As more and more people moved to the cities, the baking profession was established. The craft became sought after and, as its importance grew, so did that of the guilds.
Bread has been baked since mankind learned to process grain into flour, but the baking profession only came about much later. The first bakers in Central Europe appeared around the 8th century. They were not proud masters, but poor fellows who were forced into drudgery in front of hot ovens. The bakers did not establish themselves as a free profession until 1000 AD, when more and more people moved to the cities. Anyone could do anything and nothing was done right, there were no more recipes and the division of labour became necessary. It took specialists to feed hungry mouths with enough bread, and that was said to be 500 grams (compared to around 200 today) per inhabitant per day. Bakers were, therefore, in demand in the Middle Ages; the profession was sought after and held in high regard.
So it was that, in the 12th century, merchant guilds were formed to monitor not only the quality of the goods but also better market access. In the cities, bread could only be baked by a member of the guild. The system was a lucrative one for the bakers, even if they practically worked their fingers to the bone, having to knead dough by hand at night. Very little changed over the centuries, although guilds and guild membership certainly did. They crumbled in the 19th century, under the wave of the Enlightenment. All that remained was the bakers’ guild symbol – the pretzel – which has survived in bakery signs and logos. The reason it represents the baker is simple: the knotted bread represents praying arms.