| Katja Heins |
Dusseldorf (dpa) – There’s an earnest atmosphere in the manga cafe: Nobody chats, instead the guests are curled up comfortably in armchairs reading comics, while Japanese music plays softly in the background.
Thick flokati carpets muffle every footstep.
A girl lolling on a bean bag with a book giggles to herself and is quickly shushed by another reader.
At first glance the cafe in the centre of the west German city of Dusseldorf looks more like a library than anything else. The multitude of shelves are filled with more than 11,000 comics.
But it’s considerably more comfortable than a library, and, most importantly, eating and drinking are allowed.
The cafe’s owner, Tatsuhiro Mizutani, serves miso soup, curries, coffee and lemonade.
In order to protect them, all of the Japanese comics, known as manga, are covered in clear plastic.
“Everything’s gone fine so far,” says Mizutani.
The 39-year-old opened the manga cafe – believed by those in the know to be the first in Germany – this year.
In Japan, manga-kissa, as the cafes are known there, have been in existence since the 1970s.
Just in Tokyo there are now several hundred of these cafes where guests can enjoy a cup of tea while leafing through a selection of comics.
The principle over the last 40 years has remained the same: the comics are only there to be read, they’re not for sale.
At Mizutani’s it costs five euros (US$6.20) an hour to spend time in the so-called open area, which is decked out with bean bags and armchairs.
Those who want to read completely undisturbed can rent a small cabin.
Shoes have to stay outside, though felt slippers are available.
The cafe receives around 30 guests over an average day, with most staying an hour or two.
“The longest visit we had was nine hours in one go,” says Mizutani.
The most popular title at the moment is Shingeki no Kyojin, or Attack on the Titans, in English. The series follows the adventures of a young hunter and his adoptive sister, who are both trying to save the world from the giants.
“It sounds a bit boring, but it’s really suspenseful,” says 26-year-old visitor Miyuki.
The Japanese woman has been in Germany for two years and attends university in the nearby city of Duisburg. For her the cafe is a little bit of home.
Aletta, 34, uses the cafe to help her with her Japanese studies. “I’m improving my reading, and practicing characters and vocabulary,” she says.
But you don’t have to speak Japanese to visit the manga cafe. Around 700 of the comics are in German.
By tradition, Western-language mangas are also read turning the pages from right to left, as in Japan.
Those who open the comics at the left meet with a strict warning: “This is the last page of the book. You don’t want to spoil the fun and read the end first do you?!”
The world of manga is finally gaining traction in Germany, says Katrin Aust of the Hamburg-based comic publisher Tokyopop.
“The fact there’s now also a manga cafe is a clear signal,” she says. “Manga is no longer a niche product, it’s a part of pop culture.” Tokyopop publishes around 20 new titles a month, and has an increasing number of German artists among its authors.
After London and Paris, Dusseldorf has the largest community of Japanese in Europe, numbering around 8,200. That makes it the perfect place for a manga cafe, says a comic and manga artist, Martina Peters.
The 29-year-old has already had several titles published, including by a major Hamburg comic publisher, Carlsen Verlag.
The cafe is an important way for people to be able to explore the new titles, she says, though she says it only has a small selection of the German-language mangas published in the past decade.
“Only 700 mangas? That’s not enough to attract a hardcore manga fan nowadays,” she says.