Thursday, April 8, 2010

Kohvik Crepp

Years ago I met a retired high school teacher who had received a Purple Heart for taking shrapnel in the butt on Omaha Beach, during the Allied invasion of Normandy, during Dubya Dubya Two (the war, not the president). He maintained a tradition of cooking crêpes for his family every Saturday morning for more than fifty years, as a symbol of having fought the Nazis in France and won. “Victory Crêpes” he called them. Sometimes he would even make designs with strawberry jam, powdered sugar and blueberry jelly. These crêpes meant he had survived. And he was fairly old as well, probably because he had led such an active life, never sitting in one place for very long.

Then one day he was having a routine check-up at the doctor’s. Fortunately it wasn’t an MRI, because they found a fragment of Nazi shrapnel embedded in his heart muscle. Apparently it had ricocheted up to his chest all the way from his derrière. From his very specific point of view, he owed his longevity to the Nazis. He was lucky to be alive, and had always joked that the Nazis were close to his heart.

He was a great patriot and a big liberal. He celebrated his country’s multiculturalism, and was proud to have served in the war and educated multiple generations about the benefits of teamwork and not individualism. Upon becoming an octogenarian, he moved to a condo and sold his lakefront house to America’s first openly lesbian member of Congress. The same one I used to work for.

And so years later, I live in an interesting country—one that was a part of the Allied forces that defeated the Nazis. There was a time during the war when Estonia was occupied by the Axis, and all Estonians have family stories about uncles or grandfathers who were conscripted by both sides and had to fight each other. Estonians are now free to choose from a large number of restaurants and cafés and while away the time, sipping on Ethiopian coffee from a French press and eating crêpes and galettes on a newly cobblestoned pedestrian street. At least, that’s what I like to do in Tartu in the summer. Especially at a café called Crepp, on Rüütli Street.

This Crepp is not the same as the one I recently reviewed. The owner is the same, but I reviewed the place upstairs. That was the often-named “Meat Restaurant” that was often out of meat. This review is for the original place, downstairs. Kohvik Crepp. The place upstairs closed, and has now reopened as a club called Trepp.

My favorite thing in Crepp has always been the balsamic chicken salad. It is healthy, delicious, filling and relatively cheap. The crêpes themselves leave a bit to be desired—not because of the crêpes themselves, but because of the fillings. Mostly pre-processed and pre-cut chunks of ham with boring cheese. But the dessert crêpes are good. As is the Ethiopian coffee from a French press, although the presses are a bit worn out. Always a fair amount of coffee grounds in the drink, enough to make swallowing the second half of the coffee a tad unpleasant.

The atmosphere is charming, what with the chansons and artwork adorning the interior. The staff are always polite and helpful. And the owner? Well, he’s a Nazi.

Yes, I was surprised, too, when I recently found out. I’ll call him Kristjan in this review. I asked around, trying to confirm that it’s true. Everyone already knew this. It was old news, and I was the one out of the loop. I looked him up on Facebook. Under political views, he has listed himself as “rahvussotsialist” (National Socialist). One of his Facebook friends is Risto Teinonen, a locally famous Finnish Nazi who, just a couple years ago, celebrated a Nazi anniversary in Crepp, as you can see in the next photo, courtesy of Eesti Ekspress.

For all of the reasons my retired teacher friend fought in Dubya Dubya Two, one of them was to protect the freedom of speech. In America, Nazis—registered or not—have a constitutional right to express their views. That’s the great thing about freedom. If Estonia’s Eastern Neighbor ever decided to pay another uninvited visit, I would probably stand with Kristjan and fight to protect this freedom, even though I am no Nazi. Well, alright, I’d probably get my family as far away as possible in that event, as it would undoubtedly involve nuclear weapons. But the point remains.

And what is a Nazi exactly? A National Socialist—by definition, one who believes in the biological superiority of his own race over all others. Historically, the Aryan race (you know, the guys with the blonde hair who mostly start going bald in their thirties) was the Master Race. Seeing as how they lost the war however, this belief apparently didn’t work out too well for them.

But make no mistake—Nazism is racism. It was especially targeted against the Jews during the war. Roughly in the neighborhood of six million methodical homicides, just because one person made another uncomfortable for some reason. Oh—let’s not forget Hitler was part Jewish himself. And Mr. Teinonen believes himself to be biologically superior to the Bear Jew.

My question is: why would someone be racist? Racism is a belief, and everyone is entitled to have their own. I personally hate peanut butter, but I have no problem with people eating peanut butter around me. Well, there are people who have severe peanut allergies. One whiff and they blow up like a balloon. Yet I’ve never heard of anyone vomiting from watching The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

Is racism due to fear of the unknown? To a large extent, yes. It’s human nature, after all, to want to view yourself as better than others. The kid with glasses, the radio deejay with a lisp, the Estonian model who’s part black. Any person with so much as a drop of gray matter in their head will understand that these people are not any less intelligent or capable.

I once asked a Christian friend why she was a Methodist. “Because my parents are.”
—You would never consider becoming Catholic, or Presbyterian, or any other faith?
“No, why? I was raised Methodist.”
—Do you support gay rights?
“Of course, they’re people, too,” she answered.
—But you know the Methodist church is against gay marriage?
“No, it’s not.”
—Yes, it is. Look it up.
“Really? Well, I’m sure it’s just a mistake.” And she changed the topic.

So I’ll go out on a limb here, and suggest that maybe—just maybe—racism is taught. Similarly to superstitions and the Easter Bunny. A child is racist because he was taught to be racist, and when he grows up his children will be racist just like Daddy. When I look at the world, I see variety, beauty and things to experience. This unfortunate father will see a world full of fear, borders and hate, and he is condemning his children to the same fate. The only way to stop it is to think.

If you are even a little bit racist, do yourself and your kids a favor, and think about why you don’t like blacks. Try to come up with just one good, legitimate reason. Think about why you don’t like Jews. Does it have anything to do with what you’ve heard, or is it something you personally have experienced? And ask yourself why your race is better. Is it because whites were more or less the last people on Earth to attain civilization?

Years ago I was drinking a beer in a club that used to be in an old Soviet bomb shelter. A Russian approached and was very eager to get to know me. I guess I just looked foreign. “Why?” I asked him.
—Because I want to get to know foreigners.
“But why?” I repeated.
—I used to be a skinhead, a neo-Nazi.
I simply stared at him, expecting trouble.
—But I’m Russian, he continued. It dawned on me one day that Hitler hated the Slavs. So why would I be a Nazi?
“Wow, that’s a good point,” I put forth.
—Yeah, it is. So I’m trying to be a better person. I want to open my eyes more.
“Are you just shitting me?” I asked. I felt a bit threatened.
—No, seriously. Here, take this!
And he handed me a zehn-Pfennig Nazi-era coin.
—I don’t want it anymore. And here’s something else.
The next gift, oddly enough, was a neck strap for a saxophone.
“Can I buy you a beer?” I offered, not quite knowing how to behave in this unexpected situation.
—No, I’m just trying to feel better about myself for being racist for so long.
And he left the club. I still have the coin and neck strap. They’re like my Saturday morning crêpes.

Recent genetic research has revealed that the vast majority of “ethnic Estonians” have almost nothing in common with the Finns, and are in fact mostly the same as Latvians and Lithuanians (and a lot of Russians as well). So technically, National Socialism really has very little place in Estonia—a country that claims to be tolerant. But read the comment thread of any on-line news article that has anything to do with people of other races, and you will see that racism is very much alive and well in a large portion of modern Estonia. Like in most other countries. I laud the efforts of Domus Dorpatensis in promoting a spirit of intelligent thought in Tartu.

The bottom line is that if someone wants to be racist, that is their right, and I support that right, though I do not share their belief. I just think that perhaps self-proclaimed National Socialists might want to reconsider their political affiliation a bit, lest they contradict themselves as my reformed Russian friend above.

Nazism in Estonia unfortunately is not limited to just a few people. According to Eesti Ekspress, there were several state officials from various political parties at a recent celebration in honor of the Holocaust. “Happy Holocaust,” the article quotes. The same article quotes Kristjan, the owner of Crepp, as saying, “My position is also that Estonia shouldn’t have any foreigners in it.”

Well, at least he’s honest. I do appreciate that. And while I can’t help him out in realizing his dream of no foreigners in Estonia—that would be beyond my power anyhow—I can make a contribution, roughly the size of my family, to not having any foreigners in his restaurant. I have a very good recipe for making my own Victory Crêpes, after all.


John said...

If you need to go out for a pankook the ones at Lounakeskus are way better anyway!

And though I haven't been there in quite a while, the Hansa Hotel Restaurant(review?) used to serve surprisingly good hapupiima (sour milk) pancakes in a "Medieval" atmosphere! They're much more like traditional American style flapjacks than crepes so one order might be enough for the entire family!

But my very favorites are the ones my wife makes every Sunday! We have started our own tradition!

Anonymous said...

Whether it is nazism or bolshevism, or more generally racism, it is all the same according to Hannah Arendt (originally from Koenigsberg, now Kaliningrad). It is a socio-psychological device known as scapegoatism, which blames external factors for an individual's or a group's (real and imagined) shortcomings. Any society and individual can fall victim to this, and your Russian friend became a neo-Nazi because he couldn't be a Communist anymore, and as post-Communism did away with cognitive dissonance, he was now free to recognize what Nazism stood for. But the reason for joining the "movement" was to escape the loneliness and isolation which totalitarianism triggers in a society.

Now ask yourself whether the typical Estonian habit of never account for any responsibility - blaming others so to speak - is all that typical. No it is not. However, it is prevalent in Estonia. My landlord who manufacturered his own wood furniture would explain the fact that the doors would not close properly by saying that the "wood is still alive." Most Estonians will tell you that whatever is wrong is the Russians' fault. Most Latvians will blame their economic catastrophe on the "stupid IMF", etc. If Eesti Ekspress notes that public figures tend to have Nazi sympathies, one should not forget that a great many of them had Communist sympathies some twenty years ago. This being said and all the same, it is not about being a Nazi or a Bolshevik, it is about having the self- and social confidence to admit to your own shortcomings and improve yourself in the interest of the public good. This, Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Georgians, Russians, etc. do not have, and it is the result of half a century of totalitarianism. And before any of those readers say "correct: half a century of enforced russification" I will say "there you go. Scapegoating again."

Giustino said...

Recent genetic research has revealed that the vast majority of “ethnic Estonians” have almost nothing in common with the Finns, and are in fact mostly the same as Latvians and Lithuanians (and a lot of Russians as well).

I have read that paper. What it says (as far as I can tell) is that the Finns are genetic outliers due to their relatively small founder population. It's like you and your fellow Minguses go to Peipsisaar and reproduce there with some small indigenous group (like the Sami) and the rest of us stay here in Tartu reproducing. Several thousand years later, your extremely overpopulated island may have 5 million people on it, but they all look like, well, Minguses, and suffer from rare genetic diseases. Meantime, Tartu contains more or less the same genetic diversity you can find in Tallinn or Valga, even Riga. Our populations would be relatives, your island's population would have originated mostly in Tartu, but it would have become so genetically different that it would not only set you apart from Tartu and the rest of Estonia, but also the rest of Europe. And that's the case with the Finns, Estonians, and Latvians. Part of the Balto-Finnic population moved through Estonia on its way to Finland (and left the Estonians along the way), but their founder population is so small that they are now unlike any other European population.

And that concludes our genetics lesson for the day.

Great post, by the way. Nazis. Yuck.

Anonymous said...

Wonder if the owner runs this Eesti Nazi website?

Justin said...

Wow, never knew that about Crepp. The warm chicken salad was indeed good, but I'll take my business elsewhere.

Risto Teinonen said...

Some "Anonymous" asked here if the owner of café Crepp runs Estonian website (or or or or or www, The answer is "no". That national socialist website is made by NS people from many countries and I am the responsible person. Welcome to read our website - it is in 24 languages and I guess that it is one of the best national socialist websites in the world.

Justin said...

Looks like Crepp has over 100k EEK in unpaid taxes:

However unpaid taxes seems to be the trend with restaurants in Tartu. I think at one point I checked a bunch of restaurants on Raekoja Plats and the majority of them had unpaid taxes.

Oss said...

Wow, a bit awed I am.

If your political views, khm, brought to today's sense, and made you really skip Crepp, too bad.
If you really think that what did you wrote here, I am sorry, it's one less weekly reader for you.

I am sorry mr. Mingus, for a person who is into food and thinking, this was too much demagogy. For populist crowd - nice reading.

Oss from Tartu, who studied Political Sciences only for 8 years.

Karu said...

I am a patriot of my country...thats it. I know Risto Teinonen and I have been in those events as a caterer and as a guest. Does it make me nazi like you write here? If someone has problem with me or with my me or call me 5516183.
All forigners are most welcome in my cafe or pub.
Why write such storys, for vanity?

Karu said...

do not erase all comments (oss)

Chris Thompson said...

Priit, since you seem to be reading here, I'll address this directly to you.

Do you realise quite how disgusting most people regard Nazi views?

So do you really think it's acceptable to host a Nazi celebration in your restaurant?

If you do, then I'm afraid I will also be joining the list of people who will be taking their custom elsewhere.

Karu said...

I understand Your point about the people who find Nazi views disgusting.

I find both nazi and communist crimes disgusting.

Risto Teinonen with his "nazi campain" shows duplicity of our coverment system. Nazi is bad but communism is ok.

Maybe I did not make a good choice hosting those partys...but whats done its done.

I am friend with Risto, I do not share all his views...but I respect him as a friend who has his opinion.

Does it make me nazi?

Mr. Mingus knows me, i think, 5 years. Why don´t meet me and ask about this issue. But write such story based on article from "yellow" newspaper and my political view in facebook, (that i changed after the article in Eesti Ekspress)is too shallow...I respect his comments about my cafe or restaurant but go political is personal... and I dont like it.

So still, I would like to meet
Mr.Mingus and clarify my views.

See you all in Crepp!

Anonymous said...

Well it's no secret that Tartu has a lot of racist rednecks.

The only guy who ignores this is Giustino who just drones on endlessly about some fantasy land paradise he has cooked up in his head.

Giustino said...

Um, I'm from the United States. Sort of used to the whole racist, redneck thing.

Giustino said...

Speaking of which, news from my home county. This crap's been going on for a long time. My home county used to be a Klan stronghold in the 1920s.

Anonymous said...

"The only guy who ignores this is Giustino who just drones on endlessly about some fantasy land paradise he has cooked up in his head."

Well said!

Chris Thompson said...

Funny that those making personal attacks here don't seem to have the balls to identify themselves.

If you don't like his blog, don't read it!

Mingus said...

I agree. Let's try to stick to the subject. :)

Giustino said...

I once went to buy a used couch in Tartu and the guy had the Nazi flag on his wall in his living room. So I didn't buy the couch. Even I have principles.

Anonymous said...

All Nazis are anti-Estonian. Like the Soviets, the Nazis imprisoned and killed Estonians-women and children too. The national writer Jan Kross was also imprisoned. Nazis are also anti British. It was the British Navy who blockaded Tallinn so the brave Estonian Army could win the land battle for independence. That land army included almost 200 Estonian Jews who proudly fought for their country. On every level an Estonian Nazi is an Estonian traitor-who betrays his own country and his allies. Every society has its problems, football hooligans, organised crime. In Estonia our major shame is that we tolerate Nazism. When we tolerate Nazis we disgrace the memory of what previous generations fought for. and make ourselves look primitive in front of our friends. I think the reason nazism is tolerated here is because in the Soviet system it was never addressed truthfully and the term" anti-fascist" was hijacked by Soviets and reverse psychology taught the most stupid segments of society in Poland, Latvia or here that to be anti-soviet you had to be a nazi. Of course Nazism and Stalinism are actually the same thing in outcome: Licensed mass murder, totalitarian rule and personality cult. Its easy to be a Nazi also in a city where there are no rival gangs to take you on. perfect business for a coward. In London, Paris or New York-these guys would not dare to wave their swastikas.

I believe in the values of the singing revolution-human rights, independence, European and Nato integration. I cannot eat in a resturant which hosts nazis. Its impossible for me because it is insane that we want the world to understand the legacy of stalinist mass murder but in a city where Estonian jewish children and women were rounded up and murdered-we celebrate with a Nazi Crepe party.
I sincerely hope that Crepp and their "Nazi Death Crepp" product can put this right so we can go back to normal and enjoy a nice place in the best part of town!