Jacqueline Harmon Butler - International award-winning travel writer/author - JacquelineHarmonButler.com Jacqueline Harmon Butler
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Blind Leading the Blind (Switzerland)
 


The guests queue up single file, place one hand on the shoulder of the person in front and are then led to their table for a most unusual dining experience. Smoking is banned. So are flashlights, matches, lighters and even luminous watches. What makes the Blind Cow Restaurant in Zurich, Switzerland, unique is that it is completely staffed by blind people and operates in total darkness.

The owner, Rev. Jorge Spielmann, believes that the entire "blind" effect for the sighted guests would be spoiled by even the merest chink of light. The only concession to seeing guests are lights in the toilets. However, the sighted must be guided there by the staff in the same way as blind diners.

The idea for the restaurant came from dinner parties held in Rev. Spielmann’s home. Blind himself, he would sometimes blindfold his sighted guests to give them a chance to experience the world of the blind. He said: "The sighted guests commented that being blindfolded made them give more emphasis to the food and listen more intently to the conversation around them. There were no visual distractions, only intense concentration."

Rev. Spielmann, along with four blind colleagues, raised money from local businessmen and the city council and, in late 1999, opened the Blind Cow Restaurant in a old church building. He wanted to provide jobs for blind people and offer sighted people an opportunity to experience a world without vision. The restaurant name comes from the Swiss equivalent to the children’s game blind man’s bluff.

The idea is so popular that 37 year old Rev. Spielmann is being urged to open branches of the Blind Cow. The restaurant has already been visited by several "concept" designers from New York and Los Angeles. However, manager Adrian Schaffner feels that the Blind Cow idea will most likely expand in Switzerland and Europe before it catches on in America.

Mr. Schaffner said: "People thought it would be just a novelty and would wear off, but we are booked solid for months ahead for the evening sessions, and most lunch times are packed to our capacity of 60 as well. Both sighted and blind customers are willing to wait to experience what is perhaps the oddest dining adventure in Europe. People crave the new experience—and besides, when you eat blind you sometimes have to be a bit of a caveman. Many blind people prefer to pick up a piece of meat and gnaw on it because that’s easier than using a knife and fork. Many sighted people join in."

The daily menu offerings are posted on a chalk-board in the lobby. For the blind guests, a staff member will recite the choices. The menu is a la carte, with a selection of salads, entrees and desserts. A selection of wine and beer is available. The cuisine is made up of traditional German dishes such as beef in red wine, dumplings, sauerkraut, roast chicken, pigs knuckles and apple strudel. At the end of the meal, the bill is paid in the lighted lobby.

Most of the sounds are characteristic of any restaurant: wines being poured, the scrape of cutlery on porcelain, the clatter of chairs on a hardwood floor. However, heard throughout the room is the unusual sound the jingle bells worn on the shoes of the wait staff as they make their way among the diners. The noise level can sometimes be intense because diners usually over-compensate with their voices for the loss of sight.

Surprisingly there is no more dish breakage at the Blind Cow than at other restaurants.

One of the diners mentioned surprise when she tore off the top of the sugar packet that accompanied her coffee and a little puff of escaping phosphorous momentarily glowed a ghostly green.

"Blind" dates are a big hit at the Blind Cow, and several dating agencies arrange for people to meet in the total darkness of the restaurant where they can ask questions and be themselves without once seeing the person opposite. Later, if they choose, they can reveal themselves in the lighted lobby.

Not all dining experiences are pleasurable at the Blind Cow. A few people have become overcome by an attacks of claustrophobia brought on by the intense darkness. An elderly guest mentioned that the darkness reminded her of being transported, in a totally dark box car, to a concentration camp during WW II. Several diners complained that, without sight, the food was tasteless.

"Darkness encourages practical jokes," waitress Christine Wegmueller said with a laugh. "Recently we had a party of three couples where the women all got up to go to the wash-room together. When they returned, the men had changed seats and all leaned over to give their wives lingering kisses.

"I heard one woman shout: ‘Stop, stop! You’re not my husband.! You taste different!’ The others couldn’t tell the difference, or if they did it didn’t deter them, because they kept right on kissing."

The popularity of the Blind Cow is growing, making it a hot destination spot for locals and visitors alike.

"Although we wouldn’t wish blindness on anyone," said Rev. Spielmann, "we just want people to have the opportunity to experience our world on our terms.

Blindekuh Restaurant (Blind Cow)
Mühlebachstreasse 14B
8008 Zürich–Seefeld, Switzerland
Tel: 01/421 50 50
fax: 01/421 50 55
www.blindekuh.ch
email: info@blindekuh.ch
Tram 4, 2
Bus 33 bis Höschgasse
The restaurant is open:
Monday, dinner only 6:30 to 11 PM
Tuesday to Friday, lunch 11:30 AM to 2 PM
Tuesday to Saturday, dinner 6:30 to 11 PM
closed Sunday
The menu is a la carte and a dinner including starter, entree and dessert is around $32.00. Drinks are extra.

Musical events are often held at he Blind Cow, including regular programs called "Blind Monday’s for special guests." The musical offerings range from classical to folk to modern. The musical evenings cost between $38 and $55 for dinner and concert, without drinks.

A calendar is available at the restaurant or online.

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