In October 1677, coffee and tea came to Hamburg, a development so auspicious that one city chronicler wrote:
an English Messieur arrived in Hamburg and began serving tea for money, near the Stock Exchange – also coffee. He was followed by a Dutchman, and then an Armenian, then the following year serving tea and coffee became so common that particular burghers, learned and unlearned men, clerics and non-clerics, young and old, men and women, whoever could afford it, brewed this drink at home and abroad, and drank to each other of a morning, insisted that good friends…come for a morning tea and coffee…and this thing had never happened in Hamburg before.Footnote 1
Indeed, this was also a novelty for the entire German region as Hamburg was one of the first German cities to have a coffeehouse.Footnote 2 From the outset, the craze for the exotic warm beverages played out in both domestic and public settings, but in late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century Hamburg it was the public space of the coffeehouse that provoked particular regulatory and social scrutiny. Whilst coffee and tea enjoyed fairly favourable press, in particular for their medicinal properties, a whole genre of satirical texts painted the coffeehouse as anywhere from disorderly and intellectually lightweight to downright morally despicable.Footnote 3 Shortly after the first coffeehouse opened its doors, Hamburg's authorities introduced licensing, and in 1709/10 new regulations to govern the coffeehouses. They were not alone: urban authorities elsewhere, citing concerns about gambling or political dissent, also restricted or banned their coffeehouses, suggesting a more general period of power reconfiguration within absolutist and urban political structures.Footnote 4 Hamburg's coffeehouse ‘problem’ around 1700, however, was also home-made. It resonated with religious, political and social crises specific to the city: the constantly shifting clashes between Pietist currents and orthodox Lutheranism, between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’, between the crafts milieu and the urban political and cultural elite, all largely contests over the balance of power between Hamburg's political institutions. At the core of the coffeehouse ‘problem’ were modes and norms of sociability, and governance measures aimed at rectifying perceived moral deficiencies of coffeehouse sociability and its dangers for public life in the city.
The eighteenth century, in the words of historian Ulrich Im Hof, was the ‘social century’.Footnote 5 In the 1700s, historians have argued, Europeans began to see sociable behaviour as highly desirable and developed new constellations of coming together that crossed social, political and religious boundaries of the ancien régime. These supposedly socially heterogeneous and egalitarian new sociable forms – the (largely male) language societies, reading circles, freemasons’ lodges, etc. – were understood as the drivers of a fundamental shift from absolutist political and social structures to modern bourgeois democracy of the nineteenth century.Footnote 6 Sociability is still a central concept in the history of the German Enlightenment, although historians now suggest that the Enlightenment has a longer, non-linear and more complex chronology and are increasingly exploring ‘other’ spaces and forms of Enlightenment sociability beyond the world of the male, educated elite.Footnote 7 Notwithstanding this, the focus on organized social clubs and associations has remained, overshadowing other, looser forms of social togetherness and communication, in particular those that emerged before around 1720. Attending to these gaps is all the more pressing, as a growing body of research shows how the so-called ‘early Enlightenment’ (c. 1680–1720) constituted an important phase of innovation, experiment and ‘openness’ that laid the groundwork for the ‘Enlightenment’ or the ‘late Enlightenment’.Footnote 8
Until relatively recently, the coffeehouse has been characterized as a civilized, intellectual and harmonious institution – a spatial paragon of a new egalitarian, free and easy Enlightenment sociability.Footnote 9 This was also the thrust of Jürgen Habermas’ model of the ideal ‘bourgeois public sphere’, which located the birthplace of the ‘sphere of private people come together as public’ (a rational-critical public that subjected absolutist power structures to the rule of law) in the coffeehouses of Restoration England.Footnote 10 Whether implicitly or explicitly, this notion has guided many more general accounts of coffeehouses in Germany, which rarely attend to this early period.Footnote 11 The relatively limited body of research on Hamburg's coffeehouses has also largely focused on the period after 1720, and has emphasized in particular coffeehouse sociability within the context of scholarly societies, literary circles and the production/consumption of print media.Footnote 12 The circle of ‘beautiful minds and witty persons [around rococo poet Friedrich von Hagedorn], who one would habitually find assembled at midday in the large saloon of Dresser's Coffeehouse’Footnote 13 or the publicist-writers who launched Germany's first commercially viable moral weekly, Der Patriot (1724–26) from one of the city's coffeehouses,Footnote 14 have thus habitually served as evidence that this particular kind of quasi-organized and literary Enlightenment sociability was a defining and enduring characteristic of the coffeehouse.Footnote 15 More recent work on coffeehouses, often critical of the Habermasian model, has begun to dismantle this narrative of singularity and bourgeois reason,Footnote 16 showing how violence, scandal, gambling, prostitution and performance were as much a part of day-to-day coffeehouse culture as business, intellectual, literary and political pursuits.Footnote 17 Moreover, work on Dresden and Salzburg has emphasized the many continuities of coffeehouse interiors and sociabilities with other urban hospitality spaces,Footnote 18 and we no longer can assume coffeehouses were all-male spaces.Footnote 19
This chronological and thematic blind spot is surprising as Hamburg's coffeehouses emerged during a period of political, social, and religious crisis that historians now understand as a formative moment in the emergence of new communication practices paving the way for ‘Enlightenment’ – turning, as it were, the Habermasian model of civil society on its head.Footnote 20 As one of northern Europe's major print and press centres around 1700, Hamburg has proven fruitful ground.Footnote 21 Focusing increasingly upon communication systems and practices – rather than on big ideas – as the motor of historical change, they demonstrate how sixteenth- and seventeenth-century communication practices laid the groundwork for a culture of observational, reflective criticism that we associate with the modern public sphere of civil discourse.Footnote 22 Whether through scandalous pamphlets, petitioning, the postal service or the press, all generally concur that this entailed a fundamental but very gradual shift from a public sphere dependent upon oral and face-to-face, performative communication to one (increasingly) dominated by textual communication (media) practices of observation.Footnote 23 However, despite this burgeoning multimediality, the (early modern political) public sphere (Öffentlichkeit) was still dominated by what Rudolf Schlögl calls an ‘integrated public sphere’ constituted in the performance of politics, not yet through the observation and observation-of-observation of a medial public sphere.Footnote 24
In a largely face-to-face society, communicative practices were tied to physical spaces: public spaces constituted public spheres. These were many and varied in the early modern city, could be permanent or temporary and were rarely dedicated to a single purpose.Footnote 25 Hospitality spaces were one of the important, permanent public spaces within early modern cities. As well as providing respite and refreshment to locals and travellers, they were sites for the local, regional and cross-regional exchange and moderation of all modes of oral, visual, symbolic and textual communication.Footnote 26 They were integral to urban everyday life because drinking rituals, as Anne Tlusty has shown, were woven tightly into the everyday and thus ‘served to establish and confirm the social identity of the participants’.Footnote 27 They enjoyed high public civic value, on a par with the town hall, stock exchange and church, and they were supported, encouraged and regulated by town authorities in co-operation with patrons and keepers.Footnote 28 Maintaining the integrity of these public spaces was crucial because their publicness played an essential role in virtually all aspects of urban life and governance.
This article uses an urban coffeehouse ‘problem’ around 1700 in Hamburg as a lens for exploring the nature of the urban public sphere, its sociabilities and governance. It examines early coffeehouses there from their emergence in 1677 until 1714, just after the ‘peace’ of the Great Recess, which has been credited with soothing over internal divisions and laying the foundations for a ‘social harmony’ lasting into the nineteenth century.Footnote 29 Taking a microhistorical approach, it draws upon a variety of sources – chronicles, licensing records, citizenship registers, legal proceedings and hitherto unutilized government administrative records generated by regulation deliberations in 1709/10 – to zoom in on this dynamic but neglected period. It focuses on both the sociability and communication practices characterizing these early coffeehouses as well as their governance, and how these related to practices and ideals of the public sphere. This is not because I consider the coffeehouse to be an extraordinary social site in early modern Hamburg, but rather because the scrutiny this new social space aroused reveals both the way the public sphere functioned in practice and how (certain) contemporaries envisioned its ideal form.Footnote 30
Troubled times: Hamburg around 1700
To comprehend fully the role the new coffeehouses played in Hamburg around 1700, it is necessary to situate them within the context of intensifying political discontent post-1648 that culminated in two major political crises: the almost ‘rule by citizens’ under Cord Jastram (1634–86) and Hieronymous Snitger (1648–86) from 1684 to 1686 and the so-called Priesterstreit, a religious–political dispute between Lutheran-Orthodox and Pietist pastors that gathered momentum in the 1690s and led to the Great Recess of 1712. At the heart of both crises was the question of who held ultimate power in Hamburg: the greater citizenry or an urban elite.Footnote 31
Hamburg's political lability was not unique amongst German cities, but its particular status as Free Imperial City and media, commercial and cultural centre make it a particularly valuable case-study of societal shifts during this period.Footnote 32 Hamburg had no formal patriciate, as was the case in many other German cities, but rather all burghers and their households belonged to a single estate of burghers.Footnote 33 Governance was in the hands of two political bodies, the senate and the much larger parliament, which presided over various smaller and parish-based political bodies. By the seventeenth century, social discrepancies between the two had widened, with the council consisting largely of wealthy merchants and the parliament of a more heterogeneous group dominated increasingly by craftsmen and less illustrious merchants and traders.Footnote 34 Relations between senate and parliament oscillated between co-operation and antagonism, with periodic disputes over burgher rights and political participation.Footnote 35 To settle these disputes, political rights and obligations were codified by ‘recesses’ (written agreements between council and parliament).
After 1648, relations between the senate and parliament deteriorated markedly, with two imperial commissions failing to quell further tensions in the 1660s and the 1670s.Footnote 36 Matters came to a head in 1684 after parliament had the sitting mayor arrested for abuse of office. After a third failed imperial commission, parliament took control of the city under the leadership of shipowner Cord Jastram and merchant-politician Hieronymus Snitger, and ruled, with widespread support from the population, for almost two years before internal political conflicts and interventions from external powers led to conflict between Denmark and Hamburg. Support for Jastram and Snitger receded as fears that they had betrayed the city to Denmark spread and both were arrested and later executed for treason.Footnote 37
Parallel to this crisis, discontent was also brewing between the growing Pietist community and Hamburg's increasingly populist orthodox Lutheran ministry. Moral condemnation of the new opera on Gänsemarkt (built 1677/78) from the Pietist pastor of St Jakobi in 1681 sparked the initial Priesterstreit (pastors’ dispute). The opera, considered a prestige object of the senate by many burghers, remained a sticking point, but by the 1690s the religious–theological dispute had merged into the ongoing struggle over power in the city, between the (largely) Pietist-sympathizing senate and the (largely) orthodox Lutheran-leaning parliament. Parish pastors from each camp led the charge in a vociferous multimedia onslaught.Footnote 38 The Recess of 1699 formally ended this dispute, but political–religious tensions persisted.Footnote 39
In 1705, Christian Krumbholtz (1665–1714), orthodox Lutheran pastor of St Peter's parish and leader of parliament, was appointed head of Hamburg's ministry. He openly sided with the anti-Pietist and anti-senate factions in parliament and, together with the craftsman Balthasar Stielke (dates unknown), agitated in town hall and from pulpit against the senate. In 1708, parliament, full of Krumbholtz's and Stielke's supporters – many (but not all) from the crafts and the lower social orders – took control of senate appointments. Violent skirmishes ensued and senators stayed away from parliament conventions, leaving the city virtually ungovernable.Footnote 40 In May 1708, the imperial court in Vienna intervened once more, sending troops to occupy the city and restore government. Krumbholtz, Stielke and their supporters were soon arrested and the two were found guilty of treason in 1712. For three years, an imperial commission negotiated a peace contract between the warring factions. The result was the Great Recess of 1712, which enshrined the prerequisites and obligations of political participation in a constitution but drastically curbed political participation by the lower orders, handed stronger political power to the senate (largely the wealthy urban elite) and stifled demands for parliament – as a body representing all burghers – to claim the highest power in the city.Footnote 41
Political sociability in the coffeehouses
And what of the coffeehouses amidst this upheaval? What role did these new public spaces play and what forms of communication and sociability were characteristic during this period? None feature in the official (and partial) account of the Jastram and Snitger trials, published by Lucas Bostel in 1687, suggesting that the coffeehouses were not particularly relevant sites of sociability for Jastram's and Snitger's supporters, many citizens of middling and lesser means. Rather, the duo ‘had their poisoned emissaries and stooges, both on the sly at the Stock Exchange, in gatherings, in wine and beer houses, and otherwise here and there in conventions of parliament through thousandfold mad, false and terrible Impressions, which moved the minds of many loyal burghers to turn away from Your Honourable Council’.Footnote 42 During the late 1680s, hospitality spaces – here the wine and beer houses – functioned as important sites for face-to-face political communication and sociability, but they were only one space type in a network of public urban communication.
At the height of the pastors’ dispute in 1693, however, the coffeehouses (by then at least four in number) were sites of popular political communication and performance. An anonymous Hamburg chronicler noted on 28 November 1693: ‘The Quaker Song was played last night and into the early morning in the coffeehouse by the Weighing House, in Turino by the Exchange, with cornetts, oboes and flutes so that the neighbours could not sleep. It is so enjoyable for the people to dance to it.’ The chronicle recalled further that at a wedding, even two members of the senate – potentially Pietist sympathizers – ‘could not dance their fill’ to the song.Footnote 43 ‘Quaker’ was an insulting term for Pietists, and the ‘Quaker Song’ was sung ‘almost daily at weddings and gatherings’ in defiance of Horbist Pietists,Footnote 44 who eschewed singing and dancing.Footnote 45 Yet coffeehouses were not the only political spaces. In the beer and wine houses, the chronicler claimed, the Horbists ‘sometimes have to go home with a bloody nose’.Footnote 46 This oral and physical kind of political communication – singing, dancing, arguing and fighting – is far from the kind of learned, contemplative, polite conversational and text-centred communication and sociability associated with Enlightenment. Around 1700, coffeehouse sociability was visceral, loud, joyous, bellicose and violent, and indistinguishable from sociability in other hospitality spaces. It was a space of face-to-face communication fully integrated into the increasingly vitriolic atmosphere of political, religious and social upheaval.
Thanks to Daniel Bellingradt's work on urban political communication during this period, we know that Christian Krumbholtz and Balthasar Stielke used a network of taverns, bars and coffeehouses to meet with supporters, distribute incendiary pamphlets and news, and plot insurgency.Footnote 47 These physical spaces, he argues, were part of Hamburg's multimedia landscape of communication, a ‘resonating box’ of discourse and opinion in which hospitality spaces served as sites of oral and textual multiplication.Footnote 48 But how did the authorities classify sociability and communication in the coffeehouse space? What kinds of media, sociability or behaviours concerned them in particular? A close reading of Stielke's interrogation reveals that Hamburg's coffeehouses (and its wine and beer houses) were not considered ‘dangerous’ spaces per se, which resonates with Beat Kümin's findings for taverns.Footnote 49 Stielke's interrogators sought instead to establish whether his activities in the coffeehouse were honest or suspect, for which the nature of the gathering and sociability provided the crucial markers. When asked whether he ‘frequent[ed] many different coffeehouses’, he replied that ‘he does drink a cup of coffee at home, also with several good friends when he visits them, has also been in the coffeehouse opposite the Council Apothecary, but does not run from one house to another’.Footnote 50 If regular and promiscuous frequentation of the city's coffeehouses was evidence of immorality, so too was the timing of visits and the type of sociability practised in the coffeehouse. When questioned as to whether he ‘visited such coffee, wine and beer houses largely on the days prior to the convents of parliament?’, he replied in the negative, claiming he was ‘not there every day’.Footnote 51 Unsatisfied, his interrogators pressed him further on this point, to which he responded ‘it is possible, that he went to the coffeehouse to drink a cup, but he never spoke of parliamentary matters, and was amongst unfamiliar burghers’.Footnote 52 He was similarly probed on arranged meetings in the coffeehouses and leaving ‘the coffee, wine and beer houses with his friends in great haste’ to determine whether his visits had illegal designs.Footnote 53
Thus, from the perspective of the authorities/interrogators, there were (at least) two types of sociability common to coffeehouses, wine and beer houses alike: seditious sociability, which was premeditated and not tied to a regular space, and a more benign sociability of chance encounter, perhaps in a regular haunt, laced with civilized banter. Good citizens practised the latter and Stielke, when pressed about visits to a public house, was at pains to distance himself from this ‘dangerous’ sociability: ‘He never had a regular organized company, held no intrigues and no gatherings.’Footnote 54 What kinds of activities and behaviours awoke suspicion? First, any kind of partisan behaviour, considered damaging to the common weal.Footnote 55 His interrogators repeatedly asked him which side he ‘favoured’ in the increasingly frenzied disputes, to which he carefully responded that he did not take sides.Footnote 56 Secondly, the authorities were concerned about how these spaces could amplify the written or printed word: Stielke's interrogators tried repeatedly to extract a confession from him that he had ‘read aloud or recited and made public the contents of letters in the taverns and at revelries, or any other spaces’.Footnote 57
These examples reveal that during this politically turbulent period, coffeehouses (like other hospitality spaces) provided a forum for deploying oral and face-to-face communication practices – singing, dancing, reading aloud, discussing – to perform politics and amplify and disseminate print and written media in a particularly powerful manner. Concerns about secretive sociability and partisanship spoke to authorities’ fears that certain burghers would (mis-)use these spaces to incite dissent. Yet the coffeehouse was not a bourgeois public sphere in the Habermasian sense – a space for erudite discourse and measured debate leading to rational (textual) critique of political power. It was a still a public sphere in which public opinion was forged, transmitted and actioned in situ, a physical-spatial element in the negotiation and performance of power in late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century Hamburg.
A topography of Hamburg's coffeehouses, anno 1709
Using licensing records of the Wedde as well as lists, correspondence and reports compiled during deliberations over new coffeehouse regulation from 1709/10, it is possible to map Hamburg's coffeehouses for the year 1709. The coffeehouse scene was modest but dynamic. In 1694, there were 4 licensed coffeehouses, with an unknown number of unlicensed premises.Footnote 58 By 1713, the city had 12 licensed coffeehouses (see Table 1). The map in Figure 1 is probably not exhaustive but includes at least four additional establishments not listed in licensing records. In fact, not even the authorities appear to have known how many coffeehouses were actually operating in Hamburg. One report from 1709/10 mentioned up to 20 coffeehouses.Footnote 59 Another named the major players in the coffee profession, but claimed ‘an infinity of other persons’ were being chased for rent, debts or citizenship rights relating to coffeehouse business ventures.Footnote 60 With the coffee-serving business booming as never before, its author noted, many coffeehouses were flimsy affairs, opened by persons ‘on the pretext of selling coffee’ who ‘knew not where to turn to find advances from friends or credit from merchants’ and who closed down at the end of the year.Footnote 61 Around 1710, we can therefore assume that there was at least one coffeehouse for every 4,687 inhabitants, a far cry from the saturation levels found in London or Paris, but higher than in other German cities such as Dresden.Footnote 62
Source: SAH, 311-1 I_214 Band 80–93, Wedderechnungen.
Coffeehouses clustered largely around the stock exchange, weighing house and town hall precinct that formed the political, commercial and intellectual heart of the city. Publishers and printing houses, the city's premier taverns and inns, foreign consuls and merchant organizations, as well as many Hamburg merchants, brokers, and guild organizations lived and worked in nearby streets.Footnote 63 In 1709/10 (see Figure 1) only 4 of the known 16 coffeehouses lay outside of this inner-city hub: two slightly to the north-east (7 and 15) and two – both run by members of the Jewish community – in the New City: one in the opera (10) and one in the Elbstraße, the main commercial thoroughfare in the Jewish quarter (11).Footnote 64
All the coffeehouses, even these last two outliers, were spatially associated with public life in the city. The Elbstraße was pejoratively dubbed the ‘Jewish Exchange’ (Judenbörse) and was thus spatially associated public business and trade.Footnote 65 The first of its kind in Germany, the opera on Gänsemarkt functioned cross-regionally as a flagship for ‘a new type of public stage’ that emanated a ‘new, urban culture with elements of the early Enlightenment’.Footnote 66 Through the pastors’ dispute, the opera theatre became a highly politicized and contentious public space as debates over the value of opera and theatre as a medium for edifying citizens and grooming civic virtue raged between orthodox Lutherans and Pietists as well as between senate and parliament factions in the city.Footnote 67 From the 1690s, biblical and mythical plots and themes increasingly gave way to historical and contemporary political narratives about patriotism, civic virtue and Enlightenment critiquing both popular insurgency and the abuse of powers amongst the elite.Footnote 68 Hamburg's early coffeehouses thus demonstrate strong spatial associations with precincts and sites of both public life and public civic value: with institutions at the heart of Hamburg's political, intellectual and commercial life, but also to cultural institutions acting as communicative vehicles for contested notions of what it meant to be a burgher in early eighteenth-century Hamburg.
The vagaries of popularity and novelty
Although they served to justify new regulation and may exaggerate figures and sentiment, the coffeehouse regulation reports and administrative sources from 1709/10 broadly align with increasing licences, suggesting that the explosion in the number of coffeehouses produced an increasingly transient and volatile segment in the urban hospitality landscape. Spatial association with sites of (disputed) communal public value meant that this concerned the authorities, not just in economic terms, but because volatility threatened the integrity of this space-bound public sphere. Underpinning fears about too many coffeehouses was a more general disquiet about their diminishing propriety. ‘It is a long time past that one speaks of putting the coffeehouses on a good footing’ read one report. A round-up of ‘the cause of the disorders that have crept into these houses’, the anonymous author claimed, would provide remedy and restoration.Footnote 69
His account began with Jean Toussecour, for many years owner of ‘the only [coffee]house’, which was ‘consequently full of people. He served for around thirty-five years with an extraordinary assiduousness…In the end he died and left his children a good reputation.’Footnote 70 In the 1690s, others ran coffeehouses associated negatively with subversive intellectual and scientific pursuits. A Frenchman by the name of du Soucours, who ‘introduced another type of café, to which he gave the name of Academy to drown, with the special character of an assembly of Science,…a fear of the most pernicious vices to a state’. His house earned well, although ‘not from selling his coffee, as is known to everybody’.Footnote 71 A further Frenchman Etienne Rambour ‘followed his example’, earning well until he was forced to leave the city ‘loaded with debts’ and earn his living as a dance teacher.Footnote 72 The next, Franz von dem Höfel, ran the lively Coffeehouse Balle, which was always busy but ‘in the end everyone knew him to be miserable’.Footnote 73 Another keeper Benjamin Seschehey, who followed du Soucours in the house of Turino, ‘ruined himself as did several others who followed in this house’.Footnote 74 The present-day coffeehouse-keepers, the author lamented, continued to struggle: ‘Bourgues [Barteld Borchers] and the masters of Coffeehouse Balle have maintained themselves to this day with much effort but I do not see how they will be able to continue, if they are forbidden from allowing card games, which is their greatest resource.’ The widow of Seriaques Beÿerling, however, was ‘keeping herself nicely and is favoured by several honest merchants who, regarding the lengths she goes to, to serve her customers with the utmost honour, seek to preserve her [business]’. Even Carlo/Charles Galli, who the author described as a successful businessman, ‘has not been any happier than the others’ due to competition from Jean le Blanc, ‘who has relieved him of a large part of his custom’.Footnote 75 Le Blanc's ‘garçon’, in turn, had recently opened a new coffeehouse that ‘attracted the youth’.Footnote 76
Even if we discount this account's pessimistic imagery, this report suggests that Hamburg's coffeehouses varied greatly in terms of character, activities and reputation, and that attracting and maintaining custom (whether ‘honourable’ or otherwise) was a perennial problem. The real conundrum was the matter of social distinction: whereas in Amsterdam 99 per cent of burghers frequented coffeehouses, the report claimed, in Hamburg this figure was a mere 10 per cent.Footnote 77 Given the long-standing tensions between burghers of the upper and lower orders in Hamburg, ‘honourable’ was likely synonymous with those sympathetic to the party of the senate in the Krumbholtz/Stielke affair: sympathetic towards Pietism, culturally ‘progressive’, politically ‘moderate’, of means. Yet as we have seen, Hamburg's coffeehouses were not that socially or politically exclusive: the craftsman and orthodox Lutheran Balthasar Stielke and the people ridiculing Pietists with the Quaker Song were also patrons.
Reticence from the city's ‘honourable’ citizenry was compounded by coffeehouses, such as that run by Le Blanc's garçon, that enticed the city's young (men) and stoked anxieties about this kind of sociability undermining burgher honour. Even when borne into a burgher family, young men could not assume citizenship and join the estate of burghers – with all its privileges and obligations – until the age of 22.Footnote 78 Male youth, in limbo between childhood and becoming citizens, were considered particularly susceptible to fashion, dangerous sociabilities and activities. Youths used these kinds of liminal public spaces to socialize and test their identities and were often trailblazers in taking up novel practices, such as smoking tobacco.Footnote 79 These anxieties were not specific to Hamburg, and the honourability of the coffeehouse and of coffeehouse sociability was a trope in both serious and satirical literature of the time.Footnote 80 Cameralists would later single out the coffeehouse as a particularly corrupting space all across Germany: according to one of their most prolific writers, Paul Jacob Marperger (1656–1730), ‘many these days do not enjoy a good reputation, in that many have been reduced to public brothels’ and their number was consequently ‘restricted and defined’ by authorities.Footnote 81 From the perspective of the Hamburg authorities and at least parts of the urban elite, therefore, the honourability of the coffeehouse depended upon the exclusion of undesirable coffeehouse-keepers and patrons: youths, people of flimsy means, craftspeople, anyone agitating against the senate. High social status – and in Hamburg around 1700 this was loosely aligned with religious and political affiliations – was thus key to the ‘honourability’ of a space and its civic value.
Beverly Tlusty has argued that during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the tavern was an integral part of the urban social structure, serving, by and large, to support and enhance social order as an inclusive public space in which burghers and travellers conducted all manner of legitimate everyday activities.Footnote 82 The Hamburg coffeehouse sources point, however, to a process of dissolution of this shared space as more socially stratified demands were placed on the public sphere of the coffeehouse. This may have been a Hamburg peculiarity around 1700, as comparison with other cities suggests variation in the social status of the coffeehouse patrons over space and time.Footnote 83 In Hamburg's coffeehouses, different social and politico-religious groups could mingle; however, the political crisis made it increasingly desirable for the urban elite to define exclusive social spaces where ‘honourable’ burghers could commune in an orderly, civilized and decorous manner. This coincided with a social devaluation of more traditional hospitality spaces of low social status.Footnote 84 Critics of ‘democratic’ rumblings, such as the opera librettist Barthold Feind (1678–1721), derided certain beer and wine houses, associating them with immoral and un-Christian sociability of craftsmen and the lower orders: ‘When on the Sabbath I must go walking before the city gates…[I see] How ill the people behave in the taverns there / How full of craftspeople the Raven and Lamb is / …They gossip their counsel in beer and wine taverns / And no slander is enough for this mob.’Footnote 85 The rhetoric of ‘honourability’ of the coffeehouse space – this pseudo-nostalgic desire to make the coffeehouse a ‘burgherly’ space (again) – thus reflected a new pursuit of social distinction and stratification arising in part from socio-political and religious divisions. Anxieties over proper, honourable sociability thus bred a desire for social exclusivity in public, communal social spaces formerly open to all.
Yet there was a gaping chasm between this new ‘burgherly’ ideal and what many customers favoured in their coffeehouse. For this report also highlights that although one was expected to patronize a particular establishment, coffeehouse sociability was sustained above all by the presence of the crowd. If one were to ask somebody why they had turned their back on their old coffeehouse, the author claimed, one would hear the following lament:
I indeed had the pleasure of frequenting such a house! The master was a man of honour, one lived there with every type of modesty, one was welcomed with civility! One saw no face to shock the world! Gaming is forbidden, the doors shut at 10 pm, one hears all manner of witty discourse. In the end the rules are all very well, and very exact, but one goes to the coffeehouse to see company! I went there five or six times more, but found nobody there, it was empty! The house is lost. If one asks this man what moved him to change houses, he will whisper in your ear: Monsieur N. N., who you know too free with his words, was asked by the coffeehouse-keeper to moderate certain discourse that was a little too contrary to modesty! He got angry. He left the house, and he made all his friends leave.Footnote 86
Another man swore off a coffeehouse for closing at 10 pm, and yet another was angered after learning that a female servant had been dismissed after being seen speaking to him ‘with some sort of confidence’.Footnote 87 And many other youthful customers who, after enduring several warnings about playing billiards with unfamiliar officers, ‘curse the coffeehouse-keeper for having been obliged to inform their parents’.Footnote 88 Here, moral expectations and the rule of law were at loggerheads with the less stringent and more diverse everyday experiences in this relatively new public social space. In the burgherly ideal that permeated regulation and policing strategies, the coffeehouse was a space for civilized decorum, moral rectitude with at most ‘witty discourse’. For many coffeehouse-goers (including burghers), however, the desirable coffeehouse was a space for speaking freely, for social mingling, for thrills and risk involving gaming and gambling, and for social transgressions. It was both a day and a night space, frequented by a diverse range of punters: upstanding burghers, army officers and youths, all with different – sometimes conflicting – expectations of the space. And in the middle was the ‘truly honest coffeehouse’, which ‘will have difficulty in maintaining itself in this way, and that very often the poor coffeehouse-keeper will be forced – against his own will to avoid his loss – to close his eyes to certain small liberties, which with time gradually become a real conspiracy of all kinds of knavery’.Footnote 89
Various historians have pointed out that not all coffeehouses in a city catered to the same kind of clientele, but we still know little about the precise social processes that brought about this diversification.Footnote 90 I suggest here that the dichotomous narrative of ‘honest’ versus ‘dishonest’ coffeehouse sociability in Hamburg's early coffeehouses points to a phenomenon of social diversification made possible through novelty, fashion and partisanship. The popularity of any single coffeehouse depended on the draw of the crowd because a visit to the coffeehouse was all about meeting people, pursuing discourse and partaking in the theatre of the space. The crowd, in particular the youthful crowd, was attracted to spaces in which such ‘small liberties’ and social transgressions were possible. This ‘crowd’ moved en bloc and coffeehouses were sustained by social networks of loyal regulars rather than individual customers.
The coffeehouses probably functioned as communication hubs for travellers and merchants;Footnote 91 however, the coffeehouse reports point to the importance of a local (resident) customer base: an ‘honourable’ or successful coffeehouse in Hamburg required a core burgherly clientele (preferably merchants), as maintained by Widow Beÿerling.Footnote 92 And reputation was a local phenomenon, as evidenced by the bitter dispute between Charles Galli and Bernhard Assenzo, the latter who enlisted the assistance of his financial backers – several Italian-speaking ‘Messieurs’ – to ‘make Galli look spiteful in the city, and to move all the people to have sympathy for him, Assenzo’.Footnote 93 Rumours that Galli was behind the new regulations – designed, Assenzo argued, to benefit the established coffeehouses – meant Assenzo ‘had the satisfaction that Galli's coffeehouse, which had maintained itself here for 9 years with a good reputation, was suddenly deserted and ruined’.Footnote 94
The ‘glut’ of coffeehouses in the city thus exacerbated the pull of the crowd because it enabled a diverse landscape of coffeehouses to flourish – from the honest and upstanding Widow Beÿerling to the purported den of public vice run by du Succours – and permitted coffeehouse-goers to take their collective custom elsewhere at whim. The coffeehouse public was fluid and fickle and this, in turn, facilitated the enduring but precarious pull of the new:
Each new house, although poorly served, is always full of people, at the expense of the old houses, which are better served and known to be honest by all…and by a long experience; It is therefore novelty which attracts the world and it is the competition of the world which makes novelty.Footnote 95
This was no mere economic dilemma, but rather an anxiety about the ills of capricious practices of custom facilitated by a new capacity for patrons to exercise consumer choice and rupture the unity of the communal public sphere of burghers. Christian Hochmuth has noted that by the mid-eighteenth century, Dresden's authorities differentiated between upstanding coffeehouses, which catered largely to semi-private social gatherings, and dishonourable coffeehouses, which were open to all.Footnote 96 I suggest that the unruly, mobile sociability we witness in Hamburg around 1700 precipitated this demarcation. Fashionability, popularity and partisanship were socially destabilizing because they encouraged ephemeral and spatially promiscuous practices of sociability associated with low social status and dishonour, such as coffeehouse-hopping, following the ‘in’ crowd or taking political sides.Footnote 97
Drinking, gaming, gambling
What made the coffeehouses such fashionable and novel spaces? Late eighteenth-century coffeehouses were often described as the key space to read local and international press, yet there is little evidence of this unique relationship around 1700.Footnote 98 With countless publishers and news shops around the stock exchange providing ready access to newspapers, journals, books and pamphlets from all over the world, reading matter in the city was plentiful.Footnote 99 And Hamburgers were – in European comparison – precociously literate: Holger Böning estimates that between one fifth and one sixth of the population regularly read a newspaper.Footnote 100 Coffeehouses, as we have seen, were only one type of public space used to circulate and disseminate printed matter, either through individual reading or oral ‘reading in common’.Footnote 101
Even their raison d’être – serving tea, coffee and chocolate – was not specific to the coffeehouse. Licensing restricted this privilege to the tea and coffeehouses; however, this did not deter taverns, inns, wine and beer houses from serving warm beverages on the sly. Indeed, the coffeehouse-keepers petitioned the council, lamenting ‘the whole licensing is null and void’ because the privilege of ‘serving tea, coffee and chocolate in return for money may be so easily riddled with holes, and the gaming guests have their tea, coffee and chocolate brought to them, or have themselves provided for in hundreds of other manners’.Footnote 102 Coffeehouse-keepers also served alcoholic beverages to garner custom. Bernhard Assenzo, for example, sold ‘wine, beer, aquavits and all manner of foreign liquors, in order to confer upon himself a large number of people, who partly came out of curiosity, and partly out of affection and compassion’.Footnote 103
The coffeehouse-keepers’ main concern was securing the privilege to keep billiard tables. A late seventeenth-century fashion at the French court, billiards soon spread throughout Europe. Noble and scientific associations distinguished it from other games. According to Krünitz's Encyclopaedia, billiards ‘not only contributes to physical regeneration, but also to amusement and to the sharpening of reason’. Players required a knowledge of geometry and the rules governing movement and an ability to accurately judge distance, space and trajectory, ‘which is why it deserves to be respected as a so artful game’.Footnote 104
In Hamburg, the coffeehouses were instrumental in proliferating this new and still exclusive pastime. In 1710, over half (six of eleven) of establishments with a billiard table were coffeehouses.Footnote 105 Coffeehouse-keepers fought hard to make billiards a privilege exclusive to the coffeehouses, arguing in numerous supplications how crucial the game was to business success.Footnote 106 In particular, the well-established coffeehouse-keepers petitioning with Charles Galli invested in the highly fashionable game: four of the six maintained billiard tables. Newcomer Bernhard Assenzo also had a table.Footnote 107
The importance of billiards was also due to an increasingly hostile attitude to card and board games.Footnote 108 Concerns about gambling in Hamburg's 1709 gambling ordinance were not restricted to the city's coffeehouses but applied broadly to ‘inns, coffee, wine and beer bars, shops, wine cellars or other places…or cellars’ in which ‘in particular young people are induced to part with that which they or their parents have earned through bitter toil’.Footnote 109 The ordinance defined such spaces as ‘offering normal rendezvous or places to gather’ – i.e. common spaces of no social distinction open to all. These spaces induced ‘those addicted to gambling’ (Gewinnsüchtigen) to both lose their shirt and behave sinfully, ‘defiling the Sabbath, all manner of cursing and blasphemy, also squabbling, fighting, rough-housing, wounding, even killing and other serious sins’.Footnote 110 It also defined legal and illegal gaming, and card and dice games played for money in the manner of a ‘Profession’ were no longer tolerated on the pretence of protecting the city's youth from predatory rakes.Footnote 111
By destroying honourable burgher households, the behaviours and social interactions around gambling struck at the very heart of Hamburg's civic constitution and integrity. Billiards, however, offered an honourable drawcard: through its lofty association with kings, nobility and reason, it could enhance the social exclusivity of the space. Billiards allowed Hamburg's early eighteenth-century coffeehouse-keepers to position themselves in the vanguard of fashionability whilst complying with social and legal requirements designed to uphold the integrity of a socially discrete ‘honourable’ public sphere that would protect the financial and social interests of the city's ‘honourable’ burgher households.
Making the coffeehouse a burgherly public space
Managing the moral integrity and commercial viability of essential public spaces was long a key task of early modern governments; however, political, religious and social divisions in Hamburg at the local level made this a particularly pressing matter around 1700.Footnote 112 State fiscal considerations were secondary, as declining income from coffeehouse licences proportional to total income from fines and licences to the Wedde (Hamburg's policing institution) over this period suggests (from 22 per cent in 1700 to 12 per cent in 1714) (see Figure 2). Shielding the city's beer brewers from competition, as set out in the revised excise ordinance from 1716, appears to have likewise played an at best subsidiary role.Footnote 113 Rather, governance strategies deployed in Hamburg – licensing and regulation – were shaped largely by the desire to make the coffeehouse a ‘burgherly’ public space.
Licensing, a common governance practice, was one of the key mechanisms facilitating communal control over hospitality spaces. Possibly in response to the high number of non-citizens involved in this profession, Hamburg's authorities complemented licensing with a citizenship requirement, which served to bind the coffeehouses even further to the burgherly public sphere. By tracing citizenship registration records of coffeehouse-keepers, we get a clearer picture of this strategy. From the late seventeenth century, coffeehouse-keeping was open only to Hamburg citizens (15 to 20 per cent of the population) or to foreigners granted permission to pursue the occupation.Footnote 114 Becoming a burgher was an inclusive mechanism of civic life because it meant incorporating oneself into the system of voluntary political self-governance – membership of a neighbourhood Compagnie (guard) and for those of sufficient means, membership of parliament. Foreigners were encouraged to take up citizenship.Footnote 115 At least two of the earliest coffeehouse-keepers were non-citizens, and were thus effectively forced to bring their coffeehouses into the ‘burgher nexus’.Footnote 116 Around 34 per cent of coffeehouse-keepers between 1700 and 1713 acquired citizenship before applying for a licence.Footnote 117 Less than one fifth of these applicants were sons of burghers; the rest appear to have hailed – at some stage – from outside Hamburg (see Table 2).Footnote 118 And coffeehouse-keepers were far from small-fry burghers: according to the Kopfgeld taxation hierarchy, joining the ranks of honourable, licensed coffeehouse-keepers meant a place amongst the upper echelons of the middling sort, together with wealthy shopkeepers and tavern-keepers, sugar refiners, mid-scale merchants, wealthy brewers and bakers.Footnote 119
* Not recorded in citizenship (1664–1714) or foreigner residency (1600–1750) records and thus presumed citizens or subject to foreign contract or other arrangements prior to observation.
** Problem with identification or inaccurate records.
Source: SAH, 311-1 I_214 Band 80–93, Wedderechnungen; Bürgerbücher (1664–1714); Schutzverwandtenregister (1600–1750).
A further strategy of governance was regulation. It is no coincidence that negotiations on new regulations for the coffeehouses emerged during a period of fundamental civic restoration leading to the Great Recess of 1712, which left few areas of urban governance (Policey) untouched.Footnote 120 The integrity of public institutions and public office was at the heart of the Recess, sparking discussion about notions of citizenship, the public good and the purpose and status of public institutions – fundamental values in the ‘merchant Republic’ thought to have suffered during decades of political crisis and ‘mob’ rule.Footnote 121 Drafts of new coffeehouse regulations reflected a preoccupation with honourability and acceptable modes of coffeehouse sociability. In addition to reducing the number of licences to five in the old city and one in the new city, procurable via annual auctions, regulations targeted the morality of the public sphere. They instructed coffeehouse-keepers to monitor and regulate patrons’ behaviour and defined permissible activities. In accordance with the 1709 gambling ordinance, card and dice games were forbidden outright, should youth ‘engaged in service, be induced or accustomed to idleness, neglect of their duties, even less to gamble, engage in debauchery, or other unsuitable activities’.Footnote 122 Billiards, Damm and Buontjers games were permitted when ‘honestly/honourably passing the time, but not for compulsive gambling or lucre’.Footnote 123 In addition to closing their doors ‘at 10 or at the latest at 11 o'clock’ at night and not serving any coffee, tea, chocolate, wine, beer or other drink after hours, coffeehouse-keepers were to tolerate no ‘blasphemy, cursing, denigratory or incendiary talk against the city authority, vituperations, quarrels or brawls’.Footnote 124
Social control in early modern communities was a not a one-way street but rather a diffuse process of collusion and negotiation between governing and governed, and the negotiation process for these new regulations reflects this.Footnote 125 Mounting concerns about the orderliness of the coffeehouses prompted a Wedde official, in collusion with Hamburg's ‘eldest’ coffeehouse-keeper, Charles Galli, to raise the idea of consolidating the number of coffeehouse licences.Footnote 126 Galli assembled a select group of fellow coffeehouse-keepers to benefit collectively from this plan. However, one newcomer to the profession, Bernhard Assenzo, took umbrage, deploying both social capital and quill against the more senior Galli. Whilst Assenzo and Galli (the latter on behalf of the most established coffeehouse-keepers) attacked one another in a series of petitions, the dispute morphed in 1709–10 into deliberations over a new Règlement for the coffeehouses. In their reports and supplications, actors in the protracted negotiation process between Wedde/senate and the coffeehouse-keepers underpinned their arguments with appeals to the moral integrity of the public sphere.Footnote 127 Thus, despite social stratification, regulation of the coffeehouses followed a pattern of communal social oversight long characteristic of other hospitality spaces, a co-operative undertaking between authorities, publicans and patrons to maintain moral and commercial standards of a central public space.Footnote 128
This article has demonstrated how in Hamburg in the decades around 1700, coffeehouse sociability resonated viscerally with the political, religious and social conflicts in the urban space. This was not unique to the coffeehouses, but characteristic of the city's hospitality spaces more generally: all were part of a larger web of still predominantly face-to-face communication and performance of everyday public life. The kinds of organized, rational and civilized sociabilities associated with later Enlightenment did not appear as dominant forms of social interaction.
During this formative period, sociability in certain public spaces underwent change: examining the coffeehouse ‘problem’ in Hamburg has rendered this visible. Hospitality spaces, such as taverns, traditionally functioned as communal and civic public spaces where all could gather, reflecting an ideal logic of early modern urban political organization based upon the notion of belonging to a particular place-bound community ‘in return for the privileges, customs, and resources held or claimed by the community’.Footnote 129 During this period of social, religious and political division, however, fashionability, novelty and partisan politics introduced new modes of fluid and ephemeral social interactions in and between Hamburg's early coffeehouses, putting pressure on these established notions of citizenship, civic virtue and the uses and abuses of public space. In Hamburg, public social spaces such as the coffeehouses were where the (re)definition and reconfiguration of what was considered ‘burgherly’ – in the sense of what constituted an honourable citizen – took place.
Superficially, the political response to this new space seemed to restore something lost – the common and stable public space of the burgherly public sphere. Yet put into context with the political, religious and social divisions dominating everyday public life in Hamburg, it becomes apparent that calls to make the coffeehouse a ‘burgherly’ space sought in fact to carve out a discrete social space for a particular type of sociability of decorum and political stability, distinct from the kind of ‘base’ and politically ‘disruptive’ sociability associated, in particular, with beer, wine and the less reputable coffeehouses. Hamburg's early coffeehouses were thus sites in which contested notions of what it meant to be an ‘honourable burgher’ were played out and fed into a politic of social distinction and stratification. Detailed research into patterns of social stratification in other hospitality spaces is necessary; however, it appears this process incorporated all types of hospitality space (for example, the contrast between the social status of the Ratsweinkeller and the bars in front of the city gates in Barthold Feind's poem), suggesting that stratification of the public sphere into ‘honourable’ and ‘dishonourable’ cut across, not between, space types. Licensing and regulation were old governance strategies, but they were now deployed to redefine the sociability of ‘honourable burghers’ for the purpose of excluding politically and socially troublesome citizens and behaviours in the context of the Hamburg crises. Reigning in everything thought to make coffeehouses in Hamburg ‘unburgherly’ and unmanageable – dynamic flows of people, the whim of popularity and the pull of the partisan and fashionable crowd – and cultivating more closed, exclusive and stable sociabilities was key to this enterprise. Of course, it remains to be seen if and how this early eighteenth-century articulation of a ‘normative public sphere’ shaped the ‘practical public sphere’ of Hamburg's coffeehouses and other hospitality spaces in the century to come.Footnote 130
Many thanks to the two reviewers for their insightful input on the first draft.
Research for this article was generously funded by the Humantites in the European Area (HERA) Joint Research Programme (www.heranet.info) project ‘Intoxicating Spaces. The Impact of New Intoxicants on Urban Spaces in Europe, 1600–1850’ (www.intoxicatingspaces.org), which is co-funded by the BMBF via DLR-PT and the European Commission through Horizon 2020.
The author declares none.