How musician and web designer Jamie St Clair came to run a cafe-cum-art-gallery in Northern Germany. “I love that my place also exhibits art; it attracts creative people for coffee and cake, people who also love to share their own experiences with art, but also with music.”
I’m running a cafe in Germany close to the Baltic Sea, or Ostsee as they call it here. If someone had told me ten years ago that this is what I would be doing one day, I would have laughed pretty hard at the idea. But that’s where life has led me, and it has certainly been a good lesson in trust. (That’s what actually my sannyas name means: Vidroha Jamie means Rebel with trust in the religious experience.) It’s a beautiful little cafe with a large garden terrace attached to a hotel owned by two sannyasin friends.
The idea had popped out of left field. I would never have considered such a thing, but when it came my way, I found myself saying yes. And now I am enjoying the work, watching my creativity taking form in the kitchen, meeting new people every day, and serving. Only one other time in my life did I run a business with such a high overhead, so it’s time for me again to have to step up to the plate with everything I’ve got in order make it work. At 62, when most people are thinking of retiring, it’s an interesting place to be. But I like it. Magic things can happen when one becomes total. It’s like a fragrance of Osho, the totality.
The story of how I started with the cafe is funny. I never planned it and it came my way almost as an accident. At this time last year, my first priority was promoting my music and our band, and getting a tour together. Almost two years ago, when I was still living in the States, I had recorded an album of folk rock music. So when I moved to Germany, already after four months I had the good luck of connecting with some professional jazz-rock musicians in Berlin. We had several concerts, which were promising, and we drew decent audiences.
In the long run though, making the 3 to 4-hour train journey from the Baltic Sea to Berlin for the rehearsals became too tiring. Also, sustaining a 6-piece band proved financially challenging. Hence I decided to downsize the band and move part-time to Berlin to make rehearsing and promotion easier. It helped that I had the free use of an apartment there, so the whole idea looked like a big yes from existence.
I figured that I would need just a small part-time job as a bartender or barista to defray expenses. As I had worked in a French restaurant in Berkeley in the late 80s, I had barista experience already. I checked the Berlin Craigslist and found plenty of barista jobs available. The only thing they all wanted was baristas who could make something called Latte Art, which is creating the design of a leaf, or tree, or heart on top of the coffee as you pour in the hot milk. Well, I gathered some YouTube videos on the subject (you can find anything on YouTube), and watched them, but now I needed practice.
I thought of my two friends who live close by and own a hotel that has a cafe attached. They are designers and architects and over the years had realized that running a restaurant was more work than they managed, so they closed the cafe. I asked them if they would mind if I used their espresso machine to practice my “Latte Art” for my Berlin stint. Their immediate response was, “Yes sure. But why don’t you take over the whole cafe?”
(What happened to the music venture in Berlin? It hasn’t disappeared, only moved to the back-burner. In fact, music has always been something which came and went in my life. Sometimes I am involved intensely in writing, recording and/or performing. And sometimes several months will go by and I don’t even pick up my guitar. Those are fallow periods which I don’t question anymore. I just know that the oldest possession I have is my guitar, and I will probably have it till the day I die, whether I play it continuously or not.)
Like for all new businesses that I had started I never went to school or did much learning to prepare myself. I just jumped in and learned as I went along. That was certainly possible with this cafe because, while there is the art of making artistic foam for a cappuccino, making good coffee is not rocket science. This too is more of an art. The challenge, for me, was bookkeeping, the taxes, and making sure the business side of things stays tight. (Here in Germany the tax adviser almost moves in with you and becomes part of the family.) So I feel there is something I’m supposed to learn with this job.
For my previous businesses there was usually a technique, or knowledge, or knack that was required to do the job. And what usually happened was that existence provided me with a mentor who could demonstrate the knack or technique. That was the way it went with learning the software I needed to use to do graphic and web design, and how it went when I got into professional house painting. And that’s how it happened now with this cafe; I found a mentor for the kitchen.
Although I managed to bake some cakes, tarts, and lunch items following recipes from friends or online, I definitely needed to learn particular techniques and recipes from an expert; and again, existence provided me with the very person. Before my first season in the cafe, I received several cake-making tutorials from my baker mentor, Iris. So now I am making my own cakes, almost all – there is one exception: it takes two days to make a strawberry cream meringue tart, so I leave that process to my mentor; Iris happily provides me with as many as I need. They are gone in a jiffy…
One of the challenges is the language because I have never taken any German lessons. Over the many years I have spent here I have picked up quite a bit, certainly enough to relate to customers in a cafe, but for professional meetings with tax consultants, or city officials, I need to bring a translator with me to make sure I don’t make any mistakes that could come back to bite me.
Being one step removed from easy communication is sometimes a real pain in the neck. But it does force me to slow down, which has given me a different perspective on the idea that speed equals efficiency. My whole work experience now is a combination of being totally busy during the day to keep up with the rush of people, and then slowing down to keep up with the paperwork (something I never wanted to be bothered with my whole life…).
And, last but not least, to make it more fun, I have turned the cafe into an art gallery. Now every 6 weeks or so, between May and October (the tourist season at the Baltic Sea), I show a different art exhibition mostly from sannyasin artists that live in Germany. I love to have a place that exhibits art; it attracts creative people for coffee and cake, people who also love to share their own experiences with art, but also with music.
I don’t know where it’s all heading, but so far – so good, so very good!
Jamie took sannyas the first time in Pune in 1979 and again on the Ranch in 1984 when he finally had the courage to embrace it fully. It continues to be the treasure in his life. He has worked in many different fields; as a musician, as a therapist, as a house painter, and now a cafe manager. He lives with his beloved in the German countryside where he leads singing workshops and events in his spare time. www.silenceinsound.net