Following the alluring scent of fresh loaves, we floated inside the Boxhagener Platz KEIT Berlin Bakery to meet Kolja and Thanos — a pair of former Adidas employees who’ve now turned their attention to the wheat fields — quite literally — in pursuit of creating the perfect bread. Over a coffee, they shared with us their story; of journeying into the cultural history of bread, of developing their philosophy to KEIT, and of designing an open community space for understanding the process of bread, from the seeds to the shelves.
We first talked of how the pair initially crossed paths.
K: We got to know each other at Adidas headquarters — where we used to work. We clicked and complemented each other well because we were both always a little bit thinking outside the box.
From a global sportswear company to a small-run Berlin bakery. I was interested to know what fascinates the pair about bread so vibrantly to cause such a curious leap in lifestyle.
K: Somehow everybody has a relation to bread. Beyond nationalities, age, gender. It’s a food that’s super unifying, and for us that was very interesting.
We talked about the early stages of researching bread and developing their approach to KEIT. I was interested to learn what questions were occupying their minds through this process — and where they sought the answers.
T: What does bread mean to people? What is our cultural connection to bread? How does it shape our personal identity?… We went out and conducted interviews — strolling around the streets asking questions to people. It was so inspiring for us because people were actually super hooked. We interviewed around seventy people and gained valuable insights. People really have an opinion on bread.
K: Obviously there’s this physical component that nourishes people — but there’s also the emotional side of it. It’s a highly emotional product that people felt a connection to. Somehow though, for many people, this connection has been broken.
T: People still remember how they had their local bakery where they knew the baker, and they reflected on the situation today which is that you go to a grocery store where everything’s pre-packed and everything tastes the same. Bread has become very exchangeable — like a commodity. It has stopped being crafted and has been industrially engineered. All these artificial flavours and enzymes. I think this was the decoupling point where people lost the connection to bread.
We continued to discuss their reflections on these learnings and the consequent philosophy that formed.
T: We decided to approach bread from the human lens. What emotions are involved when it comes to bread, and what it means as a reflection of who we are, our relationships to nature and personal identities… We don’t have this background of being the tenth generation of Baker’s sons, so it was like a real blank canvas. But we also carefully listened to what people had to say. We were able to question a lot of assumptions. I think this notion of being totally new to the field has really helped us to create some sort of empathy with people. To filter out things that are irrelevant.
K: We offer a very tight amount of bread and the whole bakery is really focused on only making these breads. We could have a bakery going from bread to sandwiches to sweets to coffee as well — an array that most bakeries probably will do — but we wanted to focus on just bread, in order to be able to go very deep. With measuring temperatures of the flour room, of the cooling space, of the bakery itself — we’re looking at things like pH numbers. We like to go very nerdy and deep into the topic, just to build the perfect bread… And the overall goal was to create a multi-sensory experience, where you smell the bread, so for us, it’s important that the smell wasn’t mixed in with coffee scents or sweet flavours, because bread has a very unique, positive scent, and if you mix it in with a multitude of layers then it’s no longer this unique bread flavour.
T: There can be a person from Poland, from Spain, from Germany, and they all say our bread reminds them of home. And it just sparks the idea of ‘What is home today?’. Because Berlin is such an urban environment and people come from all sorts of places to live here, so we were thinking about how we can give people this sense of community through what we do. This is why we buy our organic grains from small local farmers. It is a way for us to build meaningful connections between people in a natural, honest and more authentic way.
The KEIT bakery is an undeniably memorable space within the Boxhagener Platz community, and so I wanted to learn more about the thoughts behind its design.
K: We wanted to create a place where people feel at home. But on a level where it’s not about us, it’s about them and their interaction with the bread. We can tell people the name of the local farmer and the field where they get their grains. You can feel it, you can touch it. And a lot of these things just came intuitively based on the experiences with the people and interviews.
T: Families often come in with small children, and you can hear the parents talking to the children about the wheat and the farmers, and so all of a sudden the parents become a multiplier of the stories we wanted to tell.
K: Our space is open for people to walk around — so it doesn’t feel too transactional. It’s somehow more like an art space or a gallery where people can move freely and experience our bread.
T: The Amazons and food delivery services of this world — it’s all about convenience these days. You click a button and minutes later you have somebody at your door with your order. We wanted to provide a unique experience and to give people a reason to come and see us. To get a different understanding of the depth of bread and to connect to the human and natural elements that surround it.
Thank you to Thanos and Kolja. You can find their links below, and you can visit the Boxhagener Platz Keit Bakery at Grünberger Str. 75, 10245, or the Schöneberg location at Goltzstrasse 18, 10781.
Words & Photography by Ewan Waddell.