[W]hen a German graphic designer friend told me that many of these squats offer food, film nights and gigs to paying guests, I was intrigued. Sarah explained: “I used to pop in for VoKü at a squat near my office in Kreuzberg. Unfortunately, it has now been closed down, but it did the best lunches. Everybody was friendly and the food was delicious and cheap.” VoKü is when squats open their doors to the community and offer food at affordable prices; it is short for Volksküche, meaning “people’s kitchen”. This concept is so established that there is an online list (see below) with details of when and where VoKüs take place. It’s an extensive list, too, with eight or so meals taking place in Berlin daily.
The idea sounds so welcoming that it would be rude not to experience it first-hand. So the following Sunday, at 7pm, my husband Tom and I head for VoKü at Zielona Gora, a rainbow-painted building on leafy Boxhagener Platz in Friedrichshain – a neighbourhood in former East Berlin. As we approach, we see a mass of leather-clad punks spilling from a large table on the pavement. They’re eating, chatting and laughing, and hardly notice us as we clamber over their dogs lying in the doorway.
Inside, it looks nothing like I would have imagined. Less squat, more student union cafe. The large square room has tables around the edge and a queue snaking into it, the walls are plastered with photocopied newspaper articles and there is French folky music playing. The food smells good and we join the queue. The atmosphere is buzzy and there is an eclectic crowd (…)