The Long & interesting life of the Pretzel:

The true invention of the pretzel is not clearly known. There are stories coming from Italy, southern France, and Germany. However it is a wide belief that the pretzel did originate in Europe among the monasteries in the Early Middle Ages.

The Italian monk

The Italian monk

Most popular story:

In A.D. 610 an Italian monk was teaching distracted catechism students. Frustrated and eager to motivate his students he decided to create a treat with leftover bread dough. He rolled out the ropes of dough, twisted them to resemble hands crossed on the chest in prayer, and baked them. (or as Alison thinks them resemble arms hugging God). The monk named his snacks pretiola, Latin for “little reward” and gave them to the children when they memorized their prayers. The parents of the students’ reffered to the treats as brachiola, “little arms”. And when pretiola arrived in Germany, they were called a brezel (bretzeln for plural).

Actual record:

Although the story suggests they were invented in Italy, the earliest known record comes from Germany. Since at least the 12th century in southern Germany the pretzel has been in use as an emblem of bakers and formerly their guilds. A 12th century illustration in the “Hortus Deliciarum” from the southwest German Alsace region (now France) may contain the earliest depicition of a pretzel.

The baker's emblem with lions.

The baker’s emblem with lions.

In Austria, outside of many bakeries their sign will depict a lion holding a pretzel shaped shield. According to legend dating back to 1510, pretzel bakers working before dawn heard the Ottoman Turks tunneling Under Vienna’s city walls. Upon hearing the noise they sounded an alarm and the city was saved. The Viennese king rewarded the bakers with their unique coat of arms.

Hard pretzels:

Hard pretzels were invented in the late 1600s in a Pennsylvania bakery. An apprentice fell asleep while baking pretzels. When he awoke he discovered that he had accidently overbaked the pretzels making them crunchy and seemingly inedible. While scolding the apprentice the master baker to an angry bite out of one of the pretzels and loved it. And so the apprentice didn’t lose his job.

In 1861, Lititz, Pennsylvania, the first commercial pretzel bakery was opened by Julius Sturgis. The original pretzel recipe came from a down-on-his-luck job seeker who gave it to Julius as a thank you for feeding him dinner. Pretzels were handmade until the 1930s. The average worker could twist 40 pretzels a minute. In 1935 the first automated pretzel machine was introduced by the Reading Pretzel Machinery Company. This machine allowed large bakeries to make 245 pretzel per minute.


“Bretzeln” today:

Almost every city in the Germany has its own way of baking them. They are sold in every bakery and in special booths or stands in downtown streets.

Flours: Whole wheat, rye, or spelt

Popular toppings: Sesame, poppy, sunflower, pumpkin, or caraway seeds, melted cheese, and bacon bits. As sweet pastries they can also be topped with icing, nuts, and cinnamon.

Around Christmas they can be made of soft gingerbread, “Lebkuchen”, and topped with a chocolate coating.

Lye pretzels are popular in southern Germany, Alsace, Austria, and German-speaking Switzerland as a variety of bread, a side dish or a snack. Often they are sliced horizontally, buttered, and sold as “Butterbrezel”, or come with slices of cold meats or cheese.

In Bavaria, lye pretzels accompany a main dish such as Weisswurst sausage.

In the Rhineland region, sweet pretzels are made with pudding-filled loops (pudding pretzels).


Folklore: Festivals & Traditions

Pretzels became a popular staple during the holidays because it was easy to make and fulfilled all the Church’s guidelines. The pretzel has also long been considered a good-luck symbol:

A pretzel worn around the neck on New Year's day for good luck.

A pretzel worn around the neck on New Year’s day for good luck.

  • On New Year’s Day German children wear pretzels around their necks as a symbol of good luck into the New Year.
  • In the 16th century Austria, pretzels adorned Christmas trees and were hidden along with hard-boiled eggs on Easter morning.
  • The phrase “tying the knot” came from the Swiss tradition of the lucky pretzel in wedding ceremonies. Newlyweds traditionally make a wish and break a pretzel similar to other cultures with the breaking of a wishbone or a glass. The larger half of the pretzel brought prosperity to the marriage. This tradition is still incorporated today.

By the 16th century, it had become tradition to eat pretzels on Good Friday in Germany, and Catholics once considered them the “official food of lent.” Earlier laws of the Church stated that only one meal a day was to be eaten during lent and the food couldn’t come from an animal.

Festivals: (Besides Oktober Fest)

On the fourth Sunday in Lent (Laetare Sunday) in Luxembourg, there is a festival called “Pretzel Sunday”. On this day Boys give their girlfriends pretzels or cakes in pretzel form. The size symbolizes how much he likes her. In return, if a girl wants to increase his attention, she will give him a decorated egg on Easter. The pretzel custom is reversed on Pretzel Sunday during leap years. This custom also still exists in some areas of the Swabian Alb.

Also on Laetare Sunday in Rhenish Hesse and the Palatinate, people have parades carrying big pretzels mounted on colorful decorated poles.

“Pretzel town”:

One city in Germany prides itself to be the “Pretzel town”. The city of Speyer Germany around the

The statue of a boy selling pretzels.

The statue of a boy selling pretzels.

second weekend of July from Friday to Tuesday holds its annual festival called “Brezelfest”. Brezelfest is the largest beer festival in the Upper Rhine region and attracts around 300,000 visitors. The festival includes a parade with over 100 bands, floats and clubs participating from the whole region, and 22,000 pretzels are thrown among the crowds. On the market square of Speyer, there is a fountain with a statue of a boy selling pretzels and the pretzel booths on the main street are permanently installed and specially designed for the towns 2000th anniversary. What are the chances that we post this right as “Brezelfest” is starting?

Random Brezel facts:

  • More than $550 million worth of pretzels are sold in the U.S. annually
  • 80% of those pretzels are made in Pennsylvania
  • The average U.S. citizen consumes up to 2 lbs. of pretzels a year
  • However, the average Philadelphian snacks on about 12 lbs. of pretzels a year
  • In 2002 while watching the Baltimore-Miami NFL playoff in the White House President George W. Bush choked and lost consciousness while eating a pretzel
  • Pretzel bakers may have been the first to advertise, “WE DELIVER!” as Medieval street vendors carried pretzels on a stick and sold them to the locals

Research:, and Wikipedia pages




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