I sat with pieces of meat in my hands, myself and some unlucky neighbors covered in curry sauce. Minutes later, two pairs of glowing underwear hovered above our table. Still more minutes later, the cacophony of hefty chains encircled Madelyn and I, eliciting shrieks from CR students, tourists, and Germans alike.
This occurred in darkness. Not candlelight. Not even darkness illuminated by a bedside alarm clock or faint street lamp outside a window. No, a room void of any source of light in which there is no visual difference between open and closed eyes.
CR 11 experienced “Dinner in the Dark,” a unique dining experience. We all laughed and compared our quirky waiters afterward. But during the experience, I decided to sit in silence for an extended period of time. Not only about the blind waiters and the restaurant’s empathetic nature, but my mind wandered into unchartered territory. Bear with me as I attempt to articulate my meandering thoughts.
First, the complete darkness reminded me of coming on CR itself and diving into other unknown experiences. The fear I felt mirrored some of the fear I had coming to college, the kind mitigated by your unknowingness amidst expectation. In the dark room, we knew what we thought the layout would be; we talked about what the dishes probably looked out and what the food probably was. Coming to college, I knew what it would probably be like, but there were so many details left to be lived and learned from.
Second, my mind races back to uncomfortable moments excessively present during these first few days involving the language barrier. Talking across the table to my friends in the dark allowed us to halfway communicate, but we could not glean any knowledge from the looks on the faces of those around us or the body language of our conversation. Throughout the day, my interactions have been similarly limited. I was able to read body language of many of the German people I have interacted with and even sometimes pick up on what some words mean. (This is not to say that Germans do not know English because many of them do and they speak it more eloquently than most Americans have learned how.) But, it highlights a challenge of interacting with those different from us. I have known some people to laugh in the face of these awkward moments, but for me it is frustrating to be held back from a possibly fruitful and engaging conversation. My ability to read inflection, movement, and even laughter has been enhanced, just like my other senses during the pitch black dinner.
Lastly, this relates to the Memorial of the Murdered Jews. As we sat in the dark at dinner, we were unaware if a person was standing in front of us, if there was danger nearby (even though we knew we were safe), and how much longer we would be in that room. For the Jews during the Holocaust and before, they all would have felt this isolation and hopelessness. Jews arriving at their deportation location often did not know that they would be sent directly for extermination. These Jews, already hopeless, were unable to see their fate. On the other hand, Jews who knew their death was imminent as soon as they arrived or as they hid in their hiding places or as they heard the gestapo entered a darkness unmatched by any. They recognized their end but recognized no escape. At the Memorial of the Murdered Jews, the stelae (large concrete slabs) blocked my vision completely as I walked through, prompting me to look both ways each time I took a few steps. The Jews were not given the luxury of seeing the hope at the end of the row of stelae, the end of the labyrinth and the opening to the outside. They were not given the opportunity to look both ways to examine the danger from the side. For them, the end of the rows of the stelae all led to their dehumanizing murder.
We experience so we can remember, and we remember so we cannot let it happen again. Dinner in the dark was much more than just a meal, and the darkness illuminated the hopelessness of the Jews remembered well by Germany.