Only In Berlin


Written by Siobhan Morrin
29 Monday 29th November 2010
Hidden away in the Prenzlauer Berg district of Berlin, otherwise known for its trendified bars and high proportion of young families amongst its residents, is a bar known as Weinerei. The mismatched furniture and subtle, unassuming lighting makes it look like someone’s lounge, if that someone had invited a few friends round just to relax.
While Weinerei shares a ‘furnished from a flea market’ style common to many bars in the area, it has a more relaxed atmosphere. Settees, chairs and the odd table are haphazardly arranged, and a range of pictures, maps and hangers adorn the walls and ceilings. If the styling is ‘very Berlin’ then the concept on which they run is surely more so.
The idea at Weinerei is that you help yourself from a ‘bar’ containing about ten bottles of wine, red, white and rose, and maybe get a little plate of food. Then, when you leave, you pay what you think the night was worth. It’s a novel idea, but in Berlin it’s working, and has been since 1996.
Why doesn’t this exist in the UK? It’s clear that Brits love the concept – the Weinerei is often frequented by tourists in the know and is an inevitable hangout for students staying in Berlin. The thing is, so many people do see it just as a cheap (or free) night out, or pre drinks before the main event. A conversation overheard on a recent visit revealed all: ‘So you pay what you want?’ ‘Yeah…’ ‘How do you leave without paying?’
The key lies in the subtle difference in semantics: pay what you think this is worth…or pay what you want?
In the UK there is often the tendency to undervalue the places we have. Hence, perhaps, how Starbucks et al have managed to make themselves so ubiquitous. If Weinerei came to London, how long would it be before it closed down, or was forced to hire a security guard? That too is symptomatic of the culture of suspicion so prevalent in the UK. At the Weinerei, if you try to take the piss or leave without paying the bartender will certainly tell you, and conscience will make you feel bad enough to cough up. The fact that there is no security is essential to the charm of the place, and suggests that underpayment isn’t the problem it could be.
Although it may seem crazy while in the midst of a recession, Weinerei works because people want it to. The chilled out atmosphere and casual drinks policy means people want to go back so they pay up. Who knew alcohol and the nicer side of human nature could mix so well?

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  • Guest: cjandpk
    Tue 30 - Nov - 2010, 17:24
    There was a restaurant in North London called Just Around the Corner, run by Peter Ilich, at which you paid whatever you thought the meal was worth. A lot of people went thinking they would pay 5p or something - but the waitress would come to your table at the end of the meal, and patiently take you through every individual item you ate, eg "The bread- how much do you think that was worth? The potatoes - what would you say they were worth?" Before you knew it, you had paid a reasonable sum.