How often do you think about Dr Oetker? If you’re like me, it’s probably not very often. But then, this tweet got me thinking:
We all love Dr Oetker pizzas, right. You know, those freezer-to-oven delicacies, perhaps covered in pepperoni and sweetcorn. They’re a supermarket staple. But we just take it for granted that there exists (or has existed) someone called “Dr Oetker” and that he is some kind of… pizza professor?
I was curious to learn more. So I’ve done some digging to learn more about who exactly this guy was…
Dr Oetker is not Dr Oetker
Dr Oetker, as we recognise them today, is not an actual person. They’re a multinational corporation based out of Bielefeld, Germany. Interestingly, Bielefeld is the centre of a theory known as the Bielefeld Conspiracy, which states that Bielefeld does not – in fact – exist at all.
Here’s the ineffable Tom Scott to explain more:
It’s a pretty good bit from a nation not typically known for its humour. And even Angela Merkel has made references to it, which must be a pretty sick burn for the people who actually live and work there.
Conspiracies aside, let’s assume that Bielefeld is a real place, and it’s the current HQ of the corporate entity Dr Oetker. Why this town? Well, let’s meet the real Dr Oetker to explain.
The real Dr Oetker
Here he is, in all his 19th Century German glory:
This chap, Dr August Oetker, was born in 1862. He was apparently some kind of food scientist, eventually setting up a shop in Bielefeld, where he developed a sort of baking powder. Wikipedia makes a point of stating that baking powder was actually invented by a British chap first. His name was Alfred Bird, whose ‘Bird’s custard’ we still enjoy today! Basically, August was the Guy Fieri of his day.
Still, he doesn’t seem to have done much innovation in the realm of pizza. And he died in January 1918, possibly without eating a single slice in his life.
Dr Oetker: The war years
August’s grandson, Rudolf August Oetker, took over the company after his father’s death. He seems to have been in charge until about 1981. And you know what that means…. we have to talk about the Nazis now.
Unfortunately, looking after his grandfather’s baking powder business didn’t keep Rudolf busy enough. So he enrolled in the Waffen-SS from 1941-1944, aka the majority of World War 2. He also helped supply puddings and things to the troops. The idea of Nazi puddings is a confusing one to think about, morally. Can a jam roly-poly be evil?
It’s a troubling heritage, to be sure. On the one hand, Dr Oetker directly supported the Nazis by supplying the troops and, um, enlisting in the forces. Does this mean that Dr Oetker is effectively cancelled? I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader.
The modern day
The company has gone through several CEOs since Rudolf ‘Waffen-SS’ Oetker stepped down in 1981. But it’s always kept things within the family.
Today the company is led by Richard Oetker – a man who seems to have a wholly unremarkable life. Unremarkable except for the incident in 1976 where he was kidnapped by a mechanic and held in some kind of electric-shock torture crate. The mechanic was played by Christoph Waltz in the 2001 film adaption, Der Tanz mit dem Teufel. But otherwise, just your standard CEO.
However, in all my research, I can’t quite figure out the history of their frozen pizza line. I guess they just had this whole baking powder thing cracked and started just churning out all kinds of baked goods. Tasty though!