The Penguin Bar, West Berlin (1949)


“Ladies and gentlemen, we have a fantastic, full night ahead of us.” A Black man in a white jacket, standing in front of a bar in Bülowstrasse. He is Massa Tadek, the concierge from Harak. Twenty-five years ago he came to Germany as a fire-swallower. — “Good evening, glad to see you.” Hester Harvey greets four American Negro soldiers in perfect English.

Berlin 1949: international Negro bar. Kala Kinger had the idea. His father sat on a king’s throne in Dibamba (Duala). Kala came to Berlin with a missionary: school, circus, variety show, film. Now he is the head waiter in the Negro bar.

On the walls hang African props and hunting trophies: fans that the favourite wife waved at the chief. A centuries-old throne, poisoned arrows for hunting elephants, instruments, bizarre lamps.

Fifteen coloreds occupy themselves with taking care of the guests. Three mulatto women sit behind the bar. Among them Ejanga, the daughter of a Cameroonian prince. Even Tutti, the toilet attendant is Black. She came from Africa, the West Indies and America. Almost all speak three or four languages. “Monsieur” Jean has seen almost the entire world, as tap dancer, servant, waiter, foreign legionnaire.

Kwassi Bruce sits at the piano. Professor of music, king’s son from Togo. Even still he dreams of Beethoven and Schumann while, at the same time, singing a sentimental Negro spiritual, accommpanied by a guitar. The guests go silent. The staff, from the coat check woman to the cigarette boy hum along. “Deep River”: the entire tragedy of the Black race seems to be held in the voice of the singer. Then suddenly Kuo whirls on the drums, and the trio riles itself up into an ecstasy. Not for long, though, as soon enough Kwassi breaks into another sentimental “plantation song.”

Source: “Kala Kinger, Kronprinz von Dibamba,” Der Abend (22 October 1949): 2. Translated by Jeff Bowersox

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The Penguin Pinguin Bar, West Berlin (1949) by Robbie Aitken and Jeff Bowersox is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at