The only dinner I’ve ever had that I wasn’t able to actually determine what I was eating was in Berlin on a night out. We had been told it was dinner with a difference, something to awaken our senses.
When we arrived at the entrance to the Unsicht Bar, it didn’t reveal too much about the restaurant, and neither did the entrance bar area to be fair. It was simply decorated with a few casual benches scattered alongside a bar that ran down the side of the room.
A bartender took our drinks orders and our waitress ushered herself into our waiting area. Her name was Angela, she was tall and slim with a cute blonde pixie cut. She was dressed in black and white: a collared shirt, paired with smart trousers. She was also blind.
While Angela introduced herself to our group, it was obvious at how comfortable she was in these surrounds. The random set out of the tables was second nature to her as she glided across the room, us in tow. Angela explained that what we were about to experience was the latest trend in dining her in Berlin. We would be eating in the dark.
I remember thinking this was something really gimmicky, and simple, and a trend that would soon become a fad. I mean really, what’s the point of eating dinner in the dark?
As we all ducked behind a blackout curtain into the dining room, Angela made us link hands and we weaved past other tables towards our own. We giggled, and could hear others doing the same when we came to an abrupt halt. Angela instructed us to stand where we stood while she came and took each of us by hand and sat us down in our seat, guiding our hands with her own over our cutlery and glasses, making sure we made our best to remember where everything lay in front of us.
When I say we were in darkness, it’s hard to describe how dark the restaurant actually is. It’s really the penultimate definition of blackness. It’s actually a suffocating feeling. I waved my hands just short of nose in front of me and could only feel the rush of air that came past my face, nothing more. There was not a crack of light anywhere. Believe me, I searched for just the tiniest beam.
It struck me at that moment, that I would be having dinner in a new sensory state. I was just as blind as Angela and the helplessness kicked in the anxiety, and the anxiety made me laugh in a panicky high-pitched tone.
We were served a three-course meal, and because I had selected the ‘mystery menu’ (the other options were chicken or beef), I wasn’t told what I was being served. All I did know, was that it was mostly vegetarian and wouldn’t be anything gross or weird and that was all the comfort I had.
Eating a meal without being able to recognise what it actually is can be extremely disconcerting. Removing the sense of sight has some rather crazy effects on the brain. For instance, I would’ve put money on the fact that my starter was calamari when in actual fact it was a selection of cold, fried mushrooms. At least I think it was mushroom, Angela never really confirmed it, just hinted at that.
The Unsicht Bar was an exercise in determining how much my sight plays a part in my eating experience, and let me tell you it’s a really big frikkin’ part apparently! I felt hopeless without being able to see what I was eating, picking everything up and rolling it in my fingers like it would even help.
For me, this is one of those experiences that will always stick with me. It tested my travel boundaries as well as my mental ones and it turned out to be lots of fun. It also heightened my awareness of the blind and how incredible it must be for your other senses to adapt in order to do what I take for granted as an easy thing, eating a meal.
This wasn’t about gourmet food or a great view. The Unsicht Bar is about food as a learning tool in many ways, and a lovely waitress named Angela who will show you another world as soon as you stop giggling…