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the German immigrants who established a pizzeria in Italy

Living the good life in Italy entails more than just buying an inexpensive house in a picturesque rural community. It also calls for sunbathing, relaxing, and indulging in delicious cuisine and wine.

Another example might be a job baking pizza, although the German style.

While many foreigners traveling to Italy to live the good life yearn for the country’s beauty, landscape, and tranquility, one couple from Munich had a different dream: they wanted to serve locals a classic Italian dish.

It’s not an easy job. It’s not the simplest of tasks to make pizza in Italy and appease the palates of the Italians.

In the small Ligurian village of Airole, Thomas Hartke and Irene Horbrand, both in their sixties, own and operate A Teira, the only pizza open all year. There are just 450 residents total, 150 of them are foreigners.

What began as a vacation over 50 years ago became a new existence filled with unexpected culinary successes.

“We fell in love with this place in 1975 when we first visited,” says Hartke, a former stonemason who is now a waitress. We returned frequently before relocating permanently here and settled in a leased home 23 years ago.

“Why the hell would we ever go back to Germany? We left nothing behind, the people are warm and welcoming, and there’s a cozy village vibe.”

The pair has always been engaged in life, and they see living their ideal as difficult but worthwhile labor.

They managed the main bar of the community for a few years before taking over the pizza in 2016.

With an 18-hour schedule each day, the bar was more demanding, according to Hartke. However, managing the pizzeria also caused them problems. He’s discovered the finest solution because dealing with bureaucracy on a daily basis and permission renewals can be a nuisance. He merely requests assistance from the town hall, claiming, “I’m a stupid German, I don’t know what to do.”

Italian pizza marketing strategies
Locals in Airole complain that there aren’t many places to get pizza.
Locals in Airole complain that there aren’t many places to get pizza.
Michael Molinari
Making a good – or passable – pizza and praying that the locals didn’t find it repulsive was the biggest problem of all, though.

Pizza is such an inviolable, sacred delicacy that serving it to Italians wasn’t going to be simple, but Hartke says they never shied away from trying, and their bravery paid off.

Customers truly value our pizzas; they become repeat customers, and it’s not only foreigners. Even locals visit this place.

A Teira is situated on a piece of land that farmers used to revere for its rich soil; the name “Teira” means “the earth” in the local dialect.

The pizzeria is a well-liked destination for weekend aperitivos and evening dinners, especially in the winter when the majority of Airole’s few eateries and pubs are closed. There is only one other restaurant open all year that serves regional cuisine but doesn’t serve pizza. Their sole rival is a pub that serves pizza for takeout throughout the summer.

A hidden gem near Liguria’s popular beaches, Airole is encircled by beautiful forests and valleys.

It is stuck in time. There are medieval columns draped in ivy, pastel-colored old homes with wooden doors, and small, cobblestone alleys called caruggi that are only wide enough for donkeys.

A Teira’s fame has grown in part because of the Germans’ astonishing pizza-making abilities. In the spring and summer, when beachgoers from the coast travel to Airole in quest of cooler air and solitude, it is overbooked.

There are just 10 tables for the 50 diners, and Thomas and Irene are the only two employees. He takes care of the tables and customers, she makes the pizza.

Their unique titles and inventive tweaks that depart from Italian tradition are what distinguish their pizza from the competition.

Irene has successfully experimented with non-Italian elements in addition to the traditional Italian dishes.

Sauerkraut pie with kebab pizza
Their creative garnishes include garlic and mushrooms.
Their creative garnishes include garlic and mushrooms.
Michael Molinari
Her pizzas have sauerkraut, sausages, veal shin, tomato salad, pizza kebabs, goat cheese, and salmon, the last of which is the most popular among customers in a nod to her Germanic heritage.

Prior to deciding that she and her husband would make pizza in Airole, Irene, a former fur designer, had never baked one before. She almost learned how over night while taking a crash course in pizza making from Naples in Germany.

The 2,000-year history of the national dish of Italy
She bakes 60 pizzas every night from 6 to 10 p.m. alone in the tiny kitchen, where not even her husband is allowed.

“I purchase fresh cheese, tomatoes, vegetables, seafood, and cured meats from the market in Ventimiglia, which is only 13 kilometers away and has a large selection, every morning. Every pizza I make has a unique tale, and I enjoy making them using seasonal ingredients, she says.

With mozzarella, gorgonzola, arugula, and mushrooms, there is Pizza Irene. It is Irene’s favorite, as the name says.

He doesn’t like mozzarella, thus Thomas’ pizza is made with just tomato sauce, capers, tuna fish, and ham. Fish and beef are never combined in Italy.

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However, despite the fact that Airole’s residents are drawn to the German couple’s creations, local Italians there have a tendency to become rather offended when traditional foods, particularly pasta and pizza, are altered.

“We were worried that the ham and tuna would put off customers, but they loved it. You can only get this particular pizza here, claims Irene.

Making salmon pizza with lemon juice and grated lemon peel was a lavish move intended to attract migrants from northern Europe to the area, but it unexpectedly gained popularity with Italians as well.

Pizza Maxima is comprised of mozzarella, brie, speck, and almonds and is dedicated to the Dutch community in Airole. It is named after the Dutch queen Maxima. She also creates a mushroom and garlic pizza and one with pears.

But pizza with pineapple, which Irene acknowledges is loved by international customers, is the most “outrageous” pizza of all, which typically makes Italians turn their noses up in disgust.

What the community is of
Only one restaurant and a pizzeria in the community are open all year long.
Only one restaurant and a pizzeria in the community are open all year long.
Michael Molinari
The essential components of Irene are “love and passion” and her artistic talent. The color of the ingredients is something she likes to fiddle with, saying that “Pizza is amore, we eat with our eyes first then with our mouths.”

“I just enjoy working with my hands to knead the dough and decorate it with daily-consumed fresh ingredients. I never use ingredients that aren’t refrigerated.

She claims that everything went smoothly right away: “At our opening ceremony, I prepared numerous varieties of pizza and had everyone eat a slice. It was somewhat of a test, so when they said I produced a thin, crunchy, authentic Italian pizza, I was overjoyed.

Locals have been won over by the inventive pizza variants at this German-style pizzeria. A Teira is not regarded as snooty, perhaps because it is the only authentic pizzeria in the community.

Even other restaurateurs like the pizzas from A Tiera. A frequent patron is Tiziana Spinosi, co-owner of the adjoining restaurant U Veciu Defisiu (“the old olive press”).

Within the Italian village that Americans are resettling
She admires Irene’s inventions despite the fact that Tiziana’s traditional Ligurian dishes of hare and stockfish are extremely different from the German pizzas.

Every time she updates the menu and creates a new pizza, I am eager to try it because her pizza is seasonal and made with fresh ingredients.

Marco Molinari, Tiziana’s husband and co-owner of the restaurant, is a little more practical.

We go there when we’re closed because, in all honesty, we don’t have much of a choice. The best pizza in town is made by Irene and Thomas, though.

Very good!


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