDR|
Photo by Deutsche Fotothek
On that wintry day, I followed my nose until I saw a line of people snaking down the sidewalk. It was eleven in the morning, only an hour until every shop closed their doors for the obligatory midday break. But nothing ventured, nothing gained, so I took my place at the end of the line.
Forty minutes later, I made it through the door into the warm, delicious-smelling bakery. The shelves were alarmingly bare. But my hopes sprung eternal as I inched ever closer to the counter. Only to be dashed when the baker sold her last loaf to a customer just ahead of me in line. The rest of us were told to come back the next day.
The bakery opened at six in the morning. I arrived shortly after five (yes, I was desperate). A line had already started to form, but this time I was in luck and left the shop with a rye loaf under my arm, still warm from the oven.
|Photo by Rainer Zenz|
It’s been thirty years since I found my private bakery, but I still remember the taste of that fresh, loaf with its firm texture and chewy crust, just like a good German rye bread should be. So I’m not at all sorry I got lost on that cold day in Leipzig.