Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Literary cafes


Literary cafes in three cities: Berlin, Athens, Brussels



                   Cafe in Paris                                     @Hartmut Schulz

Always writers meet in specific places; for Sartre and Camus it was a certain cafe in Paris. All over the world, writers mingle in such places. Cafes seem to be most receptive to new ideas and besides, a cup of coffee will make the day more bearable.


The Cafe was located on Knesebeckstreet, between Goethe and Savigny Platz in Charlottenburg, Berlin. The cafe no longer exists today, but it used to be the meeting place of writers and their followers. The owners of Rosalinde had luck to be adopted by them. Once they had concluded their readings at the 'Buchhändlerkeller' which is just around the corner on Carmer Street, they came over for a drink. Ever since it became known as a place where the writers meet. Naturally the entire area was famous for its bookshops, including Knesebeck 11 and the 'Autorenbuchhandlung'. K.P. Herbach, press speaker for the Academy of Arts, was at that time the leading spirit to bring them together.

Once a place becomes known, others would frequent it as well, among them Otto Schily, once RAF lawyer and after having come to disagreement with the Greens, switched over to the Social Democrats and once in power, he became a fierce Minister of Interior far more Right to the pleasure of the CSU in Baveria, than what his former friends of the Greens could still recognize as the former lawyer he was. That switch from Left to Right is not unique to him. Horst Mahler became as former RAF lawyer the one you would start to defend members of the NDP. Someone who did not follow that pattern was Christian Ströbele who stayed with the Greens and remained a constant in terms of asking critical questions.

Knesebeckstreet has broad side walks. Before Rosalinde came, we would bring from our apartment in the backyard some table to see and to experience who is passing by. In the court backyard you cannot see that. Still, it was a change to have no longer free space for neighbors to gather, but where you had to pay if you wished to sit down.

             Angelika Sollich (optician), Roger Servais (painter) and Hatto Fischer

Angelika Sollich worked in a shop for glasses further up Knesebeck, while Roger Servais lived two houses over on the second floor where his entire apartment is converted into a gallery/atelier for his paintings.

What makes Knesebeck so unique is that it is a street of coincidence. No appointment is needed. You just bump unexpectedly into people you have not seen for a long time.

                       Spyros Bokos, Philosopher of Religion             2007

In the cafe Rosalinde books were kept in glasses otherwise used to preserve marmelades. (At Phileion in Athens one can find likewise books that some of the writers have donated for visitors to that cafe, just in case they find the time to take a glimpse in the book while waiting for someone to come.)

Most memorable were the meetings with Ernst Schnabel in the Rosalinde in Berlin. This author of the book 'I and the kings' (about Daedalus and King Minos) understood like no one else how to set free such literary expressions which let people dream. Ernst Schnabel did this especially with his radio program 'in eighteen days around the world', a program he produced immediately after 1945 and before people could really travel as they do nowadays. Ernst Schnabel had several strokes and was partially paralysed on the right side. With his free left arm he loved to feed the sparrows with crumbs of a cookie. He died in 1986.

To set dreams free was an important expression of Ernst Bloch, and like the imaginary museum of Andre Malraux, the cafe is where you would want to meet just as much Thomas Mann, Heinrich Boell, Robert Musil, Thomas Bernhard, Pindar, Carlos Fuentes, Elias Canetti, Josef Konrad, Uwe Johnson as the muse who sets free the imagination of the writer by just walking past the table.

The year 2007 is a time measure. World literature has seen some astonishing twists and turns with more poets receiving the Nobel Prize than perhaps writers or is that only an impression? Certainly Pablo Neruda and Seamus Heaney link up in a row of distinguished poets while those writing novels, books as they are called, find themselves like Günter Grass exposed to a controversy which began in the days of their youth and never could be silenced. Controversy applies as well to Peter Handke not because he shouted at the audience but because many misunderstood the position he took when Jugoslavia fell apart and Milosevic played an ambivalent role in Handke's expression of solidarity with the Serbian people.

There are others like Orhan Pamuk or Naipaul who know of those other cultural values in need to be preserved, if not by institutions, then by writing about them until these messages are translated into other languages.

This is no reference to literary cafes or such cafes set up for writers to do readings, but rather they are the ones which have been adopted due to most unknown circumstances by writers, poets and artists as their meeting place. These places do not give us as of yet a feeling of dexterity, but then a word of caution comes from an American writer like George Crane who would declare through his writings that soul and thought must go together, if it is to be a good piece of literature.


                         George Crane


Cafes in Kolonaki, Athens

Phileon on Skoufa

                       Filion Café in Kolonaki, Athens       @hf 19.1.2007

The place were writers, actors, TV personalities, politicians and others love to meet in Athens is Filion Cafe on Skoufa, at the corner of Lycabettou. Skoufa is called by some 5th Avenue of Athens. Kolonaki has the reputation especially amongst the Anarchists as the place of the rich and therefore it stinks. Due to the Greek parliament being close by, a school vis a vis and besides the Dionysos church, with Lycabettou Hill in the back, the cafe suits somehow that taste writers and others seek once they have a name in society. Two sisters own the cafe and those serving the guests stay at the job over many years, so that friendships spring up and everyone knows the other. Greek society is both intricate and full of lonely people who mask this by mingling in the cafe. It is a kind of social interaction without the need to be committed at personal level. Distance is preferred especially in a society where everyone knows about everyone else. Contacts count, is an usual saying. The Writers' Association along with the Academy of the Arts has exerted its influence over the years. With the Olympic Games having taken place in 2004, the writers are unsure in what they should settle in and describe as the next phase. In 2007 no one seemed to anticipate the crisis looming just around the corner. Rather everyone seemed to be doing relatively well.


There you were sitting, reading, waiting, thinking

Insofar as I came but did not arrive

As I was gone already before I came

And so I programmed my terrible loss

Only felt when you, my love, no longer

Are sitting there but I, hungry for news,

I no longer read newspapers but my heart beats away,

Always listens to your heart

Now so far away but still I listen for faint sounds

Reminding me of your presence once sitting there.

 'Nice & Easy'
                                    Nice & Easy is located at the corner Skoufa and Omirou, tucked away behind
                                    Rosebuds, at the stairs going up to Lycabettou hill


Nice & Easy has as wall paper photos of movie stars like Marlyn Monroe. It is a hush of silence which has spread over the sixties and seventies. Since then heroes of films have become politicians like Ronald Reagan while still it is a challenge for a writer of a novel to see his book be transformed into a film. Umberto Eco was satisfied on how 'In the name of the Rose' turned out but he did not want to be identified all the time with but this novel. After all he had done so many other things.


   Two of the three owners of "nice & easy" - with a touch of Hollywood

Literature told on the screen is as different as an actor on stage in front of a camera, would say Norman Cohen who loved 'Nice & Easy', but also around the corner another place he favors for the music, mainly jazz, they play. That place is called 'Low Profile' and is just around the corner from 'Nice & Easy'.



Over there - in Brussels


Located near Place Louisa and at the beginning of a passage, LaVache is known to serve special sandwiches along with various types of tea or coffee. Inside it is divided into two rooms, the second one where the main entrance is far more elongated and reaches far to the back. It is difficult to make out what the cafe is meant to be exactly. Outside, provided it is not too cold, it is far more preferable to sit and read the newspaper.

However, if one is not careful, then in LaVache many unexpected things can happen and give the place an entirely different meaning. For instance, a man can literally run into a definite 'no' by the woman he professes to love. Those sitting nearby laugh silenty or behind their fists about his vain efforts to plea for mercy from her. She looks simply with disgust at him. What a man is he, a man who will not give up even though he should have realized a long time ago, that all is over. Definitely such a mistaken experience gives LaVache a subtle meaning called in German according to Sigmund Freud, "Die Verneinung" - the negation. 


As the literary saying goes:

No one wishes to hurt anybody’s feelings, says the writer, but then, look over the brim of your glasses, and you see spectacles that make seeing but not believing, hearing but not understanding into a kind of miracle or merry-go round not for children, but adults with the capacity to say ‘no’ to love growing by the hour since stakes are raised with each denial of a small possibility that this might be the wrong choice of words, the lack of curiosity for wishing to know the reason why abating like the wind in the bay to give the heart, soul and mind some respite from the changes occurring since the previous night out of an unexplainable longing for some basic truths as if answers can be given by reading in the tea cup the future for no one to see but to anticipate like us growing older by not the years or months or days but by seconds of missed opportunities to halt this negativity roaming loose out of fear to commit anything in the name of love to some ritual of behavior understood as being faithful not out of an idea born in the arms of the other but by being true to life despite all its turns and delays, whispers and shadows of the past.


                                        the ARCADI Cafe in Brussels


Once was opposite the cafe the main building of Brussels 2000. The cafe can be considered a true meeting place between friends, especially when someone like Bart Verschaffel drops by. This philosopher, once coordinator of literature when Antwerp was Cultural Capital City, is now Head of the Faculty for Architecture and Planning at the University of Gent.

Here then something written down in small Moleskine note book while sipping tea and tasting a good lemon pie at that cafe; it goes something like this (and after having read George Crane's book: 'Bones of the Master'):

Chinese wisdom says: Cup your hands, make warmth into a sound, for it elongates dreams, life is like that, only holy if true and good if loved like rain washes of dust, goes away the pain at dusk, when winter sheds coat and sunshine adds to human warmth all over the world.

HF After Paris Berlin, Athens and Brussels 4.3.2007

^ Top

« Stratis Tsirkas | Photography »