Just imagine: a country without pizza. No margherita, no calzone, no quattro formaggi. As the first pizzerias were starting to make their appearance in West Germany, the East-German government couldn’t allow this Italian – and therefore non-socialist – delicacy. They put it on the blacklist, together with American snacks like hamburgers and hotdogs. You wanted fast food? There was currywurst. Little did the government know about the power of pizza – because it didn’t take too long before it found its way to the people.
Only socialist exoticism
It’s hard to imagine today, but pizza hardly existed outside of Italy until deep into the 20th century – about 120 years after the first pizzeria opened in Naples. Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba, opened in 1830, is said to be the first restaurant with a pizza oven in the world. Sabbi di Capri, which opened on 24 March 1952 in Würzburg, was the first pizzeria in Germany. It was the immigrants from Italy who brought their local delicacies to Germany, just as people from Balkan countries and later Turkey did. West Germans started to discover that there was so much more to food than sauerkraut and sausages.
But things were different in the east, as they always were. The GDR hardly allowed immigrants into the country, so no foreign cuisines were imported. There was the big socialist brotherhood, however, and many countries had their own speciality restaurant in cities like Berlin. Karl-Marx-Allee was famous for its “exotic” restaurants that opened from the 1950s onwards: Moskau (Moscow), Budapest and Warschau (Warsaw), for example.
The national cuisines from Russia, Poland, Hungary and other Eastern Bloc-countries were totally accepted in the GDR, but things were completely different when it came to western food. The GDR government considered western culture dangerous and decadent – and food was also a part of that. This meant that there was no place for pizzerias, hamburger restaurants or hot dog carts in East Berlin and other East-German cities. Even though people must have known about the popularity of pizza in western countries, they weren’t able to taste anything like it until the 1980s.
Falling in love with the Krusta
But then suddenly new restaurants started to appear in the streets of the GDR: Krusta-Stuben. Even though it was never officially promoted this way, the Krusta turned out to be the socialist alternative to pizza: a crunchy base topped with cheese, vegetables and meat. The first Krusta-Stuben opened in 1984 and soon it was hard to even get a table. Everyone loved the Teufelskrusta (spicy meat, paprika, cheese), Spreewaldkrusta (sauerkraut, minced meat and cream), Geflügelkrusta (chicken and vegetables) and all other varieties – Krusta-bakers had to be creative, partly due to a lack of ingredients.
Nowadays it’s hard to understand how this dish made from a heavy, dark and bread-like dough could ever be considered an alternative to pizza. But remember that nothing like it was available in the GDR. Most Krusta-Stuben turned into pizzerias straight after the fall of the Berlin Wall, quickly forgetting about their former speciality. But online, people still write about how much they miss their Krusta. “It was thick and square and the bottom was extremely thick. You could buy it at several places on the Alexanderplatz or on the Christmas market, but there were also special Krusta-Stuben. I had Krusta myself at Schönhauser Allee and Warschauer Straße […] There were 10 to 15 varieties to choose from.” .”
I did some research, but I’m afraid there’s nowhere left in Berlin to taste Krusta. The restaurant of the GDR museum (‘DDR Restaurant Domklause’) used to serve Krusta with salami, tuna or vegetables – but it closed in 2015. For now, there seems to be only one option: try and bake your own Krusta, following the recipe below.
Recipe for Krusta
Makes two sheets of Krusta.
200 g wheat flour type 1050
250 g rye flour type 1150
50 g sour dough (dry)
10 g salt
300 ml water, lukewarm
1 sachet dried yeast
Sprinkle the flour, sour dough and salt into a bowl. Make a hole in the centre. Dissolve the yeast in lukewarm milk with sugar and pour into the hole.
Knead with kneading machine (or hands), adding as much water until the dough separates from the bowl. Place dough on a dry work surface. Knead well by hand.
Pour the dough mixture into the bowl, cover with a kitchen cloth and store in a warm place for 1 hour.
Divide the dough into two halves (for 2 baking trays).
Roll out on of the halves with rolling pin to a thickness of 3mm, and place on baking sheet with baking paper.
Finish with the topping, depending on what sort of Krusta you want.
Geflügelkrusta: chicken and vegetables
Spreewaldkrusta: sauerkraut, minced meat and cream
Teufelskrusta: spicy meat and peppers, baked with cheese.
Bake in a pre-heated oven at 240 °C for 15-20 minutes on the lower shelf. You can opt for a softer or crispier variety by adjusting the baking time.
Cut your Krusta into square pieces and serve immediately.