JAKARTA, Indonesia — Really, there is no reason you should be offended by the SoldatenKaffee, its owner insists.
True, this cafe in Bandung, Indonesia’s third largest city, features a portrait of Adolf Hitler over its fireplace. There are also giant Third Reich iron eagles bearing swastikas on the wall, next to Nazi posters. And yes, some of its customers are wearing military uniforms and Nazi armbands. But this is definitely NOT a Nazi-themed place. Nope, not at all.
The owner wants to make this very clear, once for all.
“From the beginning I have said that the SoldatenKaffee is not a Nazi cafe. This cafe's theme is World War II,” Henry Mulyana declared during a press conference he organized for the cafe’s reopening last Saturday. Of course, you could be forgiven for any confusion.
The establishment is named after a German military cafe in WWII’s occupied Paris. Giant Nazi flags and Waffen SS propaganda grace its red walls. Customers can order “Nazi goreng” (a revisited version of traditional Indonesian fried rice dish "nasi goreng") served on swastika-motif china, by a waiter wearing an SS uniform. The SoldatenKaffee (Soldier’s cafe) first opened in 2011.
Then it attracted the attention of the English-language Jakarta Globe, and subsequently the international media. The story sparked global outrage. The cafe’s owner received death threats and was summoned by local authorities to explain his motives.
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At the time, he argued he didn’t idolize Hitler and had just chosen a theme that he thought would attract customers.
Still, he also claimed there was no proof the Nazis were responsible for the Holocaust. “Controversy will always exist, depending on from what side we’re looking from. The way I see it, the Nazis didn’t commit slaughter,” he told the Jakarta Globe.
He then decided to temporarily shut the place down but promised it would reopen with a more general WWII theme.
Sure, it now also features pictures of Stalin and Churchill, mannequins wearing different military uniforms, and a variety of British, French, American, Japanese and Dutch military memorabilia.
“We have a lot of customers from Europe and they don’t have a problem with the World War II theme, because it is seen here from a historical perspective,” the owner also said at the cafe’s reopening. But somehow, the Hitler pictures, Hitler quotes on the wall and swastikas suggest otherwise. The fact that the cafe’s Facebook page is full of Nazi propaganda doesn’t help either.
Knowledge of the Holocaust and the Nazi era is not widespread in Indonesia. Winda, who works in Jakarta but studied in Bandung, says she doesn’t really remember studying the topic at school and only heard about concentration camps after she left. “Perhaps the Holocaust was mentioned, but very briefly, we only heard about Adolf Hitler,” she says. “I think we were taught to dislike the Jews more than the Nazis.”
An incredibly kitsch YouTube video, spotted by Germany’s Der Spiegel and released a few days ago, follows the same line.
It features Indonesian rockstar Ahmad Dhani dressed in what seems to be a Himmler uniform and reinterpreting “We will rock you” in support of Indonesia’s presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto. Prabowo apparently didn’t see any problem with the video. He thanked the “Indonesian Idol” judge on social media, and republished the video. Ahmad Dhani, in his uniform, now also adorns the cover photo of the “non-Nazi” SoldatenKaffee Facebook page.