chapter  12
Two Countries, One Home, One Occupation: Italian Ice Cream Parlors as a Family Business in Germany, 1900–Today
Pages 16

Whether as chimneysweeps, construction workers, or stonemasons, Italian migrants have been traveling back and forth between Germany and Italy for over a century. Italian ice cream makers and their family businesses, however, are the most numerous and prominent in the German public’s perception. During the German Wirtschaftswunder or “Economic Miracle,” a phase of intense economic growth, ice cream parlors sprang up in every German village and suburb. The Eiscafé Venezia was a standard element of the German business landscape and-with minor adjustments-has remained so up to today. Even though most Germans remember the 1950s as the period when Italian ice cream parlors were established in Germany, their history goes back much further. Since the middle of the nineteenth century, gelatieri have been selling their products all over Europe, especially in Germany. Some families have managed to maintain their businesses into the fourth or fifth generation. 2 Remarkably, over this extended period the trade succeeded in keeping over 80 percent of the ice cream parlors in the hands of relatively few families, all of whom stem from two small valleys in the Dolomites. Family and family networks, thus, have been extremely important to these businesses’ success. Historian Sylvia Junko Yanagisako put it poignantly: “. . . labor is never abstract, but is always provided by people with particular social identities and histories.” 3 This is especially applicable to the Italian ice cream makers as family and business life are almost inseparable for them. This fusion influences almost every aspect of their private lives, including their attitudes towards success and education, and even their leisure activities. It has enabled this group to keep a monopoly on the ice cream making business over many decades and to establish Italian ice cream as a brand name, but it has also restricted the next generation’s career choices.