07 November 2012

The Café-Bar Culture

One thing I am slowly making good use of here in Berlin is the café culture. Now, somehow, the café culture here is different from what I was used to in Buffalo. There are similar aspects of course, but there are also things that are different, and somehow I think I welcome this difference. And perhaps the fact that I am a person who loves a change in scenery every now and then makes me motivated to discover a new café every now and then and see whether it would work for me. As much as I like working in my office, I would love to sit down in a café and work from there, if I can, not to mention the fact that I also hate working from home, so I avoid that if possible.

When I was still writing my dissertation, I have spent a considerable amount of time in cafés writing my manuscript. I was a frequent customer in Dolci, in Starbucks, in SPoT, and in other cafés that had free wi-fi access as well as accesible outlets. I dunno, I just prefered that atmosphere, working in a café, reading, writing, and plonking away on my laptop while sipping tea.

So here, I have decided to slowly take my time in exploring several neighborhoods, seeing what types of cafés they have. I have already discovered a few that I like, although I still want to increase my collection.

My biggest criterion for a café is whether they offer free wi-fi access. This is a make-or-break criterion for me. If a café doesn’t have wi-fi, then I probably would not go back there again. Of course, this is something that is hard to test; it kinda sucks if you already made your purchase and then you ask if there is a wi-fi connection and then they say no. So what I do when I am in a new café is I stand and loiter for a little bit, and test whether my smartphone can pick up a signal that is belonging to the café or not. If it can, then chances are it is accessible for customers, if it cannot, and there are no other visible signs that free wi-fi is offered, then I move on.

The next criterion is whether there are available outlets or not. I am starting to learn that Berlin cafés are just not generous with respect to their electricity. Most cafés I have been to so far do not have accessible outlets, at least not like the way it was in Buffalo. I remember Dolci in Buffalo even offering us extension cords if the current outlets were not enough. Here, on the other hand, most cafés have their outlets hidden, and so I can only work as long as my laptop battery allows me. There are a few cafés that do have accessible outlets, but that still seems to be the exception, than the rule.

So when considering my café haunt, those two criteria are what matters to me. The first one matters way more than the second. Other criteria I look for involve opening hours. I prefer one that is open during the weekends and up until late. Closing at 6 PM doesn’t sound too good for me. I prefer one that is open at least until 8 PM. Also, they should have a good selection of teas. And perhaps cakes, but I prefer more tea selection than cake selection.

I am also starting to learn that the boundary between café and bar here is blurred. Most cafés can and do serve alcohol, unlike in the United States, where alcohol is only served by places that have a liquor license, and most cafés do not. Here, one can have coffee, tea, beer, wine, or even cocktails, in most places. The other day, I had a beer, after not having one in a long time. So yeah, there are plenty of choices, and that I think is something I am slowly getting to like.

(An Expanse of Green, from my Central Park Series)


  1. I grew up in that café culture, you wouldn't believe how many hours I spent in cafés in France! We had the café we escaped to when skipping classes (conveniently located behind our high school), the café to meet guys, the café to listen to good music, etc. Nantes has literally hundreds of them!

    1. Zhu,

      I had a hunch you did so! You're right, as much as on the surface, every cafe is a cafe, in fact, that is not the case. Here, there's the cafe that is for meeting people, the cafe for listening to good music, the cafe that is a front for a Russian mob (?), and so forth!

  2. This cafe culture was very new to me and now I can't seem to get enough. But unlike you I am quite shameless and ask them upfront if there is wifi.

    1. Puku,

      Haha, yes. As my German improves, then probably I'll be more shameless too. :-)