Foto: “The Banquet” , Mark Daughhetee

(…) It was, indeed, a wonderful achievement that today, in Berlin, 1,000 state cookshops, each one capable of accommodating 1,000 persons, should have been opened at one stroke. True, those persons who had imagined that it would be like the table d’hôte of the great hotels of the past days, where a pampered upper class continually reveled in every refinement of culinary art — such persons, I say, must feel some little disappointment. As a matter of course, we have here likewise no trim, swallow-tailed waiters, no bills of fare a yard long, and no such paraphernalia.

In the state cookshops everything, even to the smallest details, has been anticipated and settled beforehand. No one person obtains the smallest preference over others. The picking and choosing amongst the various state cookshops cannot, of course, be tolerated. Each person has the right to dine at the cookshop of the district in which his dwelling is situated. The chief meal of the day is taken between 12 o’clock and 6 in the evening. Everyone has to report himself at the cookshop of his district, either during the midday rest or at the close of the day.

I am sorry to say that I can now no longer take my meals with my wife except on Sundays, as I have been accustomed to do for the last 25 years, inasmuch as our hours of labor are now entirely different.

Upon entering the dining room an official detaches the dinner coupon from your book of money certificates, and hands you a number that indicates your turn. In the course of time others get up and go away, and your turn comes, and you fetch your plate of victuals from the serving tables. The strictest order is maintained by a strong body of police present. The police today — their number has now been augmented here to 12,000 — rather gave themselves airs of importance in the state cookshops, but the fact is, the crowd was a very big one. It seems to me that Berlin proves itself to be on too small a scale for the vast undertakings of Socialism.

As each one takes his place, just as he comes from his work, the groups sometimes have a somewhat motley appearance. Opposite to me today sat a miller, and his neighbor was a sweep. The sweep laughed at this more heartily than the miller. The room at the tables is very cramped, and the elbows at each side hinder one much. However, it is not for long, the minutes allowed for eating being very stingily measured. At the expiration of the meagerly apportioned minutes — and a policeman with a watch in his hand stands at the head of each table to see that time is strictly kept — you are remorselessly required to make room for the next.

It is an inspiring thought to reflect that in every state cookshop in Berlin, on one-and-the-same day exactly the same dishes are served. As each establishment knows how many visitors it has to count upon, and as these visitors are saved all the embarrassment of having to choose from a lengthy bill of fare, it is clear that no time is lost; whilst there is also none of that waste and loss consequent upon a lot of stuff being left, which circumstance used so much to enhance the price of dining at the restaurants of the upper classes. Indeed, this saving may well be reckoned amongst the most signal triumphs of the socialistic organization.

From what a neighbor of ours, who is a cook, tells us, it had originally been intended to serve up various dishes on the same day. It soon appeared, however, that there would be a manifest want of equality in such an arrangement; inasmuch as those persons who, from any reason, were prevented from coming in good time would not have the chance of dining off such dishes as were “off,” but would have to take whatever was left.

All the portions served out are of the same size. One insatiable fellow today who asked for more was rightly served by being heartily laughed at. For what more deadly blow could be leveled at one of the fundamental principles of equality? For the same reason the suggestion to serve out smaller portions to women was at once indignantly rejected. Big, bulky men have to put up with the same-sized portions, and to do as best they can. But, then, for such amongst them who, in their former easy circumstances, used to stuff themselves, this drawing in of their belt is quite a good and wholesome thing. For the rest, people can bring with them from their homes as much bread as they like, and eat it with their meals. Furthermore, any persons who find their portions larger than they care for are not prohibited from giving a part to their neighbors. (…)

in, Pictures of the Socialistic Future, Eugen Richter (1838–1906)