Cafés and coffee shops nowadays offer much more than just coffee and are designed to meet our needs: they offer Wi-Fi and snacks, have big comfy couches, … Together with co-working spaces, coffee shops are among the most popular places for working, studying and socializing. With the growing number of entrepreneurs in need of a meeting space, students living in tiny or shared flats with no living rooms or simply people who want to escape from the physical spaces of home and work, coffee shops have become the centers of urban socialization, especially in Vienna.
Coffee culture is definitely not something special to Vienna, but the traditional Viennese coffee houses are different creatures. To make it clearer, Viennese coffee house culture is actually part of the UNESCO World Heritage List. For the Viennese, coffee houses are simply extended living rooms. These coffee houses are a reflection of the laid-backness of the Viennese way of living – you could order one cup of coffee and spend the rest of the day thinking, reading, writing, chatting or having philosophical discussions. Sigmund Freud, Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele were all big fans of them, just to name a few (by the way, have you checked out our Coffee House Readings?).
Given the popularity of Viennese coffee culture, it can be a good idea to explore some new ways in which cafés and coffee shops can be useful to our society. Here are some examples from around the world:
Sheroes’ Hangout is located closely to Taj Mahal, one of the world’s top architectural wonders. Opened in December 2014 in Agra, Sheroes’ Hangout started as a crowdfunding project by Stop Acid Attacks, a group committed to ending acts of violence against women. The café is run by acid attack survivors. Acid attacks are a reality in India and the government started keeping a record of them just recently. More than 1,000 attacks are recorded each year, though the majority of attacks goes unreported due to the shame that the girl and their families feel and due to fears of the attack happening again. 70% of victims are women and 50% of attackers are spurned lovers. Victims also suffer from societal rejection due to their disfigured faces. Stop Acid Attacks’ aim is to provide the victims with an avenue for earning a livelihood and give them the emotional support to move on with their lives. It’s also a chance for the victims to get their stories out. The customers can be sure that the money will be used for a good cause.
The Bitty & Beau’s Coffee
Even if we are moving towards a more inclusive society, the majority of people who have intellectual and developmental disabilities are still suffering from discrimination or unemployment. Amy Wright decided to take the matter into her own hands. She is a mother of four kids, and the two youngest ones have Down Syndrome. She opened a coffee shop in North Carolina and employed servers with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Her goals are to create a safe place for people to meet, to celebrate diversity and to raise awareness that we are quite alike regardless of disabilities.
After realizing an ongoing miscommunication pattern throughout society, Ayse Damla Iseri, a social entrepreneur from Istanbul, Turkey, dedicated herself to making people rethink the ways they communicate with the traditionally defined “other” and their prejudices. Accordingly, she started working with deaf people. For the inclusion of deaf people in society, there needs to be much more than just an official sign language, so she opened Demgoodcoffee, a coffee shop where the servers are deaf and the customers have to learn sign language to make an order.
Connecting Over Coffee
Coffee indeed brings people together. I can think of many other ways that this power can be used for good. Acid attacks survivors, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and deaf people all have something in common: a noticeable difference. We have invisible differences as well. What about a coffee shop run by people who suffered from depression, by rape victims or by former drug addicts? Is there a chance to make them more visible and embrace them in their visibility? Would it help remove the stigma around those issues?
If you are curious about which cafés in Austria work towards a more inclusive society, you can find a list of them here.