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Scottish Café (wikipedia.org)
173 points by benbreen 4 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 46 comments

Stan Ulam's autobiography - Adventures of a Mathematician - talks a bit about this, from his early days in Lwow. It's a good book about interesting times and interesting people - if this wikipedia article interests you, then maybe the book will also.

Boy, this sounds awesome! As a mathematician who's gonna spend his next few months in Warsaw, is there anything there similar to this? I'd love some real, live math "arguments" over coffee!

Unfortunately this is now history.

Nowadays people go hiking in the mountains instead and argue about math there. My algebra professor from college does a biannual kayaking trip.

Not a mathematician, but I spent a few years during high school hiking with math students, talking mostly about math. We even went on a sort of pilgrimage to Lviv to see the grave of Stefan Banach and of course the Scottish Café.

I still remember one actual conversation from that trip:

-Where are we anyway?

-In Ukraine.

-What kind of response is that?

-The most precise I could give.


Discussing math while hiking is great, but regular meetings in cafes are a whole different animal. There's something about the repetitivity, the short meetings, the "mundane" atmosphere etc, which is good for me for math discussions. Hiking trips are too "special" to bring the same experience.

It might not be possible now during the pandemic. But under normal times it could have worked to start a math group at Meetup.com and then spread that link via Twitter, Facebook, local universities etc. As a starting point 2-3 persons could hold flash talks that could spawn off into interesting discussions. A local sponsor could make sure that some food and beverages are available to the attendants.

Just a thought.

Not to mention the easily-available caffeine, which is conducive to discussion.

Good idea, I may try that.

I could find no explanation of why it was called the Scottish café or what the link to Scotland might have been. Any ideas?

I don't know about that particular history, but naming things is hard and naming cafes and hotels based on foreign places was kind of customary. "Cafe Wien" (obviously nod to Viennas Coffee house culture), etc. In Germany at least the Country + Hof combination is still fairly common for established hotels ("Englischer Hof", literally "English Yard/court").

So I could very well imagine that someone founding a Cafe looked at which names were already used in town and settled on "Scottish", maybe also due to 'underdog' sympathies perhaps with Scotland (?) but that is pure speculation on my part.

I had Hof as a cognate to "hall", but that's not correct, it primary cognate is "hovel".

But there's a modern meaning of "pub" — via Korean!


hall is cognate to Halle I think. The proper standard German translation for hall might be Gutshof. But primarily, Hof refers to a yard, and then derived from that, are related meanings. It can refer to a farm (in many German regions a farm consists of several houses /stables arranged in a way that the buildings form the enclosure of a yard, "der Hof", see also David Hasselhof: Hassel-Hof, the Farm of Hassel).

A rural hotel/Restaurant is sometimes referred to as a Gasthof (Gast=Guest).

court of justice = Gerichtshof

royal court = Königshof

atrium = Vorhof

The Korean word your referencing seems to stem from Hofbräu, which refers to the royal court, Hofbräu is the Bräu (= brew) with the royal warrant (from the Königs-Hof).

Think "Pizza Hut", "Radio Shack", etc.

In one of his books, Richard Feynman told of staying in the "Hotel City" (in Switzerland, I believe), observing that in America they would have called it the "Hotel Cité", because using a foreign name makes it sound fancier.

Just the name of the cafe.

Actually they have started in Cafe Roma but it has been too crowded and noisy and Banach decided to move to the other side of the street to Szkocka (Scottish) Cafe instead. Another reason Roma's owner wasn't keen to put on a tab. The Szkocka owner - Mr. Brettschneider was more friendly to mathematicians.


The food in Szkocka wan't particularly good in Banach's opinion and some older mathematicians (Hugo Steinhaus) preferred bakery of Ludwik Zalewski at Akademicka 22 which was famous for excellent cakes delivered even to Warsaw by plane.

Szkocka Cafe had been also frequented by journalists from Radio Lwów and cattle traders. The Cattle Market had been long time moved further from the city center but traders have liked Szkocka for closing trades.

Szkocka was also the home of Klub Konstrukcjonalistów - a discussion and literary club focused on aesthetics.


Lwów had its share of coffee houses - "Cariton" (dawna "Muzeum" obok Muzeum Przemysłowego), "Centralna" (obecnie na rogu ul. Jagiellońskiej i Trzeciego Maja), "Europejska" (róg ul. Czarnieckiego i placu Bernardyńskiego), "Grand" (dawna "Teatralna"), "George", "Imperial" (ul. Legionów 5), "Louvre", "Palermo" (ul. Rutkowskiego, róg ul. Kamińskiego), "De la Paix", "Roma", "Rouge" (ul. Mikołaja), "Sewilla" (pl. Bernardyński, róg ul. Piekarskiej), "Union" ("Hostynnycia"), "Victoria" (ul. Rejtana), "Warszawa", "Wiedeńska"


Google Translated > I also do not know where the idea of christening one of the cafes came from, according to the frescoes inside it, "Szkocka". Personally, this name reminds me of the famous jokes about skimpy Scotsmen and has always appealed - probably against the intentions of the host - to my savings, and maybe that is why it was partially closed for the time being.

Google Translated > "Szkocka": it has always been the place with the most heterogeneous audience among all Lviv cafes. University professors and couples in love, old gossipers and lonely newspaper readers, bibliophiles and billiards, Jewish intelligentsia and students from the nearby Academic House, all states and spheres, classes and races, religions and preferences lived here in harmony, not with each other, but next to each other, filling an average of half of the room. So "Scotch" was always especially nice thanks to the fact that it was never too full and never too empty. Somehow its capacity was happily measured. Various secessionists from the neighboring "Roma" were a large part of its audience; those who for one reason or another - sometimes because of oppositionism itself, and sometimes as a result of overpopulation - left their home tables in "Roma" and emigrated to "Szkocka", trying to establish a new, independent existence here.

It could be related to historic Scotland -> Poland immigration:


It’s a rich historic connection, especially in academia. More detail here - https://www.scotland.org/features/scotland-and-poland

People back then knew that "hanging out" in a public place was worthwhile.

I wish there was a model of public place where you and your pals could buy breakfast+lunch, or lunch+dinner, and occupy the table for the whole time in-between.

Bars let you stay for long periods, but after three or four hours everyone ends up hammered, which is a different thing.

I lived for close to four years in South Korea, working mostly from inside cafés and often spending an entire work day inside them. There were plenty that were set up for this - they often catered a student crowd that would hang out there for long durations studying (quite a few had open for 24 hours, too). It meant the drink prices were quite high since it was basically rent for a seat.

Alternatively some dedicated study cafes would require a flat fee for a time duration and make drinks cheap instead.

It was also fairly common to leave laptops plugged in and leave for half an hour to grab a meal elsewhere and come back.

It boils down to economics and custom.

A few years ago, travelling in the US we, a group of European exchange students) I remember well how we were after lunch or dinner almost thrown out of restaurants by servers (i.e. brought the bill without having asked for it, etc.). I remember it so well because it really felt rude to me (we were not really hanging around unduly and might at times have ordered a round of deserts with a small break after the meal which the business then lost but that is another story).

Of course from a business perspective its better to get 3 parties to have lunch on a table than 2, and esp. in the US with the enormous tips (and lowered minimum wage) for servers, there are strong incentives for that kind of behaviour. Ultimately landlords/markets also factor this in when setting rent prices for restaurant spaces.

So to come back to the Kaffeehause-style establishments I always wonder how they were economically viable back then. Probably a combination of cheap labor, people spending quite a lot potentially in the Kaffeehaus [studying math, I guess they just rented a room (potentially not even heated) and not an apartment, then socialised outside or in cafes].

I think to pull off a Kaffeehaus for hanging out today it would probably work out more in a 'Club' model where you pay a membership fee which allows for stable operation.

There's many things that seen to have been economically viable a hundred years ago, which would seem crazy today. For example, houses with 4m high roofs, thick, stable walls and stucco.

Or maybe it was economically just as little viable as it is today, but people just didn't think that much about economical viability back in the old days?

My grandmother grew up in a hut, every weekend it would be swept out with fresh sand, because it had a stomped mud floor. This was in Germany. Pretty sure the local gentry had these stucco ceilings, but not everyone.

Pretty sure a lot of what was done wasn't done with as tight calculations as it is done today. On the other hand, the markets weren't as unforgiven as today so it might have been easier to turn an investment into a profit.

It would be interesting to see the bookwork (if it even existed in the first place) of the Scottish Café, with supplemental informations by economists / historians putting it into perspective

You would have to look for places in quieter parts of a city, smaller streets, not high-traffic or touristy. It's actually not that difficult to find these in Paris, place where you can know the owner and hang out (you still pay of course). You have to start slowly, you don't come in the first day, drink a coffee and stay 4 hours with friends, you have to build the relationship with the place: come a few times, begin to know the place, the waiter, the owner, ... and after some time you might be recognised as friend and the place will be a nice spot.

There are lots of places where someone can show up and get work done. University students will know a few places, on and around the campus.

I just can't think of a collaborative space where like-minded souls collide, aside from perhaps hacker spaces. Is there anything like those Paris cafés where seemingly all famous artists went and drank together?

I'm confused...What you're asking for is a café? There are a lot of places like that.

Yes, but there is this annoying rule that you have to order drinks every once in an unspecified while.

Do you think the patrons of this cafe didn't? I am sure they were expected to provide some degree of patronage for their time there.

In Vienna they will let you sit for hours on a cup of coffee.

It's one of the reasons I was glad for the Union Society at my university. You had to be a member of the university, and then pay to join, so not exactly a public place, but it was great for this sort of thing. There were many occasions where we'd grab a light lunch there, spend a good 4 or 5 hours working on things together, then grab a pizza from a place just down the road to bring back[1]. It then had a bar that opened at 6, so you could have a few drinks before heading home.

You could do much the same in the local Starbucks, but the noise and how busy it was made it a bad place to work. The Union was generally quiet (and had an on-site library if you needed it), which was ideal. We also had a few supervisions in local pubs, but they'd generally only last an hour which sidestepped the drinking/taking up a table without buying drinks issues.

There were of course study spaces we could have used in college, but not having to worry about disturbing people as you were discussing things (as most people there weren't working) and having drinks/hot food available made it a much nicer place to work.

[1] Which you weren't really meant to do given they were selling food, but the staff let us get away with it.

Rural family restaurants can handle this - or any place where you get outside of “heavy traffic” - just ask! As long as the table would have been empty anyway it doesn’t cost them extra - or leave a generous tip.

One restaurant near me even has a plaque commemorating the group who has been eating lunch there for twenty years.

You have the wrong associations. What are you looking for is a place where drinking alcohol and smoking is not frowned upon.

The traditional café is exactly what they're looking for: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coffeehouse

At least in Austria and Germany there are lots of places like that.

Starbucks is pretty good. I have never seen them kick anyone out for not buying enough.

I miss the one that was near me.

It probably depends on the city. My fiance who is in Singapore saw this article and mentioned on one occasion she was trying to work in a Starbucks with a classmate and they were asked to leave to make room for other customers. Singapore feels like a pretty crowded city though, many of the public spaces like the library are usually fully booked.

Folks can argue about the coffee quality as much as they want, but this why I love the Starbucks reserve roastery in Seattle. Decent chairs you can sit in for hours on end, and they blast AC in the summer. Noisy though.

It's unfortunate that it's so hard to find a pdf of the "The Scottish book", it looks as though any copy of it is over 150 USD.

There are a number of PDF versions (and much more) linked from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scottish_Book :

English version of Scottish book http://kielich.amu.edu.pl/Stefan_Banach/pdf/ks-szkocka/ks-sz...

Manuscript of Scottish book https://web.archive.org/web/20180428090844/http://kielich.am...

The New Scottish Book PDFs https://web.archive.org/web/20170703172619/http://www.wmi.un...

Thank you!

years ago, i took classes from dan mauldin, the editor of the Birkhäuser edition of the scottish book. our local scottish cafe was jim's diner. great hash browns.

Great metaphor for how to create an innovative, collaborative culture.

I followed Wikipedia to "Scottish Book" and checked the names of the people involved... only to find a lot of them executed in WWII :(

Both Germans and Soviets did target Polish university professors as a matter of policy.





> Once more, the Führer must point out that the Poles can only have one master, and that is the German; two masters cannot and must not exist side by side; therefore, all representatives of the Polish intelligentsia should be eliminated [umbringen]. This sounds harsh, but such are the laws of life.[]

[] https://archive.org/details/adolfhitlerevilm0000altm

To give an idea how these massacres wrecked Polish society, imagine British society (and Europe) if Germans with Austrians succeeded pursuing people from the Black Book [1].

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Black_Book_(list)

Quite a lot of postwar US research lead can be attributed to that being where people survived. The thriving pre war intellectualism of Poland, Hungary and so on was largely obliterated.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Martians_(scientists) : those who escaped.

We often measure the loss in dollars, or more likely in number of lives. We don't have a measure for the vast amount of human capital that was destroyed in the second world war.

Juliusz Schauder - was a Polish mathematician of Jewish origin, known for his work in functional analysis, partial differential equations and mathematical physics.

> He was executed by the Gestapo, probably in October 1943.

Stanisław Saks (30 December 1897 – 23 November 1942) was a Polish mathematician and university tutor, a member of the Lwów School of Mathematics, known primarily for his membership in the Scottish Café circle, an extensive monograph on the theory of integrals, his works on measure theory and the Vitali–Hahn–Saks theorem.

> Arrested in November 1942, he was executed on 23 November 1942 by the German Gestapo in Warsaw.

Thankfully most of them seem to have survived the war. It's a shame that these days people are still into these murderous systems like communism and national socialism. We never learn.

> murderous systems like communism and national socialism

To be fair, democracy is also very murderous. Western countries are constantly killing thousands of civilians abroad in the name of freedom.

* “UN says more civilians killed by allies than insurgents” - https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-49165676

* “Costs of War” - https://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/costs/human

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