Fast Food is a new, regular feature on EB.net by Thomas Schoenberger and Max Dax. Every Saturday you can read a new piece of a sophisticated ongoing conversation about cooking, traditions and how to read the menu of any given restaurant. It is a discussion about disappearing spaces and why so many chefs listen to Miles Davis’ so-called ‘electric period’ after an exhausting night in the kitchen. Photo: Max Dax
Schoenberger: It was a fluent passage. I made my cut by selling the last remaining pallets of Orvieto, Chianti and Prosecco. From the proceeds of the sale I bought Ytong bricks and white paint. Step by step, the depot was converted into a space to cook. We built walls, toilets and a kitchen and we bet a hole in the floor to get a direct access to the cellar we from now on used as a huge food locker. In its early days, the Schönberger was a place of constant unrest. By the way: The conversion into a restaurant was only able to succeed because the guys from the Hafenstraße were helping us. With these squatters I had, in a joint venture, produced and sold many hectoliters of Riesling sparkling wine—which Vertrieb trockener Weine and the Hafenstraße had marketed under the label Hafenstraßen Sekt. One Deutschmark of every bottle that we sold went as an emergency contribution straight to the squatters.
Dax: I remember the Hafenstraße mainly as a myth. In the late ’80s, I had moved back from Italy to my hometown Kiel, only to relocate to Hamburg after I was offered a job as a music promoter and assistant by record producer Alfred Hilsberg. When I was still living in Italy, every now and then I‘d read short snippets of news in La Repubblica about the Hafenstraße squattings and the battles with the police that followed. Volker Ippig, the iconic goalkeeper of Hamburg’s St. Pauli football club, lived in a tent on one of Hafenstraße’s roof truss’. I vividly recall the night of the World Cup finale in 1990—Germany versus Argentina. That night, after the German victory against Diego Maradona, riots took place between the (by tendency riot-prone) right-wing football fans and the inhabitants of the Hafenstraße. Hundreds of drunken hooligans, all dressed in the same black-and-white German jersey, wanted to rough up the squatters. Funnily enough, to protect the Hafenstraße the Hamburg police brought the same anti-riot water cannons into action.. the ones that were usually used against the squatters. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing as I had my late supper at Taverna Hellas, a small Greek tavern in the adjacent Davidstraße. The Taverna Hellas, by the way, was not only located right on the street-walkers’ patch—it was and still is one of those true original food places that define my culinary memories. It was a tiny canteen, painted in Greek’s proud national colors of blue and white, where you’d eat your grilled lamb chops, Balkan salad and olives next to prostitutes and their johns. Of course, everybody was boozing chilled Retsina and ice-cold Ouzo. There was a jukebox, as well—you’d insert one Deutschmark and pick some rebetico tunes from a seemingly endless selection. So, there we were hanging out, listening to rebetico, drinking Retsina and enjoying sucuk sausages as we watched the riots escalate.
Schoenberger: A group of Hafenstraße autonomists paid me a visit only days after I had made the decision to convert the wine storage room into a restaurant. They were curious about what I had been doing since we had sold the last bottle of the Hafenstraße Sekt. They inspected the building site and became part of the building crew—they just appeared out of the blue and started working. When we were finished with the conversion, they stayed and became part of the restaurant crew, the ‘sturmtruppen’. Again, everything just happened naturally and without a master plan. A toast to the Hafenstraße!
Dax: I get what you mean when you use the term ‘sturmtruppen’ . . . I even like the black humor that I sense there, but tell me one thing: Why do people who work in the gastronomic field always use military terminology?
Schoenberger: I can’t see a huge difference between a kitchen brigade and a squad of stormtroopers. A kitchen in a restaurant is organized like a combat unit in the army. Interestingly enough, this didn’t upset the autonomists of the black bloc. On the contrary, the early days were characterized by ambivalence on both sides. On the one hand they didn’t like me being a capitalist wearing expensive Italian suits; on the other hand they were fascinated because I was a capitalist who had shown more than solidarity with the Hafenstraße by producing and distributing the solidarity Riesling. And I was irritated by these people because their demeanor was quite elitist. Would you expect an elitist arrogance from radical left-winged street fighters?
Dax: Did you ever take part in a street battle?
Schoenberger: Yes. Once. The Hafenstraße had invited me to join them fighting against an organized neo-Nazi militia that tried to raid the squatted houses. Never ever before had I attended such an action. I was nervous and curious at the same time. When the battle started, I was totally stunned witnessing the level of professionalism and organization the squatters were displaying. They fought very disciplined and according to rules they had invented and—I suppose—already tested and subtilized in previous battles. As a matter of fact they routed out the some two hundred Nazis.
Dax: And what did you eat afterwards?
Schoenberger: They were serving beer, wine and vegetable stew with white kidney beans for everybody in their so-called Volxküche—like ‘poor man’s canteen’, but misspelled in German on purpose. Each of us had to grab a plate and walk to the counter where we’d get our portion and then sit down on one of the tables the squatters had picked up from the bulky waste. There were injured people lying on the floor, too. Everybody talked about the battle that had just ended. Finally everybody went to the reggae and dub party at the Onkel Otto bar—this was the interface between the Hafenstraße and the rest of the world. The Onkel Otto bar was a semi-public space where other people were allowed to enter; not only squatters.