The Tavern between Precondition and Doom for the Labour Movement
Since the founding of the German Empire, taverns have been the most important places for Leipzig’s workers for socializing, communication and politics for the wider public. They serve as alternative living rooms and provide the necessary space for choral, educational and gymnastics clubs. Taverns bring a sense of community and belonging, manifest professional and neighbourly relationships, contribute to defining and constituting social identity through the collective patterns of behaviour that dominate in them. Until the completion of the Leipzig Volkshaus in 1906, located today in the Karl-Liebknecht-Strasse, and the ceremonial inauguration of the extension building on May 1st, 1923, with over 40,000 participants, meeting in taverns and larger restaurants is also the basis for trade union and social democratic organization.
But the tavern is not a socio-cultural institution without its own problems. Although women are not completely excluded from the male-dominated and the restricted public sphere of the tavern and often hold important positions as innkeepers, they are usually denied the opportunity to participate in union and political activities. This stabilizes patriarchal gender relations and excludes women as important potential collaborators. Equally excluded are all those who are critical or hostile towards the labour movement or who are not familiar with the specific patterns of tavern behaviour.
Leipzig Taverns in the Revolution
During the revolutionary period, restaurants serve as meeting places for revolutionary groups, information exchanges and post offices. As early as April 1917, 10,000 striking metal and armaments workers meet in the "Brauereigarten" (Brewery Garden) in Stötteritz. Here they establish the first German workers' council. In the winter of 1918/19, the revolutionary Sailors' Company finds its quarters in the "Tivoli" in the Windmühlenstraße and in the "Deutsches Haus", the Workers' and Soldiers' Council meets in December, 1918. This council also holds its meetings in the "Centraltheater". In 1919, the "Katerschenke" in today's Merseburger Straße hosts the Free Socialist Youth group. In March, 1920, the "Goldener Stern" in today's Bornaische Straße, establishes itself as the headquarters in the fight against the Kapp-Putsch, and between 1920 and 1930 the newly founded "Rote Hilfe" (Red Aid) finds its headquarters at "Metropol" in the Gottschedstraße. On May 14th, 1920, the women's rights activist and communist politician Clara Zetkin speaks in Plagwitz in the "Felsenkeller". The "Himmelsleiter" in today's Industriestraße becomes the central courier office during the March Battles of 1921.
New Free Time
Due to the successful fight for the eight-hour workday and entitlement to holidays, new recreational activities become possible. The longer evenings and the weekends, extended now to include Saturday afternoon, make recreation and having fun an everyday need. The increase in mobility and the improvement of living conditions in the Weimar Republic also gradually change the possibilities of leisure activities. Going to the cinema, excursions out into the countryside and gardening are very popular. Allotment gardens become the epicenters of many people’s lives after a hard day’s work. Leipzig is the citadel of allotment gardening: In 1923, 114 allotment associations exist in Leipzig with over 25,000 members. Garden Association club houses and lively social gatherings define the image of allotment gardens, which thereby serve for Leipzig’s workers as a counterweight to their alienating factory jobs.