Krakow’s Free Cafe

The best things in life are free…

Free? Yeah, right! I can hear the chorus of scepticism already. Even as you read the words, a lot of you will be supplying the rest of the lyric: “…but you can keep them for the birds and bees, now give me money, that’s what I want!”

Indulge me a while longer. Here in Krakow, there is a place called Cafe Fińska that has attracted a lot of media attention as Poland’s first ‘Free Cafe.’

Not free WiFi – they don’t have WiFi, they would rather you talk to each other. Instead, free coffee, tea, biscuits and events. Someone must be earning something, surely? Well, nobody is, and it all began like this.

Cafe Fińska started as a project by artist Michał Mioduszewski during the Grolsch ArtBoom Festival in June 2013. Under the working title ‘Revolutions happen in cafes,’ Michał found an interesting location on the corner of ul. Lwowska and ul. Józefińska, in Podgórze. He talked to local residents, festival artists, volunteers and visitors and slowly a vacant, triangular-shaped shop was transformed into a new cafe.

It became a meeting place, where artists worked and talked and people came, bringing old chairs and tables, to sit, drink, talk, draw and paint. Everything in the cafe was donated, some festival funding paid the initial rent and for supplies of coffee, tea and biscuits. It was all free, to eliminate any financial barriers that may have prevented people from coming together. Another feature of the Cafe Fińska of the festival month was a large table covered by a paper tablecloth on which patrons could paint or draw something as ‘payment’ for the refreshments.

Performance at Cafe Fińska, with ironing (Photo: Angelika Witkowska)

Local people started to bring homemade cakes and other treats. Old books and DVDs were swapped. The artistic project with its open climate grew into a favourite meeting place for a lot of people. People were more inclined to talk to one another than at a normal cafe. Try buying your ‘Latte caramel macchiato’ at one of the many branded cafe chains, sitting next to the first stranger you meet there, and starting a conversation. At Cafe Fińska, the coffee may be plainer, but the conversation flows easier.

As the festival drew to a close, a group of people who were enjoying what Cafe Fińska had become wanted it to continue. They got together and talked. The local government representatives contacted at the time were of more hindrance than help, hints were made about official financial and health and safety controls, but the Fińska group persisted.

Donations and a crowd funding effort secured a small sum for the rent and heating. A member of the group went to meet the owner of the shop to take over the lease. Later, provided a larger amount as an award for ‘Best community project’ – enough to cover costs for several months. And so, Cafe Fińska lives on.

The Cafe Fińska crowd (Photo: Angelika Witkowska)

What can you expect if you drop in? Possibly a mini concert, a game of chess, a film show, a talk on an interesting theme, an English class, or maybe a synthesizer lesson. Check on their Facebook page, or just turn up. A volunteer will offer you tea or coffee, and maybe a snack if one of the other guests has brought some. Come prepared with your own favourite biscuits or cakes, they are always welcome. Perhaps you’ll become part of a social or artistic revolution, more likely you’ll just have a good conversation.

Cafe Fińska will always be free. You don’t have to pay any money or draw something or smile, if you don’t want to. It is as different every day as the people who come through its doors, and is open every day, except Mondays, from 16:30 to 22:00. Be seeing you.

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