Berlin: Dining in the Dark, what it’s really like
Have you ever heard of dining in the dark? These types of restaurants are popping up all over the world. Here was my experience while dining in the dark in Berlin, Germany.
Nocti Vagus is Berlin’s first DarkRestaurant where patrons dine in utter darkness and are served by the visually impaired. I had no idea what to expect, other than the obvious. Even knowing that I would be dining in the dark, it still could not prepare me for the experience. I should mention, when I say “utter darkness,” I mean you actually cannot see anything!
When my date and I arrived at the dining-in-the-dark restaurant in Berlin, we were greeted by a hostess who took our coats and provided us with a menu that outlined the types of meals we could choose from—not the dish itself as that is part of the overall experience (to figure out what you are eating). The choices included poultry, seafood, beef or vegetarian. I picked the vegetarian and my date selected the beef. You can also select from a list of cocktails, wine or beer.
We were soon escorted down a flight of stairs where our blind server Heedi greeted us. It was important for us to remember Heedi’s name because, of course, we could not simply flag/wave him down when we needed something, but rather we would need to call out his name when requiring something, like new silverware that quickly made its way to the floor!
Once introductions were commenced, we formed a train to enter the restaurant. My date put her hands on Heedi’s shoulders and I put my hands on my dates shoulders and we entered the first door. Once that door was shut, we were enveloped in darkness. So as not to disrupt the other diners with possible light, a second door was opened and we entered the dining area. We followed behind Heedi until reaching our table. He took our hands and placed them on the chair and table so we could get a sense of where to sit. Once seated, Heedi took our hands and guided us around the table, making us touch our silverware, glasses, etc.
While Heedi went off to get our first course, my date and I began to take in the experience, chatting for a moment when all of a sudden we both felt uneasy. It’s one thing to close your eyes and see darkness; it’s quite another to have your eyes wide open…straining, even yearning for light to enter your pupils to illuminate your surroundings. When the light doesn’t come, it’s an uncomfortable feeling. We both felt out of sorts, almost nauseated. I told my date that we should keep talking to keep our minds occupied so as not to fixate on our discomfort.
Soon, Heedi brought some bread, but with no butter or other accoutrements. At least, we didn’t think so. I suppose it could have been on the table, but we didn’t find any. Come to think of it, we may not have “looked” very hard. Regardless, as soon as I touched the bread, I knew it was not worth consuming. You could say I’m a bit of an artisan bread snob. My date agreed, so rather than eating the bread, she tore off a piece and threw it at me. Ordinarily this would have been quite funny, but the hard edge of the crust tossed in my direction actually hit me squarely in the eye that was wide open straining for light. Instead of light I got crumbs.
After a few moments of discomfort our first course arrived. My date had some skewer of beef, while I had a salad that seemed to have but three ingredients, lettuce, avocados and an abundance of dressing, or so I thought. What I actually ate was lime juice marinated beetroot with a mint topping on a bed of fresh greens, carrots, fennel and radish with a balsamic honey dressing. I definitely did not notice some of those ingredients.
My date and I actually tried to share some bites from each others plates, which as you can image, was a bit of a challenge. One of us would tell the other where we thought our forks were headed, the other would try and grab the correct end of the fork. Needless to say, try as you might, it is really tough to stay clean during this type of dining in the dark experience. From dropping things in your lap, to your hands and face, food makes its messy way around. I kept expecting us to knock a glass off the table, and while we were able to keep the glassware from hitting the floor, a nearby table let one fly. I have no idea how they clean up the broken shards of glass.
As our next course made its way to our table, I soon discovered that my senses did not seem heightened by the experience, but rather dulled. What I learned from dining in the dark is that we who enjoy the culinary arts, taste a great deal with our sight. Presentation and seeing ingredients that we know we like makes our taste buds perk up with delight. When you can’t see what you are eating, most of the culinary enjoyment is taken away and you’re just left with sustenance. At least that is how we both felt.
I think dining in the dark teaches us a lesson that we should be eternally grateful for our sight, but I don’t think it enhances the dining experience at all. Another observation we made that might have added to the intrigue, is that neither my date nor I speak German and it seemed nearly everyone in the restaurant did, so we had no idea what was being said. I think listening to the conversations around us would have been fascinating.
After our dessert course, my date and I thought we would mess with our server and so we switched seats. One of the reasons we did this wasn’t just to joke with our server, but rather to feel the difference between the two seats. My date told me a few times during the evening that I was talking too loudly. I told her that I felt like no one could hear us because we were in an alcove, as it almost felt like being in a cocoon. She had no idea what I was talking about, so this was another reason we switched seats. As soon as we did, we could tell our experiences throughout the night were entirely different. My seat had a wall or a curtain behind me, as well as to one side, it felt like my voice was being absorbed and was not wafting through the restaurant—as where my date did not have that experience, which I could tell just by trading seats with her.
It was these kinds of subtleties that we tried to observe in order to enhance the entire dining-in-the-dark experience.
We both felt like our meals were pretty average, but it would be very interesting to try them again with light to see if our opinions would change. Dining in the dark is probably not something I would do again, but I’m glad I did it. Dining out should not be just about the food, but rather the overall experience. Dining in the dark is absolutely a unique experience, even if the meal seemed average.
Have you ever had dinner in the dark? If so, leave a comment below and share your experience. I’m quite interested to hear if others had a similar or completely different experience.