Berlin -- Our host's instructions about dinner are clear: dress casually and don't bring a camera.
We arrive at Nocti Vagus (Latin for "night crawler"), located not far from Alexanderplatz, near the centre of what used to be East Berlin. Nocti, launched in 2001, was the first of three "dark restaurants" to open in the city. All the servers are vision-impaired.
The four of us settle into the calming beige world of the lounge, where our server drills us on protocol.
"Doing something like this (she feigns a wave) will not get anyone's attention. The important thing to remember in the restaurant is the name of your waiter. You will need to call out to her if you have any questions or if you need to visit the bathroom."
The menu lists pre-set three-course dinners: vegetarian for 29 euros, mains of catfish or corn-fed chicken, both 34.50 euros. Coffee is served in the lounge, where the bill is settled. After downing our cocktails, our server walks us downstairs to a dim room.
"Behind this door is your server, Jasmine. Now line up with your hands on the shoulders of the person in front of you. Jasmine will take the lead person's hand."
I want to lead. Suddenly, as the room goes dark, I feel a woman's hand clasp mine. "Hello. I'm Jasmine. I'll take you to your table."
Her hand feels soft and sensual. It's strange to touch someone you've never seen. Instant intimacy.
Jasmine takes my hand and places it on a chair. She does the same for the others. She says she'll come back with the wine we've ordered upstairs. Is she going to pour it?
Conversations fill my ears. I'm drowning in discussions. Panicked, I'm ready to run from the black abyss. I take deep breaths.
Jasmine returns with a carafe and tells us it's in the middle of the table. She then instructs us to put our fingers inside our goblets so we can feel how much we've poured. We pour very slowly. After a sip of wine, my anxiety begins to abate.
Our first course is soup. Hand-eye coordination has never been my strong suite, and now there's no "eye." I resort to leaning down so the spoon has a shorter journey to my mouth. Others bring the bowl closer to their faces. How are we going to get through the main course?
"So, are you ready for your entrees?" Jasmine's silky voice punctures the pitch dark. She stretches out the "so" as a way of announcing herself. As she removes our bowls, I ask how many people can fit into the dining room. Silence. She's already left. I blush in the dark.
Jasmine returns with our steaming entrees. I repeat the question. Seventeen tables, seating 75 people, she answers. So, how many servers are there? Silence, again.
I jab at my plate, discover the chicken breast and cut off a morsel dripping with sauce. When it gets to my mouth, I discover I've severed a huge chunk. It grazes my cheek, leaving sauce on my face. I gnaw off a piece. Then I hunt for the veggies and bring a floret of green onion to my open maw. Why would they bother with garnish?
The darkness starts to feel comforting. Since I don't have to look interested in anyone's conversation, I close my eyes.
"You know, I'm naked," jokes our Berlin host.
"Well, unbeknownst to the rest of you, I've been stealing more wine," I reply.
Soon Jasmine arrives with dessert. We slurp up the mousse au café with peach slices. My boyfriend admits he's licking the plate.
Our server comes out again to clear the table. Talking amongst ourselves, our Berlin host wonders how many people are eating there that night. "Too bad Jasmine's gone."
"No, I'm still here," her voice jumps out. "There are 40 people here tonight." I laugh quietly and shake my head. And off she goes.