The origins of today's Hessian bakehouses date back to the middle of the 16th century: Count Johann VI of Nassau-Dillenburg decreed in the "Wood and Forest Ordinance" of 18 January 1562: "In every village, several common baking ovens are to be decreed". On the one hand, communal baking was intended to save wood, as resources were slowly becoming scarce in the region due to the immense consumption of wood, for example for iron smelting. On the other hand, the fire risk for the farms, which were mostly built of wood, clay and straw, with their dwellings and stables, was reduced by a separate location of the now isolated bakehouses. As a result of this ordinance, numerous village community bakehouses were built. Due to the exchange of information - trade, marriage and itinerant trades - that went beyond the borders of the lordship, this advantageous model quickly became popular throughout Hesse.
In the mid-19th century, communal bakehouse culture experienced a renaissance, starting in the then Prussian provinces in what are now Rhineland-Palatinate and Hesse. In 1846/1847, crop failures caused great hardship throughout Europe, including in the Kingdom of Prussia, which included the small town of Weyerbusch in the Westerwald. When the government issued flour, mayor Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen - who is also considered the founding father of the cooperative system - initiated a "bread association". The allotted flour was processed in a specially built bakehouse. The bread baked here could be distributed to the needy population at a favourable price. Neighbouring villages throughout the Westerwald, the Lahn-Dill-Bergland, the Burgwald and the Schwalm soon took up the idea of the "baking house and baking house association". Today there are many bakehouses whose foundation stones were laid in the same era.
The art of baking good bread in a bakehouse has always required a great deal of experience and has shaped the community. It began with the selection and cutting of suitable wood, the nightly heating of the oven and the determination of the baking sequence. This was decided in advance by the baking community, often by lot. The bread dough itself was usually made individually in advance according to a home recipe and carried to the bakehouse. Not only the choice of flour, but also the temperature at which the loaves of bread were put into the oven with the pusher was decisive for good success. The time during which the bread remained in the oven was used for communicative exchange among the "Backesbäcker/innen" and was therefore important for village cohesion. This traditional village bakehouse system was an integral part of the local supply almost from the middle of the 19th century until the 20th century. Due to technical developments, many households have had their own electric ovens since the mid-1950s, so that communal baking in bakehouses has become less and less important. In the 1960s in particular, many bakehouses were demolished. To this day, however, numerous bakehouses and bakehouse associations still exist, often with a long, unbroken tradition that continues into the present day, baking in the time-honoured manner and cultivating the village community. Community baking is currently experiencing a rebirth in Hesse.
Text: Naturpark Lahn-Dill-Bergland
The bakehouse in Groß-Altenstädten
The bakehouse itself is located in the left part of the old town hall and bakehouse, the oldest part of which dates back to 1579. The entire building, which is owned by the Hohenahr municipality, was renovated in 2005/2006 as part of the village renewal programme. In the course of this, the baking oven was also relined. Now about 30 - 40 loaves of bread can be baked in the wood-fired oven again.
Next to the baking room with the oven is a separate preparation room. There, the sourdough can be kneaded in wooden troughs either with a dough kneading machine or in the traditional way by hand. The two long wooden tables can then be used to prepare the breads, but also large trays of yeast cakes or pizzas. The appropriate accessories, such as dough baskets and baking trays, as well as wooden shelves for storing the breads temporarily, are available for this purpose.
The bakehouse can be booked by individuals, clubs and groups, making baking together a very special experience. On request, we are happy to give an introduction to the use of the oven beforehand.
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"Backes" are part of the rural tradition in many villages between the Westerwald and Vogelsberg.