Meet the German planning to open Sweden’s first cat café

Dirk Lüders is a pet person. But as a German who was schooled in the UK and married a Swede, his family have led an international lifestyle that hasn't always been animal-friendly – and now he's hoping to help others facing the same dilemma.

Meet the German planning to open Sweden's first cat café
Photo: Private

Over the years, the family has had cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, and dogs, but when they moved from Hungary to his wife's native Sweden 15 years ago, the family dogs had to stay behind, due to regulations which meant they would have had to spend six months in quarantine prior to the move.

When Lüders spoke to a friend who had set up a cat cafe in Oldham, northern England, he realized the concept would work well in Stockholm. Though there is a growing number of pet-friendly restaurants and cafés in the Swedish capital, there are currently none where the presence of pets is an integral part of the concept.

“It caught my attention and the more I looked into it, the more I realized there are these cat cafés all over the world – but none in Sweden. I thought, ‘there's an opportunity here',” he tells The Local.

So he started work on The Cat Corner and hopes to open the country's very first cat café in the coming months.

Between the Swedes' renowned love of fika, and the large community of internationals, he thinks there are a lot of people it will appeal to.

“You've got a lot of expats here because of work, and a lot of students from other countries and other parts of Sweden, who might be cat-lovers but don't have their favourite pet here with them. It might be back home, or they might not be allowed to have a cat in a student campus or a sub-let apartment, or it simply might not fit with an international lifestyle, moving every two to three years,” Lüders explained.

This is something he knows firsthand; after meeting his Swedish wife over 30 years ago, while working as a ski guide in Austria where she was on holiday, the couple lived in Spain, the UK, Germany, and Budapest, before settling in Sweden 15 years ago. His work, developing and directing sales efforts for companies in the TV sector, involved plenty of travel – at one time, 21 flights in a 22-day period.

Today, the couple are pet-free due to their busy work schedules, and say that the café will be a good opportunity for anyone who loves animals but doesn't have the time to commit to owning a pet. 

Luders emphasizes that the company is “more about the cats than the café” and hopes to raise awareness of the problem of homeless animals in Sweden.

According to estimates from the charity Svekatt, there are 150,000 homeless cats in Sweden and 30,000 in the Stockholm area alone, both numbers which are growing rapidly. Visitors to the café who decide they'd like to spend time with animals on a more permanent basis will be redirected to their nearest shelter, though the nine cats in the café won't be up for adoption in order to give the animals stability.

The cats who will live at the café have not yet been chosen, but they will also be adopted from shelters and the team will look specifically for cats that get on well both with people and other cats.

“Swedes are real animal lovers, I read that 17 percent of homes here have a cat. We put a shoutout on the website calling for people to apply to work with us, and it went crazy; we had over 100 responses,” said Lüders. “We want to make sure we have professionally trained people, not just people who love cats, so we'll have a trained Animal Nurse working with us and a zoologist who will check up on the cats.

Svenne is The Cat Corner's mascot. 

The cafe will charge 115 kronor per hour spent there, with visitors welcome to help themselves to unlimited tea and coffee, and vegan and gluten-free cakes and salads also on offer. There is also a plan for partnerships with book clubs, yoga groups, and possibly therapy sessions, who could book the café for their meetings. Overall, Lüders says the aim is to build up a small community and help give something back to society.

So far, planning for the Cat Corner has involved research, hiring, meeting with Swedish city and animal authorities, and marketing. He was able to use his knowledge of marketing from his career in global sales, but says that these days social media offers more opportunities, and that “if you get it right, it can work wonders”.

However, he adds that the hard part is just beginning, with the company launching a crowdfunding campaign on Thursday, October 26th.

“What's great about crowdfunding is that you're not just donating but you get different rewards. That might be a VIP visit before we officially open, a t-shirt, your name on a cat collar… or the name of someone you don't like on a litter tray!”

“But it's all or nothing, so we have to reach the 295,000 kronor target. The response so far on social media has been fantastic, we've had people saying they'll camp out all night when we open, but that's not the same as donating.”

So far, Lüders said the concept seems to have “struck a chord”, with a promotional video on the café's Facebook page getting thousands of views and comments, and dozens of Swedish newspapers, magazines, and radio stations getting in touch. 

As for his advice for anyone planning to move to Sweden, he says: “Do it!”

“Sweden is very sophisticated and stable, with great healthcare and infrastructure. It's great if you've got children, and it's really remarkable that there are very good English-speaking state schools.”

“You can also have a bit of English culture whenever you want. There's the English shop where you can get pork scratchings and Marmite, and English football is also very popular here. Swedish people often seem to support a Swedish football team, but also an English one!”

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Reader question: When am I eligible for a Swedish pension?

A reader got in touch to ask how long he had to work in Sweden before he was eligible for a pension. Here are Sweden's pension rules, and how you can get your pension when the time comes.

Reader question: When am I eligible for a Swedish pension?

The Swedish pension is part of the country’s social insurance system, and it can seem like a confusing beast at times. The good news is that if you’re living and working here, you’ll almost certainly be earning towards a pension, and you’ll be able to get that money even if you move elsewhere before retirement.

You will start earning your Swedish general pension, or allmän pension, once you’ve earned over 20,431 kronor in a single year, and – for almost all kinds of pension in Sweden – there is no time limit on how long you must have lived in Sweden before you are eligible.

The exception is the minimum guarantee pension, or garantipension, which you can receive whether you’ve worked or not. To be eligible at all for this, you need to have lived in Sweden for a period of at least three years before you are 65 years old. 

“There’s a limit, but it’s a money limit,” Johan Andersson, press secretary at the Swedish Pension Agency told The Local about the general pension. “When you reach the point that you start paying tax, you start paying into your pension.”

“But you have to apply for your pension, make sure you get in touch with us when you want to start receiving it,” he said.

Here’s our in-depth guide on how you can maximise your Swedish pension, even if you’re only planning on staying in Sweden short-term.

Those who spend only a few years working in Sweden will earn a much smaller pension than people who work here for their whole lives, but they are still entitled to something – people who have worked in Sweden will keep their income pension, premium pension, supplementary pension and occupational pension that they have earned in Sweden, even if they move to another country. The pension is paid no matter where in the world you live, but must be applied for – it is not automatically paid out at retirement age.

If you retire in the EU/EEA, or another country with which Sweden has a pension agreement, you just need to apply to the pension authority in your country of residence in order to start drawing your Swedish pension. If you live in a different country, you should contact the Swedish Pensions Agency for advice on accessing your pension, which is done by filling out a form (look for the form called Ansök om allmän pension – om du är bosatt utanför Sverige).

The agency recommends beginning the application process at least three months before you plan to take the pension, and ideally six months beforehand if you live abroad. It’s possible to have the pension paid into either a Swedish bank account or an account outside Sweden.

A guarantee pension – for those who live on a low income or no income while in Sweden – can be paid to those living in Sweden, an EU/EEA country, Switzerland or, in some cases, Canada. This is the only Swedish pension which is affected by how long you’ve lived in Sweden – you can only receive it if you’ve lived in the country for at least three years before the age of 65.

“The guarantee pension is residence based,” Andersson said. “But it’s lower if you haven’t lived in Sweden for at least 40 years. You are eligible for it after living in Sweden for only three years, but it won’t be that much.”