Bierberg Bakery in German Village, Columbus
Open only two months out of the year, Bierberg Bakery has been on my list of “must see” culinary enclaves for nearly three years. I heard it mentioned in passing when I was working on a story about visiting Columbus, Ohio, over the holidays. A Google search turned up a handful of entries, with not much more detail than “try the cookies.” No website. I tried an email address. No response. I tried calling. Nothing.
How does a bakery survive with virtually no advertising—not even a working phone number—and it opens October 20th and closes New Year’s Day? (I learned later that the magic phone number is only answered during those two months.) Over the past weekend, I was able to get my questions answered and even sample a few cookies.
Helen Bierberg Walsh seemed more comfortable working as we talked. With a pastry bag in hand, pressing out hazelnut cookies onto a parchment lined seemingly football-field-sized pan. She explained that her grandmother, Theresa Bierberg, had started the bakery in 1913 to support her family (her husband had fallen ill after a stroke). Before immigrating to Columbus, Theresa had trained as a baker in Germany. Helen recalls that her grandmother had told her children she had “made a cake for the Kaiser,” which would be the equivalent of the president of the United States requesting a sweet from your bakery.
Helen’s father, Gustav (or “Gus”) took over the bakery from his mother—Theresa’s other son became a Catholic priest. The bakery moved from its original location to 729 South Fifth Street in the German Village section of Columbus in 1971. Since then, for two months out of the year, Helen continues her family’s tradition of making holiday cookies for those who know where to find her.
I sampled the Wilhelm cookies that you’ll see Johanna making in the video above. The bars have raspberry filling tucked between two layers of thin pound cake, topped with marzipan and then dunked in chocolate. After trying just one, my Christmas list came to mind and I thought of all the people who would be receiving a specially wrapped box of Bierberg confections for the holidays. I asked Helen whether she shipped cookies and she said, “Sure. But it has to be ordered before December 10th.” I figured this was because the cookies wouldn’t arrive in time for Christmas if they were ordered after that.
“No,” Helen explained. “After that it just gets too crowded at the post office.”