Sunday, June 6, 2010

Coffee in Germany, 1922

Cafe Bauer, GermanyEditor's note: this is an interesting description of cafe life in Germany between the wars.

Germany originated the afternoon coffee function known as the kaffee-klatsch. Even today, the German family's reunion takes place around the coffee table on Sunday afternoons. In summer, when weather permits, the family will take a walk into the suburbs, and stop at a garden where coffee is sold in pots. The proprietor furnishes the coffee, the cups, the spoons and, in normal times, the sugar, two pieces to each cup; and the patrons bring their own cake. They put one piece of sugar into each cup and take the other pieces home to the "canary bird," meaning the sugar bowl in the pantry.

Cheaper coffee is served in some gardens, which conspicuously display large signs at the entrance, saying: "Families may cook their own coffee in this place." In such a garden, the patron merely buys the hot water from the proprietor, furnishing the ground coffee and cake himself.

While waiting for the coffee to brew, he may listen to the band and watch the children play under the trees. French or Vienna drip pots are used for brewing.

Every city in Germany has its cafés, spacious places where patrons sit around small tables, drinking coffee, "with or without" turned or unturned, steaming or iced, sweetened or unsweetened, depending on the sugar supply; nibble, at the same time, a piece of cake or pastry, selected from a glass pyramid; talk, flirt, malign, yawn, read, and smoke. Cafés are, in fact, public reading rooms. Some places keep hundreds of daily and weekly newspapers and magazines on file for the use of patrons. If the customer buys only one cup of coffee, he may keep his seat for hours, and read one newspaper after another.

Three of the four corners of Berlin's most important street crossing are occupied by cafés. This is where Unter den Linden and Friedrichstrasse meet. On the southwest corner there is Kranzler's staid old café, a very respectable place, where the lower hall is even reserved for non-smokers. On the southeast corner is Café Bauer, known the world over. However, it has seen better days. It has been outdistanced by competitors. On the northeast corner is the Victoria, a new-style place, very bright, and less staid. There no room is reserved for non-smokers, for most of the ladies, if they do not themselves smoke, will light the cigars for their escorts.

Around the Potsdamer Platz there is a number of cafés. Josty's is perhaps the most frequented in Berlin. It is the best liked on account of the trees and terraces in front. Farther to the west, on Kuerfuerstendamm, there are dozens of large cafés.

Some of the cafés are meeting-places for certain professions and trades. The Admiral's café, in Friedrichstrasse, for instance, is the "artistes'" exchange. All the stage folk and stars of the tanbark meet there every day. Chorus girls, tumblers, ladies of the flying trapeze, contortionists, and bareback riders are to be found there, discussing their grievances, denouncing their managers, swapping their diamonds, and recounting former triumphs. Cinema-makers come also to pick out a cast for a new film play. There one can pick out a full cast every minute.

Then there is the Café des Westens in Kuerfuerstendamm, the old one, where dreamers and poets congregate. It is called also Café Groessenwahn, which means that persons suffering from an exaggerated ego are conspicuous by their presence and their long hair.

At almost every table one may find a poet who has written a play that is bound to enrich its author and any man of means who will put up the money to build a new theater in which to produce it.

Saxony and Thuringia are proverbial hotbeds of coffee lovers. It is said that in Saxony there are more coffee drinkers to the square inch and more cups to the single coffee bean than anywhere else upon earth. The Saxons like their coffee, but seem to be afraid it may be too strong for them. So, when over their cups, they always make certain they can see bottom before raising the steaming bowl to the lip. Von Liebig's method of making coffee, whereby three-fourths of the quantity to be used is first boiled for ten or fifteen minutes, and the remainder added for a six-minute steeping or infusion, is religiously followed by some housekeepers.Von Liebig advocated coating the bean with sugar. In some families, fats, eggs, and egg-shells are used to settle and to clarify the beverage.

Coffee in Germany is better cooked (roasted) and more scientifically prepared than in many other European countries. In recent years, during the World War and since, however, there has been an amazing increase in the use of coffee substitutes, so that the German cup of coffee is not the pure delight it was once.