A Most Irksome Matter

Richard J. Evans

  • Liaisons Dangereuses: Sex, Law and Diplomacy in the Age of Frederick the Great by Mary Lindemann
    Johns Hopkins, 353 pp, £23.50, May 2006, ISBN 0 8018 8317 2

If you wanted intelligent conversation in 18th-century Hamburg, there was no better place to go than Dreyer’s coffee house, where the professional and cultural elite gathered to discuss the latest ideas of the Enlightenment in an atmosphere far removed from the inns and bars of the waterfront. Here you could read the international press and discuss the state of the world. If you tired of intellectual debate, there were five billiard tables at which you could play, usually for money; there was whist, also played for money; or you could drink coffee and smoke the clay pipes kindly provided by the establishment. Unlike their English counterparts, Hamburg’s coffee houses admitted women, so there was female company to be had too.

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