Have you ever been to Germany during the summer? If so, you’ll know how we love to celebrate summer by spending as much time outdoors as possible. You’ll also know that almost every café or restaurant will have an outside space to enjoy a meal or a coffee. You may have also noticed the large variety of gelaterias on what seems like every street corner! Germans really do like their ice-cream and will often cycle or walk to a gelateria to indulge in a delicious sundae.
The history of the German-Italian ice-cream places
I must admit, no nation can make better ice-cream than the Italians! Our love affair with this Italian speciality started after the Second World War when many Italians came to Germany to work in the coal and steel industries. The Italians soon discovered that the Germans were quite partial to the hand-made ice-cream that had been handed down through the generations. It wasn’t long before the first gelaterias opened their doors for all to enjoy the delicious ice-cream.
In April 2017, I met Claudio Camerin, the founder and proud owner of the traditional gelateria, Eiscafe Pia, in Dusseldorf, Kasernenstrasse. The café has been a family-run ice-cream place since 1971, with Claudio taking over the business in 1980. He learnt the traditional method of making ice-cream from his wife’s uncle. He told me that the recipes, which were mostly written on a typewriter and were well-kept secrets in most Italian villages – especially the Dolomite region of Italy where many Italian ice-cream makers originate from. Sadly, Uncle Gino passed away in 2015 at the age of 82 but Claudio proudly continues with this ice-cream tradition. He has got to know his regular customers over the years and knows most of their individual preferences!
It all started with just 10 flavours
Nowadays, we are definitely spoilt for choice. It’s incredible how many different flavour combinations are available and many clients expect new and innovative flavours every year. Claudio explained that when they first started, they only had 10 flavours – like vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, hazelnut and lemon. Nowadays, they have 28 flavours, 25 being his base flavours, with three that will regularly change. In the summer, it’s not unusual to queue for between 30 minutes to an hour just to take away your favourite cone or sundae!
Only the best ingredients go into the ice-cream
When I asked Claudio where he got his ideas from for the new flavours, he told me that he attends ice-cream trade fairs in the Dolomite region. Here, he could meet suppliers and discover the latest ingredients and equipment on the market. He explained that the best Pistachios come from Sicily and that over 90% of the ingredients come from Italy.Dolomite region. Here, he could meet suppliers and discover the latest ingredients and equipment on the market. He explained that the best Pistachios come from Sicily and that over 90% of the ingredients come from Italy.
The nut paste, for example, comes from Piedmont. Claudio’s most recent invention was called Paloma, which tasted of raspberry cake! Other tempting flavours included the Oreo cookie, Raffaelo (white) and Snickers. In terms of ingredients, he said that decades ago it was normal to use tinned fruit for a fruit sundae, whereas nowadays, fresh fruit is mostly used.
The Spaghetti ice-cream Sundae – my all-time favourite
One of my favourite sundaes is the Spaghetti ice-cream Sundae made from vanilla ice-cream in the shape of spaghetti, whipped cream and a strawberry sauce. This one is particularly popular with Claudio’s customers! The Fruit Sundae, Yoghurt Sundae, Lasagne ice-cream Sundae and the traditional Italian Tartufo are also very popular.
Summer means hard work and long hours
Having worked in a gelateria when I was a teenager to earn some pocket money, I know just how exhausting it can be. My choice of shoes went from fashionable to comfortable! Claudio starts his day at 6.30am to make the ice-cream before he opens at 10am. His gruelling schedule runs 7 days a week through the spring and summer and then he shuts the Eiscafe in mid-October until mid-February.
Claudio showed me the kitchen and I was really impressed with how immaculate and clean it looked. One thing he learnt from Uncle Gino was “Mira commando!” meaning ‘Be careful!’ Basically, cleanliness, cleanliness and cleanliness is paramount when making ice-cream. He also explained that in Italy it’s no longer allowed to pile up the ice-cream in the containers on the counter. I always thought it looked appealing like this but apparently if there is a lump of ice-cream on top, it isn’t cold enough.
The team is like family
Claudio employs around 10 people in the high season and is very proud of his team. I met two of them while I was there. They told me what a wonderful boss Claudio is and how much they enjoyed working there. One employee, Felicia kindly sent me some fantastic pictures of the ice-cream shop from years ago. Thank you for that, Felicia!
The reinvention of the German-Italian gelateria
Over the last few years, ice-cream makers have invented some quite unique flavours using ingredients like goat or sheep’s milk, cola, wildflowers or rhubarb.
The design of the gelaterias is also undergoing a revolution. They are marketed more as a gourmet establishment with a quirky style – the emphasis being much more on organic ice-cream.
The German-Italian version of Mr Whippy
When I was a child in the eighties, I remember the ice-cream van coming around our estate selling Italian ice-cream – just like Mr Whippy does in the UK. It was always so exciting and it created a similar hectic dash for loose change to treat ourselves to a delicious ice-cream cone. Unfortunately, I haven’t come across one of these ice-cream vans in Germany for many years, but I’d love to know if they still exist. So, please let me know if you’ve spotted one recently.
Summer time is ice-cream time
If you’re heading off to Germany for your summer holiday, do pay a visit to one of the gelaterias. I’d love to hear your comments about your favourite ones and whether you have come across any unusual places.
Other than Eiscafe Pia in Dusseldorf, which is close to my hometown, I was also impressed with Caffe e Gelato in Potsdamer Platz, in Berlin. They had a fantastic selection of flavours and had some incredibly delicious sundaes. So, enjoy your next ice-cream treat and have a great summer!