GernGeschehen: The cafe where the world meets in Hamburg

Just two steps down the level of the street, a small white door allows the entrance of customers to GernGeschehen, a lively cafe where internationals and Germans alike share drinks, organise language meet ups and cultural movie nights. Once in, a warm “Hallo” emerges from the nearest table to the doorway and welcomes the newcomer to join the group. While the people who just meet exchange greetings in German, a few tables forward a conversation in Spanish happens. More than 12 000 kilometres separate Mar del Plata in Argentina from Germany; however, Simonetta Grigera brought the memories of her childhood to Hamburg.

By Rocío Valderrábano Cabrera & He Zhang

Simonetta Grigera stands up unfolding a Chilean flag. “See what I got for Saturday night”, she says with a South American accent. From above the sitting crowd, a voice interrupts the chat in English; “An Argentinian waving a Chilean flag, how come?” Argentina and Chile, two neighbor South American countries, have had historical border disputes and, culturally speaking, have been rivals in activities like soccer or gastronomy. But far from there, in this hidden place located in the Winterhude neighborhood, those differences seem to dissolve. The familiarity with which she talks to the people reveals how she has developed a close relationship with the visitors, creating a community that feels to be at home.

Language could never be a barrier at home

Roberto, originally from Italy, is a witness of this closeness. He arrived first as a guest, but with time, Simonetta invited him to lead some of the events at the café. Language meetups are just an example. The fact that he is fluent in Italian, English, German and Spanish, allows him to get along with the new people that arrive at the place. “You don’t think where does somebody come from, that’s only the start of the conversation,” he says. The openness of the groups to communicate, despite the spontaneous switch in languages, motivates him to spend a great part of his free time here.

“Home is where you feel free to express yourself as you want to be trusted, and this is a place where you can be trusted.”

Roberto, originally from Italy. 8 years in Hamburg.

The variety of books against the walls mirror the languages spoken at the café. In the picture is a Chinese paper-folding tutorial book.
©HE ZHANG

Language is the element that brings together the community at the café. Yet, visitors have found other commonalities that make them come again. For instance, on Thursdays board gaming enthusiasts reunite, and every Saturday a country is celebrated through its traditional dishes.

When the café is reminiscent of an old Heimat

Three porcelain dolls pose in front of a handmade fan. With oriental features, the figurines look like identical triplets that distinguish themselves by the colors they wear. When Sasha, one of the recent foreign visitors of the café, looks at them, he recalls on the experiences he and his family had when they moved abroad from England, although he knows the pieces are not originally from China. “It reminds me of when I went to Hong Kong as a kid and I really want to go back because it’s an epic place. It’s just totally different from anywhere else,” Sasha points out.

Three Vietnamese dolls are part of the cafe’s decoration.
©HE ZHANG

Like these oriental dolls, other objects displayed on the shelves create a particular decoration that originally was not planned for the café. The items belong to a collection Simonetta had at her previous house before moving out. The majority are memories of her travels abroad and gifts from friends. “It’s literally my living room, all my stuff is here,” she admits. Today, the number of figurines continues increasing, even customers have given souvenirs to Simonetta.

The local perspective: Zuhause versus Heimat

When hanging around GernGeschehen, the majority of visitors are foreigners; however, some Germans end up in the café from time to time. One of them is Pia, a teacher who found out a community that embraces her despite being a local, complementing the social circle she has developed in Hamburg. “You don’t feel like the one extra person, you are one of many,” she says. While discussing the meaning of Heimat, Pia believes the concept can be divided in two; the alter(old) Heimat; which is the place of origin of a person, and the neues(new) Heimat, the current location someone lives in. Yet, the last definition converges with the concept of zu house, or as she explains, the place where she feels at home now. The café is an addition to this feeling because it plays a role when meditating the reasons why she hasn’t moved away. “It’s in a way like a second home, and a second family. It doesn‘t feel foreign never, even when new people come, they don’t feel like strangers. It is like: Oh hello new family member, come on and let’s talk!” Pia adds. 

“Feeling at home is more important than having a Heimat.”

Pia, originally from Berlin, 3 years in Hamburg

Bringing tastes from home

Just at the end of the building, in a small room located to the left, the kitchen of the café is found. Here, Simonetta shares the duty of preparing the dishes served with Julian, her boyfriend. He recognizes he spends most of his time here than at home. The kitchen has been both scary, but also fun, as it has given him rewarding experiences when cooking traditional food for foreign customers. “I have people who have said: Oh! that’s how my grandma did it!” he mentions. Just as Simonetta imported to the café the memories of her childhood in the sweetness of the drink Submarino, he brought the homemade taste by borrowing ideas from his mother’s recipe book.

“The biggest thing I have learned is to really break through this “German-ish” in myself and to see things from another perspective.”

Julian, originally from Southern Germany, 5 years in Hamburg

Julian and Simonetta at the figurines’ shelve.
©ROCÍO VALDERRÁBANO

The relationship that guests and managers develop with the café demonstrates the meaning the place has for them. Whoever enters here finds something that makes them stay. At the end of the day, Simonetta agrees with what Julian says, “We definitely wouldn’t be where we are without these people.


Do you want to know more about the activities at GernGeschehen? Look at the events they host on their Facebook page. Or stop by for a drink at GernGeschehen, Dorotheenstr. 37 22301, Hamburg.