Europe's 'beautiful laundrette' culture: socialising chores

Article published on March 30, 2010
Article published on March 30, 2010
Social networks have allowed a whole generation to abandon any sense of shame and showcase its private life. The fashion for exposure doesn't limit itself to the screen; Europe's urban landscapes offer more and more spaces which mix the private and the public. Washing your dirty laundry in public in Germany, France and Denmark

You usually find laundrette-bars in particularly gentrified 'in' districts. Because we - the young, urbanely cultivated Europeans - like to look good while we do the housework – and that can and should be borne witness to by everyone! After all, putting our private affairs on show and the staging of intimacies is familiar to us via the hold of our virtual social networks. We incessantly post photos on facebook which, as our parents warn us, could potentially cost us our jobs; twitter is really a market place for declarations of love declarations. So no-one has a problem handling their dirty panties in a hip bar. 'Is it worth living, if no one's looking?' posed one headline in a article in the Montreal Gazette recently. It sums up the philosophy of an entire generation.

Laundrettes: 'commercial living rooms'

There is less and less to distinguish public spaces from private. This is not just in cyberspace but also in real city streets and social structures. The Florida-hailing urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg, who specialises in cities, described such spaces as the 'third place' as early as 1990 in his book The Great Good Place. He calls them places of refuge where people can escape from the spheres of family and business.

Useful too if you're staying in the holiday flat across the road

The concept is now being reintroduced under the name of 'being spaces'. Catering and entertainment aren't the main attractions. The space is increasingly somewhere where you can feel and behave as though you are at home: activites like reading a book, surfing the internet, drinking coffee or eating with family and friends and even washing laundry are being shifted into bars and cafes which are accessible to everyone. London-based agency Trendwatching calls this type of public private space 'commercial living rooms'. According to the agency an important element has been added to this since the nineties: 'branding'.

Modern city dwellers seem to love the paractical forward slash

For example, the electrical firm LG unashamedly uses its Parisian Washbar LG to improve its image. Cologne's concept store Cleanicum shows winter sports films to increase sales. The provision of cosy, stylish and practical oases in the midst of stressful everyday life is bought with a sympathy for the supplier.The fashion for cosiness far from our own living rooms is one which is consciously produced yet which still says something about our society: modern city dwellers seem to love the paractical forward slash. The artist/production assistant/barman enjoys going to the bookshop/cafe and only when the cafe/bar is also a concert/venue/laundrette does he feel that his multiple, hetergenous and extremely tolerant hybrid identity is properly catered for and that he is adequately contextualised in his being. Europe is no longer a political construct; it is, in spheres which are more deeply layered than we like to think, a part of our living conditions.

A laundrette near you...Berlin, Hamburg and Cologne

The name of trendy bar-café hybrid Mangelwirtschaft ('mangle economy') in Berlin's Prenzlauer Berg district plays on the laundry mangle used in the former GDR. '50% bistro-bar and 50% laundrette,' promises the sign above the door. In the front room the bar offers a cosy, red-velvety restaurant atmosphere. This leads on to a room at the back with twelve washing machines. The guests can slurp their frothy milky coffees or munch on their culinary treats in peace, chat with friends, surf on the wireless internet or read – all the while washing their laundry. Mangelwirtschaft even sometimes offers a cultural and social programme when the venue is used for concerts and readings. The concept of multifunctional laundrettes expanding into cafes is already almost classic in Berlin. And it's catching on: Laundrette in Hamburg's Altona has a similar layout to Mangelwirtschaft. Happy hour here is called Schleudergang ('spin cycle') and the location is popularly used for live coverage of football matches.

Cleanicum in Cologne is a sports clothes shop which provides twenty washing machines in the front room with sofas running alongside. These offer the perfect position to watch the snowboarding films projected on to the wall opposite and where you can also have a snack from the bar area. Customers can also of course bring their own laptops and use the wireless internet. Or they can browse the attached concept store for, as Cleanicum puts it, a selection of 'street- and boardwear.'


In contrast to this the CopenhagenLaundromatCafé, a stylish café, laundrette and bookshop with over 4, 000 international magazines in one, is almost traditional with its cosy, old fashioned atmosphere. As well as the classic internet access, board games are an additional thought to entertain the customers.

It is run by an Icelandic, Frederik


In Paris' Oberkampf district the Wash Bar LG pushes the concept to its extreme: washing machine producer LG allows future customers to test wares for free. With retro furniture as a backdrop, a house and electro DJ helps to create the contemporary ambience, while drinks with names like 'lingette' ('XX') and 'savonade' ('washing powder') are served at the bar. People can also surf the internet at the back in a partitioned zone known as the 'office', or they can watch a film in the 'lounge' on LG flat screen televisions, no less. Relax or shop while the dirty washing gets done: this is a place which combines convenience and pleasure.

Dirty and in the area?

MANGELWIRTSCHAFT: Paul-Robeson-Str. 42, 10439 Berlin LAUNDRETTE: Ottenser Hauptstraße 56, 22765 Hamburg CLEANICUM: Brüsseler Straße 74, 50672 Köln THE LAUNDROMAT CAFE: Elmegade 15, 2200 Copenhagen WASHBAR by LG: 65 boulevard de la Villette, Paris

Images: ©fast eddie 42/ Flickr; ©2006-2010; ©The Laundromat Café/ Facebook