Dead Good Coffee: Cemetery Cafés Gain Popularity

Graveyards may not seem the ideal location for tea, but they offer tranquility.

ByABC News
November 30, 2013, 11:54 AM
Tombstones stand in Berlin's Jewish cemetery in Weissensee.
Tombstones stand in Berlin's Jewish cemetery in Weissensee.

Nov. 30, 2013— -- Graveyards may not seem the ideal location for afternoon tea, but there is a trend towards opening cafes inside cemetery walls in Berlin and other cities. They offer comfort not just for the bereaved but for local people and tourists who seek tranquility.

"But no dead people were laid out here, right?" The two elderly ladies standing at the cake counter wanted to know exactly what happened here. "Oh yes, corpses were laid out right here," replied the waitress, Johanna Helmberger, suppressing a smile.

Many visitors to Café Strauss in the the Kreuzberg district of Berlin ask her that. It doesn't lessen the ladies' enthusiasm. "It's great! We'll come again," said one while paying.

Helmberger, 29, has a full house. Groups of pensioners, a middle-aged couple, two women with babies and a young man with a laptop. It's a cold, rainy November day and the café, located inside the walls of a cemetery in the Kreuzberg district of Berlin, offers a view of wet headstones and family tombs. It doesn't sound cheerful. But the guests are chatting away contentedly.

Cemetery cafés are becoming increasingly popular, not just for people seeking solace and the comfort of coffee and cake after visiting a relative's grave. Tourists visit them too, as well as people out for a walk. There are modern ones like Café Strauss, and ones that host music performances and art exhibitions, like Café Fritz in Hamburg or the Atrium Café in Bristol in western England.

And near Vienna's famous Zentralfriedhof cemetery, the Schloss Concordia café serves Schnitzels in an ambience every bit as solemn as its immediate surroundings.

Connecting the Living and the Dead

The Strauss has the austerity of a morgue combined with the austere elegance of a church, with white walls, square pillars and high arched windows. The managers, Olga and Martin Strauss, opened their café on the Friedrichwerderscher Friedhof cemetery in May. They carefully restored the room and gave it dark wooden chairs and brass coffee jugs. It has the same menu as any ordinary café, with tea and coffee specialities, an assortment of cakes and sandwiches. The only difference is its proximity to a lot of dead people.

"There were some people -- very few -- who were concerned their relatives wouldn't be able to rest in peace," said Martin Strauss. But the café has proved to be so popular that some visitors are already asking for grave lots that can be seen from its terrace.

The café "creates a wonderful connection between the world of the living and the dead. It helps," one guest wrote in the visitor's book. The clientele includes the cemetery gardner, workmen who maintain headstones and the local priest.

"One always thinks of those who've died," says Bernd Bossman, a 53-year-old actor who set up the first cemetery café in Berlin, the Finovo, in 2006. "But one should also spare a thought for those who look after the cemetery and visit it." Visitors need to eat and drink, visit the bathroom but above all, they need to communicate, he said.

Jumble of Different Styles

The tables in Bossman's café on the St Matthäus cemetery in the Berlin district of Schöneberg are laid with hand-embroidered tablecloths, knickknacks crowd the window sills and the furniture is a jumble of different styles.