A Glimpse of Berlin's Cafe Culture

Photo by Daniel Schmitt


Reporting from the streets of Berlin during the city's Fashion Week. The last few days we have seen off-the-chart high temperatures and humidity, intermittently refreshed by thundering rain storms. As it was nearly too hot to move, I posted up under the shady awning of one of Prenzlauer Berg’s many cafes. Prenzlauer Berg is a growing neighborhood of Berlin, housing more families with young children than any other neighborhood of Berlin, thus resembling Park Slope in Brooklyn or any bedroom community in Seattle.

Despite the domesticity, the cafe culture in Prenzlauer Berg, as it is throughout Berlin, is alive and thriving. As a complete 180 degrees to Seattle cafes, no laptops are allowed at the prime indoor and outdoor tables of most Berlin cafes. Cafe patrons do not sit and stare at their cell phones. Some cafes offer laptop approved spaces, but it is often a small and windowless room in the back of the cafe located next to the kitchen or bathrooms, rarely with outlets, and often lacking in fresh air. From this arrangement, we get the idea that the laptop is best left at home or work. It’s just not part of the culture to bring your work with you in public.

I’m drawn to make a conclusion that Americans feel validated by being perceived as busy. Berlin’s cafes are social places meant for catching up, but they also act as perches: stopping points on the Berliner’s daily route.  Lean in for an espresso, offer your dog a sip of water, and be on your way. Cafes are so prevalent you will see three or four right next to each other on the street, and they will all be filled to capacity. I find myself taking respite after a few hours of walking around or running errands at whatever cafe is closest to me. NONE of these cafes are chains, BUT singular businesses that keep Jane Jacobs' dream of mixed-use buildings alive.

Berlin is catching up to Portland or Seattle for single origin grinds and pour-over coffee preparations, and I have seen one or two 'work' cafes specific to tele-commuting, but the common cafes of Berlin offer Italian-style espressos that are served quickly and hot. I wouldn’t want to miss the people-watching for whatever news is happening on my devices. Cafe patrons people-watch, have conversations, and at night engage in watching the sun set with an aperitif in hand.  Seems like a perfect way to end the day. Guten Nacht!

—Anna Telcs


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