by Furkan Kemik*
It has been more than a year since the beginning of the pandemic and almost a year since we conducted our first online interviews with various Japanese restaurateurs in Berlin for this project on research methods and Berlin’s Japanese foodscapes. Despite the unusual circumstances during the Covid-19 pandemic, in 2020, Japanese food entrepreneurs were highly interested in talking to our students online. The online interviews provided us with many valuable insights into Japanese gastronomy in Berlin during the pandemic.
This year, however, it was not as easy to find interview partners for the method course. I think this is due to the current situation and several changes since the beginning of the pandemic and the first lockdown in March 2020. At a first glance, the latest developments sound promising. Outdoor dining has been possible again for a few weeks now and due to the decreasing cases of Covid-19 infections and the increasing number of vaccinated people, further relaxing Covid-19 measures is planned for the coming weeks. Is “normality” returning?
Outside the Japanese bakery Kame (Copyright © Maritchu Durand June 2021)
Of course, it is not that easy. Our everyday lives have been affected so greatly in many ways, that we can hardly go back to what was “normal” before the pandemic. This is true for Japanese restaurateurs in Berlin as well and this is the main reason why the search for interview partners has been so challenging this year. The fact that restaurateurs have suffered many setbacks the past year and had to adapt to two lockdowns has already been examined in more detail in previous blog entries. Adapting, however, has not been easy for everyone, if anyone at all. Not only did temporary closures for weeks and sometimes months in some places become the norm, some restaurants and companies even had to cease operations completely. The existence of many restaurants has been hanging by a thread and without financial aid and the so-called Kurzarbeitergeld, our culinary landscape would look even more depressing today.
Interior of the Japanese restaurant 893 Ryōtei (Copyright © Maritchu Durand 2020)
Considering the situation of the gastronomy during the pandemic, it is quite easy to understand that the ongoing existential pressure worried almost everyone. This was especially clear after email exchanges and a quick glance at the restaurants’ websites on social media platforms. While some restaurateurs wouldn’t agree to interviews, because they were too busy keeping the restaurant up and running operations with way less employees while also managing their pick-up and delivery service, others were too frustrated with the overall situation. However, these difficulties to find interview partners during the pandemic and the many phone calls, emails and social media accounts also provided us with a rather personal insight on what it means to be a restaurateur during the pandemic.
* Furkan Kemik is student assistant at FUB and supports the method course, the research project on Berlin’s Japanese Foodscapes and this blog. I cannot thank him enough for his great work during the past year.