In Berlin it is still allowed to sit for hours on end, clutching an Americano or Oat Milk Latte and stare into space, think, read, or just be. Or is it?

The change was subtle. Whoever experienced West Berlin in the 80’s knows that for any hip space, it was a measure of coolness how bad the service was. In fact, the worse the service, the cooler the clientele. The vivid nineties then produced a generous sprout of relaxed impromptu cafes, stretching especially over the eastern part of the city, accompanied by the weekday bars – illegal yet popular cellar spaces named after the day they were open and exclusively known through word of mouth. The ‘noughties’ rang in the new millennium with a colourful landscape of pop-up cafes all over the city, often in combination with galleries or bookshops. The service was friendly and the prices stayed affordable.

These times definitely seem to be in the past. With booming rents and property prices came a much different kind of ‘coolness’ – cafes became patisseries or hot spots of culinary finesse respectively. Instead of an affordable ‘Boulette’ (burger sans roll) with potato salad or your ‘Schrippe’ (roll) with ham or cheese, vegan tapas delights became the holy grail, accompanied by craft beer and the mystery of ‘artisan’ coffee served with excessive milk foam designs. Must-accessories: A laptop, and a credit card.

However, all is not lost for the philosophical wanderer in need of the reviving elixir. Grab your book, paper or Kindle, avoid the obvious tourist traps and do what the locals do. Explore the side streets, follow your own nose, the lesser trodden paths or people who look like they know their way around. They will eventually direct you to a neighbourhood cafe where you can sit and read, observe the Kiez-life around you or listen to your own thoughts undisturbed, all for the price of a small Cappuccino.

And if you feel like talking to someone – well, you will always find an interesting conversation partner with a good story up their sleeve, be it an accommodating staff member, or the person reading right next to you.

Berlin Notes: Town of coffee

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