Photo credit: Katharina Moebus

Where do we go when it is time to spend a few hours and meet and make friends?

The answer proposed by most of the western society is a combination of cafés, restaurants, movie theaters and air- conditioned shopping centers. All of them spaces built around the consumption of money and operating under rules set by the owner and not the community that uses them. In today’s cities, libraries are some of the last places where you can spend time without having to open your wallet—and in libraries, you need to remain quiet.

As Bryce Johnson, pastor and one of the oven builders we will meet in this article says: “We have a lack of public spaces for people to just be together and share in fellowship.”

For a growing number of people, third places run by profit maximizing businesses are not enough. While they enjoy a good cup of coffee just as the next person, they want more options. This do-it-yourself—or better yet—do-it-together movement of loosely organized groups of people is changing our cities through initiatives such as Restaurant Day and urban farming.

This is a free preview of an article published in BREAD Magazine Issue 4.

Buy the issue to read the full article!

In “The Bread Builders“, Daniel Wing tells about how “after the revolution most French rural ovens became public property (owned by the municipality, the commune).” These ovens were used by the villages’ families, each baking once a week or once every other week.
Wing continues: “The dough was proofed at home, then carried to the oven on a long wide board. The loaves going into the oven were slashed with distinct patterns so each family got back its own — really its own, since the grain from which it was made was grown on their farm.”

In that time, although not free to use, community ovens were some of the most important third places: places where you would meet neighbors and discuss politics.

Times changed and people lost touch with these traditions. But maybe they can change again, taking just the best elements from the past and building on them? In this article, we are about to meet three groups of people who are getting together to build ovens and bake bread or pizza—and to build a stronger community.

Helsinki, Finland

In 2010, Katharina Moebus was finishing her Master’s studies at the University of Art and Design in Helsinki. As a part of her thesis work, she needed to find a place for baking bread together. She could not find one, and in a city you can’t set up fire just anywhere you like, so she started exploring the possibility of building the oven herself.

Through a friend, Moebus heard about Kalasatama Temporary, a city initiative for experimentation through urban design projects in a temporary location soon to be replaced by new city development.

Photo by Katharina Moebus

“After visiting the location, it was clear it would be perfect—being a construction site, nobody from the city would really care too much about regulations. Also, there was some nice underground cultural activities going on through the provision of empty shipping containers open to all sorts of institutions and organizations.” Moebus says.

Finding a location was just the beginning. To make the project come true, Moebus needed other people’s help. She put up a post on the web site of Public School Helsinki, an educational platform that connects people who want to teach and learn in alternative ways, and found the group of people she now refers to as “the gang.”

“Two persons from the gang — Salla and Tanja — had participated in cob oven workshops in Germany and the UK before. Their previous experience was a great encouragement to just try it out.” Moebus says.
A Google search brought the gang to Simon Brookes’s web site and to his e-book that describes the process of making a clay oven in great detail. Equipped with this information and ideas collected at a planning workshop, the gang was ready to get to work.

The oven, which they nicknamed “Archie” was built in one weekend for a price of a mere 80 Euros—thanks to clever reuse of recycled bricks, sand from construction sites and clay from the forest. The only materials that the group needed to buy as new were the food proof fire bricks from a hardware store.

“It was surprising how well it all went!” Moebus says.

Photo by Katharina Moebus

Although the oven was initially created with a specific food event in mind, the group soon decided to make it available for anyone interested in baking in it.

“We established a blog with instructions and a calendar function. People could contact us for questions and reservations through a general email address to which we all had access.” Moebus says.

This is a free preview of an article published in BREAD Magazine Issue 4.

Buy the issue to read the full article!

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