One Monday earlier last month, Matt and I both had a particularly terrible case of the Mondays. We knew there was only one solution. We had to blind book. Most of the regular readers know that blind booking is a feature through German Wings where you select your dates, pay, and then see where you’re going. It’s a fabulous adventure!
Anyway, Matt and I got Berlin. Since we’ve been to Berlin before and only had one night we decided we needed to get a little more off the beaten path. We booked our rooms at Propeller Island, an unusual (and awesome) hotel where you can select your room based on the theme you’d like. Click here to see some of the options. We stayed in “The Table” room. It was fabulous! Other choices include “nudes” “space cube” “coffin” and “cages.” Yeah, we didn’t go for the coffin option.
Since we had our rooms, it was time to look for things to do in the evening. My friend, Kristine, recommended Nocti Vagus. She hadn’t been before but had heard about it.
Nocti Vagus is a restaurant where you dine in the complete dark. You also experience a show (in the dark). The entire waitstaff is blind or severely visually impaired and the website will tell you, “a reversal of roles takes place here: here, the seeing need help from the blind.” They couldn’t be more accurate.
We entered the restaurant and were met by a host (not blind) in a lit room. We sat down at a small table where he shared what we could expect for the evening, made sure our phones and watches were off and put away, and took our drink order. There are three options for the menu. You can get the Gourmet Menu (more traditionally German), the Vegetarian Menu, or the Surprise Menu. Both the Gourmet and Vegetarian Menus looked really good but we figured “go big or go home” and both ordered the Surprise Menu.
After we ordered, the host took us down to the completely black restaurant and helped us meet our waiter, Wolfgang. We were instructed that if we needed to leave, or needed anything, all we needed to do was yell for Wolfgang. Wolfgang took my hand and instructed Matt to take my shoulder and we were led to our table. They are not kidding. It is completely black inside the restaurant. We could not see anything! Matt and I managed to fumble around to find our seats (not our waiter’s fault, he led us perfectly, but we were so awkward without our sight). We were sitting next to each other with a wall behind us and two place settings in front of us where people would join us later. We sat there giggling nervously and feeling like time was passing slow or fast, we couldn’t tell.
Wolfgang brought us our wine and water and told us how to pour it so we wouldn’t spill (put your finger in the glass). Yes, we had to pour our own drinks! At first we were really scared (especially clumsy me) but doing it ourselves made us much more self-sufficient as we prepared for an entire meal in the dark! He also brought bread and butter. Matt and I had to agree on where to put the bread basket and I managed to dip my entire hand in the butter a few times. Oops!
I don’t know if it was 10 minutes or 2 hours later but Matt and I managed bread and wine with no spills. We talked a lot and were surprised with how loud the restaurant was. Everyone was chatting and laughing. It was incredibly festive. The other very interesting thing was that all the waiters had special signals, calls, or whistles that they used at they walked through the restaurant to alert the other servers as to their location. It was so fascinating.
Wolfgang came back with our first plate. We sat there and felt our way to our plates. My fingers rested on a tomato and I realized it was a salad. I tried to use silverware but, well, it’s hard enough to eat a salad with a fork, so I went at it with my fingers and my fork in some sort of combo. Then came the adventure, “WHAT ARE WE EATING?!” We both swore it was salmon with some potato salad on the side. It was great! Then Wolfgang came back to clear our plates and told us what we ate. It was smoked duck and the mash was peas and other vegetables. Oops. Ha! Normally, I’m not a huge fan of duck, but it was really good. This was the first moment where I realized just how much we rely on our sight and previous notions of things as means of pre-judgement. More on that, later.
Our main course came next and the plate was much bigger. Matt managed to find the steak right away whereas my fingers, I mean fork, made their way directly to the vegetables. Not surprising. I took my first bite, chewed, tasted, and decided that it was amazing. Matt asked what I was eating, and we figured out it was a carrot. Um, I hate cooked carrots. What is this insanity?! Turns out, if I don’t know I’m eating them, I like them quite a lot. I guess parents have been doing this to their children for years and it worked on me. The main course was quite good and we were correct about what we were eating (mashed pumpkin and squash, vegetables, and steak).
As we were waiting for the show to begin, two women from France sat down in front of us. Wolfgang talked to them for a moment and left to get their drinks. One woman asked if there was someone else at the table and I answered, “yes.” Then Matt spoke up and I guess the woman across from him didn’t know someone was there and she let out the loudest blood-curdling scream I’ve ever heard! The ENTIRE RESTAURANT went dead silent for an eternity, I’m sure. One of the waiters said some sort of joke (in German) and everyone laughed and started eating again. Matt and I were like, “no, it’s ok. I’m Michelle and he’s Matt. We’re from America!” I started rambling on and on and we pretended that nothing happened. That moment will forever be burned into my memory. The women were young (just out of college) and very kind. We talked a bit about traveling and things we’d seen, then Matt and I started talking between ourselves and they resumed their conversation in French, I’m assuming talking about how much we scared the shit out of them. ;-)
Then it was time for the show. There are a variety of shows (horror, history, music, erotic, etc…) and we opted for the music show. By then, we were full and had been up for hours. We heard a little Mack the Knife and a few songs in German. After being in the dark that long, full, and tired, I leaned my head back on the wall behind the table and …I’m not proud to say this- but I fell asleep. I couldn’t help it! Matt must have sensed it because he kept leaning over to me and asking “are you asleep?!” I woke up when Madonna’s Like a Virgin played. Well played, Nocti Vagus. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t boring at all, it was just dark and anyone who really knows me knows that I go to bed shortly after dark. I just can’t stay awake when there’s no light. Turns out, I can’t do it at a restaurant, either. At least no one could see me!
The last course came out and it was dessert. Again, we had no idea what we would eat. Matt thought it would be something lemon and I thought it would be something apple. Out came pie and ice cream! It was apple pie and it tasted like a lemon ice cream or sorbet. We were positive that we nailed it. Nope. Wolfgang came out and told us it was some apple and something else in the pie and that the ice cream was guava. I’d have never guessed!
After dessert, it was time to go. Since our companions weren’t done eating (they arrived a good 2 hours after us), I had to yell for Wolfgang. I felt so rude but that’s what you’re supposed to do! I yelled, “Wolfgang!” and blushed beyond belief (I’m so glad the restaurant was dark) and he came to take us back out to the lit area to pay.
On our way out, Wolfgang asked us about our experience and as our eyes adjusted, we were overwhelmed. We told the truth, it was amazing. As uncomfortable as it was, it was such an exercise in senses, being open to new ideas, being open to new tastes and textures, and in some cases being open to tastes and textures that we may have been previously closed off to. Matt and I must have talked for another two hours that night about all the crazy things we noticed. I mean, we both were talking with our hands, orienting ourselves to the sounds, agreeing on common places to put water, bread, and silverware, and even learning to sit and be next to someone without talking or seeing. We both couldn’t believe that it had been 4 hours by the time we left. Sometimes it felt like that much time had passed, but most of the time, it didn’t. If you ever get the chance to try something like this, it’s well worth the experience. If anything, it gives you a great opportunity to experience what it might be like to not be able to use your eyesight. I told Kristine (my friend and yoga teacher I mentioned above) that nothing is more yogic than eating in the dark. :-)
Hell, I might even decide to try cooked carrots again!