Terror fears force Berlin's best-knownJewish restaurant to close

7th April 2004, Comments 0 comments

7 April 2004, BERLIN - In the heady years right after German unification in the 1990s the Oren Café was the best known and most popular Jewish restaurant in Berlin. Located just a few steps down Oranienburger Strasse from the resplendent, rebuilt New Synagogue, the Oren was a mandatory snack stop on guided tours of the newly reunited German capital. Foreign tourists and even native Berliners themselves thronged the synagogue, whose gilded towers serve as the focal point of Berlin's pre-war Jewish quarter,

7 April 2004

BERLIN - In the heady years right after German unification in the 1990s the Oren Café was the best known and most popular Jewish restaurant in Berlin.

Located just a few steps down Oranienburger Strasse from the resplendent, rebuilt New Synagogue, the Oren was a mandatory snack stop on guided tours of the newly reunited German capital.

Foreign tourists and even native Berliners themselves thronged the synagogue, whose gilded towers serve as the focal point of Berlin's pre-war Jewish quarter, a district now dotted with trendy pubs and restaurants.

The Oren became the best known of them all, one of the best-known restaurants in all of Germany. Tourists stopped at the Oren for a bowl of borsht or a platter of deliciously sweet sesame halva cakes or perhaps a multi-culti borek, a pie of flaky pastry stuffed with with gefilte fish.

The Oren served as a kind of Jewish community centre, its magazine racks filled with publications and brochures about Jewish life in Berlin.

Every Berlin taxi driver understood when a tourist got in and asked to be taken to "that Jewish restaurant" that it was the Oren, named for the famous species of pine tree native to the Middle East. Every Berliner had either eaten there, or walked past there, or at least knew where it was.

All that changed after the 11 September when fears of terrorism cast a pall over the city's proud old-new synagogue and its neighbours.

Now the Oren is gone, ironically the victim of stringent security measures to protect the synagogue next door.

"We tried to make a go of it, but it was a losing battle almost the day after the 11 September attacks," says restaurant franchise owner and manager Danni Metzger, who operated the Oren on premises owned by Berlin's Jewish community up until it closed without fanfare last month.

"Suddenly there were uniformed security guards patrolling the street with assault guns and an armoured vehicle was parked across the street," he recalls.

"That wasn't exactly conducive to tourists sitting down to eat."

And it got worse.

Security officials feared a truck loaded with explosives could ram the synagogue, which fronts directly onto Oranienburger Strasse. So enormous concrete barriers were erected.

And that meant the tram line in front of the synagogue - and the Oren - had to be re-routed around the barriers. What ensued was a construction project that lasted a year.

In a bid to avert car bombings, stiff new parking regulations were implemented.

The result of it all was that there was no place to park and it was difficult to reach the Oren even on foot.

"Business dropped off by half," says Metzger. "But my operating costs crept higher and higher."

The restaurant which had been an instant success from the day it opened in 1992 was nearly a quarter of a million dollars in the red a dozen years later.

"I paid my staff's salaries right up to the last, and when I could no longer do that, I gave up and threw in the towel," Metzger says.

The Berlin Jewish community, which owns the premises and franchised the restaurant to Metzger, wrote off all the rental money he owed them.

"It wasn't his fault, after all," community spokesman Albert Meyer told Berliner Zeitung newspaper. "Seeing the Oren close its doors for the last time was one of the saddest days of my life. And it just broke poor Herr Metzger's heart. I've known him for decades and know how he much he loved this place."

Meyer said the community is looking for someone to take on the franchise and re-open the restaurant.

But it won't be Metzger. Saying he doesn't have the heart to start over again, the 67-year-old restaurateur says he will retire.



DPA

Subject: German news

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