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Rescue for the local pub

In the middle

“Christian's”, a pub in the town of Herdorf in the Westerwald, was about to close. But a group of local people saved their pub – and are keeping it running as a cooperative.

Christian Kretschmer

How popular a pub is can also be seen by looking at the clock. Shortly after 5 p.m. on Friday evening, the first regulars arrived at “Christian's”. The restaurant is one of the last meeting places in the town of Herdorf in the Westerwald: oak wood and curtains, rock classics on the radio, the tap is slowly going into continuous operation. But “Christian’s” is anything but an ordinary village pub. This is due to the people here in town – especially the 14 “comrades”.

With a “crazy idea” to success

Five years ago, Christian's was on the verge of closure when the building was about to be sold. Eleven residents of Herdorf quickly joined together to preserve the pub. The “crazy idea” of setting up a cooperative for this purpose quickly became serious, says Johanna Bohl. In her mid-20s, she is the youngest of the fourteen comrades who run Christian's.

Everyone bought a certain share of the pub for at least 1,000 euros in order to save it. “We just didn't want to have to sit in someone's garden because there was nothing else left,” says comrade Andree Schneider.

Together with 14 colleagues, Johanna Bohl (3rd from left) saved “Christian's” from closing.

There were once many pubs in town because of that Mining tradition

Without the cooperative, Herdorf would have experienced the same fate as many other towns in the country: pubs dying – a word that everyone here knows. A few decades ago there were more than 30 bars in the town of Herdorf with a population of 7,000, people report in “Christian's”.

The originally strong pub culture: a side effect of the mining tradition in the region. But the structural change has not stopped at restaurants either. There are now not even a handful of bars left, says Johanna Bohl. The oldest: “Christian's”.

Pub survives thanks to many Events

None of them make a profit from the business, as the comrade emphasizes, but at least: the pub is alive, especially thanks to the many events that take place in “Christian's”.

“Without events, things will be financially tight. We had to struggle with normal pub operations, especially after Corona, everything was flat,” says Peter Bohl, Johanna's father, also a member of the cooperative. “Last October it started again: hiking days, Oktoberfest, slaughter festival. And now things are going really well.” The loan for the property is paid off from the income.

The pub: a real community project. Not always easy with 14 owners. “Even between two people in a marriage, there are arguments,” says Thomas Otterbach. “But we always manage it and decide democratically.” In addition to the comrades, two temporary workers on a mini-job basis keep the business running. Nevertheless, every comrade pitches in and sacrifices some of their free time. Johanna Bohl, actually junior boss in a craft business, creates the shift schedule for the temporary workers; others take care of beverage deliveries, accounting, and any repairs that need to be made.

There were once more than 30 restaurants in Herdorf. “Christian's” is the oldest of them.

Clubs use pubs for meetings

The town benefits from the cooperative's commitment – especially the local clubs. At around 6 p.m. the hall, a large side room in “Christian's”, is well filled: the local football club is holding its annual general meeting. It's about the young talent, about the cash register, about the entire club life.

There are fewer and fewer places to discuss all of this in Herdorf. “Every club needs a clubhouse,” says Uwe Stock, chairman of Sportfreunde Herdorf. “As a club, we are also a community of interests. And you have to be able to discuss the different interests somewhere. The best way to do that is in a pub.” In the end, both benefit: the club and the restaurant.

At “Christian’s” the people of Herdorf also come together spontaneously, not least because the alternatives are dwindling. “We have lost a lot of meeting places in recent years,” says Matteo Probst, at 20, one of the younger people that evening. “Otherwise you would have to go to Siegen, for example, to go away in the evening. But then it's difficult to get back.”

The death of pubs is not a law of nature

Last but not least, the young people in Herdorf depend on “Christian’s”. Even if it's not a hip bar: the pub scores with calm and openness. “Here you can sit at the table with anyone,” says Probst. “Even to the septuagenarians.”

By 9 p.m. every table in “Christian’s” is occupied. And it seems as if a cross-section of the place has come: young and old guests, men and women, athletes and bar athletes. Temporary assistant Fabienne Lorenz whirls back and forth between the counter and tables. She worked in another restaurant for six years, she says as she quickly washes the pilsner glasses. Working for the cooperative now is something special, she says. “I wouldn't see them as superiors at all. They're a family.”

So the death of bars is not a law of nature, as you realize on an evening like this at “Christian’s”. All you need is enough people who really want to keep their pub alive.

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