Froggie Wine Bar, Berlin, 2008

The wonderful and terrible part about this blog is I have to post something every day (according to the rules set by me), which forces me to come up with some kind of something on a regular basis. As a side benefit, it’s also helping me remember stories I had forgotten. Such as the mishap at the Froggie Wine Bar.

It was the last night of our honeymoon. (The “we” in this story is a past-tense “we”, but it’s far enough back that I’m able to look back with sepia glasses, at least on incidents like this.) We had been in Europe for two weeks, both of us had gotten horrifically ill with the flu, and he wasn’t an experienced traveler to begin with, so the time had taken a bit of a toll on. Also, when we checked in with the real world upon arriving in Berlin, we realized that apparently the world’s financial markets had exploded. It was really time to go home. But first, one last drink.

We weren’t going anywhere in particular. We’d had the best luck, in general, letting him wander around until he found a likely spot and then just diving in. That’s how we found the best (and smallest) bar in Antwerp. And that’s also how we found the Froggie Wine Bar.

The Froggie Wine Bar may have a name, but I don’t know it. It’s the place listed in the NYT article as being on Kollwitzstrasse, if I remember correctly, but I didn’t know even that until I just googled “Berlin wine bar” and it popped right up. What I do remember is a) it was below street level, b) it was very dark, c) its decor included Persian rugs, a single-stall bathroom with additional seating in it, in case you’d like an audience, and many small ceramic frogs, including a frog into which you placed any amount of money you wanted to at the end of the night, and d) we got chased down the street and yelled at after we did just that.

We each had two glasses of wine, plus some nuts and olives they brought us in tiny dishes. We started to get tipsy and say the sorts of things people on their honeymoon say to each other. It was time to leave. We asked and asked our sweet young waiter, “How much money should we leave?” “Whatever you think is fair.” “Really, how much? Ten euros?” “Anything you want, it is completely up to you.”

We were at the end of a long trip. Our jobs and mortgage were probably in danger back home. We were a little drunk and just wanted to get back to our hotel room. So we left, if I remember right, about six euros in coins, which admittedly was very cheap of us, and said Danke many times, and then walked out the door.

A block away, the waiter caught up to us, screaming. “How could you leave this little? You have to leave more!” We reminded him that we had asked him how much to leave and that he had said whatever we want, so we left what we wanted. He said it wasn’t enough. He was very agitated, but we weren’t sure exactly what our rights were at this point, having left the bar, now out on the street, in a strange city where we didn’t speak the language. We didn’t want to make more of a scene than was already being caused. We asked him how much more he wanted. He said it was up to us. At this point, my husband almost lost his mind. “What do you want from us?” Then the waiter explained that he thought it was OK whatever we did, but his mother had been upset by how little we left. Ah. It’s always the mother. I took out ten euros. “How about this?” He nodded. “Yes, this is fine.” Now we were friends. He took the money and wished us a good night.

We stood there for a minute, perplexed, and watched him walk back to his bar, back to his mother with the ten-euro bill for her. And then we busted out laughing, and I don’t think we stopped rehashing the encounter until we were back at the hotel.

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