THIS is the story of Ruedi Christen, who swapped his 2000-year-old home town in Switz
erland for a town not quite 200 years old called Maryborough.
Here he established a factory tucked snugly in the heart of the Maryborough CBD, which makes 700,000 gingerbread men a year. The gingerbread made in this historic city is sold in shops throughout Australia.
This is the Christen family's own gingerbread story.
ONCE upon a time there was a little boy named Ruedi Christen. And he lived in a beautiful and ancient land known as Switzerland. In that beautiful land, the snowcapped mountains were so high they almost reached the sky.
Every year at Christmas, all of the children and families would gather to celebrate and among their many Christmas treats was the gingerbread man.
Ruedi knew how much everybody enjoyed gingerbread and gingerbread men. And, like all European children, the story was an unforgettable childhood favourite.
Little did he know that one day, when he was grown up, he would travel many miles across the seas to a land Down Under where he would share the spicy delights of Swiss origin not just once a year but any day one liked.
And that the legend of the fairytale would provide a good living for himself and for his family.
Ruedi finished school when he was 15 years old and was apprenticed to a wise and clever man.
This man told him he should learn not only one craft but several so, during the next five years, he learnt to make delicious pastries, bake all types of bread and make yummy chocolates.
Oh, how he must have enjoyed his apprenticeship; all of those years of tasting delicious treats. It was there he also learned the special way the Swiss make gingerbread.
When he was 22, and feeling quite grown up, Ruedi heard about a beautiful large island on the other side of the world that was warm and friendly.
So he packed his bags and his Swiss recipes, waved goodbye to his family in Switzerland and set off for Australia.
Not long after the young, handsome man stepped onto Australian soil, he met a beautiful lady called Edwina and they got married. Edwina and Ruedi then moved to a sunny land by the sea in south-east Queensland, known as the Fraser Coast.
And this is where Ruedi, with Edwina at his side, began making the delicious treats from his Swiss recipes. He made beautiful gateaus, which are big cakes, wonderful to look at and even better to eat. And there were lots of businesses that wanted his marvellous cakes.
He made delicious chocolates too.
Then he thought to himself, "I might package up these delicious foods and post them to other towns in this warm country". But this was back in the 1980s and, by the time the chocolates arrived at their destination, they didn't look quite the same as when they left Ruedi's kitchen.
So Ruedi began to create gingerbread. What excited him was Australia wasn't as traditional as Switzerland and the children wouldn't have to wait until Christmas to enjoy the famous gingerbread man.
Ruedi and his family set up a little factory, right in the beating heart of the Maryborough CBD. Maryborough is a town that is not yet 200 years old, not like the town Ruedi came from that was 2000 years old.
By this time one of Ruedi's sons, Robert, who was born in Maryborough, also loved the business and knew what he wanted to do when he grew up. He wanted to be just like his dad, making delicious gingerbreads and shortbreads.
Robert began learning the business
and every day after school would go to the factory to work.
The years flew by, as years do. Robert married and had three children of his own.
"They know daddy is the gingerbread man," he said.
So begins the second generation carrying on the Christen tradition.
After 50 years in the industry, Ruedi is pleased his son Robert is now running the business.
And the recent good news of expanding into Tasmania, where the people appreciate high quality, is a coup for the Christens.
"We've just crossed the Bass.
"Our gingerbread men are taking over Australia.
"A lot of people did not know the product was made here in Maryborough. It makes people happy and proud to know that."
Robert said they now baked shortbread, small gingerbread cookies for schools and, the most interesting of all, is the Aussie Beach Shack that comes in a kit.
But for Ruedi, who left his birthplace 50 years ago armed with recipes passed down from generation to generation, it is time to put up his feet.
Australia is his home and he is happy knowing he is giving joy to all who love his unique Swiss gingerbread and that his son is carrying on the family tradition.
The fabled cry "Catch me if you can, I'm the Gingerbread man" has been Australianised by the Christens - "Catch Yours Today".
What began as a well-thumbed fairytale has become a dream come true for the hardworking Christen family.
May they all live happily ever after.
Some outlets on the Fraser Coast that supply Christens Gingerbread: Bakery of Alice, Tinana Foodworks, Toast, Fraser Shores IGA, Supa IGA Pialba, Howard Hotbread
Gingerbread was introduced to Europe in 992 by a monk who taught the skill of gingerbread making to French Christians.
In medieval England, gingerbread was thought to have medicinal properties.
Gingerbread men were first attributed to Queen Elizabeth I who served the figurines to foreign dignitaries.
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