We finally moved in to our house two weeks ago (after living in a temporary apartment for the past three months) and we’re busy exploring our new neighborhood. We live up on a hill, just southeast of downtown Basel, in a nice and quiet residential neighborhood. At the bottom of the hill, just three tram stops away (or about a ten minute walk) there’s an eclectic commercial district with stores, restaurants, and a huge outdoor ice skating rink that we just discovered last weekend.
I was down the hill the other day and had passed by a Thai restaurant that looked pretty good, so last night I suggested to the family that we give it a try. We haven’t eaten out since we moved, and I’ve been wanting to try out some of the local joints. On the way to the restaurant, we went down a block we hadn’t been down before, and discovered a large group of industrial buildings with a bunch of establishments – an incredible arena with eight huge rock climbing walls, a local theater (live stage), a dinner show, a circus school (not kidding), and a few bars – all mixed in with some light industrial and manufacturing businesses.
On our way out on the other end of the complex, right across the street from the Thai restaurant we were planning to go to, we saw an intriguing looking place called “Blindekuh”. Now, my German isn’t very good, but the logo was an outline of a cow wearing dark glasses and I came to the conclusion that Blindekuh was “Blind Cow”. The kids said Blindekuh is what they call a game of “Hide and Seek”. Curiosity got the best of us, so we decided to check it out.
It’s a restaurant where you eat in a darkened room, and you’re served by blind waiters and waitresses. Now, when I mean a “darkened room” I don’t mean that it’s just dim in there ... it is completely, absolutely, and utterly pitch black. Before we went in, we were asked to remove anything that might emit even the slightest bit of light – we had to leave our watches, cell phones, everything, in a locker (plus our coats, and anything that we might set down and forget). The reception area was very tastefully decorated and we were admiring a display case with a selection of wine bottles that had Braille lettering on the labels.
We were given simple instructions for dining at Blindekuh: we make our choices from the menu before going into the dining room, and we need to remember our selection (including drinks) so that we are able to order after we’ve been seated. The waitress will lead us to our table, and if we need to leave the dining area for any reason (to go to the bathroom, etc) then the blind waiter or waitress will lead us back out.
Our waitress was a large and boisterous German woman named Ruth, who had a pleasant laugh and who (thankfully) spoke passable English. She came out into the reception area and loudly called my name, not realizing that we were standing right there in front of her. She was, without a doubt, completely blind.
Ruth instructed me to grab her shoulders and the rest of the family was to line up behind me, each putting their hands on the shoulders of the person in front. She then led us through a short maze of dangling blackout curtains, and into the dining area.
In most of the world, Ruth has a terrible disadvantage. But in here, she is the master of her domain and we quickly realize that we need to rely on her knowledge of the layout of things. She brought us to our table, got us seated, and explained what was on the table and where. She moved quickly and with grace, while the rest of us fumbled around trying to figure out what was what. It was a bit ironic. It also dawned on me that the name was a play on words for the game “hide and seek” – how appropriate!
Our fairly complex drink order was delivered almost immediately (how did she DO that?) and then after asking a few questions about what was what on the menu, we were able to get our dinner selections straightened out (the kids of course, changed their minds a few times, and couldn’t quite remember the details of the different items on the menu).
While each dish was served, Ruth would explain “your soup bowl is in front of you, and the spoon is on the plate to the right of the bowl. Your drink is behind the plate to the left, and there’s a basket of bread in the middle of the table.” We would then paw around, figuring out where everything was as we commenced with each course. Sharing a taste with someone else was the hardest part – I’d hold out a fork with a bit of food on it and say “wow, you have to taste these green beans with bacon sauce – it’s delicious!” as I proceeded to stick the fork into my son’s left eye.
We were there early, and the place was definitely filling up as we ate. Ruth told us that they had ten tables for four and ten tables for eight, so they could serve 120 people at a time. Wow. We could hear people eating and chatting quietly at tables nearby, but it was surprisingly hard to tell how many people were around us. About halfway through our meal, I thought I perceived a reflection of light. Was it just my mind playing tricks on me? But my boys both said at the same time, “I saw a flash of light! What was that?”
Turned out that a girl was just coming in with her parents, and she had light-up shoes which blinked on with every step. She was quickly ushered out of the restaurant (banished! never to be heard from again!) But it got me to thinking how many light-up gadgets we all have, and use in our daily lives. It truly is amazing.
The food at Blindekuh is exquisite. I started with the “cabbage soup with cream and curry, topped with pumpkin seeds and ginger” which was stunning – the best part of the whole meal. My Black Angus Beef was perfect, with herb butter potatoes on the side, and the aforementioned green beans with bacon sauce. Delicious. Overall, it was like dining in any fine restaurant. We could just imagine the nice paintings on the walls, the plush furnishings, the hand blown wine glasses and expensive silverware. I mean, with food that good, it had to be a really nice place – right? RIGHT???
Ahhh, there’s the catch. In addition to being a wonderful sensory experience, and in addition to briefly getting the experience of what it’s like for a blind person who lives in this world of darkness twenty four hours a day, I realized that you can cheat your perception and imagine that you are surrounded by luxury – when in reality, I have no idea what the restaurant looked like inside. In truth, the place could be bare cinder-block walls with a pile of dirty tablecloths (or worse) piled up in the middle of the room. It’s funny what your mind can make up, when you can’t see what’s really there (just like a religious experience!) But it didn’t matter; the great food, excellent service, and the wonderful company of my family made for a very relaxing and enjoyable dinner – even if we did have to use our fingers half the time because it was too frustrating to find the last bits of food on the plate using a fork.
After a scrumptious dessert, we reassembled the choo-choo train and Ruth led us back out to the reception area. I had noticed the dim lighting when we first came in, and thought it was nice and helped set the proper mood for dinner – but then I realized that the dim lighting wasn’t for people going IN to the restaurant, it was for when you come OUT; it was an absolute necessity so that your eyes could slowly readjust to the world of sight and color, after the darkness in which we had been immersed for the past hour and a half. We paid the bill (gulp! This place isn’t cheap.) and decided to walk home instead of taking the tram. It was a cool evening, and the walk up the hill gave us time to think about our unique dining experience. You can check out their website at http://www.blindekuh.ch
Most people who visit Blindekuh, of course, know what they are in for when they decide to dine there. For us, the fact that we just stumbled up it with no preparation definitely added to the mystique.
Today, the kids have brought up the subject of our dinner at least five or six times. They really enjoyed the experience, it made an impact and I think it will stick with them for a long, long time.
And the Thai place across the street? Well, that will just have to wait for another day, won’t it?