A number of leading Kaffeesieder in Vienna are opening their coffee houses free of charge to students of all ages, for homework, studying, and reading. Reviving a program that began in the weeks leading up to Christmas, the Lerncafés gave pupils and students at university and beyond somewhere to go that isn’t home. Often at their wit’s end in pandemic house arrest, they find a quiet place to get away and concentrate. The only downside? At least for now, no coffee and cake is being served…sigh.
After three lockdowns, countless restrictions and curfews, and psyches jaded through social isolation or nefarious younger siblings; a change of scenery, while adhering to the CoV rules and wearing FFP2 masks of course, is a welcome alternative to the fading charms of the home wallpaper.
Vienna’s “Flying Study Cafés”
The City Ministry for Education, Youth, Integration and Transparency, numerous companies and five coffee houses have re-launched the „Das Fliegende Lerncafé” (the Flying Study Café) campaign, granting Viennese students a chance to study outside of their own four walls again, keeping them comfortable, concentrated and supplied with a stable WIFI connection.
Vienna’s Vice Mayor and Education Minister Christoph Wiederkehr (Neos) thinks it is especially important to give young people alternative learning spaces in urban cafés under the stressful conditions caused of the extended lockdown.
“It’s great that the restaurateurs are not losing heart, despite all the difficulties,” Wiederkehr said in a statement. “They are sending a positive signal with this offer and are actively helping to make the crisis more bearable. I would be delighted if more establishments were to take part!”
The Director of the Vienna Department of Education, Heinrich Himmer, is also pleased about the continuation of the program: “Social cohesion is more important than ever in times of crisis,” he said.
Adult Education Centers to the Rescue
In addition, several Viennese Volkshochschulen (Adult Education Centers) have joined the program, offering their vacant spaces for use at no charge. Around 72 rooms are available in all, with the range of services supplemented on a daily basis.
“Education means more than just learning for school and work,” said Herbert Schweiger, Managing Director of the Wiener Volkshochschulen. “Often, however, there is simply no suitable place to do anything for oneself. …So we are happy to make our premises available to the Viennese free of charge during these challenging times.”
Pupils and students can book their time slot online through the Book Your Room booking platform.
Free of charge FFP2 masks are handed out to students which occupy a timeslot in these establishments.
Traditional Cafés and the Pandemic
“It’s better than burying your head in the sand. Whatever the future brings, it won’t be like it used to be,” said general manager Irmgard Querfeld, referring to the Lerncafé campaign:
At the same time, after a year of lockdowns and restrictions on business, the famed “Landtmann” and “Mozart” coffee houses are being sued by two landlords for back rent – although the city has advised delays giving tenants a right to forgo or delay rent if rental property is unusable during a pandemic.
Berndt Querfeld, head of the family, which runs a total of twelve Kaffeehäuser and other Lokale in Vienna, is very frustrated:
“At Café Landtmann, we always paid our rent on time for 44 years – and now this,” complained Querfeld to the Austrian daily der Standard. He sees the landlords’ actions as a direct attack on Viennese coffeehouse culture. “The landlords’ argument that the pandemic does not limit the usability of cafés is almost a form of Corona denial,” he went on. “This whole approach is very strange.”
Caritas Cafés for Newer Arrivals
The COVID pandemic has left many socio-economically disadvantaged parents at a loss as to how to offer their children a stimulating learning experience. Mothers and fathers with lower educational levels, or without the necessary German skills or the required space for effective studying, are basically left stranded, even more so in times of corona.
To help them, the 125-year-old welfare organization Caritas provides its own “Lerncafé”-program to underprivileged students in need of help, relieving parental nerves and wallets since 2007. The charitable initiative successfully got over 90% of the project participants, of whom 95% had a migration background, through the school year of 2019-2020, assisting children with integration and strengthening their German-language skills.
Though specifically aimed at 6-15 year olds with immigrant- or socially disadvantaged backgrounds, Caritas’s Lerncafés grant children and youths from all economic classes the opportunity to receive lively and varied learning support free of charge and outside of their homes.
Through age-appropriate task supervision and study-groups, Caritas accompanies the young on their path through compulsory school. In Lerncafés, children’s sense of community is also reestablished, their talents promoted and their self-confidence strengthened.
This Austria-wide education project, supported by the Federal Ministry for European Integration, Foreign Affairs and the private sector, is repeatedly cited nationally and internationally as an example of best practice. In the 56 existing facilities operating throughout Austria, 2200 students are currently being cared for by as many as 950 full-time volunteers.
The Caritas Lerncafés program includes:
- Targeted help with homework, preparation for schoolwork and exams, practicing and repeating learning material
- tutoring on using different learning techniques
- a healthy snack
- joint leisure activities and excursions
- regular parent evenings and parent counseling