I was sitting inside the child friendly Ginger and White in London when I read that Ralf Rüller had banned prams in his coffee shop. “Big deal!” I thought and soon tweeted – it’s not like prams fit in the teeny tiny Augustrasse shop. Only much later, while I sat with a group of bristling mothers, did I understand that there was a new bigger shop, The Roastery and that it also did not allow prams. Nor did they let you use their toilet, allow dogs, provide sugar, use soya milk and if you wanted to use your computer – you had to wait in line for the one table where it was allowed.
“Do you know that they deleted all the negative comments off their Facebook page?” one said “I mean if you are going to do social media, then you have to do social media!”
Even more confounding was the chosen location; the Mitte end of Schönhauser Allee – the other end of which is Prenzlauerberg. Prenzlauerberg. As in the bastion of designer babies and prams. The styling of the babies and The Barn is nearly identical with a preference for wood (Prenzlauerberg babies don’t play with plastic), clothing in muted hues, even for the girls (especially for the girls) and no sugar allowed (The Barn because it thinks that sugar would ruin a perfectly balanced coffee and the parents because they are trying to channel Gwenyth Paltrow). Not allowing prams in that part of town is like banning gambling in Las Vegas: absurd.
I set out for a weekend coffee in my SUV (3 kids people, need a big car) with Layla in the back so as to avoid the “what to do with the pram” conundrum.
There housed in a now defunct pharmacy was an extremely large coffee shop. I could have easily driven the Lexus up to the counter and placed my order without making a significant dent in the enormous space. Clearly the pram ban is not a space issue.
The set up is meticulous. The milking stools are lined up straight, with their legs crossed in a way that makes me think of how women used to be taught to cross their ankles demurely in finishing schools. There is a young man exerting tremendous concentration over each cup of coffee. He seems to be weighing every loaded portafiler then scooping out minute quantities of ground beans. I have a lot of time to observe all of this because perfection takes a while.
At some point, a customer returning his empty cup drops a balled up paper napkin onto the floor, Rüller, who is operating the roaster, hones in on it immediately. He can’t leave the roaster (I know this because he’s already warned me in an overly weary tone that I must mind my child and that should she trespass into the space he will not be responsible because his first priority is the beans) but I can feel his irritation.
It lays there for maybe 5 minutes, all the while Rüller is shooting it harried glances. Until finally he catches the eye of one of his cowgirls, holds it, then casts his eyes down to the ground. She bends and covertly scoops it up.
Before this visit, I assumed The Barn had gone diva, it was a doing an I-want-only-blue-M&M’s-in-my-dressing-room routine. I found that sad because I like The Barn, they make good coffee. But having seen it today I can see why prams would not be welcome. Because you can easily fit 200 in there, it’s so large that it would become a destination. Mommies would flock there, park their special edition matt black Cameleons, the same colour like the super slick coffee machine. Their kids would disembark and begin the business of trouble until a mommy would be tapped on the shoulder.
“Oh no.” she would smile “Did little Johnny set something on fire?”
“No, it’s just that…”
“Is he on fire?” she would ask more concerned.
“Then why, pray tell, are you interrupting my 5 minutes of peace with my cup of coffee!!!” (I feel for this woman, who am I kidding, I am this woman.)
I can see how it could all spiral in the wrong direction. And how someone like Rüller, whose attention to the beans makes me think of Ferran Adria contemplating a potato skin in Cooking in Progress, would want to maintain a refined shop for connoisseurs.
(It occurs to me that if this happened in France, no one would bat an eye lid at petite Johnny being denied entry. I remember checking into a hotel in Alsace, the Hostellerie des Chateaux, with Layla who was 8 months old and finding there was no room service. Going down to the dining room at 6:30 pm where we were met with disbelief at the notion that we would want to bring our child to dinner instead of skulk off to a petrol station somewhere and eat pretzels in the car. After much consultation, an overflow room was opened for us and we ate with only shrouded chairs for company.)
To be fair, children are not forbidden, it’s just their mode of transportation- perhaps as a means of suggesting that raucous behaviour is not encouraged. And while I am there, there is an elegant little girl who needs to use the facilities, maybe it’s because she is dressed from head to toe in Petite Bateau but without so much as a scowl, she is escorted to the bathroom.
Still, it’s not for everyone. When I ask my husband whether he wants a take away he groans and says he’ll pass but if I drive by a Starbucks he’ll have a grande venti hazelnut latte with cream and confetti sprinkles.
The Barn – Roastery
Schönhauser Allee 8