The poet Else Lasker-Schüler described the importance of the café in the lives of Berlin’s literary and artistic avant-garde: "This is our stock exchange, it’s where you have to go, where the deals are closed. There are all the playwrights, painters, poets." Artists and writers flocked to Berlin in the years around 1900, attracted by a lively art scene and a market for their work. Berlin’s 100 daily newspapers were always in need of prose pieces, poetry, book reviews, and criticism to fill their "Feuilletons," the art and culture sections. Art galleries and journals—foremost among them Der Sturm—provided opportunities for artists and writers to exhibit and publish their work.

The café became a crucial institution for both economic and artistic reasons. Most of the young artists and writers had limited financial means and lived in small rented rooms. The café provided them with many amenities: a heated space in which to work, a public telephone, chessboards and billiard tables, and subscriptions to many newspapers, including the international press. Apart from conveniences, the café was a source of inspiration, a meeting place where creative people working in a variety of media exchanged ideas and performed their work. It was also a place without class distinctions, where undiscovered writers and artists could mingle with powerful publishers and critics.

The circle around Herwarth Walden and "Der Sturm", known as the "Berlin moderns," frequented the Café des Westens—nicknamed "Café Grössenwahn" (Café Megalomania). Depictions of the café can be viewed in this gallery, along with the results of collaborations born in the café and nurtured by Der Sturm—in Ludwig Meidner’s responses to the poetry of Jakob van Hoddis and Gottfried Benn, or the artistic exchange between Franz Marc and Else Lasker-Schüler.

Else Lasker-Schüler
Snake Charmer in the Thebes Marketplace, ca. 1912
(Der Schlangenanbeter auf dem Marktplatz in Theben)
Pen, colored pencil, and collaged silverfoil
28.3 x 22.5 cm.
Franz Marc Museum