Torpedokafer — by Michael Wilson ’07

I asked the bartender at my favorite café, the Torpedokäfer (Torpedo Beetle) if Phyllis Graber Jensen, the Bates photographer, could take pictures. “That would be…impossible,” he said. So we walked down the street to a less-secretive café, pictured here.

But if we were at the Torpedokäfer, instead of pony-tailed girls you’d see a young man discussing a mathematics text book with one of his friends, as his girlfriend dangles a cigarette and talks to herself about her photography. Or you’d see a man who calls himself “Butte,” after a road in France.

The Torpedokäfer’s décor reflects its founding: an anarchy symbol behind the bar, an antique typewriter nearby, a collage showing regulars and owners, a 10-foot mural of a beetle, and photos of Franz Jung.

In the power vacuum after World War I, Jung envisioned a new society predicated on self-sufficiency and love. His prose tried to agitate Berlin toward his view, but the city did not change.  He compared himself to the African torpedo beetle and its inclination to fly into walls, slide off, and try again. Four East German publishers tried to spread the same ideas in 1989, in the wake of the GDR, but failed utterly as well.

They founded the Torpedokäfer as a final reference to Jung. They talked with me about their work, bought me drinks, and we toasted to Jung’s best ideas.