Women's Cafe

A short article on the difficulties faced by Women's Cafe, a squatted social centre in Berlin in the early 1980s.

Originally published in Frauenbewegung und Hauserkampf — unvorsohnlich? (Women's Movement and Squatting Movement -irreconcilable?)

Submitted by Fozzie on April 11, 2021

The expected flood of visitors to our café didn't materialise.

Instead, we became very aware of the kind of the difficulties the women-only pubs which have closed down have had. Women came but they often sat the whole day over one cup of coffee—at one mark a cup. We often had plenty of fun with our visitors, and especially time to chat with them, but we also had a lot to do, like washing up, keeping the place clean and so on. And after a shift we were often exhausted. And then on top of that, at the end of the evening there was very often only a profit of five marks.

Our prices are very low, which is the way it should be for an alternative project in a squatted house. Yet despite this, it did happen that some women complained abort our prices, brought their own cakes and even wanted an extra cup of coffee for free because our cups are different sizes. Not that we made a loss, but the place is no gold mine. And eventually the time for paying electricity bills and buying in coal for the winter arrived, and the whole place had to be, and still is being, renovated. The income we get has never covered the cost of the renovation, not to mention allowing us to fulfil such extravagant desires as getting a cream mixer or a decent stereo system. We financed the renovation mainly through benefits, membership fees and donations.

We thought we were going to have more time to be creative in the café, to get involved in the groups ourselves, to realise our own ideas, to have exhibitions and to do publicity work. But running the cafe took up too much of our time and energy. The worst thing about it was that the work always tended to develop into a routine. In the beginning it was new and interesting, but gradually it became more routine-like. There is no doubt about it: idealism disappears as the alternative way of working becomes monotonous.

But on the other hand, what we offer has been met with a lot of interest. Women who never had anything to do with the women's movement came to us. All kinds of women came - older women, single women, housewives with children, schoolgirls, foreign women who were looking for information, and women who were looking for a group to get involved in. Without question, our work is important. A further problem arises from the make-up of our group. The necessity for the work to be done in shifts led to it being made up entirely of students. Many working women couldn't afford the amount of time the shifts entailed, and in the end, left the group. Just like in nearly all projects in the left and alternative scene, it was the students, who have a flexible time plan and want fulfilling and 'politically correct' work, who kept the cafe going. In the long run we must find other forms of finance and working. It is doubtful whether we can continue in our present form.

Many of us have to work as well as study — so we are faced with three demands on our time; studying, earning money and working in the cafe. A lot of us, during the holidays in particular, have to do casual work, and it then becomes difficult to share the shifts out among the few women who are left. However, we have managed to keep the place open since it started, except for one-week breaks in summer and in winter, though the present political and economic situation (cuts in grants, less casual work and badly paid at that) can be felt clearly in the amount of time and energy we are putting into the place.

But we are looking for ways out of this vicious circle of alternative self-exploitation.