mission: impossible, part two.

There was a small handwritten sign on the door of the Kölnischer Kunstverein. (Apparently, that’s German for the Art Association of Cologne–but not that I would know.) “Dear Impossible Volunteers!” it read, “Please ring the bell!” I was reassured to know they were expecting us.

Someone came to let me and another volunteer in. We were led upstairs to where Marlene–her named pronounced a singsong “Mar-lay-nah”–was waiting, looking like the long-lost twin of Amelie with short dark hair and that same deviously whimsical look in her eyes. She spoke with the endearing phraseology that comes from literal translation. “I am delighted for you to be here,” she said, welcoming us. For my role in helping with snacks and drinks, I was paired with an Australian girl named Erin. Erin, an accomplished photographer herself, had been in Europe since July, on a brief holiday from working in Canada. Two photographing expats–I knew we’d get along.

“The theme of the snacks is ‘Holland meets Germany’,” Marlene explained. With the Impossible production plant located in the Netherlands, “We want to introduce them to each other.” She went on. “It will be simple food, nothing special. Analog instant photography is not posh.” I loved her immediately. She had imported two wheels of Dutch cheese especially for the event–and even bought toothpicks with a tiny Dutch flag waving from each.

the menu.

Before we started, though, there was shopping to be done. “I hope you do not mind,” Marlene said, handing me well over a hundred euros in cash. Like she said, I don’t usually mind when that happens. We were sent first to the bakery, the Bäckerei Merzenich, its brown and yellow logo seen all over the city. I handed the woman there a slip from Marlene and soon she was pulling out bag after bag from drawers, six in total. Fifteen baguettes, forty roggelchens–a type of rye roll–and six loaves of schwarzbrot, a dark bread that looked like pumpernickel. Erin and I took three bags each, baguettes poking out like chopsticks, and made it back to the event hall.

We were sent out again, this time for a more diverse assortment of items. Our shopping list included: five kilos of onions, 600 napkins and 600 toothpicks (preferably without the flag of any nationality attached to said toothpick). Carrying the load back from the supermarket proved to be trickier than the bakery items. We each clutched bags of onions whilst tucking packs of napkins by the hundred in every corner of our bent arms. The toothpicks had been discretely secured in Erin’s coat pocket.

I would have willingly parted with several of Marlene’s euros in order to see what Erin and I looked like that afternoon, struggling down a busy street with such an unusual armful. We passed a sidewalk cafe and a waiter said something out to us, laughing with the man who stood next to him. It was in German, obviously, so it’s not as if we understood. “He probably said, ‘That’s a lot of onions and napkins,’” Erin said, but I had the feeling it was something a heck of a lot wittier than that.

After a final errand to pick up a proper knife with which to cut the onions and cheese, the preparations could start. I began by cutting the baguettes into smaller pieces for the cheese, Erin by slicing the onions into rings. By the time she was finished, we were both practically weeping in that unventilated kitchen.

Erin–and I’ll thank her forever for this–then took it upon herself to be the cheese-cutter. She might as well have been trying to get a knife through a boulder. It turns out real wheels of cheese are slightly more unwieldy than a small block of processed whatever you pick up from the supermarket. At last, though, she began to make headway and get the cheese diced into manageable cubes. One of them, as I described it in my technically advanced terminology, was an aged “cheddar-y parmesan.” The other, slightly younger, was a softer type of Havarti. I tried to help where I could, lifting the wheels so that Erin could readjust the cutting board.

“Is that the largest wheel of cheese you’ve ever held?” she asked.

I thought for a moment. “It’s the only wheel of cheese I’ve ever held, so…yes.”

But although the cheese was Dutch, the rest of the menu would be decidedly German. The beer, of course, but also a type of sandwich involving a mixture of ground pork and beef. In my innocence, when I saw three packs of uncooked meat in the fridge, I’d assumed we’d be cooking it with the motherload of onions we’d picked up, but then again, the absence of any cooking apparatus in the kitchen should have told me otherwise.

“Oh, no,” Marlene said as we asked about how to prepare the sandwich. “We eat it like that, it’s part-raw.”


She began by cutting one of the rye rolls in half, lengthwise. She took a knife and spread a generous helping of meat across the bread, much like you would peanut butter or Nutella. Lastly, a couple of onion rings were placed on top. Voila.

A few other women arrived to help us make the sandwiches. “What do you call this where you come from?” one asked. Erin looked at me and answered hesitantly, “Uh, we don’t really have a name for this. We usually…cook our meat.”

I asked another woman if she herself ate these sandwiches. “Only after five beer do I like it…I love it actually.” Aah, so there it was. The German equivalent of a quarter-pounder with cheese. Brilliant.

Soon enough, though, it was eight o’clock. The cheese was diced, the sandwiches prepared, and the kegs of beer that had been delivered earlier sat waiting, almost impatiently, to be tapped. Let the festivities begin.

Check back for part three on Friday!


1 Comment

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One response to “mission: impossible, part two.

  1. Your writing is amazing! You’re definitely studying in the right field! Such an eye and a memory for detail! I’m exclaiming alot…! Anyway yeah It was an amazing experience and I’m very glad to have shared it with you 🙂

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