German couple who moved to Italy and opened a pizzeria | CNN (2023)

German couple who moved to Italy and opened a pizzeria | CNN (1)

Thomas Hartke and Irene Horbrand run A Teira, a popular pizzeria in Airole, Liguria.

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Living la dolce vita in Italy isn't just about buying a cheap apartment in a quaint rural village. It also requires you to relax, soak up the sun and enjoy great food and wine.

It can also be a job like making pizza - albeit in German.

While many foreigners who come to Italy to live idyllically yearn for the beauty, scenery and tranquility of the Bel Paese, a Munich couple had another dream: to serve the locals the iconic Italian food.

This is no easy task. Making pizza in Italy and satisfying Italian palates is not the easiest mission.

Thomas Hartke and Irene Horbrand, both in their sixties, run A Teira, the only year-round pizzeria in the rural Ligurian village of Airole. Only 450 people live here. 150 of them are foreigners.

What started as a vacation almost 50 years ago has turned into a new life full of unexpected culinary achievements.

"We fell in love with this place in 1975 when we first visited," says Hartke, a former stonemason turned waiter. – We came back many times, then 23 years ago we moved here permanently, settled in a rented house.

"The locals are friendly and welcoming, there's a warm atmosphere in the village and we've left nothing behind in Germany: why the hell would we go back?"

The couple has always been active and making their dreams come true is difficult but rewarding work for them.

They maintained the main bar of the village for several years and in 2016 they took over the pizzeria.

The bar was more demanding, Hartke says, with an 18-hour workday. But running a pizzeria was also a headache. Since license renewals and daily paperwork can be a hassle, he found the best solution. He just asks the town hall for help saying "I'm a stupid German, I don't know what to do".

How to sell pizza to Italians

German couple who moved to Italy and opened a pizzeria | CNN (2)

Airole residents say they don't have many choices of where to go for pizza.

The biggest challenge, however, was making a good - or acceptable - pizza and hoping the locals wouldn't find it repulsive.

"We knew serving pizza to Italians wouldn't be easy – it's such an untouchable, sacred food, but we were never afraid to give it a try and our courage was rewarded," says Hartke.

“Customers really appreciate our pizzas, they become regulars and they are not just foreigners. Even the locals come here.

Teira, which means "land" in the local dialect, is located on a piece of land once revered by farmers for its fertile soil.

The pizzeria is a popular place for evening meals and weekend aperitifs, especially in winter when most of the few restaurants and bars in Airole are closed. Only one other place to eat is open all year - a restaurant that serves local dishes, but not pizza. Their only competition is the tavern that does takeaway pizza in the summer months.

Airole is a little-known place near the crowded beaches of Liguria, surrounded by virgin forests and valleys.

It is frozen in time. There are narrow cobblestones calledalleysonly wide enough for donkeys, pastel old houses with wooden doors and ivy-covered medieval columns.

Thanks in part to the Germans' amazing pizza-making skills, A Teira's popularity has spread. It's crowded in the spring and summer, when surfers from the coast flock to Airole in search of cooler air and quiet.

There are only 10 tables for 50 customers and no staff - Thomas and Irene work alone. She is the pizza chef, she takes care of the tables and the customers.

What sets their pizza apart are the creative twists with original names that break away from Italian tradition.

In addition to the classics, Irene has successfully experimented with non-Italian ingredients, mixing culinary traditions.

Kebab pizza and sauerkraut pie

German couple who moved to Italy and opened a pizzeria | CNN (3)

Their imaginative additions include mushrooms and garlic.

Paying homage to his German roots, he makes sauerkraut, sausage and beef shank pizza, tomato salad, kebab pizza, goat cheese pizza and the much-loved salmon pizza.

Irene, a former fur designer, had never made pizza until she decided this was what she and her husband were going to do at Airole. He learned it almost overnight in a crash course in Germany run by a Neapolitanperson making pizza.

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Every afternoon, alone in a small kitchen where not even her husband is allowed, she bakes 60 pizzas, from 6 to 10 at night.

“Every morning I buy local ingredients, fresh cheese, tomatoes, vegetables, fish and cold meats at the market in Ventimiglia, which is only 13 kilometers (8 miles) away and has a wide variety. I like to create different pizzas based on seasonal produce and each pizza has its own story,” he says.

There is Pizza Irene with mozzarella, gorgonzola, arugula and mushrooms. As the name suggests, this is Irene's favorite.

Pizza Thomas is simple tomato sauce without mozzarella (which he doesn't like), capers, tuna and ham - quite a daring mix. In Italy, fish and meat are never combined.

Italians often cringe when traditional foods, especially pasta and pizza, are mixed up, but somehow the people of Airole are drawn to the concoctions of a German couple.

“We were afraid customers would be disgusted by the ham and tuna, but they actually loved it. This is a unique pizza that you will find only at us - says Irini.

The idea of ​​making a salmon pizza with lemon juice and grated lemon zest was an over-the-top move to attract mainly northern European immigrants to the area - but it unexpectedly became popular with Italians too.

Maxima Pizza, named after the Dutch Queen Maxima, is dedicated to the Dutch community of Airole and consists of mozzarella, brie cheese, poultry and nuts. She also makes a pear pizza and a mushroom and garlic pizza.

But the most "outrageous" pizza of all, at which Italians usually turn up their noses in disgust, is the pineapple pizza, which Irini admits is preferred by foreign customers.

What do the locals think?

German couple who moved to Italy and opened a pizzeria | CNN (4)

There is only one pizzeria in town and one restaurant open all year round.

The basic ingredients of Peace are "Love and Passion". and artistic talent. She likes to play with the color of the ingredients: "Pizza is love, we eat first with the eyes and then with the mouth."

“I like to get my hands on kneading the dough and decorating it with the fresh food I eat every day. I never use ingredients from the fridge."

He says everything went well from the start: “During the opening ceremony, I baked dozens of different pizzas and had everyone try a slice. It was a small test and I was delighted when they told me that I had made a real Italian pizza, thin and crispy."

The creative pizzas at this German-style pizzeria have taken the locals by storm. No one is a snob about A Teira - perhaps because it's also the only real pizzeria in the village.

Even other restaurateurs like A Tiera pizzas. A regular customer is Tiziana Spinosi, co-owner of the nearby restaurant U Veciu Defisiu ("old mill").

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Although Tiziana's traditional rabbit and fish dishes are a far cry from German pizzas, she admires Irene's creations.

"Her pizza is seasonal, made with fresh ingredients, and every time she changes the menu and comes out with a new pizza, I rush to try it."

Tiziana's husband and restaurant co-owner, Marco Molinari, is a bit more pragmatic.

“Actually, we don't have much choice, but we go there when we're closed. However, Irene and Thomas make great pizza, the best in town.”

Very well!

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