Chapter VIII

THE INTRODUCTION OF COFFEE INTO GERMANY

The contributions made by German travelers and writers to the literature of the early history of coffee—The first coffee house in Hamburg opened by an English merchant—Famous coffee houses of old Berlin—The first coffee periodical, and the first kaffee-klatsch—Frederick the Great’s coffee-roasting monopoly—Coffee persecutions—”Coffee-smellers”—The first coffee king

AS we have already seen, Leonhard Rauwolf, in 1573, made his memorable trip to Aleppo and, in 1582, won for Germany the honor of being the first European country to make printed mention of the coffee drink.

Adam Olearius (or Oelschlager), a German Orientalist (1599–1671), traveled in Persia as secretary to a German embassy in 1633–36. Upon his return he published an account of his journeys. In it, under date of 1637, he says of the Persians:

They drink with their tobacco a certain black water, which they call cahwa, made of a fruit brought out of Egypt, and which is in colour like ordinary wheat, and in taste like Turkish wheat, and is of the bigness of a little bean…. The Persians think it allays the natural heat.

In 1637, Joh. Albrecht von Mandelsloh, in his Oriental Trip, mentions “the black water of the Persians called Kahwe“, saying “it must be drunk hot.”

Coffee drinking was introduced into Germany about 1670. The drink appeared at the court of the great elector of Brandenburg in 1675. Northern Germany got its first taste of the beverage from London, an English merchant opening the first coffee house in Hamburg in 1679–80. Regensburg followed in 1689; Leipsic, in 1694; Nuremberg, in 1696; Stuttgart, in 1712; Augsburg, in 1713; and Berlin, in 1721. In that year (1721) King Frederick William I granted a foreigner the privilege of conducting a coffee house in Berlin free of all rental charges. It was known as the English coffee house, as was also the first coffee house in Hamburg. And for many years, English merchants supplied the coffees consumed in northern Germany; while Italy supplied southern Germany.

Other well known coffee houses of old Berlin were, the Royal, in Behren Strasse; that of the Widow Doebbert, in the Stechbahn; the City of Rome, in Unter-den-Linden; Arnoldi, in Kronen Strasse; Miercke, in Tauben Strasse, and Schmidt, in Post Strasse.

Later, Philipp Falck opened a Jewish coffee house in Spandauer Strasse. In the time of Frederick the Great (1712–1786) there were at least a dozen coffee houses in the metropolitan district of Berlin. In the suburbs were many tents where coffee was served.

The first coffee periodical, The New and Curious Coffee House, was issued in Leipsic in 1707 by Theophilo Georgi. The full title was The New and Curious Coffee House, formerly in Italy but now opened in Germany. First water debauchery. “City of the Well.” Brunnenstadt by Lorentz Schoepffwasser [draw-water] 1707. The second issue gave the name of Georgi as the real publisher. It was intended to be in the nature of an organ for the first real German kaffee-klatsch. It was a chronicle of the comings and goings of the savants[Pg 46] who frequented the “Tusculum” of a well-to-do gentleman in the outskirts of the city. At the beginning the master of the house declared:

I know that the gentlemen here speak French, Italian and other languages. I know also that in many coffee and tea meetings it is considered requisite that French be spoken. May I ask, however, that he who calls upon me should use no other language but German. We are all Germans, we are in Germany; shall we not conduct ourselves like true Germans?

In 1721 Leonhard Ferdinand Meisner published at Nuremberg the first comprehensive German treatise on coffee, tea, and chocolate.

During the second half of the eighteenth century coffee entered the homes, and began to supplant flour-soup and warm beer at breakfast tables.

Meanwhile coffee met with some opposition in Prussia and Hanover. Frederick the Great became annoyed when he saw how much money was paid to foreign coffee merchants for supplies of the green bean, and tried to restrict its use by making coffee a drink of the “quality”. Soon all the German courts had their own coffee roasters, coffee pots, and coffee cups.

Many beautiful specimens of the finest porcelain cups and saucers made in Meissen, and used at court fêtes of this period, survive in the collections at the Potsdam and Berlin museums. The wealthy classes followed suit; but when the poor grumbled because they could not afford the luxury, and demanded their coffee, they were told in effect: “You had better leave it alone. Anyhow, it’s bad for you because it causes sterility.” Many doctors lent themselves to a campaign against coffee, one of their favorite arguments being that women using the beverage must forego child-bearing. Bach’s Coffee Cantata[64] (1732) was a notable protest in music against such libels.

On September 13, 1777, Frederick issued a coffee and beer manifesto, a curious document, which recited:

It is disgusting to notice the increase in the quantity of coffee used by my subjects, and the amount of money that goes out of the country in consequence. Everybody is using coffee. If possible, this must be prevented. My people must drink beer. His Majesty was brought up on beer, and so were his ancestors, and his officers. Many battles have been fought and won by soldiers nourished on beer; and the King does not believe that coffee-drinking soldiers can be depended upon to endure hardship or to beat his enemies in case of the occurrence of another war.

Richter's Coffee House in Leipsic—Seventeenth CenturyRichter’s Coffee House in Leipsic—Seventeenth Century

For a time beer was restored to its honored place; and coffee continued to be a luxury afforded only by the rich. Soon a revulsion of feeling set in; and it was found that even Prussian military rule could not enforce coffee prohibition. Whereupon, in 1781, finding that all his efforts to reserve the beverage for the exclusive court circles, the nobility, and the officers of his army, were vain, the king created a royal monopoly in coffee, and forbade its roasting except in royal roasting establishments. At the same time, he made exceptions in the cases of the nobility, the clergy, and government officials; but rejected all applications for coffee-roasting licenses from the common people. His object, plainly, was to confine the use of the drink to the elect. To these representatives of the cream of Prussian society, the king issued special licenses permitting them to do their own roasting. Of course, they purchased their supplies from the government; and as the price was enormously increased, the sales yielded Frederick a handsome income. Incidentally, the possession of a coffee-roasting license became a kind of badge of membership in the upper class. The poorer classes were forced to get their coffee by stealth; and, failing this, they fell back upon numerous barley, wheat, corn, chicory, and dried-fig substitutes, that soon appeared in great numbers.

This singular coffee ordinance was known as the “Déclaration du Roi concernant la vente du café brûlé“, and was published January 21, 1781.

[Pg 47]

Coffee House in Germany—Middle of the Seventeenth CenturyCoffee House in Germany—Middle of the Seventeenth Century

After placing the coffee regie (revenue) in the hands of a Frenchman, Count de Lannay, so many deputies were required to make collections that the administration of the law became a veritable persecution. Discharged wounded soldiers were mostly employed, and their principal duty was to spy upon the people day and night, following the smell of roasting coffee whenever detected, in order to seek out those who might be found without roasting permits. The spies were given one-fourth of the fine collected. These deputies made themselves so great a nuisance, and became so cordially disliked, that they were called “coffee-smellers” by the indignant people.

Taking a leaf out of Frederick’s book, the elector of Cologne, Maximilian Frederick, bishop of Münster, (Duchy of Westphalia) on February 17, 1784, issued a manifesto which said:

To our great displeasure we have learned that in our Duchy of Westphalia the misuse of the coffee beverage has become so extended that to counteract the evil we command that four weeks after the publication of this decree no one shall sell coffee roasted or not roasted under a fine of one hundred dollars, or two years in prison, for each offense.

Every coffee-roasting and coffee-serving place shall be closed, and dealers and hotel-keepers are to get rid of their coffee supplies in four weeks. It is only permitted to obtain from the outside coffee for one’s own consumption in lots of fifty pounds. House fathers and mothers shall not allow their work people, especially their washing and ironing women, to prepare coffee, or to allow it in any manner under a penalty of one hundred dollars.

All officials and government employees, to avoid a penalty of one hundred gold florins, are called upon closely to follow and to keep a watchful eye over this decree. To the one who reports such persons as act contrary to this decree shall be granted one-half of the said money fine with absolute silence as to his name.

This decree was solemnly read in the pulpits, and was published besides in the usual places and ways. There immediately followed a course of “telling-ons”, and of “coffee-smellings”, that led to many bitter enmities and caused much unhappiness in the Duchy of Westphalia. Apparently the purpose of the archduke was to prevent persons of small means from enjoying the drink, while those who could afford to purchase fifty pounds at a time were to be permitted the indulgence. As was to be expected, the scheme was a complete failure.

While the king of Prussia exploited his subjects by using the state coffee monopoly as a means of extortion, the duke of Württemberg had a scheme of his own. He sold to Joseph Suess-Oppenheimer, an unscrupulous financier, the exclusive privilege of keeping coffee houses in Württemberg. Suess-Oppenheimer in turn sold the individual coffee-house licenses to the highest bidders, and accumulated a considerable fortune. He was the first “coffee king.”

But coffee outlived all these unjust slanders and cruel taxations of too paternal governments, and gradually took its rightful place as one of the favorite beverages of the German people.

 

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