We’ve heard a lot about accidental discoveries. This is how Fleming invented penicillin or Pfizer scientists invented Viagra. And the sensational discovery of a poor confectioner gifted the world with marzipan made from almonds.
In Lübeck, the ancient Hanseatic port city, Café Niederegger, which is more than two hundred years old, was full of guests. Here you can choose from about a thousand marzipan figurines and marzipan cakes. But there was not a single free table or chair when I entered the traditional art institute on an early afternoon in late autumn.
A nice, older couple was sitting at one of the tables and they invited me to join them. The elegant, thin, gray-haired gentleman (as if he had stepped out of a Thomas Mann novel, he might have been a consul!) asked me if I was interested in the story of the origin of marzipan.
I am definitely interested, I said willingly, and the gentleman obligingly began to tell me the romantic story.
In 1402, a great famine devastated Lübeck. A significant amount of sugar was stored in the warehouses when a Greek cargo sailing ship loaded with almonds entered the port. It soon became clear that the customer’s trading company had gone bankrupt in the meantime, and thus the shipment was left without an owner. A few days later, the city auctioned off the almonds, which were bought by a confectioner with a modest income. He ground the almonds, mixed them with sugar and some rose water, mixed in a little egg yolk, and made balls out of this mass to sell. This is how Lübeck Marzipan was invented, which has gained world fame.
According to another legend, marzipan came to the port city via Italian mediation (marzapane, i.e. gingerbread), probably from the East, perhaps from Turkey, Iran or Iraq, where the exciting delicacy, flavored with local spices, was a treat for harem mistresses.
These legends may have no foundation, but they live on – and that’s what’s important. Because it is possible to live without legends and illusions, but is it worth it?
And marzipan has been a fashionable confectionery product ever since. From the mass mixed with coloring and flavoring substances, fruit and vegetable figures and fairy-tale characters are shaped. They are made more varied with candied fruits and the surface is coated with an alcoholic solution to make it more durable and more resistant to weather conditions.