The New State Cookshops
[From chapter 12 of Pictures of the Socialistic Future.]
It was, indeed, a wonderful achievement that today, in Berlin, 1,000 state cookshops, each one capable of accommodating 1,000 persons, should have been opened at one stroke. True, those persons who had imagined that it would be like the table d'hôte of the great hotels of the past days, where a pampered upper class continually reveled in every refinement of culinary art — such persons, I say, must feel some little disappointment. As a matter of course, we have here likewise no trim, swallow-tailed waiters, no bills of fare a yard long, and no such paraphernalia.
In the state cookshops everything, even to the smallest details, has been anticipated and settled beforehand. No one person obtains the smallest preference over others. The picking and choosing amongst the various state cookshops cannot, of course, be tolerated. Each person has the right to dine at the cookshop of the district in which his dwelling is situated. The chief meal of the day is taken between 12 o'clock and 6 in the evening. Everyone has to report himself at the cookshop of his district, either during the midday rest or at the close of the day.
I am sorry to say that I can now no longer take my meals with my wife except on Sundays, as I have been accustomed to do for the last 25 years, inasmuch as our hours of labor are now entirely different.
Upon entering the dining room an official detaches the dinner coupon from your book of money certificates, and hands you a number that indicates your turn. In the course of time others get up and go away, and your turn comes, and you fetch your plate of victuals from the serving tables. The strictest order is maintained by a strong body of police present. The police today — their number has now been augmented here to 12,000 — rather gave themselves airs of importance in the state cookshops, but the fact is, the crowd was a very big one. It seems to me that Berlin proves itself to be on too small a scale for the vast undertakings of Socialism.
As each one takes his place, just as he comes from his work, the groups sometimes have a somewhat motley appearance. Opposite to me today sat a miller, and his neighbor was a sweep. The sweep laughed at this more heartily than the miller. The room at the tables is very cramped, and the elbows at each side hinder one much. However, it is not for long, the minutes allowed for eating being very stingily measured. At the expiration of the meagerly apportioned minutes — and a policeman with a watch in his hand stands at the head of each table to see that time is strictly kept — you are remorselessly required to make room for the next.
It is an inspiring thought to reflect that in every state cookshop in Berlin, on one-and-the-same day exactly the same dishes are served. As each establishment knows how many visitors it has to count upon, and as these visitors are saved all the embarrassment of having to choose from a lengthy bill of fare, it is clear that no time is lost; whilst there is also none of that waste and loss consequent upon a lot of stuff being left, which circumstance used so much to enhance the price of dining at the restaurants of the upper classes. Indeed, this saving may well be reckoned amongst the most signal triumphs of the socialistic organization.
From what a neighbor of ours, who is a cook, tells us, it had originally been intended to serve up various dishes on the same day. It soon appeared, however, that there would be a manifest want of equality in such an arrangement; inasmuch as those persons who, from any reason, were prevented from coming in good time would not have the chance of dining off such dishes as were "off," but would have to take whatever was left.
All the portions served out are of the same size. One insatiable fellow today who asked for more was rightly served by being heartily laughed at. For what more deadly blow could be leveled at one of the fundamental principles of equality? For the same reason the suggestion to serve out smaller portions to women was at once indignantly rejected. Big, bulky men have to put up with the same-sized portions, and to do as best they can. But, then, for such amongst them who, in their former easy circumstances, used to stuff themselves, this drawing in of their belt is quite a good and wholesome thing. For the rest, people can bring with them from their homes as much bread as they like, and eat it with their meals. Furthermore, any persons who find their portions larger than they care for are not prohibited from giving a part to their neighbors.
According to what our neighbor the cook says, it appears that the Ministry of Public Nourishment has grounded its bill of fare on the experience gathered by scientific research as to the number of grains of nitrogenous matter and of hydrocarbonaceous matter that it is necessary to introduce into the body in order to keep the same intact. Each person's daily portion is about one third of a pound of meat, with either rice, groats, or some vegetable or other, to which is generally added a plentiful supply of potatoes. On Thursdays we get sauerkraut and peas. Posters announce what is to be cooked on each day, and these posters give you the bill of fare for the whole week, just as they used to announce the plays at the theaters for the entire week.
Where, I should like to know, in the whole world, has there ever been a people every individual of which was assured, day by day, of his portion of flesh-meat, as is now the case with us? Even a king of France, ruminating once on such matters, could form to himself no higher ideal than that on Sundays every peasant should have his fowl in the stew pan. Then, too, we must remember that outside the system of nourishment provided by the state it is left to the taste of everybody to treat himself to whatever he fancies both in the morning and evening — that is to say, provided it be within the bounds of the money certificate.
No more poor, starving, wretched, homeless creatures! For every man, as the day comes round, his portion of beef! The thought of having attained such ends as these is so inspiring that one can readily pardon any trifling inconveniences that the new system has brought with it. True, the portions of meat would be none the worse for being a little larger, but then our circumspect Government adopted the wise plan of not dealing out, at the commencement, more meat than had previously on an average been consumed here. Later on these things will all be different, and in process of time, when the new arrangements shall have more and more approached completion, and the period of transition is past, we shall have everything on a vaster and more magnificent scale.
But there is one thing that hinders my opinions taking the lofty flight they otherwise would, and that is the concern that my good wife shows. She is become very nervous, and her state gets worse day by day. During all the 25 years of our married life, we have never had so many painful scenes and explanations as since the beginning of the new era.
The state cookshops, too, are not a bit to her taste. The food, she says, is barracks' rations and a poor substitute for the wholesome fare people used to have at their own homes. She complains of the meat being done too much, of the broth being watery, and so on. She says, too, that she at once loses all appetite by knowing beforehand what she has to eat during a whole week. And yet how often she had complained to me that, with the high prices of things, she was at her wits' end to know what to cook. Formerly she was rejoiced, when we now and then took a day's excursion, to think she was released for that day from the bother of cooking anything.
Well, this is the way with women, and they always have something to say against whatever they have not had a hand in cooking. My hope is, however, as soon as my wife shall have paid visits to the children and her father at the Benevolent Institutions, and have found them hearty and contented, that that equanimity will be restored to her which in old times never deserted her even in our severest trials.