Classic German Konditorei have a certain charm all of their own and, perhaps, an old-fashioned style that can send some people running a mile. That’s if you find a really good one.
Café Jansen sits in the hidden heart of Cologne and remains the oldest cafés in the city today, still open and serving people coffee and cake via career waiters and waitresses who take strict pride in their work. Intimidating? It’s why we keep going back.
Rebuilt after suffering in the bombardment of Cologne during the Second World War, Café Jansen is known by German TV and film companies as the place to go to find the 1950s still very much alive when the action calls for it. It’s completely unfair to suggest that it has stood still, as regional baking and café chain, Fassbender, took it over in the late nineties and brightened up the entrance with beaming displays for cake and souvenirs, yet the café is distinctly and traditionally European.
As with most, good cafes in Europe, and certainly Germany, Café Jansen is a meeting place and an all-day dining experience, from the breakfasts of set menus and quickly grabbed rolls and pastries to carefully made lunches.
Green velour chairs and highly polished table tops are accompanied by the slightly annoying, yet familiar exchange of having to decide which cake or torte you’d like from a superb selection, depleting by the minute, just out of sight in the chilled counter. They aren’t reliably listed on a menu, so it’s a memory game, as you dart from your chair, back to the table and the hovering host with notepad poised, but its all part of the fun. Carefully tended by curious and smiling staff, house and regional specialities, such as Hazelnut Cake (Haselnuss Spezial Torte) and an Apricot Sponge Tray Cake (Aprikosen Sandkuchen), sit alongside undeniable German classics at Café Jansen.
But, when is a German classic not a classic? When you layer marzipan into a Prinzregent Torte? Well, it would leave Bavarians in the southern region of its invention gasping for air, but yes, those in the west of Germany have, if it were possible, not only challenged convention, but bettered it. Café Jansen’s Prinzregent Torte comes with added dimensions, chocolate sponge and chocolate ganache beating away the dominance of the traditional hazelnut buttercream and Viennese biscuit sponge, then comes the marzipan, dusting of cocoa powder and a square of caramelised, flaked almond to finish. Sacrilege! Delicious sacrilege!
By way of penance, a very traditional Apple Tart (Altdeutscher Apfeltorte) is also added to the bill, revealing solid German baking from almond-peppered top to crispy, sweet pastry bottom. The faintest layer of custard anchors chopped apples, sweetened minimally, covered in flaked almonds and then, quite simply baked. A mound of whipped cream, as German as sausage, beer and waiting patiently until the lights change to cross an empty road, completes a deftly simple and hugely enjoyable experience.
As with most, good cafes in Europe, and certainly Germany, Café Jansen is a meeting place and an all-day dining experience, from the breakfasts of set menus and quickly grabbed rolls and pastries to carefully made lunches of quiches, smoked fish laid across interesting breads, soups and so much more. If the crowd waiting for you there is a civilised, a little quiet and even, whisper it, old, then that’s the way it is. It often takes a lifetime to find the beauty in reliability.
Obenmarspforten 7, 50667 Köln, Germany
Photo of Café Jansen’s interior (c) Franklin Heijnen