Are cybercafes still relevant

Despite WiFi and smartphones : That's why there are still internet cafes

The heyday of online public parlors seemed to be over thanks to WiFi and smartphones, but they are still going strong

October 20, 2015, 9:00 p.m.

The young man looks at the screen with concentration. “I'm here three times a week - often for several hours,” says Joseph Lippok. A fully equipped office awaits the 32-year-old freelancer at home. But he prefers to sit here, at the computer in an internet café in the Berlin district of Wedding.

“I'm happy when I get out,” he says. Lippok could also sit down with his laptop in a normal café with wireless reception (WLAN). “But I don't want to drag this thing around with me all the time and be forced to order something to drink,” he explains.

Internet tariffs for at home are cheaper than ever, online access is possible from anywhere and at any time with a smartphone. Who still needs an internet café? “The mass phenomenon of the internet café, when there were shops on every corner - that was done,” says Stephan Humer, internet sociologist at the Berlin University of the Arts. "Today, the Internet is part of everyday life, you don't just go anywhere for that."

According to the digital association Bitkom, the number of Internet cafés in Germany has decreased rapidly in recent years. However, for certain groups such a place still has a sense and purpose, as Humer says. For example for people who do not get a cell phone contract because they do not have a registered address or are not creditworthy. "They need this option, otherwise it won't work for them."

Ghislain Simo, the operator of the internet café in Berlin-Wedding, reports something similar. “The demand is still there - after all, not everyone has a printer or scanner at home.” Many students from nearby schools also come to him, for example when they have a free period.

Internet sales in his café have remained stable over the past few years. However, the costs, for example for rent, increase. “I can't do business with the Internet alone - I'd have to ask for at least double that,” says Simo. Half an hour currently costs 50 cents.

Simo's internet café is therefore also a late-night shop, a shop that sells drinks and groceries until late at night. It also functions as a parcel shop for Swiss Post. “And I run a small wine trade,” says Simo.

The combination of an internet café and another shop is typical, according to the Berlin Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Pure online cafés are the exception. This explains the number of 241 Internet cafés currently registered in the capital. There are no comparative figures to previous years. Bitkom does not have any exact figures either, but assumes that there are now significantly fewer internet cafés in Germany than there were a few years ago.

The expert Humer believes that anonymous surfing in an Internet café is also interesting for many users. "Then nobody at home will notice what I'm doing on the Internet," he explains.

Café owner Simo notices this especially with schoolchildren who want to watch a film on the Internet in his shop, unobserved by their parents. In the medium term, Internet cafés will therefore not go away, Humer is certain. "There are still groups that need that."

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