Café Einstein, Kurfürstenstraße 58
You were here in late autumn and the garden was empty. Darkening days and changing light, and you can’t help but imagine ghosts. Jittery coffee nerves too, cup on cup of Wiener Mélange, and an Apfelstrudel sugar-high. No wonder you’re on edge.
Imagine no tables in the garden, a woman passing between the trees. Her name is Margerete Lucia. Her husband, a Jewish banker, Georg Blumenfeld, bought the house in the 20s and opened a casino here in 1932. Years have passed. The Nazis have shut down operations. And now you know the couple’s end is near.
She is standing in the garden cutting flowers. Does she know what Georg plans to do? He has an escape plan. He is going to get out of here. He calls it ‘the dignified exit’, a chance to exert what little choice is left. She will do the same only a few years later.
Their suicide is commemorated by a Stolperstein at the threshold of the villa.
Upstairs, in the 20s Lebensstern bar, you can see someone sobbing. She is in the corner––yes, the one in the cloche hat––leaning against her portrait, mouthing.
It’s Henny Porten, the silent film actress. She was famous in her day, but her star plummeted in the thirties under Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels’ rein. No, the wife of a Jewish doctor will not take prime billing on the silver screen! She died in this house, perhaps in this room, in 1960, impoverished.
Enough grief. If winter is coming, it’s time to pile on the calories!
You order Gulasch with dumplings and then, for dessert, Kaiserschmarrn, torn pancakes with roasted plums. That’s damn good Sekt. You can certainly eat well in this city! But now you stare at your plate, and start to have suspicions about the authenticity of your experience.
Are you really here? Are you still in Berlin? You look at your hands, to ensure they are visible, and wave them to check if the staff notice.
Then you take account of the obvious. Café Einstein––the archtypical Berlin coffee house, the magnet for the city’s literati––is thoroughly… Viennese!
Now, you start making excuses for its being themed. You are after all still in the German-speaking world. And here, at its northern reaches, in the cold air, there is actually something purified about the confection, its imperial mouldings, historic booths, its breezy white-collared waiters. Yes! you crash down your 0,1 glass. In fact, it’s so done so well, Café Einstein is even more Viennese than the Austrian establishments! You are now convinced. Trust the Germans to get things right.
Except, no, there’s a problem, there’s something off. You sniff. Is it the Herring Tartar? No, it’s something else.
You turn around, look out, gaze into the garden, and see all its empty seats, and suddenly realize what’s wrong.
Yes, that’s right, you can’t be in Vienna.
Here in Berlin we talk about our ghosts.