German Restaurant Forced to Close Opens to Homeless

    23 December 2020

    A German restaurant forced to close because of the coronavirus crisis is now helping needy people in Berlin.

    Hofbraeu Berlin is the capital's largest restaurant and beer place. But it remains closed to the public because of restrictions aimed at reducing spread of the coronavirus.

    One employee, however, proposed that the restaurant could partly reopen to help the city's homeless. Hofbraeu Berlin began taking in homeless people last week – providing them with a free meal and a place to warm themselves.

    The city government is financing the program for operation through the winter.

    The restaurant accepts 150 homeless people at a time, but enforces social distancing requirements to help prevent new infections. During normal times, Hofbraeu Berlin holds up to 3,000 visitors.

    Hofbraeu manager Bjoern Schwarz poses for a photo at Berlin's biggest restaurant Hofbraeu Berlin, in Berlin, Germany, Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
    Hofbraeu manager Bjoern Schwarz poses for a photo at Berlin's biggest restaurant Hofbraeu Berlin, in Berlin, Germany, Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

    Bjoern Schwarz runs the restaurant. He told The Associated Press the project is a win-win, meaning helpful to all involved. The homeless find food and shelter during a difficult time. The restaurant and employees make some money.

    "Normally, during Christmas time, we would have many groups here for Christmas parties and then we'd serve pork knuckles, or half a duck or goose," Schwarz said. "But not at the moment."

    The homeless get more than just food and drink at the restaurant. They can also use its rest rooms for washing themselves. And, two aid groups supply counseling services and new clothes at the restaurant as well.

    Schwarz said his team aims to provide the visitors with a different experience than they would get at homeless shelters. For example, Hofbraeu Berlin serves the food on nice plates and tries to offer many different food choices, including Christmas dishes.

    One visitor is 43-year-old Kaspars Breidaks. He told the AP he came to Germany from Latvia three months ago looking for work. None could be found. He now lives on the streets of Berlin, asking strangers for money.

    Breidaks said he is trying to get enough money to buy a bus trip home to Latvia. He stays in shelters for the homeless when possible, but says they have been operating at reduced levels because of the coronavirus. He learned about the restaurant project from some homeless people at the train station.

    Berlin has an estimated street population of 2,000 to 12,000. The government says another 34,000 homeless people have been placed in community shelters and other housing run by social services and aid groups.

    "The (coronavirus) pandemic has seriously worsened the situation for homeless people, they live in very precarious conditions," said Elke Breitenbach. She is the Berlin government's senator for social issues. She supports the restaurant-turned-shelter. "They don't have enough to eat and when it's cold they must have places to warm up," Breitenbach added.

    Breidaks and other homeless people entering the restaurant were offered several food choices that included traditional German favorites. Breidaks said it was more than he had expected after spending a night outside in the extreme cold.

    "All I need is hot soup," he said. "And, God willing, I will go back home in January."

    I'm Bryan Lynn.

    The Associated Press reported on this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the report for VOA Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.

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    Words in This Story

    precarious – adj. a situation that is likely to get worse

    soup – n. a hot liquid food, made from vegetables, meat or fish