Borsodi's was more like a theatre than a coffee shop. There was a stage, for readings and performances. Doves wandered the joint (yes, DOVES), and in different corners of the space, there were tables and chairs with their own little library section. At any given moment, Bob would make coffee while someone read poetry on stage, people seated below them played chess, and someone in a corner "library," which you walked up a small spiral staircase to get to, would read from their chosen book in a corner nook. You know — while doves flew around!
I was an impressionable 18 or 19-something from Fort Worth, Texas, and this place blew my mind. (At that point, I’d traveled abroad and considered myself “well-traveled,” but I had never seen anything like this before.)
Borsodi’s was bohemia — that oft-used but oft-misused term — at its best.
Bob Borsodi, who had been trained in the theatre, owned the place and made the cappuccinos that took could take 30 minutes to make (each!), because he was busy talking to people, futzing around, and just being Bob. I remember thinking, "Doesn't this guy want to make money? How is this a business?"
Although that fabled place is closed (poor Bob came to a bad end a few years back, but was beloved until that end), Borsodi's stayed with me as the ideal of a commercial space: one that is more a meeting place, a place for cultural and social exchange, with commerce as the excuse. Meeting new people and encountering new ideas is a theatrical experience, and commercial spaces can be those staging grounds.
On Saturday, July 12, 8 pm, I’ll be reading at a bookshop in Berlin called Another Country. Its owner, Sophie Raphaeline, said that early on it became clear that Another Country “isn’t a business, this is something else.” Or rather, it is a business that is not only about the bottom line. First off, it has an interesting selling proposition: According to the website, it's "mostly used as a library." With around 20,000 books to choose from, you can buy or borrow. "You simply pay the price of a book, which you get back, minus a 1,50 Euro charge, should you choose to return it." How cool is that?
Another Country also hosts cultural events, readings, movie nights, and on Fridays Sophie cooks feasts and hosts dinners there.
I have a feeling I will refind my mythical Borsodi's in Berlin. It makes me so happy that in this particularly rapacious version of capitalism we’re embedded in, that there are other models for making money, ones that retain a humanism in their hearts.
If you’re in Berlin Saturday, July 12th, please stop by! Here’s Sophie talking about Another Country:
And here's a more recent vid made by regular denizens of Another Country: