The real center of the apartment is the kitchen. From the housewife’s workplace, it became an open space in which many things are negotiated.
Like most people, my day begins in the morning in the kitchen, where I stumble to the espresso pot with a wrinkled face. The day ends here with evening tea, which sometimes helps you fall asleep – and sometimes not. It’s not just tea, coffee and food that’s made here, there’s a lot more going on here. I believe that the kitchen is the center of most homes, the room in which life takes place and where what is happening in society is shown.
And because that’s the case, I’ve experienced just about everything in kitchens: kisses and breakups, birthdays and farewells, enjoyable food and the food being taken out again because it was swimming in too much liquor. The kitchen is a very intimate space – show me your kitchen and I’ll tell you who you are – but at the same time it is a public space where guests are entertained and business calls are made. It is widely known that the best parties end in the kitchen. Here people dance in socks and chat in shoes.
Of course, kitchens that are as open as they are today haven’t always existed. Until the 1970s, (West German) cuisine was primarily that Housewife’s workplace. My grandfather only ever went into the kitchen when my grandmother couldn’t cook because she was sick – and made his pancakes there, which were intended for these exceptional cases. At the same time, my grandmother already knew that music was playing in this room, in the truest sense of the word: she had the radio playing there from morning to night, bringing the world into the kitchen. During my childhood, this distribution of roles had dissolved somewhat; my dad took care of the food, but left the kitchen like a battlefield.
Today I have some shared kitchens behind me and know that equality is particularly evident in this room: There are kitchens in which a small kitchen dictator holds the decision-making power, but also those in which jointly created chaos reigns that is consistently ignored by everyone. There are tics that make cooking together difficult, and robberies of treats that need to be protected with labels or, in extreme cases, spit.
Always a portion for guests
There are kitchens that are open to everyone and always have an extra portion available for spontaneous guests. But even in hospitable kitchens, a moth infestation or argument breaks out every now and then because your roommate always cooks in such a way that last week’s menu can be seen on the wall tiles next to the stove.
It is precisely in situations like these that you can see who is prepared to put up with quirks, because the community counts, because this is where the funniest dance performances and the most profound late-night conversations take place, because the flick of the matchbox across the dining table is followed by the greatest possible flash of laughter and the argument about the place of the peeler the most forgiving sex.
It has to be endured
In every kitchen it must be accepted that everyone who uses it is different, just like society is. Sure, that makes it tiring – who wants to overlook the stinky cheese in their roommate’s fridge? On the other hand: Who would like to do without the shared stories that such a kitchen has already experienced and to which many objects are witnesses?
It’s often not the expensive machines or the fine tableware that tell such stories, but the little things: the little salt pot that was searched for all over Copenhagen and brought back from there, the lovingly glued handle of an ancient cup that shows its long life is, the pot in which the most delicious pasta of all time was prepared under loving gaze, the framed column of an author who can do pretty much where I want to be as a writer one day.
Kitchen is becoming more important
I believe that the kitchen in the time of the pandemic and in the winter when we worry about heating costs, has become more important again: Because eating out was not allowed, many discovered cooking for themselves during the lockdowns. I, for example, packed my frustration and loneliness into casseroles and cakes that I put in the oven night after night so that at least something could be baked. Others set up a rental garden or bought regional food from farms in the rural area.
When gas prices rose, the kitchen was simply the warmest room in my moderately insulated apartment. I did practically everything here – worked, cooked, ate, loved, laughed. With candlelight, the oven running and the 120 watts of heat output per person, all sorts of conversations developed here. Now winter is coming soon again and I have never stopped spending most of my time here. That open kitchen-living rooms have become established, can no longer be overlooked both in homes and in furniture stores: Anyone who wanders through Ikea will see that even the fanciest kitchen should still have a comfortable seating area. The message is clear: the kitchen is for life!
Open kitchen idea
Now, of course, there are architecturally open kitchens in which people still live in the 1960s when it comes to openness. Whether it is an open, equal kitchen probably depends not on the interior of the kitchen, but on those of its users. Hopefully the idea of an open kitchen that is the center of our lives will continue to gain acceptance.
So that one day one more plate will be set for guests on every kitchen table without comment or unconditionally, so that everyone here will not only bring chaos but also order, so that little kitchen dictators will also make room for slow schnitzers and so that one day everyone will be for them feel responsible for food moths. By the way, I got this text – where else? – written in the kitchen.