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German university canteens: why do they beat the Czech ones?

Aktualizováno: 27. 4. 2020

You know what was the saddest moment during one of my last visits of Heidelberg? Realizing it was a public holiday that day and that the university canteen was closed. In that moment my picture of amazing food for affordable prices were gone. After spending half a year studying in Heidelberg, Germany and living a typical Erasmus student life there, I still enjoy eating in the local canteen and go there as much as I can, even during my visits now in this semester.

The following question is: what could we do to have something similar in the Czech Republic? Let’s get some inspiration from how Germans do it and implement it to more student cities. What are the reasons that make me so excited about the canteen?

1, The canteen itself looks pretty good.

The main canteen (or Mensa in German) in Heidelberg (Marstallmensa) has been set into a really old and impressive brick building. The big hall is being used as a dining hall and café during the day and/or as a dining hall, café and bar later in the evening. It is open till 10 p.m. every day except Sunday (but hey, everything is closed on Sunday in Germany).

2, The food is amazing. And you are free to choose what you want.

Because the food is offered in a form of buffet, you just put your favorite food on your plate and pay according to the weight. That means — you pay the same amount of money for one kilogram of meat, one kilogram of salmon, one kilogram of tomatoes or one kilogram of olives. True, true.

Small recommendation: in order to avoid long queues in a rush hour (usually around 12.30) you better come to Marstallmensa earlier or a bit later. In summer you can also sit at the tables outside and enjoy warm sunshine. Or if you are really really hungry and you don’t want to wait in a queue, just move to another canteen close by — it is called Triplex Mensa and it is usually not so crowded. And the food is amazing too.

3, Your friends, who are visiting you, can eat for the same price.

Well, there are two different prices for meals — one for the ones with a Heidelberg student card and one for external people — but your friends who come the long way to Heidelberg to visit you, won’t have to be jealous. The canteen staff allow you to pay with your student card even for the food of your friends. Instead of paying 8 euros for “Schnitzel und Kartoffeln”, it suddenly costs 4 euros only. The Heidelberg student card is pure magic (if you put some money on it, true).

4, If you are in a hurry, don’t hesitate to use a takeaway box.

If all tables are occupied or if you just don’t have the time to sit down and eat your lunch, you can put your meal into a takeaway box and take it with you wherever you want. That is great! For example, in summer for spontaneous summer picnics on the Neckarwiese (a great place to sit down by the Neckar river). Another positive aspect is— in September, those takeaway boxes were plastic but since October have been offered in paper version! Eco freaks and environment friends — there is nothing to stop you from taking your amazing lunch away with you!

5, You can eat nearly anytime during the day.

Since the Marstallmensa is open during semester from 11 a.m. till 22 p.m., you can decide if you just feel like a late breakfast at 11 or “lunchodinner” at 4 p.m. And at 22 p.m. the buffet is closed, but the bar still remains. It means beer and cocktails still remain. And the good mood remains. When mentioning this thing — the Mensa bar is also a good place where to start your night out with your friends. There are even colourful lights switched on around 5 p.m., so you really feel like you are in a pub.

6, Mensa doesn’t make you poor. It only makes your stomach full and satisfied.

Who ever experienced food in Czech canteens, knows that meals there, do not necessarily satisfy all your gourmet cells. With the concept of “take only what you like” the probability that you will pay for something you don’t like is much lower. Most of the meals are literally delicious, mostly healthy and the tastes and ingredients are definitely NOT German only. Sometimes they have a special table with Asian food, sometimes they do a BBQ but sometimes they just stick to classical German dishes like Auflauf, Kartoffelnetwas and similar stuff. And I usually paid for my lunch around 3,5 to 4 euros. (A normal meal in a German restaurant is around 9 or 12 euros.) The international vibes of this canteen also got clearer around the time of the Football Champions League — you can see flags of various states hanging all around the canteen. And! You can watch the important football matches on a big screen in a yard just in front of the canteen building.

7, Vegans, vegetarians… this is for you too.

Diets are not a problem. You just follow the descriptions of each of the meals and you still get a tasty meal according to your needs or wishes. Vegan, vegetarian, diary-free, gluten-free or breatharians. I am sure that any diet is a problem, but I just don’t know their names in English.

8, After meal, get your beer.

As soon as you are finished with your tasty dinner, celebrate your hard work by grabbing some coffee/tea/cake/cocktail/beer/iced latte macchiato/hot chocolate or whatever in a bar situated on the other side of the dining hall. All these things are offered for student prices too, so the probability you would stay just by one beer is really low. Coffee is good. The cakes are too. Beer is better in the Czech Republic, but you can´t have all the great things in one place, right?

They are the small details — like the coctails at bar, the fairy lights hanged in a yard or the public viewing of the football matches — that makes it all work.

Why did I decide to post this whole thing?

Because I enjoy seeing how it works outside of the Czech Republic and for example in the case of the university canteens, I am sure that it is the Czech Republic, which could take some inspiration from abroad, not the opposite way.

Heidelberg Mensa is a place to meet people and that is the key factor. Once you create an environment which supports socializing of young people, you can be more than sure that they will keep coming to the canteen very often. They are the small details — like coctails at the bar, fairy lights hanging in a yard or public viewing of the football matches — that makes it all work.

Just around this time the Czech canteen “Jednota” in Prague (the one in the photos) is under the reconstruction, so let’s keep fingers crossed and hope that something nice will come out of it!

O autorce


Studuji němčinu a společenské vědy na Pedagogické fakultě UK. Výběr místa pro studijní pobyt byl díky mému oboru docela  lehký - chtěla jsem primárně do německy mluvící země a Heidelberg se zdál jako optimální město se skvělým studentským životem, ale i špičkově hodnocenou univerzitou. Heidelberg je zároveň jedno z nejromantičtějších měst celého Německa, a to se počítá! Proto jsem se pro něj rozhodla ve druháku na bakaláři a pak i v prváku navazujícího magisterského studia. 

Ráda trávím čas kdekoliv v zahraničí, porovnávám své světonázory s lidmi z dalších zemích, ráda jim také vysvětluji, že v Praze máme víc než jen dobrý pivo, a stejně tak ráda objevuji, jak lehce nebo těžce by se mi v jednotlivých zemích žilo. Během studia se všechny tyhle aspekty dají krásně spojit do jediného - do zahraničního studijního pobytu."

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