'Leiden cafés are the ideal places to write a dissertation'
American PhD candidate Linda Gottschalk wrote this proposition in her dissertation on Caspar Coolhaes, Leiden’s first Professor of Religious Studies. What's behind it?
‘Good coffee for stimulation, tea for contemplation, “adult” beverages for celebration, and all in a relaxed atmosphere. Looking out at the gloomy weather makes you glad to be indoors working. Dim lighting inside, particularly in the famous Dutch “bruin cafes” helps minimize visual distractions and allows you to focus on your laptop screen with no glare from the harsh sun.
Staff not overly friendly
‘There are so many good cafes that if you are disturbed by unwelcome attention, there's always another one you can escape to. Other people's conversation, footsteps passing and music (often light jazz) make for a pleasant white noise that is perfect for deep concentration. Even shoppers with noisy children on market days melt into the overall din which separates the writer from the everyday environment. The staff are pleasant but not overly friendly on repeat visits, unlike in the US where they keep ocoming to ask if they can get you something - which can be a bit embarrassing if you are sitting working for a long time in one spot.
Part of a long tradition
‘Town and gown are both present in Leiden's cafés. Knowing you are part of the “gown” side, in the midst of “town,” adds an enjoyable little thrill to your work. Leiden has a lot of local characters and a dissertation-writer is just one more. There are many academics in Leiden that the sight of someone doing academic work in a public place doesn't shock the natives, as it does in many village settings. The tradition of so many dissertations having been written successfully in Leiden over hundreds of years, by men and women who walked these very streets and probably sat drinking in these very cafés, bolsters your confidence when things get difficult.
Coolhaes would have approved
‘My friends don’t often frequent cafes, so I’m not distracted by meeting them there. On the other hand, it’s easy to set up meetings with colleagues for friendly discussions. Cafes are not crowded in the mornings, which is my best time for writing. All the cafes in the centre of Leiden are just blocks away from the historic places mentioned in my dissertation, which is inspirational. And last but not least: Caspar Coolhaes, who was banned by the church and out of financial need turned to distilling alcohol, would have approved of any place serving genever.'