Behind every Berlin building there seems to lie a hidden story.
I have lived in Berlin twice. At 21, I lived in Moabit, a former industrial area to which immigrants flocked during the industrial revolution and today in Schöneberg which, as one New York Times reporter called it, is the Bürgerlich side of Berlin (in other words Bourgeois, not Eastern hip.)
And although many of my bike trips lead me to adventures in the East. I am a girl who has always lived in West Berlin. There is extreme appeal in East Berlin, the historic center, the artists and their house squats, and of course that endearingly soviet-vintage tower that soars above us no matter where we live in Berlin.
But, for better or for worse, I draw inspiration from Paris in the 1920s, from Gertrude Stein and the lost generation and less from the punk and grunge movements of the 1980s and 90s. And so I am drawn to clean well-lighted places and not to the wonderful alternative scene that is so strong here in Berlin.
So when I want to treat myself (or more likely my parents are in town) the place I always choose is Cafe Einstein, Berlin’s interpretation of a Viennese coffee shop.
Ahh, Vienna… Seat of the Habsburgs, the most influential royal family in Central Europe and the dominating political force in the German speaking world until their defeat in the Franco-Prussian war. Home to the finest pastry chefs in the world, inventors of the croissant, pain au chocolat and all those other delicacies you thought were French. And a leading center of culture in Central Europe, and most importantly home to Viennese coffee shops.
Hemingway might have had his Parisian café’s with his small Duralex wine glasses. But Freud, Klimt and even Leon Trotsky had Vienna’s Kaffeehäuser.
If in East Berlin, the style of many bars is a mishmash of any comfortable chair found at the nearest flea market. Café Einstein has adopted all the elements of a Viennese Coffee Houses. There are marble tabletops, gently sloping cafe chairs, hanging international newspapers, and the warm inviting feel of a cafe where important discussions have been held, lines upon lines of text have been read and where every guest can sit for hours even if they have only bought one coffee, to talk, write, play cards, and above all consume an unlimited number of newspapers and journals.
Perhaps not on the weekends, but on a quiet weekday you can stay for hours. The newspapers hang neatly on newspaper stick holders and you can easily transition from coffee and pastries to wine and food if you stay there long enough.
Every Berlin building has a history. One that shouldn’t be forgotten especially if you imagine yourself a 1920’s intellectual. As you enter, you will find two gold Stolpersteine, or literally “stumble stones.” Golden stones found everywhere in Berlin to commemorate Jews who were deported and killed during the Holocaust. From 1926 to 1939, this house was also owned by a Jewish banker and his wife, Georg and Lucia Blumenfeld. In the 1930s, it served as a secret casino where aristocrats, manufacturers and stars would meet. It was the heyday of the Weimar Republik and the man who owned the house reveled in being a German who had donated significant amounts of money during WWI, and felt himself as German as he felt Jewish. By the end of the 1930s this former bourgeois life had ended. In June 1939, along with many others, as the Germans slowly but surely liquidated Jewish establishments, Georg Blumenfeld committed suicide. By September the Nazis had claimed the building as one of their offices. And his wife, Lucia Blumenfeld, slipped through the pages of beaurocratic papers somewhere in the ghettos or the concentration camps of Eastern Europe. The last traces of her appear in a census from 1939. A more extensive biography can be found here (unfortunately in German. Hopefully Google Translate can help!)
As I near nearly a year of living in Berlin, I realize that many people pass through this city. On their way to Prague or Dresden, perhaps Munich or even Vienna. Perhaps you are some one that has been traveling for a while and perhaps a break in a place that is anything but alternative is exactly what you need. Before you make your way into the cafe, stop and remember those who came before.
Now more than ever, history should not be forgotten and every time I run across Stolperstein I stop and read about the fate of so many who gave so much to Germany and Berlin.