Berlin Spirit by Patsy Hirst
Arriving in Berlin late evening, my plan was a hot bath and good night’s sleep. That, however, was not to be.
“I must go to a dinner; you shall come with me,” my host stated matter of factly shortly after my arrival. I protested, insisting that it was fine for him to go without me, but knew from experience that one didn’t say no to Rainer. We were soon on our way, and it was a night I wouldn’t have missed for anything.
The extremely long table was strewn, haphazardly yet artistically, with bread of varying shapes, bottles of wine and champagne, and an impressive assortment of fruits and cheeses. All this was flickeringly lighted by an elegant candelabra, whose reflection gave an eeriness to the peeling plaster and crooked paintings of the lengthy hallway-turned-dining room. A chilling breeze swept through as the doors opened to admit new arrivals, and the occasional rumbling of a passing train seemed the perfect acoustical backdrop.
The uniqueness of the setting and variety of food was surpassed by that of the guests. A couple at the far end of the table relaxed comfortably in jeans jackets and tee shirts; nearby a gentleman in full tuxedo sported a doily boutonniere, while his companion appeared to prefer real flowers, having taken several from the centerpiece to adorn her hair, earrings, and glasses. A later arrival made a true Zorro entrance, swishing his black cape as he speared a hunk of French bread with his sword. The hostess and grand dame of the occasion was quite elegant in her flowing white silk coat, black feather boa, and rhinestone sunglasses and headpiece which, reflecting the nearby candles, made her literally outshine her guests.
“Have you ever had sheep cheese? Maria soaks it in walnut oil, her own secret formula.” The question, from a fiftyish man in white jumpsuit, headband, and one dangling earring, was followed by further instructions. “Have the sunflower bread with it; it soaks up the oil better,” and he proceeded to demonstrate with his own portion.
A demure young girl, drab in dress and appearance, explained the circumstances of the occasion. “This building was a synagogue and managed to survive the war through the efforts of sympathetic Nazi officers. Maria later turned the back room, through the courtyard there, into a small restaurant where many of us – artists, collectors, critics – often ate and talked into the wee hours. Two weeks ago, vandals broke in and, finding no money, apparently set fire for spite.”
A tour of the former restaurant revealed the sad remains of good food and fellowship: singed bar and cabinets, melted dishes, a pile of black rubble swept to one side, and an old upright piano with chipped keys. I returned to my seat at the table thinking what a typical example this was of the true Berlin Spirit. Not letting the loss of their meeting place prevent their enjoyment of being together, they now dined in elegance in the entrance hall, even “dressing” for the evening. This aspect of the residents of this unique city had shown itself before, during, and after the War. They seem to have not only the ability and desire to carry on in spite of hardships, to celebrate rather than commiserate, but to do so with humor, vitality and..... well, true Berlin Spirit.