CARLSBAD OBLATEN WAFERS – HISTORY
For centuries, the traditional Carlsbad wafers helped shape the unique atmosphere of the famous spa town. Their airy lightness, singular aroma and delicious taste have seduced many a famous person. Among others, the spa wafers were relished by the Russian Tsar Peter the Great, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and famous poets Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich Schiller.
Although the wafers are typical for Carlsbad, their beginnings lie in obscurity. Sweet round wafers are first documented by the preserved baking pans, the so-called oplatnice, the oldest of which date approximately to the second third of the 18th century. Back then, the delicacy was only 13 cm in diameter, but already richly decorated. The first written record of Carlsbad wafers comes from the guidebook to Carlsbad from 1788. This documents a tradition of home-made wafers which lasted for another eighty years until the 1860s, when the popularity of the spa wafers had grown so much that home-made wafers alone could no longer satisfy the demand and the first large-scale bakery opened.
And thus, the Karl Bayer company was founded in 1867 by Barbora Bayerová (née Naslerová), a great lover of the wafers and a skilled baker who knew how to make a supremely delicate dough. Under her care, the company steadily grew and so did the popularity of the warm spa wafers. Her son and grandson continued in her work, which yielded a number of international awards, for example at the Paris World’s Fair. Carlsbad wafers were exported to a number of European countries (Spain, Germany, Romania and Russia, to name a few) and the company even became the exclusive supplier of wafers to the imperial courts in Germany and Austria-Hungary.
The wafers’ popularity showed in numbers. In 1904, the number of wafers bakeries in Carlsbad grew to 22 compared to the mere eight in 1888.
However, troubles came with the start of World War One. The use of wheat flour, butter and sugar for mass production of sweets was banned immediately, and since 1916, the mass production of wafers in general was prohibited as well. The famous brand of Carlsbad spa wafers was restored by Karl Bayer Jr., who ran the plant until his death in 1932. His brother Herbert Bayer assumed management of the company for a time before he was conscripted into the army during World War Two. To add to the misfortune, the bakery plant suffered damage during the April 1945 air raid against Carlsbad.
The production of Carlsbad wafers continued after 1945, but soon, in October 1949, wafer-making establishments all over the region were nationalised as part of the nationalisation campaign launched by the Communist regime after the 1948 coup, and consolidated into a single company called Karlovarské oplatkárny.
The company changed its name several times. Kolonáda was established in 1974, and from 1 January 1999, the production was taken over by Opavia, part of the Danone group and the successor of Čokoládovny, a.s. In Carlsbad itself, the wafers were produced by Orion, the Carlsbad branch of Kolonáda, until 1989.
After 1990, the production of wafers in Carlsbad continued in Otto Malý – Bodam. In 2008, the company then changed its name to Karlovarské oplatky s.r.o., a member of the Carlsbad Wafers Producers’ Association. From about 2008, approximately 30 tonnes of wafers are made in the Carlsbad region each year.
From as early as 2004, the trademark Originální Karlovarské oplatky (Original Carsbad Wafers) was subject to court proceedings before the European court in Strasbourg, where the Carlsbad Wafers Producers’ Association asserted that thermal springs water was irreplaceable in the production of the original Carlsbad wafers, as it played a significant role in determining their taste and in moistening the wafer sheets. Karlovarské oplatky s.r.o. thus had to wait until 28 July 2011 before the EU finally extended the protected geographical indication to the wafers. Currently, alongside the Carlsbad wafers with the protected geographical indication, Karlovarské oplatky s.r.o. produces also the “spa triangles” (lázeňské trojhránky) and is the sole proprietor of the Karlsbader Oblaten trademark. All these products are made in various flavours and sizes.
Even today, you can savour the traditional Carlsbad delicacy in almost the original form while strolling down the spa promenade. For nearly 150 years, the delicate wafers have been inextricably linked to the greatest of Czech spa towns and surely no visitor forgets to take home at least one package, to be reminded of the magical moments spent in Carlsbad with every bite.