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It’s usually true that food should be pleasing to the eye as well as the palate. However, it can also be a very special experience when you don’t see what you’re eating – nor anything else, because you’re having

When my best friend asked me what I wanted for my 30th birthday, I told her that I always prefer “events” to “things”. Lore has it that she presently googled Munich + event, and one of the first hits was this Dinner in the Dark.

Apparently, about six years ago, someone decided it would be nice to have people sitting in a completely dark hall and enjoying a gourmet meal. The storyteller guiding us through the evening wasn’t sure but thought the idea had been born and raised in Switzerland before migrating and settling over here. Anyway, now

this is the story

all about how

our meal got flipped, turned upside down.

I’d like to take a minute,

just sit right there,

I’ll tell you how we ate our food in an all blacked-out lair.

Sorry.

We arrived at the Alter Hof in central Munich about twenty minutes before the event was scheduled to start and had our aperitif in the quaint atrium with its very interesting light installations. And by light installations, I mean light bulbs hanging from branches high up in the trees on looooooooooooooong cables or ropes.

Right on time, the aforementioned storyteller, a very unhurried guy in Bavarian garb and a well-groomed black-and-grey beard, who calls himself the Mundwerker (literally “mouth worker”, “Mundwerk” means gab), joined the waiting group of about 30 people in the atrium and prepared us for what was to come.

He assured us, for example, that the dining hall would be very dark indeed, pitch black really, and that our eyes would not get used to the dark after a couple of minutes, as some visitors seem to expect.

Also, he announced that our waiter (with night vision goggles on) would serve wine with every course and pour it for us, but if we wanted water we would have to find the water bottle on our table and pour it ourselves. He strongly suggested that we should drink responsibly, however. You know how, when (and by when I mean if) you’re drunk enough, the room starts spinning a little and you have to concentrate on visual clues of verticality and horizontality in order to not fall over? And when you decide to lie down and close your eyes, the spinning gets worse because you can’t see what’s what anymore? Yeah. He warned us that, in the dark, the spinning is serious even if your eyes are open, because, guess what – no visual clues!

Lastly, he predicted that we would feel the need to speak up in the dark because we wouldn’t be able to see whether our respective interlocutors were listening. And since everyone would try to drown each other out, the volume might soon rise to uncomfortable levels. He asked us to keep this in mind and keep it down.

Well, we tried our best to heed his advice. I did manage to drink more water than wine, because the pouring of the water was manageable, even if it took a little bit of getting used to. Also, we wanted to concentrate on the experience rather than the free alcohol, in any case. Unfortunately, the cave people seated next to us didn’t see it that way. They had just a teeny bit more than their fair share of wine and treated the whole experience like a blind date in a beer hall rather than the special occasion that it was, completely ignoring the constant “Shush!” from all over the dining hall.

So that put a little bit of a damper on our otherwise absolutely enjoyable evening.

Okay, back to the plot.

We were led into the dark dining hall in small groups of about six in conga lines headed by our night vision goggled waiter, Thilo. Our group was first, probably because they wanted to keep track of the vegetarian present (me). We left the light behind and entered the pitch dark cavern. Thilo assured us that there were no stairs or pitfalls of any kind past the point where we entered absolute darkness, and so it was.

Everybody slowed down automatically once we had passed the last of the three courtains blocking out any light, and I was oddly thankful for being able to grip my best friend’s shoulders and feeling Hubby’s hands on my own shoulders. After a few meters, Thilo stopped the conga line and seated us one by one. He gently separated my hands from my friend’s shoulders and led her to her seat.

That was the strangest moment of the whole evening for me. I felt like the world ended in front of me and was almost certain that I would fall off the edge if I moved. I could hear my friend arranging her chair and stuff, but my brain wasn’t willing to believe, on sound alone, that the world still existed.

Once Thilo had placed my hands on the back of my own chair, I groped my way onto the seat and even mastered the hurdle of positioning myself perpendicular to the table. And yes, that was a bit of a hurdle for me. Which it normally isn’t, I swear.

Next, I found my cutlery, wine glass, and water glass. I took my napkin, placed it in my lap, and proceeded to fumble for the water bottle, which I presently opened. I filled my water glass just enough to wet the tip of my index finger I had expertly stuck inside the glass (there was some spillage, though, because I couldn’t properly align the bottle neck with the rim of the glass).

…and then I noticed that I hadn’t memorized the whereabouts of the bottle cap!

After a short moment of panic I found it by retracing my steps and remembering where I usually place bottle caps when pouring me something to drink. That made me feel proud.

When we were poured the first glass of wine, we mastered the task of clinking glasses by arranging a meeting over the bread basket in the middle of the table.

And then: the real challenge. The food. Or, more precisely, eating the food. Finding the food! Thilo served us the first course without telling us what it was or on what kind of plate it came. My best friend’s husband later told us that he felt around for the plate, lifted it to his face and tried to determine what was on it by lightly licking everything. My approach was more hands on. And Hubby ate everything using fork and knife, right from the start.

It was fun to try and find out what we were eating (or drinking, for that matter. There were debates going on about whether the wine we had was white or red), and we were able to determine some of it, but not nearly everything!

Even though we couldn’t see it, the food was carefully plated. We were asked to keep our cell phones off, but I couldn’t resist snapping a quick picture:

After we had finished this course and Thilo had cleared the plates, the storyteller came into the room (or maybe he’d been there the whole time, who knows), asked us what we thought we had just eaten, and revealed the right answers. Fortunately, it wasn’t anything gross like octopus tentacles in chlorella jus dusted with unicorn powder, but a salad with a sherry dressing, pumpkin quiche, and ricotta. I got the salad part right. And “some sort of cream cheese”. Nobody guessed the pumpkin, though.

We all liked the dish, but the morons at the next table thought it would be funny to tell the waiter (and everybody else within earshot… which, in their case, was everybody else) that it felt and tasted like paper maché. Thilo took everything in stride, and was so subtle in his replies that they probably never knew how rude they were being or why he stopped serving them wine at some point.

Also, the wine was neither red nor white, but both. A Rotling, which is a rose-colored wine made from red and white grapes (not already fermented red and white wines). This was such a whimsical choice, I just loved it. And I liked the wine as well, even though, as I have previously pointed out, I don’t really care for wine all that much.

In between courses, the Mundwerker told fairy tale-like stories and played weird and entertaining instruments (a Vietnamese jaw harp, the Dan Moi, and a saw). This fit perfectly with the overall vibe and was a truly amazing experience in itself. Because I couldn’t see, my mind was open to suggestions, and I felt almost transported to a different time and place where folk would sit around a burnt out fireplace in the black of night, telling each other stories to fend off the darkness. I thought it was the perfect archaic add-on to the evening.

We were informed that our next course was going to be a soup served in a champagne flute to be drunk with a straw. The Mundwerker advised us to take a sip from the bottom of the glass first, and then lift the straw a little bit to drink from the top. We did this, and immediately got the beets at the bottom (it was a cold beet gazpacho), but the warm, creamy foam on top remained rather mysterious. Some of us got the whiff of horseradish that was in it (I didn’t), but none of us guessed the base ingredient, which was simply potato.

There was a break after the next course, which the baboons at the next table decided to spend outside, and which left the dining hall most enjoyably quiet. We stayed in the room, so as not to interrupt the experience.

The main course was corn-fed chicken (which almost everyone guessed) with green cabbage (which nobody guessed. We don’t eat green cabbage in Bavaria!) and potato dumplings. I got ravioli with cheese. I think. They didn’t tell me, and I forgot to ask.

One of the more challenging feats was determining whether you managed to actually clean your plate. There was some tapping and licking and groping that evening. And it all happened on plates.

The dessert was fantastic! We immediately guessed the strawberry ice cream and delicious brownie. And then there was the orange panna cotta (I got the orange! Yay me!) with chocolate-covered pop rocks! The perfect surprise effect to finish the meal!

When Thilo came in with a tablet full of burning candles afterwards, the glaring light almost burned my eyes out when he was still at the other end of the room!

We had been playing a guessing game about what color the floor and tables would be, and it was interesting to see the hall for the first time. The tables had felt smaller than they looked, and the room had felt much larger. Funny how that goes.

While we sipped our espressi by candlelight, Thilo arranged the different courses in the anteroom for us to have a look at. It was fun to compare our previous guesswork with reality. Here’s what the food actually looked like:

Well, in reality, the food was much less blurry and more appetizing in color. Sorry about the hideous pictures–I blame the iPhone!

We also took a quick peek through the night vision goggles (strange! Everything seems bigger and much closer), and very contentedly walked out into a very late, v e r y  brightly lit night.

 

Thank You Guys

for an amazing event!!

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