"I thought; no way that we are going to make candy ourselves. But my wife convinced me." Hjalmar Stecher
"Candy is a really cool product. It's made of sugar so it never goes bad and it's very clean." Hjalmar Stecher
From far away you can smell the scent of sugar. If you follow the trail, you will end up in a little candy shop in the back of a building on Oranienburgerstrasse in Berlin’s Mitte. Hjalmar Stecher and his wife Katja Kolbe run this little shop and produce all the candy themselves. Hjalmar: “It’s a really cool product to make.”
Hjalmar and his wife are in the candy business since 1992. First as wholesalers, later as producers and shop holders. “I was a musician, and as you know, it’s hard to make money that way. So when Katja’s father told us about the opportunity to take over the wholesaling business, we took it.” Hjalmar is pretty down to earth about it: “It sounds bigger than it is, you just rent a storage space, buy candy and deliver it to the customers. A good way to make some extra money.”
Two years later, another opportunity came on their way. Hjalmar: “One of the people who produced the candy decided to quit. Their little factory was very old-fashioned and they were old themselves too. They suggested to teach us the art of candy making so we could continue their legacy.” He laughs: “I thought; no way. But Katja convinced me.”
The two rented a space in Prenzlauerberg and started to produce big amounts of candy for the wholesaling business and started to sell it directly to customers as well. In 2000 they moved to Mitte. The candy shop sells ‘fire burned candy’, a special type of high quality sweets. “We cook in copper pots and directly on fire. This makes that the sugar burns just a little bit, which means it caramelises. That gives a special taste to the candy we sell. Candy that’s made in the bigger factories doesn’t have this quality stamp.”
In the meantime, Hjalmar needs to get ready to make seven kilo’s of raspberry candy. He starts to boil water and adds sugar. “That’s the great thing about this product, it basically consists of sugar. And sugar never goes bad; it’s a preservative in itself. Plus, with the heat of 150 degrees, it’s a very clean product,” Hjalmar says checking the heat of the sugar water.
After half an hour on the fire, the hot mass of candy is ready for the next step: Hjalmar needs to knead it. It’s tough labour and it has to be done quickly, as the candy needs to be produced when it’s still a bit warm. “We used to cook ten kilo’s a time, but it’s very bad for your back. That’s why we just do seven kilo’s per pot right now.”
Smaller doses of candy are then put through heavy rollers, where the actual smaller candies come out. “These are the rollers we bought from the former owners. They are really heavy and some of them are even antique. We added a few more, to make different shapes of candy,” Hjalmar explains. A favourite flavour of Berliners is the green, leave-shaped ‘Waldmeister’, or ‘woodruff’ in English.
As Hjalmar predicted, the scent of boiling sugar water has attracted people to come and have a look. “This smell brings back childhood memories to a lot of people. I had 80-year-old ladies in this shop saying that this smell reminded them of when they were kids. They were always surprised and amazed to see how it was actually made. That’s what I really like about making candy – when I would have sold donuts for example I would never hear these stories.”
Hjalmar himself doesn’t have specific childhood memories of candy. “I was more of an ice cream fan. Good thing I didn’t open an ice cream shop, there would have been nothing left for my customers,” he says while giving some freshly made candy to his audience.