The bright sun casts its might over the rental car as we embark on our journey. Berlin to Potsdam. About a half hour journey, far enough to feel that we went somewhere but still in close enough to expect real great restaurant experience. And while not a road trip through Bryce Canyon or Joshua Tree but for us, it was a moment of freedom, of peace. We had once owned our own car, a sparky ’89 VW Golf, which with all the luck in the world had brought us back from the valleys of France to the heights of Germany and as we came into Berlin She had made the decision that it was over, life in the big city wasn’t for Her and as we rolled into our parking spot the engine reviving beyond what was possible, death, sadness, a moment in time lost as we realized all that all was possible was no longer. The End.
But life in Berlin with a car is not easy, parking is always a problem and my own great fear of causing a big accident on tiny roads is paralyzing and with transit being so easy that we “choose” to not have a car but this day, this one day, we rented a car for my ‘work’ and thought that this night we should celebrate. Celebrate for life, for a successful week, for a hundred other reasons, but for me truthfully all I wanted was a romantic supper as so I went about picking the restaurant earlier in the day with this in my mind. Romantic, by a lake, sitting outside in the forest surrounded by the sights and smells of nature and all that makes a night out go from something of the ordinary to something particularly special and memorable. I scoured the internet hoping to find the perfect place and found a restaurant that seemed to match so much of what we are looking for, lake, outside seating and it had received very positive reviews, so with all the haste of a little boy on his first date I made my decision, Restaurant Anna-Amalia.
My beard hair squiggling lines in the evening air, we approached Potsdam, windows down and music gently dancing through speakers. My cell suggesting to us the directions on how we navigate the castle city of Potsdam. As we pull up to our destination, with great enthusiasm I proclaim to my wife, “I’m crazy hungry.” Which she knows means that without some food soon, I’m going to get grumpy. As the bottom of my soles brush the sandy, rocky ground I make a startling revelation this is a campground. Not one to be weak willed I press on. A little bit of nativity mixed with stubbornness is my normal state of being and we walk in, quickly find the toilets and pee.
As I wait for my wife and cling to the outside edge of the doors, my mind is stunned, stunned into a state of submission. What am I looking at? Perplexed and intrigued like watching two whales having sex, I stand and watch. An over worked bartender, whom may also be the manager awkwardly pouring beer from the taps, his frantic nature not propelling him any faster just making his job more stressful. The four-service staff, without seemingly a section or a set of tables to look after or even constant duties like one taking the orders and another one bringing the food, pound back and forth from the bar to the tables, sullen looks tattooed on their faces and no jump in their steps. My old boss’s voice ringing in my ears, do the job with ease and a smile and your guest will feel the same… actually I can’t remember exactly what he said but something like that.
My wife comes from the bathroom and we go and find a seat on the deck. Big, old wooden tables and chairs. ‘Nice’, I think to myself ‘this can still be nicely romantic.’ We find a table still filled with old, dirty plates and glasses, the waitress seeming forgetting to take something with them as they drop the food off at nearby tables and rush back to the bar. After a short moment, the waitress comes drops off the menus and immediately asks for our drink order. My wife suggests that we need a moment to look at the drink list before we can make up our minds. And the waitress grabs the plates and glass ware and storms off. At a nearby table their meal arrives and the portions look huge and while not vegetarian I think at the very least it we will be full when we are done eating. My wife and I are in the middle of me arrogantly deciding what we are going to be eating, with only one vegetarian option on the menu and one niceish salad to choose from, it wasn’t a terribly difficult decision. I had picked up on some sort of silent hesitation from my wife, whom knew what was about to come but thought that at any point grumpy Steve will emerge and rain down grumpiness on the nightly events. I was close to addressing this when the waitress came back. We ordered, potatoes with quark (traditional German food sort of a cross between sour cream and crème fresh and something that is like Mac n cheese to us in North America, sure you can buy it in a package but if you go out to eat you don’t expect KD) and flax seed oil and a mixed green salad with goat cheese.
Now, I have lived in Berlin for a while. And Berlin is a vegetarian paradise, with some of the world’s best vegetarian foods easily available for very little money. So, leaving Berlin I knew that the food wouldn’t match the level and quality of Berlin nor would be as inexpensive as it is in Berlin. And the meal had actually started okay.
The drinks had arrived, I had a really nice German dark beer and my wife had a sparking rhubarb juice. Nothing wrong here. When we started to sip the drinks families from the campgrounds started to come and the patio was soon full, the difficulty of all restaurants on a beautiful day. A family had decided to wait for the next free table and instead of standing near the entrance of the restaurant like the other’s that were waiting, they choose a spot near our table. Standing staring at us as we tried to enjoy our drinks like a family that had been trapped in the desert and now needed to wait to sit at table to get a drink. There was no romance left. My wife having given up on the idea that this was going to be a romantic night out suggested we move inside so that we could have at least some peace. We told our waitress of our desires, giving us a look like we just punched her in the leg told us ‘whatever’ (though my German isn’t perfect, I am pretty sure that’s what she said). We moved inside to a table near the frantic bartender and awaited our food. It arrived a short time later, and my mouth dropped and smacked the table with a dull thud.
Potatoes with quark was just as it sounded, boiled potatoes around three or four (most likely microwaved to be warmed up) dropped on the plate sprinkled with parsley (at least it was fresh parsley) with two generic looking glass bowls of quark and flax seed oil. For a tidy price of 9.90. When I had read the items I had thought that maybe the cooks would gently season them and give them a quick fry or do anything else that might make me at least think that I couldn’t do this at home for a lot cheaper and easier.
I don’t know when the first Chef took a salad and paired it with goat cheese but it has been a minute or two. Long enough at least to know that additional things like fruits or nuts can be added to make it a bit snappier. The salad greens where on the edge of being exhausted, weak willed and unhappy. The salad dressing, if the cooks added it, was flavorless and lacked any acid to balance out goat cheese. No fruit nor nuts, just a generic bed of greens, goat cheese and flavorless tomatoes and cucumbers. This salad rang in at 12.90.
But the true shock came and the part that is truly unforgivable was the presentation. My wife married me largely because she can’t cook nor would she know how to make a basic salad look like it was the greatest salad ever, and I must stress that she hates cooking. Even she would make a better salad, that looks more tempting and luxurious then what got. Not mention the potatoes, which was all sorts of wrong. Most likely microwaved potatoes and most likely served with a premade quark (remember like serving KD instead of real mac n cheese).
What came, I couldn’t tell you easily was in the top five worse meals I have ever experienced. Granted the potatoes where cooked through but I sat at the table in shock. We ate so we weren’t hungry anymore, paid and left in stunned silence. Did this really happen? Where did the evening go wrong, exactly? We drove home, silenced by an experience of total shock.