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Schwarzes Café: “We might not recover.”

One of Berlin’s oldest – and coolest – cafes is in trouble. Its team is asking for help to raise over €400,000 to stay in business, so we catch up with one of the co-owners to find out how they’re going.

Image for Schwarzes Café: “We might not recover.”

“It’s still impossible to tell if we are going to recover,” says Schwarzes Café co-owner Inge Trimbur. Photo: Supplied

One of Berlin’s favouries cafes is in crisis. Open since 1978, the 24-hour Schwarzes Café on Kantstraße is the night-life hub in Charlottenburg. But, like many similar businesses, the pandemic has affected it severely. They are now calling for help with a crowdfunding campaign on Startnext, aiming to raise over €400,000 to stay in business.

We talked asked owner Inge Trimbur about the current situation.

When did the crisis truly arrive for you?

It was first very noticeable starting from March 5. We could only open from 6am to 6pm, already awful for a 24-hour café. And then, ten days later on the 15th, complete shutdown. We were shut for two months, and it’s still impossible to tell if we are going to recover.

How did this affect the café financially?

For the first two weeks of March we could only open for half of our usual hours. Then two months of nothing, only negative figures. Now that we have reopened there’s a little bit of relaxation. We are lucky enough to be able to have extra tables outside, so we can host more people even with social distancing and hygiene rules. This is only for the rest of summer, though. As soon as it gets cold, we will only operate inside and then at 50-percent capacity. Winter is usually the time we make the most profit. That won’t be the case this winter, and will put another huge strain on the café.

Image for Schwarzes Café: “We might not recover.”

Schwarzes Café aims to raise over €400,000 to help stay in business. Photo: Supplied

Did you receive any state aid?

No, nothing. As a business with more than ten but less than 250 employees, we didn’t qualify for anything. But we’re applying to a new state program which could help cover our operating costs. While that would certainly help us out, our operating costs are the smaller hurdle.

What are your aims for the Startnext crowdfunding campaign?

We are aware that our goal of €410,000 is almost ridiculously high, but we calculated it while knowing that we might not return to normal for another one to one-and-a-half years. It is also not a goal we are likely to meet, so it’s more about signifying that right now we need all the help we can get and that every penny counts. We need the money to stay open and ensure our existence.

How many people work at Schwarzes Café?

Around 50 to 60 people. We didn’t let anyone go. Some people decided they had to leave because they couldn’t afford to be on kurzarbeit. We’ll support others, like the students who don‘t get any Kurzarbeitergeld, with the Startnext money.

Have the hygiene regulations impacted the Café’s atmosphere?

Luckily not. We have incredible staff. The same people who make the café what it is, regardless of Corona, are still there. However, enforcing the mask requirement is a different story. Some of the guests are incredibly unreasonable and it’s very exhaustive for our staff to fight against such ignorance.

What is your outlook for the future?

It’s hard to say. We never thought something like this could happen, and when it did we underestimated how hard it would hit us. It has been a rollercoaster, going from hope to depression and back. Right now, we’re taking it week-by-week and month-by-month. We are trying to stay positive and are thankful that we can open at all. Anything further in the future is so uncertain and we just have to make sure we are prepared, financially and mentally, for anything that may come our way. Our main focus right now is to do everything so Schwarzes Café can remain open.