Karl Plank and Andreas Betz
Dream team for the perfect dough
Andreas Betz, who now works as a technologist at FRITSCH, was really not a fan of getting himself dirty at work. But in the two weeks of the 2005 Easter holidays, he would come home every day, clothes covered in flour, oil and dough. He had his mother to thank for that – it was her idea for the 16-year-old to do a baker’s internship at Plank Bakeries GmbH. While cleaning trays was a dull chore, it didn’t stop Andreas from developing an immediate interest in the many baking machines being used at Plank. He was allowed to help operate the machines and gained an insight into the exciting handcraft trade. He soon learned that, while flour was still the most important ingredient, with the FRITSCH machines and the right feel for dough, a baker can conjure up an infinite variety of breads and pastries. After finishing school in the same year, the internship was followed by a baker’s apprenticeship, also at Plank Bakeries. “Not everyone I knew could understand that. Some said I should do something ‘worthwhile’ instead”, Andreas relates. And he did just that: as a baker – with strong support from Karl and Hermann Plank.
Karl Plank, for his part, had followed in his father’s footsteps and, at 16, completed an apprenticeship as a baker in his family business: a mill with a bakery. Even as a young apprentice, he managed to persuade everyone to buy a used FRITSCH ROLLFIX, and thus laid the foundation for the business’ later growth. And as it grew, more bakery machines kept coming. And that is how Andreas, doing his internship and subsequent apprenticeship at the now mid-sized Plank Bakeries, came to know and value the entire spectrum of technology from FRITSCH. Above all, however, he learned from Karl what is the most important quality that every baker and manufacturer of bakery machines must have: Passion for Dough. Karl quickly recognized the potential in the young man and did all he could to encourage him. Even when Andreas chose, after the apprenticeship and two years of working at Plank, to continue his studies and do food management at the Weihenstephan/Triesdorf University of Applied Sciences, they never once lost contact. And, when it came to the obligatory internship, Karl gave Andreas the tip that would set everything in motion: FRITSCH. For Andreas, it turned out to be the perfect pointer for his career.
From mill to first dough sheeter
But let us return to the early 1950s and the serene town of Berching: Hans Plank, master miller, and his wife Maria ran the “Kreuzmühle” mill and at the same time a farm. In 1953, the mill developed into a so-called commission bakery. It was the end of an era for milling, for soon after it would become impossible to live off a manually-run mill operation, now that the new industrial mills could produce everything faster and cheaper. “The only way to save the mill was to start processing the flour. The farmers would bring the grain, which we would mill and bake into bread, and then that would be driven out to all the villages,” Karl describes the development back then. “We were the sixth bakery in the small town of Berching,” says Karl, who started his apprenticeship in his parent’s business in 1975.
In the early summer of 1976, while still in his first year of study, Karl heard about a FRITSCH sales rep who was selling used machines. “My brother and I drove out to take a look at the machine, and it was just right,” he describes his first encounter with a dough sheeter. His father didn’t exactly jump at the idea but, nevertheless, a few days later the bakery had to be cleared out to make room for a ROLLFIX, complete with long moulder, round moulder and pretzel board. “I didn’t know the first thing about it, because I was still in my first year. They explained how the machine worked, and then I learned how to twist a pretzel,” Karl recounts the beginnings. Luckily, the machine is very intuitive to operate. Following his baker’s apprenticeship, Karl trained as a confectioner and later obtained a master certificate in both professions. In 1980, his father died unexpectedly, yet the family decided to carry on. Together, they concentrated on developing and expanding the bakery further. The mill was shut down, but the Planks still grow some of the grain for their own breads to this day. In 1983, Maria opened the first Café Plank in Berching – in a half-timbered building right next to the central gate, the landmark of the serene town.
Shared Passion for Dough & the machines from FRITSCH
In the following year, new branches were opened. In 1997 the bakery, which was already bursting at the seams, relocated from Berching to the city of Mühlhausen, just a few kilometers to the north. The new building in the southern industrial zone had enough space for more bakery machines from FRITSCH, including the first automated ROLLFIX, an EUROLINE and a CTR. “The EUROLINE really paid off,” Karl extols to this day. In 2004, they added a pretzel twister. “Everyone thought we were crazy at first, because in the first year we had only made 750,000 pretzels. After twelve years, that had risen to 23.5 million pretzels and of course many other products such as Kornspitz grain rolls, pretzel sticks and cheese breadsticks that were being produced on that machine,” Karl describes the rapid growth in production. The company’s growth was no less impressive. “This month, the 32nd chain store will be opening,” says Karl, not without pride in his voice.
It was only a year after the pretzel twister was bought that Andreas began his internship and apprenticeship at Plank Bakeries. It didn’t take Plank long to notice that the young man – who was allowed to shorten his apprenticeship from three to two years due to his excellent grades – really had something. And he gave him free rein of the machines. Nevertheless, Karl impressed upon Andreas that, despite all the technology, being a baker is still a handcraft – or even a calling. “You need a feel for the dough so that you know what’s happening to it in production,” was one of the takeaways Karl gave him. And, Andreas continues, “If a new flour type comes in from the silo then, computer or not, you always have to get hands on the dough and to get a feel for when it needs maybe a little more water. Karl and I spent a lot of time together,” he tells about his apprenticeship. “The fact that I already knew how an EUROLINE or a CTR works gave me a big advantage later at FRITSCH,” Andreas says.
A remarkable career path
After his apprenticeship, Andreas first worked at Plank Bakeries for two more years. He dedicated himself fully to Plank during that time. And although Karl recommended he qualify as a master, Andreas decided to take the academic path instead and study food management at the Weihenstephan/Triesdorf University of Applied Sciences. When he called Karl in the fifth semester because he had to choose between two options for his internship, Karl gave him the tip that would make everything fall into place: FRITSCH. And that is how Andreas came to join FRITSCH in 2013. “The internship was a complement to an essay I was writing about the microbiological monitoring of a FRITSCH line, so in relation to the cleaning intervals and where the weak points are,” Andreas explains the task. The following year, he finished his bachelor’s thesis – also with the assistance of FRITSCH. What impressed him most were the scale and technology of the company. But he, in turn, left a good impression of himself – indeed because he was already familiar with the machines he had operated at Plank. “And because he had a feel for dough,” Karl adds.
No sooner than completing his bachelor’s thesis did he already have a contract with FRITSCH, and in February 2015 he started working full time as a technologist. His most important work was commissioning FRITSCH bakery machines all over the world. That meant, out of 220 work days he spent about 50 percent of his working time on the move: above all in Scandinavia, but also in Eastern Europe, Russia, the Middle East and in the Asian countries like China and Thailand. “Eastern Europe is very worthwhile for me, because the people there are open to advice and new things. Some are still working from old books with traditional baking knowledge. Of course, a lot has changed, and even more so with our machines,” says Andreas. On his travels, he noticed how highly German engineering and the reliability of the lines are regarded everywhere abroad. He also remembers his first handover of a line in the Russian winter very well. “It was minus 38 degrees and the customer had just replaced the windows. It was really cold in the bakery. Production could only start with a delay, because even the gas line wasn’t tight yet,” he paints an icy picture.
Dealing with such situations, especially with the many different people of so many cultures he has encountered since then, has changed him in a positive way. “When you're abroad and you see the political situation there, or the jobs that guest workers from India, Pakistan and the Philippines will take on in the Middle East to feed their families, only then do you learn to appreciate that we live in one of the safest and richest countries in the world,” says Andreas. In technical matters, he still likes to share ideas with Karl – especially when it comes to dough. “We've always found the solution for the lines out there at the customer’s, but after a commissioning we will sometimes talk on the phone. Then we discuss why, for example, the customer’s flour was difficult to process that one time, and what additives would improve the dough,” Andreas tells of his current relationship with his former teacher and mentor and their shared Passion for Dough.
Joint development – business and personal
Like Plank, bakeries all over the world are growing along with FRITSCH. Only naturally, employees are afraid that machines are going to make them redundant. “But basically the opposite happens, because the quality of the products improves and the business grows so that, if anything, you find yourself having to hire more staff,” Andreas explains. Karl can confirm this from his own experience: “It was the same with us back then, when the pretzel twister came along. The ladies who had always prepared the pretzels thought at first they were being replaced by a machine. But far from being laid off, they simply produced more pretzels until eventually they found themselves complaining of too much work," says Karl, who retired from active business in 2013. He does still visit the company on frequent occasions, however. His Passion for Dough will never leave him.
Andreas has been with FRITSCH for almost four years now and has travelled the world a lot during that time. Even now, he says, he could fill a book with funny stories of his experiences when serving the customers. “Here, life writes a new story every day; no two days are the same,” he enthuses about his profession. In his colleagues, he values their team spirit and the way they handle mistakes because, despite everyone’s feel for dough, something can always go wrong. “Then they simply make another dough and try again until it works,” says Andreas. “What impressed me at FRITSCH, right from the start, was that I am not just a number here, rather the boss maintains personal contact with the employees. I come from a good family business, and that's why I could never be a mere number at some big firm,” Andreas praises the special working atmosphere at FRITSCH. And only rarely these days, despite his constant handling of ROLLFIX and other bakery machines, does Andreas ever get dirty at work. And when he does, it means he's enjoying himself immensely.
The Plank bakery, with around 400 employees and over 30 branches, is no longer a traditional craft business. The path from the former craft bakery to the modern high-tech bakery requires courage, passion and a trusting partnership. FRITSCH offers the right equipment for bakers of every size and can thus support companies in implementing their visions. Despite all the automation, the Plank bakery continues its tradition of craftsmanship: natural ingredients, the absence of baking mixes and frozen dough pieces and the fascination for the art of baking make the difference in taste. FRITSCH recognized many years ago that passion belongs to the right taste and therefore contributes its craft to its machines.
Here you will find the recipe as PDF. Have fun baking!