As I’m walking toward blindekuh restaurant in the hip Seefeldquartier in Zürich, I’m wondering how this is going to work with my reservation for one. Warm light is spilling through the colourful art nouveau windows of the former chapel. A few steps up and through the wooden door, I find myself in a spacious foyer with a receptionist pointing me to an oversized menu on the wall. The couple just ahead of me, Urs and Susi, turn out to be my dinner companions. Sabine, our server, appears from behind a heavy black curtain. She introduces herself as our darkroom professional and asks us to remove or shut off all items emitting light, such as cell phones or wrist watches. Sabine is blind and, holding on to her shoulders and in turn onto each other, we walk at a good pace through the black curtain and into complete, utter darkness.
Lights out—let the experience begin!
Sabine checking the seating arrangements.
I lose my apprehension about bumping into things, completely trusting Sabine. The air is cool and has a velvety feel to it. It is completely, utterly black here, not a sliver of light anywhere. There are a few voices sounding from across the room which makes it feel spacious. Not very far in, Sabine stops and says we’ve arrived at our table. By feeling and touching with my hands, I sit down while Susi takes a seat right next to me and Urs across from her. During this manoeuvre and throughout the evening, we speak and laugh a lot. We share our experiences such as carefully moving our hands to find the water bottle (do you use one hand or both?); our strategies for making sure that when we pour it’s into our glass; or how to successfully navigate food and fork into our mouth (best achieved by eating with hands, which is done frequently at blindekuh, Sabine tells us). And we also get to know each other quite well.
Wait until you’re seated, please…
More and more dinner guests arrive and the table to my left gets filled. The volume in the room increases which Sabine explains is due to the fact that sighted people have difficulty accurately guessing distance. Am I talking louder than normal, too? Susi, Urs and I are having a wonderfully stimulating conversation and the ease and depth with which we converse feels like we’ve known each other for a long time. The three-course dinner is excellent and after a few attempts, the soup on my spoon actually finds its way quite elegantly to its intended destination.
Sabine has been working parttime at blindekuh for a few years now. The most challenging aspect for her is to remember the guest orders, she says. Once in a while, people have difficulty finding their shoes under the table, but so far, no-one has left bare-foot. Marriage has been proposed at the table for two and frequently the guests completely underestimate time, thinking 25 minutes have passed when in fact it has been more than twice this duration.
About 75% of the staff at restaurant blindekuh are blind or sight impaired, but not in the kitchen. Here, chef Dirk Simon designs and creates seasonal menus which are prepared by his professional staff in a fully lit kitchen to the highest standards, including plate arrangement. Dirk knows that we also eat with our eyes. If we see a red strawberry, we expect to taste the sweetness that the red color indicates. What happens in the dark, when we can’t see what’s before us? The meals at blindekuh are prepared with taste-intensity and enhanced with herbs. The chefs sample every dish before it is served.
The concept of a dark restaurant was devised by blind pastor Jürg Spielmann with partners, and the Zürich restaurant opened in 1999. Blindekuh is a charitable foundation with the objective to foster dialogue and mutual understanding between sighted people and those with impaired vision. It has been honoured with numerous awards for this novel concept and copied many times across Europe from Berlin to Moscow and from Paris to Hamburg.
A second restaurant under the same name operates in the city of Basel, which also features the “sicht-bar” (seeing bar) bar lounge and an event room, both of which are lit to provide an opportunity for more dialogue between sighted and blind people.
I experienced a truly delightful evening with excellent food, gained new insights and made new friends in the process, all the while realizing that I am quite comfortable with spending an extended time in darkness. In fact, Susi and I both had our eyes closed most of the time throughout the evening, while the men at our table kept them open. I wonder whether this is a gender thing?
Restaurant blindekuh offers an inspiring dining experience that puts sounds, smells, tastes, interaction and communication into a completely different light. For more information and to make advance reservation go to blindekuh’s website:
The new friends I made while dining in the dark at the restaurant blindekuh.