*NEWSBITES

DIE WELT/Worldcrunch

AMSTERDAM -- During the week, the place tends to be pretty quiet. So getting a table at the newly-opened Pyongyang in Amsterdam (the first North Korean restaurant in Europe) was not a problem. "One person, 7 p.m., thank you very much." So far, so good with the staffer who answered the phone. The eatery'ss personnel was supposedly "hand-picked" back in the capital city the restaurant is named for, although whether the late "Dear Leader" or his son Kim Jong-un did the picking is unclear.

The taxi driver isn't so sure we really want to go to Osdorp, which is outside the city center, and well off the usual tourist path. But there's nothing sinister about the neighborhood of boxy new buildings: an old people's home, a hotel, it's all very Dutch, clean, orderly. Some of the residents are a little skeptical about their Korean neighbors, who have committed the cultural faux pas of hanging curtains. Nobody can see what's going on inside the two-story "cultural center." Also, people sometimes arrive in black limousines.

A friendly woman wearing traditional Korean garb and a large smile answers the door when I ring, and leads me into the center's small dining room. I can take pictures, she says, but only after the meal. Two other tables are occupied, one by some non-Korean academics and the other by a man and a woman. The man had visited North Korea.

There's a karaoke machine, and a TV showing images of saccharine landscapes, workers wielding red flags, laughing soldiers, well-nourished children, brand-new buildings and statues of big wigs. The art on the walls includes a cityscape of Pyongyang.

Dinner and a show

The meal is good. It's Korean, nine courses (various mushroom dishes, black chicken soup, traditional barbecue, rice balls for dessert) and nicely presented, but no different or more exotic than you would get at any South Korean restaurant in a large German city. The lady in Korean dress tells me that kimchi (fermented cabbage) ensures longevity. She and her colleagues are ever-present, making small talk, pouring water, clearing and serving, except when they're entertaining us with karaoke, playing the piano, and doing theater skits.

I learn they've been stationed in Europe for three years and live nearby, and that they're members of the North Korean elite. If they flee, their families back in North Korea will suffer consequences. But they are still guarded, neighbors have told the Dutch media. The cooks aren't as carefully watched because they have all worked in China, where the North Korean government runs several restaurants in order to bring in foreign currency.

Foreign currency is not the point of the Dutch initiative, however, at least according to the person who launched the idea, Remco van Daal. He gives us a tour of the second floor of the cultural center after the meal. Here there's an art gallery featuring the kind of art dictators love: images depicting smiling workers, machine guns. Kim writings are on display in a room with pamphlets, posters and postcards. The items are not presently for sale, van Daal says; he's still working on the merchandizing angle.

Read the full story in German by Torsten Thissen.

Photo - KFoodaddict

*Newsbites are digest items, not direct translations