Berliners take their coffee and cake in one of the city’s most restful spaces: a cemetery.
While some might find the concept of dining just steps away from buried corpses to be unsettling for Berliners in the Kreuzberg neighborhood of Bergmannkiez, it’s the most natural thing in the world. After all, Friedhof, the German word for “cemetery,” translates roughly to a “peaceful place,” and it’s hard to picture a more peaceful place than the shady, serene grounds of Friedrichswerderscher Friedhof. Ever since 2013, when architect Martin Strauss and his wife Olga set up shop in the historic archways of a chapel, Café Strauss has been serving Kaffee und Kuchen (coffee and cake) with a side of contemplation.
Strauss first came up with the idea for the café while restoring tombs in the cemetery. With a history dating back to 1844, Friedrichswerderscher Friedhof boasts the gravestones of a number of German luminaries, including Karl Wilhelm Wach, a painter favored by the royal Prussian court. When Strauss learned that the dilapidated space in the chapel, which had previously held a funeral parlor, was up for sale, he spent a year restoring it and adding contemporary furnishings.
Today, Café Strauss is very much a place for the living. The sun-drenched patio is a coveted spot for elderly locals, who come to read the paper with a slice of Käsekuchen (quark-based cheesecake). Still, death is never out of sight or mind here. Guests tend to speak in hushed tones or not at all out of respect for the departed. Not long after the café opened, Strauss says, locals began clamoring to reserve nearby plots so that relatives could have a comfortable place to visit their final resting place.
Café Strauss may be Berlin’s best-known cemetery café, but it’s not the only one. Bossman’s Café is near the entrance of Alter St. Matthäus-Kirchhof in Schöneberg, where the Brothers Grimm are buried, and there has been talk for years of opening a similar establishment in Dorotheenstädtischer Friedhof in Mitte, arguably the city’s most famous cemetery and the resting place of Bertolt Brecht. Such spaces provide a source of revenue for maintaining crumbling historic buildings, as well as a place for friends and relatives to gather after funerals. Given that Café Strauss sits across the street from one of Berlin’s oldest tombstone masonries and a short walk from a florist, it’s something of a one-stop shop for the afterlife.
Know Before You Go
Seats fill up quickly, so go when it opens in the morning to snag a prime people-watching spot. While the space has been known to host birthday parties and other celebrations, locals are careful to dress and act respectfully for the setting.
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