nocti vagus: dining in the dark

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!



forgive me, readers, for I have sinned. it’s been nearly 3 months since my last post…

Even though it’s been quiet over here on the blog, things at the Berra’s European Beach House have been going nonstop.  Most of you know that I went back to full time teaching this year and that’s put a bit of a kink into my blogging time. Don’t even ask how #NanoWriMo is going…but that’s a story for another time.

Since I’ve last written, we’ve had a whirlwind of adventure!

It started in late August when we went to Seeg (a little town in our favorite region of Germany, the Allgau) to see the cows come home…literally.  The cows actually come down from the Alps and back home. It’s a real thing with real cowbells and real flowers. It’s really amazing!


In early September, Matt surprised me with a trip to France (swoon). I know, it won’t get better than this, so I’ll take it. We went to Strasbourg, a town we love, and Matt booked us on a first class train. We stayed for the long weekend, drinking wine, eating delicious French food, and watching the 1000 year celebration of the Cathedral. They had an incredible light show on the Church each night which showed the history. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before.  For a surprise, Matt treated me to a tour of some local wineries which don’t sell wine in the stores. It was lovely!

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We even saw the oldest bottle of wine in the world… yep- that’s a real date…

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Then there were fests…


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posing for the annual family  fest selfie...hahah!

posing for the annual family fest selfie…hahah!

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and pumpkinfest

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Oh, and we went back to the States!  I got to visit my family for a while and then we celebrated Mike and Taryn’s Wedding!  2015-10-06 20.32.57 20151004_092024 20151004_150803 20151004_151051 20151010_205442 20151011_220306 FB_IMG_1444517150196 FB_IMG_1444517189976

Talk about a fun-hangover…

So, that should get you up to speed, for the most part. We were in Berlin this past weekend and had a very unusual and memorable experience Dining in the Dark, which I’ll share with you later this week!

In the meantime, happy fall from Germany! <3 <3


megan and travis, the sequel . . .

My favorite part of every summer is when Megan and Travis visit.  It started back when we lived in Miami and as thankfully continued as we’ve moved to Europe. We always have such an awesome time!  This year was particularly special because they are expecting! Can you say babymoon?  Since they visited last summer we had done a lot of the “must do” things around the area. This year, we took it off the beaten path and it was amazing.

Early into their trip, we visited the adorable town of Tubingen which isn’t far from here. We spent the day wandering the streets and eating local food. Travis spotted a sign to take us up a hill (this is why Matt and Travis get along) so, up we went, and we were rewarded with beautiful views from the castle courtyard.


The next day, we headed down to Switzerland in hopes of giving them a glimpse of the Swiss Alps. Sadly, it was pouring rain and gray but we did get a fun boat ride around Zurich out of it!


Towards the end of the week was where the long weekend of fun began. We went down to the Allgau region to the town of Nesselwang in order to give the Jesters a little glimpse of the German Alps. Matt and I stumbled upon this town last August when we ran our Alpine Half Marathon. We knew we had to come back  We stayed for two nights. We spent two days hiking different trails up and around the mountain and waking up to the sound of cowbells, from actual cows, outside. This is what you think of when you think of Germany. It was perfection.

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One highlight of the trip was stopping at Highline 179.  It is the world’s longest Tibetan style suspension bridge. It was terrifying. I don’t have a problem with heights (remember that time I jumped off the Stratosphere in Vegas) but even I was pretty shaken up on this journey.  We all stepped onto the bridge and all we could see was the swinging of the ropes from side to side.  Travis and I forged ahead while Megan and Matt turned around. It was such a windy day and the bridge was crowded and swinging side to side.  I thought I was going to have to turn around, too!  Pure stubbornness kept me going. All of these pictures were taken by me trying not to throw my phone down and hold on for dear life.


this is my “scared and faking a smile” face

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The bridge didn’t take too long so we all hiked around to all the ruins.  It was easy to spend an entire day in the area!

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Our trip ended in the Austrian Alps, in Innsbruck. It was gorgeous!  We wandered and we went up mountain. Megan and Travis are truly wonderful travel companions. We are so lucky to have friends who not only “get” us but also like the same things as us!

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family photo!

Also, I must say that my best friend is an absolute rock star. She hiked 11 miles one day, yeah, 19 weeks pregnant. Rock.Star. Three countries, seven days, and mountains upon mountains…I bet the baby enjoyed all that mountain air!

lovely lisbon . . .

Riding the high of all the music making, I got home late Saturday night, repacked, and hit the train in the morning to get to the airport to make it to Lisbon, for lunch. Talk about a whirlwind! That meant I was in 4 countries in 2 weeks. It was both exhausting and exhilarating.  I mentioned that Prague was insanely hot but what I didn’t mention was that the heat stretched through the week in Salzburg (no ac anywhere) and by the time we were in Lisbon, it had reached an all time high.  Thankfully, being near the water made it not seem too bad!

Lisbon is an incredible European city where tourism hasn’t completely overrun the city. For the first time in many trips, we were not knocked over by selfie sticks or mowed down by large tour groups. Go now, before everyone figures out how amazing this gem is!

Over the long weekend we followed the same plan as with all the cities…

We tasted local treats…


Portugal has some of the best wines at the least expensive prices!


The cheese…oh, the cheese….


more local wines

We walked around…


evening dining al fresco


beautiful squares


Christ the King Statue Inspired by the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio


We saw historical sights….


belem tower lisbon


we took selfies

…and Hard Rock.  Don’t judge. All expats know that Hard Rock just happens- and it had air conditioning!  Holla!


sweet, sweet, air conditioning- and ranch dressing and chicken tenders and nachos and…

Despite taking a walking tour and doing the Hop on Hop off Bus, we still didn’t get to do everything we wanted to do. Usually, a long weekend in a city is long enough to hit the highlights, but not for Lisbon. If you plan to go, take an extra day or two so you have time to really enjoy everything and see it all.  We did the free walking tour (pay with tip at the end) and it was fantastic. The guide told us so much history of the city and it helped us get acquainted with the neighborhoods. The tour guide also gives tips for how to see if a restaurant is overpriced (no more than 10 Euro an entree) and how much a bottle of wine should cost at the store (4 Euro, tops). Yeah. Did I mention Lisbon is not expensive? Take that, Paris!

So, Lisbon, we were so sad to leave but I know that we will be going back- and hopefully with a side trip to Porto!

orff summer course in salzburg . . .

As I briefly mentioned in a previous post, I had the wonderful opportunity to take the Orff Summer Course at the Orff Institute in Salzburg this summer. For one week I got to take classes with some of the best and brightest teachers of the Orff Schulwerk with amazing students and teachers from all over the world. Classes were held in English and I was immediately in awe of all the people, instructors included, teaching and learning in their second, third, or sometimes fourth language. I spent the week singing, dancing, and playing instruments. I sang in more languages than I thought possible and I learned fun dances from all over the world.

I also stayed in a dorm. That said, this wasn’t just any dorm, it was Schloss Frohnburg.  Yes, THAT Schloss Frohnburg.


“The hills are alive….”

You know… THAT one. :-)


nerd alert..


Obviously, that was the highlight of the week.  ;-)

I kid, I kid! Actually, the highlight of the week was spending each day doing my favorite thing, singing, dancing, and creating with awesome people from all over the world. We all may have been from incredibly different backgrounds, but we all spoke the same language that week.

Orff friends, if you get the chance, take the course. Hopefully I can go back next year!


first day of school pic!