What's the story of Mensa

Happy Birthday, Mensa Academica!

The Mensa Academica opened its doors for the first time on May 18, 1920 - as part of the 100th anniversary of the Studierendenwerk Aachen, this day should actually be celebrated on a grand scale. In times of Corona, however, the birthday child will have to do without guests.

It lies quietly there these days, the Mensa Academica on Pontwall. Where there is a smell of fresh waffles in the entrance area, the doors are still tightly closed due to Corona. The Studierendenwerk certainly did not want such a quiet 100th birthday for its main canteen, the cornerstone of which was laid on May 18, 1920 with the first public lunch for students. “We actually wanted to celebrate this day with the students,” says managing director Dirk Reitz, regretting the developments. “It is an important date because the founding of the first cafeteria forms the basis for the history of today's student union. It was the beginning of social student aid in Aachen, which has continued to develop over the decades and has become indispensable at the university location. "

The history of the cafeteria begins after the First World War. Economic emergency causes lecturers and professors to found the student self-help organization “Studentenwohl Aachen e. V. ”, the forerunner of today's student union. This is to take care of the social concerns of around 1,000 returning students in an organized manner. As one of the first canteens in Germany, a provisional “Mensa academica” with five employees is being set up in the Talbot Hall, a gymnasium on Schinkelstrasse.

The cafeteria in the house of the student body
The Talbot hall soon no longer suffices to supply the students, and the logistical tasks are becoming more and more extensive. It is decided to build the “House of the Student Union” in Turmstrasse. The academica canteen is to be given a permanent location here. There is a neat dining room where around 1,400 students receive lunch every day. In addition, the house offers a few small student rooms.

When Aachen was bombed in 1944, the Academica cafeteria was also completely destroyed. What follows are years of hardship. The famine is great, and the fact that the population is not collapsing is in large part thanks to Swedish, Irish and Swiss food donations. A meager improvised cafeteria is temporarily housed in a mechanical engineering hall after the university reopens. By 1950 the student body was painstakingly rebuilt under the most difficult conditions and with a few interruptions. Young men who want to study must help to get their matriculation.

Cafeteria in the fifties
After the reopening, the cafeteria on Pontwall is slowly blossoming again, and the dishes are also becoming richer. In 1950, the students are happy about “braised beef, red cabbage, potatoes and sauce” for 70 pfennigs, followed by a nut pudding for another 25 pfennigs.

In the following years the Mensa Academica was rebuilt again and again in order to meet the increasing needs of the increasing number of students. Due to the additional service areas such as student accommodation, study financing and childcare, the administrative area of ​​the student union has to be constantly enlarged.

The cafeteria is not always used only as a meeting point for daily lunch, especially in the 1980s, where numerous events take place that have a decisive influence on student cultural life. For example, the pedestrian ball and the concerts in the theater are unforgettable for many. However, the state government's austerity policy has always given rise to criticism. Student protests, for example because of the lack of subsidies from the country, monotonous food with too few calories, too high prices or the use of disposable tableware, were not uncommon.

Cafeteria through the ages
Today the bad reputation of the cafeterias is a thing of the past, and the Mensa Academica has clearly caught up in terms of service and food variety. The two-year renovation (2012 to 2014) brought more seats thanks to larger areas and a wider range of products thanks to special counters. Vegan, vegetarian, international cuisine or the popular Schnitzel Tuesday - for many students, the cafeteria, which has been known as vegan-friendly for years, is a daily companion in everyday university life.

In 2020, the Studierendenwerk will look after nine canteens in Aachen and Jülich, including numerous cafeterias and coffee bars. In 2019, a total of 2.75 million meals were served, in the Mensa Academica alone there were around 1.18 million with an average of 6,000 guests per day. And the five employees from the "Mensa academica" from 1920 have meanwhile become over 60 employees.

Due to the corona pandemic, all university canteens have been closed since March 19 until further notice. When the Mensa Academica can receive its guests again depends on the ordinance of the state government. The fact is that all celebrations and action programs for the 100th anniversary had to be postponed. The historic anniversary exhibition at Pontwall, which was originally supposed to open next week and also shows the transformation of the Mensa Academica in many pictures, is not expected to be seen until 2021.

Cafeteria Academica in transition