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Dossier: Celebrating and enjoyment

The real luxury is being together

You don’t need champagne and caviar to have a good time. The guests at the Speakout soup kitchen in Zurich are just as happy to eat Anja Schlauri’s pasta Bolognese – especially because they can eat it together.

Text: Helwi Braunmiller; photo: Kostas Maros

When Anja Schlauri, Head of Marketing Services at Sanitas, rattles the pots and pans at the Speakout soup kitchen in Zurich Niederdorf, one thing is immediately clear – there’s not a lot of room! Space is scarce in the city kitchen, where 40 people come four evenings a week for a free warm meal. In winter, the kitchen is even open five evenings a week. Anja has been volunteering at the soup kitchen for over a decade, regularly making her ever-popular pasta Bolognese.

The soup kitchen has a total budget of 120 francs for salad, main course and dessert. “When I went shopping for the soup kitchen for the first time, my friend said just to take a few cheap vegetables. I had to confess that I had no idea which vegetables were the cheapest,” recalls Anja. “Until then, I’d always been lucky enough to buy whatever I wanted.”

“Our guests have their way of dealing with life, and I have mine. We rub along nicely.”

An important lesson – and a learning process resulting in a healthy level of pragmatism. “It was a steep learning curve for me in the beginning. Now  I can hold my gourmet evenings with multiple courses for my friends without having a guilty conscience, and I can also feed 40 people something delicious, fresh and filling on a small budget. Our guests have their way of dealing with life, and I have mine. We rub along nicely”, says the Head of Marketing Services at Sanitas.

Anja quickly realised that the soup kitchen is much more than just a freshly-made warm meal to many of her guests. For a large number of the visitors it is a brief respite from loneliness. The soup kitchen has many regulars who’ve been coming for years. “It’s like coming home when mum’s already cooking. You’re at the stove, stirring huge pots and the guests ask what’s on the menu today. Someone might help cut the vegetables or do the washing up – just like in a family”, says Anja. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, the mood in Speakout is quieter, more melancholy. At this time of year, spending time together and the luxury of not having to eat alone is the greatest pleasure.

“Anyone taking on voluntary work is doing it partly for themselves. It gives me the feeling that I’m giving something back.”

But the soup kitchen is not without its conflicts. Guests at Speakout come from different backgrounds, and only a small number are homeless. Nevertheless, they are all people who’ve experienced problems of some kind, from the very young to the very old. On rare occasions there can be difficult moments at Speakout. “Of course I’ve sometimes found myself asking why I do it. Especially as I’m fortunate enough to have never been exposed to violence".

But ultimately, anyone taking on voluntary work is doing it partly for themselves. Anja Schlauri sacrifices her free time, talks to the visitors and laughs with them. And in return the guests help to keep her grounded. “I’ve learnt a lot from the people in Speakout. We often place too much value on what we have and what we are. It’s good to have both feet firmly on the ground and  know that life can be very different, but it can still be enjoyed even in difficult times.”