Knowing All about Hunan

'Silent' Bakery makes a noise about new owner

Source:China Daily
Updated:2022-07-25 09:37:07

A well-known "silent" bakery in Changsha, Hunan province, has found a new owner, a compatriot of the German couple that ran it for more than a decade.

After living in the city for 20 years and running the bakery, which employs deaf-mute bakers, for 11 years, Uwe Brutzer and his wife Dorothee recently returned to their hometown in Germany. As a result, they entrusted the bakery to Markus Hofmueller.

In 2002, the Brutzers, who are both fluent in sign language, arrived in Changsha to work for a deaf-mute children's assistance project funded by a German charity. They opened the bakery in 2011, after realizing the difficulties many deaf people have in finding decent job opportunities.

The business now has six deaf-mute bakers, and has trained more than 20 others over the years.

"Whenever we felt too tired to persist, we always told ourselves that we were doing something meaningful by helping the bakers learn skills to support their families," Uwe Brutzer said, adding that the experience has been extremely fulfilling.

"Going back to Germany does not mean we regret living in China and running the bakery. We are just at an age where we feel homesick," the 52-year-old said. "We really enjoyed our work here and we felt attached to it."

Early 2020, when the COVID-19 epidemic hit China, was the most difficult time for the bakery, but he continued to pay the employees a basic salary, using saved profits.

Thanks to media reports, the bakery and its cause are very popular, so many local people came to support the business.

"What we really wanted was for people to come here, not to feel sorry for the disabled people, but because they were satisfied with our products and our workers' skills," Uwe Brutzer said, adding that he has no concerns about the bakery's future under Hofmueller.

In 2010, Hofmueller met his wife, a Tianjin native, in the northern port city. After getting married, they moved to Germany. However, in 2019, the couple returned to China with their two daughters and worked as primary school teachers in Yinchuan, Ningxia Hui autonomous region, for two years.

Hofmueller read an online story about the Brutzers leaving the bakery, so he contacted the couple in October, then moved to Changsha earlier this year.

He believes good communication and a strong connection with the bakers will be key for him to run the business, so he has been watching video tutorials on how to communicate with deaf-mute people.

It is a challenge, as the sign language in the tutorials is not quite the same as the one used by the workers, he said. However, he said he is willing to learn more and can always write down things when he needs to communicate.

In fact, Hofmueller said he feels as though he is the person with the disability because the bakers are so familiar with their work.

Zhang Xiaoying, who has worked at the bakery since 2013, said she hopes the Brutzers can return to China when the COVID-19 situation improves.

"We do not want them to go, as they have been very nice to us," she said, adding that the working environment is good and there is little stress. Meanwhile, she has learned some German sign language.

"It is just like any other bakery: the only difference is that we all communicate via sign language."