Wistful for German Bakery

Taking a walk down memory lane, Rituparna Roy recalls the cacophony of foreign languages, the fragrance of bread and the laidback vibe of a special café

November 28, 2019 09:16 pm | Updated November 29, 2019 05:22 pm IST

In the mid-aughts, Koregaon Park was a happy place to be. I remember riding pillion on my friend’s Scooty shopping for Osho chappals, spending evenings at the beautiful zen garden tucked inside a lane and parking at the legendary German Bakery on North Main Road for apple pie. Who knew the laidback bakery-cum-cafe will finally come to Mumbai.

Come as you are

Everybody was welcome at German Bakery — Americans, English, Europeans and Japanese — who came to Osho Ashram and made ‘Poona’ their home. Dressed in their trademark maroon robes or marigold coloured Om kurtas, it didn’t matter where they came from.

The magic was in the cacophony of people speaking in different languages, and sometimes in the laughter of lovers sitting at the far end of a table. There was something about the place, and it was not just about the food. It was one of those places, where no one cared if you ordered just a lemonade or came in to while away the time. More often its hippie vibe refused to conform to Pune’s otherwise ‘pensioner’s paradise’ image.

German Bakery was set up by late Dnyaneshwar Kharose, a local businessman, who partnered with Klaus Woody Gutzeit in the late 80s. Kharose had a thriving cigarette-selling business outside the Osho Ashram, and that’s where he befriended the German national. “My father realised that the foreigners who came to the ashram missed the food that they were used to eating back home. When he met Woody, who was familiar with baking bread and international food, he felt there was scope of starting a cafe together,” says daughter Snehal Kharose. Gutzeit and Kharose opened German Bakery (in Koregaon Park) in 1989. “The menu was Woody’s department because he understood the tastes of the customers. Quick, light bites were the USP since they did not prefer heavy meals unlike Indians,” she reveals.

New to the scene

The love for ‘real’ coffee and bread is hard to miss in the original menu. Gutzeit remembers introducing a manual espresso machine for cappuccino and espresso, and baking breads just how he’d back home.

“There were several local bakeries around the time, but they only made white bread. Thankfully we found good Nepali bakers, who mastered the art of German-style sourdough bread. We even built our own oven at ABC Farms nearby,” says Gutzeit, who followed strict hygiene standards when it came to health juices. “We were the first ones to sterilise fruits and vegetables!”

It was Gutzeit’s enthusiasm that introduced the city to a culture of eating international breads and bakes. And by the mid-90s, the place got its regulars. Dr Kurush F Dalal, who was a young student in Pune around the same time, couldn’t get enough of the baked goodies. “They had some absolutely superb pies, and the honey cinnamon rolls were my favourite. The coffee was pretty good, but it wasn’t cheap,” says the Mumbai-based archaeologist and culinary anthropologist. The sight of a huge block of Yak cheese at the counter has stayed with him all these years. Since smoking was allowed at eateries back then, Dalal remembers the ambience that was “often cloudy with slow tendrils of ganja trailing towards the fans!”

Tragedy strikes

For its food, as also for its location, near Osho Ashram and the Jewish Chabad House, German Bakery was more popular with foreigners than locals. It is probably why, on the evening of February 13, 2010, the iconic bakery was blown up in a terror attack. Seventeen people died, several injured. Kharose, who was all of 19, was shattered. “I used to run around the long tables all day and made friends with those who came by regularly. They would call my father Nanu as they couldn’t pronounce his name. I was known as Nanu’s daughter. It was like home!” The trauma apart, Kharose’s family spent years securing compensation and permissions to rebuild the place.

German Bakery became famous all of a sudden. But, the challenge was to create a space that was relevant in the current scenario. “We couldn’t have retained the same vibe. Unfortunately everything was gone and we had to start from scratch,” she says. Gutzeit, who introduced the concept of German Bakery first in Kathmandu and later in Goa followed by Pune, left the city for the Himalayas by 2000.

“My dream was to open a health food restaurant, but I got bored once the place was up and running,” says the mountain man. Since then many a tiny hill station in India has seen a German Bakery, usually those popular with Israeli tourists. I found out that the owners in the Kaza, Spiti Valley and Bhagsu-Dharamshala outposts had no idea about the Pune institution.

After several franchise in other parts of Pune and Lonavala, German Bakery arrived at Bandra Reclamation in early October. On a recent visit, we found the fluffy omelettes to be fine, but the chilled coffee dull. They had even run out of apple pie by lunchtime. The white wrought-iron chairs did nothing to stir nostalgia. After all, the wooden benches were long gone.

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