'Germans think an Irish breakfast has too much meat'

Working Abroad Q&A: Galway woman runs her own Irish café in Germany specialising in Irish soda bread and cakes

 

Each week Irish Times Abroad meets an Irish person working in an interesting job. This week we chat to Ann McKiernan who grew up in Galway and her parents come from counties Leitrim and Kilkenny. She spent her summer holidays in Co Leitrim watching her Granny McKiernan bake and is now running an Irish cafe specialising in Irish breads and cakes in Gescher, Germany. She says she is proud “to be able to bring a little bit of my home food to Germany”.

Tell us about you. 

I was born in London to Irish parents. My dad was from a small farm in Co Leitrim and my mam from Kilkenny city. At the age of six with three siblings and another on the way, we moved to Galway city, which was experiencing a building boom at the time. I spent many a summer holiday with my Granny McKiernan on the farm in Co Leitrim and so started my baking passion.

Did you study in Ireland?

I studied Montessori teaching in Ireland and interior design, but mainly worked in the caring sector with Cope and Galway Youth Services.

Why did you leave Ireland?

We left Ireland in 2014 partly due to my husband being a little homesick, and myself and my son Matthew were feeling ready for an adventure. My husband is German and from the City of Gescher, so it seemed the obvious choice of somewhere to live.

Tell us about how Germany has taken to your great baking journey

November is Food Month in The Irish Times. irishtimes.com/foodmonth
November is Food Month in The Irish Times. irishtimes.com/foodmonth

I have always wanted to work for myself doing what I do best - baking. So filling what I saw as a gap in the market, an Irish Cafe was born in Geschler, which is near the border of the Netherlands. Everything is homemade by me and now my son, who is now 18, has joined the family business and is baking along side me.

The Germans have taken very well to our Little Irish Cafe. They say it is cosy, relaxed and like walking into our home

We offer a little taste of Ireland. As well as eating scones, brown soda bread, apple cake, Guinness chocolate cake, treacle bread, carrot cake, creamy vegetable soup and of course Irish tea, customers can also read the brochures about Ireland from Tourism Ireland. They can also pick up a gift from our range of gifts from Tara China, Skellig chocolates and taste some of the new and inspiring whiskeys from Ireland such as JJ Corry from Co Clare.

Anne McKiernan wiith her husband Dieter Bomers in McKiernan’s Irish Cafe in Gescher, Germany
Anne McKiernan wiith her husband Dieter Bomers in McKiernan’s Irish Cafe in Gescher, Germany

The Germans have taken very well to our Little Irish Cafe. They say it is different from anything around us, that it is cosy and relaxed, and like walking into our home. To my knowledge, we are the only Irish cafe in Germany, but I am open to correction.

What is living in Gescher like?

Gescher is very close to the Dutch border and the nearest town is Winterswijk, which is in the Netherlands. That is where we get our Organic Fairtrade Hesselink Coffee beans. Gescher is a small country side city of 17,000 in the Munsterland, mainly an agricultural area and it can rain for days, but not as much as at home. It's very traditional with many festivals, very family-orientated and has lots of people cycling.

What do Germans eat for breakfast?

The typical German breakfast consists of freshly baked, crispy bread rolls, cold meat, cheese, jam, Nutella, eggs and lots of coffee. The Irish breakfast we provide in the cafe is not the real Irish breakfast as a lot of Germans think there is too much meat, so in place we offer brown soda bread with smoked salmon, and cream cheese and a scone with homemade jam for afters.

There are more than 3,000 types of bread in Germany, but none like Irish soda bread. It is not for everyone, but most agree it is delicious. Some people laugh when I say we use soda in baking as that is what they use here for cleaning! The Germans also like fruity breads, so the scones go down very well - especially with my jam.

We have a small range of Irish drinks including whiskey, gin, cider, Guinness, Kilkenny, Baileys and Coole Swan. They are amazed of the quality and mildness of Irish whiskey and the variety. On a daily basis we are asked to describe cider, which is difficult when there is nothing like it here. The highest selling beverage is the Irish Coffee, even for breakfast!

McKiernan’s Cafe - where they hope to bring a taste of Ireland to Germany
McKiernan’s Cafe - where they hope to bring a taste of Ireland to Germany

What is your day like?

My average day starts at 8am baking my scones and brown bread for breakfast. Following breakfast, it is baking for the afternoon’s coffee and cake and organising any christening or birthday parties. Myself and my husband work six days a week, which can be hard. Our son Matthew was 13 when we came here five and a half years ago. He considers himself Irish and still has the Irish sense of humour.

Are there many Irish people in Gescher?

We are the only Irish in Gescher, the nearest Irish person we know is in Borken 30 minutes drive from here, but I think it is only a couple of people and a little sprinkling over the Munsterland area. Mostly you find the Irish in the bigger cities. The Irish fit in well as they easy-going, hard-working and most have a good sense of humour, which the Germans enjoy.

What are the costs like there?

Accommodation is of a good standard. You find rental properties are advertised as cold or warm - the latter referring to an apartment having heating. It is standard here that a house or apartment is completely empty - most people bring their old kitchen. Transport is good, but more expensive than at home for example it costs €5 to travel 16km one way. Utilities, satellite TV, health insurance and petrol cost the same as home, food and drinks are cheaper.

What do you miss the most about Ireland?

That goes without saying. I miss my family and friends and walking by the ocean on a windy day.

What is your favourite Irish meal?

If I were to cook an Irish meal tonight it would have to be Boxty and bacon, a favourite in our house. My granny always made her boxty with raw grated potato, flour, salt and milk and cooked in lots of real butter.

If you work in an interesting career overseas and would like to share your experience with Irish Times Abroad, email abroad@irishtimes.com with a little information about you and what you do.

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