This is Café Chagall: Unconsciously Authentic
The glare of the neon sign, spelling out RESTAURANT in red letters, shines through the thick smoke from its place on the far wall in the back room of Café Chagall. Candles, one to a table, provide the only other light source flickering in the often-packed room and illuminating the faces of students, locals and tourists alike. Moving through the bar towards the front door, floorboards creak and mannequins linger near empty corners. The gleaming sunlight (or streetlight, depending on how long you’ve stayed there drinking) is startling compared to the shadowy interior. Here, on the terrace of the bar, are tables and benches with friendly waiters bringing food and beer from inside, while people enjoy the warm summer evenings in Berlin. This is Café Chagall.
Named after the Russian Modernist painter, Marc Chagall, this cafe on Senefelder Platz in P-Burg is one of the few remnants of the bohemian 90s, when this area was full of artists and students rather than mothers with Kinderwagen and West German architects. Coupled with another Russian-themed bar, The Old CCCP, just around the corner on Tor Strasse, Café Chagall is a both a portal and a memorial to a very different Berlin than the one we know today.
Café Chagall is unconsciously authentic; the beer is cheap, the food is hearty and the staff always ready for a bit of banter. Drinks cost about €3, either for a glass of wine or a half litre of beer, which go down well with Russian borscht or a sandwich (€3.70 for either). Time can be whittled away, hours and hours spent outside, feeling the sounds of the city, before heading into the dense fog and dim light of the smoking room. Not one empty glass is placed on the table before a server comes over offering a new one. Tabs are taken and paid at the end of the night, usually through a haze of alcohol. Yet it’s as easy to stumble out of Chagall at 4 o’clock in the morning as it is to stroll up at 1 o’clock in the afternoon for a cheap and simple lunch. It has something for everybody and this is reflected in the range of customers to be seen here on an average night.
Stepping inside the door of Chagall, it’s easy to sense that this bar has been standing on this corner for 20 years. Taking a look around at the crowded, convivial atmosphere, it’s easy to sense that it will probably be there for another 20 years.
Cafe Chagall, Kollwitzstr. 2
10405 Berlin, Prenzlauer Berg.
By Paul Tobin