I stand on the doorstep of Stein’s Berlin studying the menu. Lou is on the street filming me from below. A man leaves the café, sees me looking at the menu, his face fills with alarm and distaste. I don’t notice him but he’s on the footage – our own ‘cctv’ or ‘blow-up’ effect. The first moment I notice him is when he stands below me on the street and to one side. I’ve descended the steps and stop on the one just above his head. He explains in an unidentifiable accent - maybe Swiss or Austrian or Luxembourgian that he’s been hired as a photographer to take photos of a private event – in other words – the restaurant is closed.
While he is explaining – I ask – what function. Lou asks his usual question: what sort of camera are you using – the photographer is holding it in the palm of his hand – maybe a Sony – Lou: very expensive. He: I don’t know (what function – maybe the camera too). They just asked me to take photos. His hair is slightly lopsided, as if it is a toupee, which has slipped. His jacket is an anonymous forgettable article of men’s fashion, designed to melt into the crowd or the room décor, the kind a spy might wear, maybe a blue shirt (I can’t list the designer labels like the hero of American Psycho). He praises the restaurant, ‘famous restaurant’, just to tell us we can’t enter. The place looks rather empty although it’s hard to tell, craning, straining one’s neck from the nether street regions towards the glittering reflections in the glass storefront – false beacons for the uninvited, the lowly gatecrasher. A sign warns “filming in progress, photography for social media” and I imagine a kind of Fassbinder film set where not much is happening, ennui and Bavarian decadence, someone wearing a horse costume. The restaurant serves mostly Bavarian cuisine and just seduces with the name ‘Berlin’. How could one trust the food served under such false pretences? I: Is there a branch in Berlin? He looks a little cagey, uncertain – stumped by this question, I thought. More suspiciousness. A big man in tight jeans – if he weren’t so big, one might call him a ‘rent boy’ bounds down the stairs, in my blind angle, he rushes off not before turning his torso and head (badger like in shape but monochrome black), hair glistening in the sun, flashes a smile over his shoulder and fist bumps with the photographer whose face flickers with the same secret smile…
Later I think maybe the restaurant was open – not closed for a private function. They just use this trick to keep undesirables at bay and out of the joint. I continue to speculate in this vein – maybe he thinks I’m Jewish – a German restaurant next to the Goethe Institut excludes Jews from its premises with fake/bogus private functions. A wave of pariah-hood passes over me – new invisible public forms of social exclusion – urban bouncer clubs, cancel societies – incursions of social media friending and unfriending etc. into meat space. Forebodings of new degrees of banishment in Berlin etc.
The photographer doesn’t look very patrician himself – hardly an aristo, more of an oik. He looks like a typical hired hand, minion, lowly retainer – a flunky or underfoootman type – the worst kind of snob. His eye wanders off sideways in search of some object to adore. Who could blame him – what do you expect? Ken Pal is just up the hill on the other side of the park above High Ken and Ken Gore . The half black Duchess attended a gala at the Natural History Museum right across the street. The royals seem to love that museum. A few days after the gala, the three closest heirs to the throne posed on the steps of the NHM – it’s their science palace and Darwin Church of the Species in tandem. The science of the wild is obviously royal prerogative. In older days the Duchess could have looked forward to being posthumously stuffed herself and exhibited in the Natural History Museum dressed in her favourite ball gown, a tiara and feathers in her hair. That 's what the Habsburgs did to their court favourite Angelo Soliman the Moor (much to the displeasure of his daughter Josephine) - in Old Vienna. They dressed him though not in his court attire but as a savage in an African loincloth, ostrich feather crown and bead ornaments and displayed his stuffed body amidst exotic taxidermised animals.
I am on the verge of calling the restaurant to ask under a weak pretext if they had really been closed on Friday. We were supposed to meet a friend there on Friday – I would say – the day of the private party – but the party prevented us from keeping our rendezvous. We’ve lost touch with our friend since that evening – and hope he isn’t blocking our calls thinking we stood him up. If he were there he would have seen that the restaurant was closed to the public and wouldn’t have held our absence against us. Was Stein’s Berlin really closed for a private event last Friday? If so then our friend would have realized we couldn’t wait for him. Confusing enough to sound credible. I go to Stein’s Berlin’s website to look up their telephone number, opening times etc – and find the notice – the restaurant is closed from 3pm on Friday March 29th for a private function. Even now – this still seems like a ruse.