Redux: German Eatery Caters To Anorexics

A restaurant in Berlin, Germany opened to cater to anorexics. It's called Sehnsucht, which is German for "longing." The owner touts the eatery as a great way to meet others who share similar eating disorders. This story first aired on Jan. 11, 2005.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

About four years ago, we told you about what was then a brand-new restaurant in Berlin for people with eating disorders. Well, that restaurant is still in business. Here's the story from NPR's Berlin correspondent at the time, Emily Harris. She visited the cafe soon after it opened.

(Soundbite of frying pan)

EMILY HARRIS: King prawns frying in the kitchen of Sehnsucht, or Longing, Berlin's new restaurant designed for people with eating disorders. The giant shrimp will be arranged on a bed of ripe avocado, not the typical image of what an anorexic person might eat. But that's just an appetizer here. Thirty-three-year-old owner Katja Eichbaum opened Sehnsucht after more than a decade of struggling with her own anorexia and bulimia. She now hopes to help other young women.

Ms. KATJA EICHBAUM (Owner, Sehnsucht): (Through Translator) I have very normal food on the menu. Girls should take this kind of eating into their normal routine, and stop depending on carrots or nibbling on the garnish at the edge of the plate. We offer lamb curry, duck breast in orange sauce - very, very tasty things. They don't have to be afraid because the portions are normal. They don't overeat and it's not too little, either.

HARRIS: Desserts include rhubarb with vanilla sauce called Mixed Feelings, and Light and Shadow, a marbled mousse. Eichbaum's dream is to create a good place to eat where people with eating disorders also feel comfortable. She plans to start a kind of club for people with eating disorders and even offer cooking classes.

Ms. EUREKA HUEFMAN (Psychologist): I was very skeptical when I read about it in the newspapers and I thought, this can't work.

HARRIS: Eureka Huefman(ph) is a psychologist specializing in eating issues. After a visit to Sehnsucht, she thinks the restaurant might help some people as a safe place to be around food. But some of her patients thought it sounded strange.

Ms. HUEFMAN: I just asked two of them, a 17-year-old anorexic girl and she said, what? Who have that idea? That's crazy, I wouldn't go to that place. But she's really slim. She's very slim. So, she's deep in eating disorder. And so, I think it also depends where you are with your problem. And another bulimic girl, she said, I would like to go to a normal restaurant. Some are really afraid of being observed or stigmatized.

HARRIS: There are no signs, and nothing on the menu, that suggests Sehnsucht is aimed at people with eating disorders. That's partly because the intent is to make food normal, and partly because business success will depend on eating customers. Haiche Gratvold(ph) dropped in just because it's near her new apartment.

Ms. HAICHE GRATVOLD: (Foreign language spoken)

HARRIS: I had smoked trout, salad and potatoes, she says. It was good. It tasted very good. Some of the staff, including a cook, suffer from eating disorders. Eichbaum offers herself as someone such people can talk to.

Ms. EICHBAUM: (Through Translator) Girls will have to pressure to eat here. They can just drink tea, or have the chance to confide in someone here and think, do I want to open myself up? Will I take the first steps with the people working here? Maybe something like this would have helped me. I don't know; nothing like this existed.

HARRIS: She admits running the place is a kind of therapy for her. Psychologists say eating disorders are less about food and more about relationships, including with oneself. Eichbaum doesn't know how this experiment will work out but after years of trying to please others, she says she's now trying out something new - to please herself. Emily Harris, NPR News, Berlin.

BRAND: Stay with us. NPR's Day to Day continues.

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