Coffehouse culture and politics – a never ending passion

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What have citizens from Berlin, Zurich, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Vienna and Salzburg in common? They love their coffeehouses!

Or, they used to love them, until the big coffeehouse chains, called now coffee shop, covered the world with their „Coffee to go“ culture.

Since mid 19th century two prominent coffeehouses competed in Berlin, the Kaffee Bauer and the Kaffee Kranzler. Because visits of ladies was socially inacceptable, they had their own saloons upstairs. Guests were from all social classes. To be seen, for gossip and for the newspapers. When electricity was introduced, reading was also possible on evenings.

Kaffe Kranzler (right) and Kaffe Bauer (left) "Unter den Linden"
Kaffe Kranzler (right) and Kaffe Bauer (left) „Unter den Linden“

Since 1910, thru wars and and renewels, the Kranzler still exists in a modern quarter of Berlin, on the famous Ku’damm, on the first floor of the Rotunda. Now a Lounge and Event Location.

The new Kranzler, Ku'damm
The new Kranzler, Ku’damm

1911 was the opening of the „Grand Café Odeon“ in Zurich, in a beautiful art nouveau building just opposite the Lake of Zurich. It had a mixed clientele, including exiled revolutionaries. Little round marble tables, uncomfortable wooden chairs and clouds of nicotine fumes. For rewriting history guests left for the 1st floor. On the ground floor many known and unknown artists, politicians and scientists spent their time. Albert Einstein had discussions with his students and Lenin, yes this Wladimir Iljitsch Uljanow, who became a mass murderer, was a regular guest, always at the same table.

Grand Cafe Odeon
Grand Cafe Odeon

This table still bears the imprint of his left elbow. He used to support his very heavy head, because thinking made him tired. Unfortunately the table disappeared during the unrest of the 1970’ies.

Today the Odeon is about half the previous size and occupies the ground floor only. It is a well frequented Coffeehouse and a nice meeting point.

Before the establishment of the Jewish State Israel in 1948 there was a lot of resistance against the British occupiers. They all met in the coffeehouse Atara, founded 1938 in Jerusalem as an eatery. British officers, members of the Jewish underground organizations met there, an explosive mixture. A bit like Rick’s coffeehouse in Casablanca but without “play it again, Sam”. 1940 it moved to the famous “Rehov Ben Yehuda Street”.

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The Atara
The Atara

Managers were the Greenspan family from Munich. There were rumors, that the coffee beans were „A. Zunz sel., Witwe“ (now Dallmayer Group) no one knows, but its possible that the courageous start up wished to revitalize European coffeehouse culture. At least Henrik Broder insists on it.

During the 1948 war in Israel it was vital to know if a guest was on jewish or arab territory. After the war others, politicians, artists and journalists, visited the Atara. Amos Oz wrote about it in his book “My Michael”.

Another remarkable change were the waitresses. From elderly, very professional and very friendly women to very charming and friendly but non-professional girls, before or just after their military.

The Atara, crown, has never been closed, it resisted the all wars, of independence, the six days, the Yom Kippur. The family motto was, “our coffeehouse will not close for our guests”. But ultimately the Atara lost against the local bureaucracy..

In Tel Aviv Sarah Stern (90) passed away some days ago, the longtime owner of the Café Tamar, loved mainly by “leftists. It was founded 1941 and purchased 1951. Just three months ago she gave up and closed its doors.

In the Tamar politics, news articles have been made, artists criticized and lauded. Now the Sheinkin Street is a chique shopping street, following the newest trends.

Sarah Stern and her Tamar
Sarah Stern and her Tamar

Until some weeks ago Sarah Stern defended the old times. She decided who may be her guest and who not, she always told her views. She had two families, her own with children and grandchildren and her guests. This second family wanted to go on with the business, but Sarahs children decided, it was time to say good-bye.

Many will remember it.

Vienna without is coffeehouses? No Barristi without the viennese coffeehouses. Look at this possibly uncomplete list of the countless specialities.

In Vienna people went to the coffeehouse to live here, the mails was addressed also to men of the society. A permanent seat had to be acquired and when secured forever. There was the Demel, the Sacher, the Landmann, and, the Hawelka!

The Hawelka
The Hawelka

It was the coffehouse of the bohemians, with worn out sofas and seats if you were lucky or on uncomfortable wooden chairs. It was established 1939 by Leopold and Josefine Hawelka.

Leopold Hawelka
Leopold Hawelka

Josefine baked daily her famous Buchteln (yes they are called Buchteln, phone me up and I will spell it for you), which were sold shortly after midnight, maybe to kick the guests off the coffeehouse.

1975 Georg Danzer wrote his famous song „Jö schau“, the hommage to the best known „Flitzer of Vienna“ (look up the youtube and you will see what is it about)

Last but not least the Tomaselli Stüberl in Salzburg. At the times of Wolferl Amade Mozart the servant of his mother went to this snuggery after her shopping at the market. This little hideaway, part of the world famous Café Tomaselli , is located in the backyard. Local farmers used part of it to dry their wet clothes, it was not spectacular, food and drinks were sold at reasonable prices. It was not the place to discuss how to change the world or to write literature, but it was a vibrant meeting point for generations of students. Especially in the more then turbulent 70’ies.

The famous Tomaselli
The famous Tomaselli
The entrance to the "Tomaselli Stüberl"
The entrance to the „Tomaselli Stüberl“

My thanks to Linda of Trend Light in Hadera. Her offered Espresso is just exquisite, and to Ya’acov of the Mashtelah Linat, his Coffee Botz with just the right amount of Hel is excellent.

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