Pretzels in Europe

One story of the pretzel—and there are many of them—says that in 640 A.D. a medieval Italian monk created the pretzel as a reward for children who said their prayers. The pretzel’s twist signifies arms crossed in prayer with the three openings symbolizing the Holy Trinity. Pretzels are also believed to bring good luck, prosperity and spiritual wholeness. Through the twists and turns of history, the word pretzel was derived from the Latin pretiola—which means small gift, or bracciatello which became bretzel when it crossed the Alps into Germany to the present day delicacy—pretzel—originally soft and chewy.

The pretzel also has royal connections. In the early 1500s, the city of Vienna, now in Austria, was under attack by Ottoman Turks. When the invaders couldn’t penetrate the walled city, they tried digging underneath its walls during the night. Pretzel bakers, who were working, heard the Turks and uncovered their plot and alerted authorities. A fierce battle ensued and the Austrians won! A grateful emperor awarded the pretzel bakers of Vienna with an honorary coat of arms, thus elevating the humble pretzel to the status of royalty. Today, bakeries all over Europe have pretzels hanging above their doors.

Another legend is taken from a stained glass window in a cathedral in Bern, Switzerland. The window shows a pretzel as the marriage knot in a wedding ceremony between two people of royal families. Wishing on a pretzel, like making a wish on a wishbone, became a common marriage custom. Once the pretzel was broken, a wish was made and the couple ate the pretzel. This legend gives a whole new meaning to “tying the knot.”

Pretzels Cross Over

Pretzels came to America with this country’s colonizers…the earliest reference in 1652. They were usually made in home kitchens and small bakeries. Commercial pretzel making had its start in America in the late 1850s in the village of Lititz, Pennsylvania.

Hand-Twisted Since 1920

Not surprising, with St. Louis’s strong German heritage, pretzel bakeries dotted the landscape in the early 1900s. Gus’ Pretzel Shop has been serving St. Louis pretzel fans since 1920 when a riveter named Frank Ramsperger started baking pretzels for a living after he was hurt on the job. The business was named for Ramsperger’s son-in-law, Gus Koebbe, who took over the business in 1952. The shop has been owned by third generation pretzel maker Gus Koebbe, Jr. since 1980. His son, Gus Koebbe III, recently joined the pretzel twisting profession.

It’s a Family Business

The more things change, the more things stay the same, in some respects. The original recipe and method of making the pretzels are the same. In Gus Sr.’s time, the pretzel shop was a mom and pop operation—with Sr. and wife, Marcella, doing all the work and their seven children pitching in after school, on weekends and holidays. Today, the sons—Gus Jr. and Dave—carry on that same family tradition.

Not only is Gus’ Pretzels a family business, it’s a neighborhood business as well. Situated in the shadow of the world-famous Anheuser-Busch Brewery, it’s a great destination to top off a brewery tour!

In 1998, Gus Jr. launched an expansion to the business. The business has a scrubby Dutch clean viewing area where pretzel patrons can watch the entire production process, from 7am until approximately noon.

Choose sticks or twists from the counter located next to the viewing area. For the larger appetite add pretzel sandwiches (this is a delicacy in which pretzel dough encases a bratwurst, salsiccia or hot dog), cheeses or dipping sauces. Click here to view our menu.