Becoming a “Bäckermeister” is a big deal in Germany. It takes years of tough, formal training before a German baker is allowed to call himself "Meister" and sell bread to the public. Quite unlike the rest of the world, where random folks turn into "artisan bakers" literally overnight, only to harass customers with mediocre bread.
Bread is considered cultural heritage in Germany, where being a Meister baker is a prerequisite to establishing a bakery business and selling to the public. The long process towards Meister begins with a 3-year apprenticeship (Lehrling) after completing high school.
The apprentice program is a unique German institution that combines theoretical learning with training on the job. Apprentices alternate between trade school, where they learn the scientific foundations of baking, and internships at established bakeries, where they put into practice what they just learned.
Apprenticeships are a win-win: The employer benefits from cheap labor, while the apprentice benefits from training on the job. Apprentices are around 16 years old when they start, living with their parents, which makes the low wage less of a practical problem.
Upon completing the apprenticeship, the Lehrling is awarded the "Gesellenbrief" certificate (bachelor degree) with eligibility to work in any German bakery at competitive market rates. After three to five years of work experience, the Geselle becomes eligible to enlist for a “Meisterbrief” (master certificate).
At this point, the Geselle is required to attend school again, usually in the evenings for two years. Meister School focuses on running a bakery and perfecting baking skills. Meister candidates must pass tough exams in baking, food chemistry, food laws, and business administration. There is also an extremely demanding practical exam, in which candidates must bake a collection of products in real time in front of a watchful commission, and that bread better be very good.
Once a Meister, bakers are allowed to run a bakery and take on apprentices of their own, thereby ensuring that knowledge is passed on from one generation to the next. The entire process from Geselle to Meister is supervised and regulated by the German Baeckerei Innung, i.e. the baker's guild, which ensures consistently high standards across Germany.
This rigorous, six-years-long training process is unique and there's no question that it produces the best bakers in the world. Baking is a science that cannot be learned overnight, as some folks seem to think. Becoming a good bakers requires a ton of knowledge and years of hands-on experience.
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