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German Word of the Week: Trinkhalle

Tinrkhalle Behrensstrasse Exterior

This is an archetypal German Trinkhalle, found on the Behrenstraße in Duesseldorf. Note the red-white color scheme. These are the colors of Fortuna 95 Duesseldorf, the local soccer club. The Behrenstraße is a vortex of Fortuna fandom, with red-and-white banners hanging from many balconies. The former owner of this Trinkhalle seems to have accepted advertising only from sponsors whose logos share the Fortuna color scheme. Now that's dedication.

The word Trinkhalle comes from the root of the verb trinken (drink), plus Halle. I've never really understood this pairing, because a Halle generally refers either to a large, ceremonial hall, as in Festhalle (banqueting-hall), or to a cavernous storage space, such as a Lagerhalle (warehouse building).

A Trinkhalle, though, is anything but cavernous. They range from the ludicrously tiny to stately specimens like such as the one above. What distinguishes a Trinkhalle from a Stehcafe (standing-cafe) is generally the plexiglas service-window of the traditional Trinkhalle. And they're just plexiglas. Germany has essentially no random hand gun crime, so there's no need to make store windows bulletproof, even in the diciest areas.

You walk up, get the attention of the guy inside, and order your beer, cola, cigarettes, magazines, or candy. If you're well-off, you order pre-rolled cigarettes and quality German or Czech beers. If you're not, you buy off-brand Oettinger beer and a cardboard cylinder of barely-smokable shag and roll your own. If you're lonely, you stand there chatting with the owner as you consume them and watch street life roll by. Trinkhallen are often run by immigrants from non-Christian (or at least non-Western-Christian) countries, so they'll be open on Sunday and other religious days. Very useful!

Trinkhallen, at their best, are genuine neighborhood institutions and generate the all-important eyes on the street that keep German cities vital and safe. They're also probably kind of inefficient. Which means some group of soulless plutocrats capital investors, somewhere, is plotting to replace them with anonymous chain outlets or trendy boutiques. Will we let them win?