In the west of Berlin there's a quarter that receives very little attention. Bordered by the Spree River to the north and Tiergarten to the south, the Hansaviertel was a highly innovative residential development built in the 1960s by renowned architects including Alvar Aalto, Oscar Niemeyer and Le Corbusier. At the edge of this residential area, directly on the banks of the Spree River stands an old building that’s uncharacteristic for the quarter. Konditorei Buchwald can be found on the ground floor of this building and is the oldest pastry shop in Berlin.
Andrea Tönges is the fifth generation to run the establishment after taking it over from her mother. "It just happened naturally over the course of time,” she says. “Ultimately, it came down to making it possible for my mother to take her well-earned retirement." The pastry shop was originally founded in Cottbus by Gustav Buchwald in 1852. In 1900, he moved the business to Berlin. The location may have changed, but the speciality of the house hasn’t. The "Baumkuchen" (the literal translation is tree cake in English) has been the flagship of the family business from the very beginning, made in an untraditional way whereby several layers are baked on a spit.
"The Baumkuchen is the king of cakes," says Tönges. "We bake our Baumkuchen the Cottbus way, which means adding lots of butter, almonds and marzipan." The recipe is clearly a sought-after one. Every day the pastry shop receives orders from all over Germany. At Christmastime, Andrea Tönges ships almost half of all the Baumkuchen baked. Hers are available with a classic chocolate glaze or in the form of "tree cake tips," which are miniature slices of Baumkuchen.
Today, though, Andrea Tönges has very little time for baking. Instead, she spends between 10 to 12 hours a day answering e-mails, writing invoices, and helping out at the counter and with the service. Now and again she can be found in the bakery itself. Above all, she spends the majority of her time strategizing how she can keep her traditional establishment relevant in an ever-changing metropolis like Berlin. "In no way do I want to change the very core of the pastry shop. We'll never serve goulash soup or salad here," she says. However, she isn’t categorically opposed to new ideas: "I’d like to make Baumkuchen more modern. We're trying a lot of things, and we now offer desserts and ice-cream alongside the Baumkuchen."
When Andrea Tönges does manage to take time away from the bakery, she takes her two dogs to the nearby Tiergarten. One of the largest urban green areas in the country, it's an oasis of calm in the fast-paced city. Peace can also be found in the park around Schloss Charlottenburg. "I think it's really scenic there," says Tönges. In the evenings she likes to visit the Lir, which is just around the corner. The Irish pub is located in an archway beneath the S-Bahn tracks near the pastry shop. "Every time I come to Lir, I’m so happy this place is still here. When I was in my twenties, this place was already a cult favorite. It still is today." The food is authentic, there are palm trees outside, and nothing much has really changed here over the years.
There are no palm trees in front of Konditorei Buchwald. As is the case at the Lir, nothing much has changed here. The over-intrusion of the new wouldn't be in keeping with Andrea Tönges’ way of thinking. The establishment thrives on its tradition and its long history; a rarity in a city that is also defined by change and innovation.