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

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Meet the German planning to open Sweden's first cat café
Photo: Private
07:59 CEST+02:00
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.

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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