Lesbian spaces continue to suffer in “Changing Tides”

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All good things must come to an end, right? But why is that especially true of lesbian establishments? Lesbian bars, clubs, restaurants, etc. have been closing up shop left and right as of late, and this trend shows no signs of slowing down. It’s not just a North American phenomenon either–lesbian communities across the world are becoming “homeless,” so to say. Why? The new German documentary Changing Tides (Das Gezeiten) highlights one special restaurant and its owner to give us those answers.

Poster-Das-Gezeiten

Inci Edge opened her restaurant Gezeiten in Cologne, Germany in 1999. A lesbian herself, she had intended the place to be particularly welcoming to women, but open to all. Still, it didn’t take long before its regulars made it a lesbian favorite and, judging by the rainbow that’s part of the restaurant’s signage, it didn’t take Inci long to embrace that label.

Inci is the kind of woman you have to tip your hat to. She didn’t go into business blind–she took a bunch of accounting and business courses, and pretty much whatever else the government made available for free. She also became the restaurant’s head cook shortly after it opened, despite very little professional kitchen experience. She’s kept prices down because she knows her patrons don’t have a lot to spend, yet she still takes care to get the freshest and best ingredients possible. She does all that and so, so much more. It’s clear that running the restaurant consumes her almost entirely.

Das Gezeiten - Inci2 (c) Maren Elbrechtz

The restaurant has been in trouble in the past, but Inci and her staff have always powered through the struggles. Still, the scars from each hit have remained. The city’s smoking ban still continues to alienate some, more and more people continue to opt for drinking at home and, perhaps worst of all, Gezeiten continues to not draw in a new generation of customers.

By Inci’s own admission, Gezeiten is not a hip place to be for twentysomethings. She claims her clientele are in the 30 plus range (I’d say mainly 40 and up, by the looks of things), but that she can’t do much to change that because to do so wouldn’t be “authentic.” Unfortunately, an authentic experience isn’t enough to keep these doors open.

Das Gezeiten - Abschied(c) Maren Elbrechtz

Of course the decision to close doesn’t only affect Inci and her clientele. There’s also her staff, made up of some of the people she’s closest to (some of them queer as well). Indeed, one of the smartest choices director Maren Elbrechtz makes is to show them interacting at length, as up until that point the audience was only privy to a very isolated Inci.

That isolation is in no way odd. She’s got to feel alone as the captain of a ship that’s sinking. But why can’t it stay afloat?

Inci estimates 80 percent of her clients are women, with 90 percent of those being lesbians. Those seem like great numbers until you consider her assessment that lesbians don’t spend as much money as gay men or even heterosexual women. Gezeiten just simply can’t stay open as an establishment that primarily serves lesbians. Where have I heard that before?

Das Gezeiten1 (c) Maren Elbrechtz 

Nonetheless, Gezeiten’s regulars love the place and truly value Inci. Back in ’99, her restaurant was the only place of its kind in Cologne. Today, things are different. Women can host parties at other venues and feel more at ease publicly showing affection for each other. Personally, I don’t believe that replaces having our own permanent spaces but, as with a lot of the best things in life, most of us will only realize this when it’s too late to do anything about it.

Inci is the driving force behind Changing Tides and there certainly is a lot of her. We see exactly what a day in the life of a restaurateur is like. It’s insightful, but it also drags on for too long at times. The movie is just over an hour long, but you could probably shave it down to about 45 minutes of relevant material. That said, we do have to keep in mind that this is Elbrechtz’s first attempt at a feature-length film and that it was a low-budget effort at that. Such circumstances make a good film subject and subject matter all the more important. Fortunately, Changing Tides goes two for two where that’s concerned.

Changing Tides is showing at Filmpalette Cologne on September 29 and 30, as well as having its festival premiere at the Perlen Queer Film Festival in Hannover on October 23. Check out the film’s website for future screening information.

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