In the early 1950’s when you walked into the Restaurante Bellinghausen, the aroma of sauerkraut and the sounds of bistro dishes clanking filled the air. Yet the boisterous chatter of the German language was the real surprise. This flourishing Mexico City delicatessen, located in the posh zona-rosa district, teemed with curious tourists, wealthy residents, but mostly displaced Germans. The Bellinghausen name, however, didn’t prepare most diners for the overwhelming German clientelel.
After World War II had ended, a contingent from the Third Reich had paid their way to Mexico City to make it their home. Nazi war criminals hastened farther south to disappear in Latin American countries. But Germans who weren’t running away sank their boots with determination into this city.
The interior walls of the Bellinghausen displayed folk art of a pre-war Germany. This childlike display of memorabilia mingled with a clashing collection of photographs depicting officers standing next to aircraft and tanks.
With polished shoes and short haircuts, the German diners were impeccably groomed. Erect posture and self-confidence added to their proud bearing. Many jackets and trousers suspiciously resembled military-dress, minus insignias and medals. As they scraped their chairs across the tile floor to sit with countrymen in raucous dialogue and laughter, American and European tourists watched slack-jawed. Written on their faces was the question; how could these Germans be accepted here? But then Mexico hadn’t fought in WW II.
Loud oompah music played as waiters hastened to place foaming steins at tables. Volumes of pork products, potatoes, cabbage and black bread followed on large platters. Some Bellinghausen staff hailed from Germany. Certainly the cook had. The influx of Germans appeared not to be soldiers alone.
Tourists continued to gape. Those stares were returned with airs of belligerence and arrogance. Never contrition. Men with missing limbs had empty sleeves and trouser legs neatly pinned to their uniforms. Crutches and walking sticks aided some. Others were too proud for that and limped into the restaurant. Black eye patches and the occasional face scarred from burns were difficult to look at. When some stood to leave, it was with the aid of a comrade’s shoulder. Exits were often punctuated with salutes and clicking heels. Germans wore their disfigurements as badges of honor, and that shocked almost anyone but the Mexicans.
But like veterans of past conflicts, these men had escaped their war-torn country to create a new life. Unabashed, they chose to unite at their delicatessen, never a woman among them.
And the Bellinghausen was a start. They owned it and knew it, whether they had a financial stake in the restaurant or not. The tow-headed, Nordic types appeared to enjoy a higher station in their groups. It took little imagination to see them as German senior officers of the past. This Reich had lost the war but their hubris was intact, along with their engineering skills, as their future would unveil.
Germans who settled in Mexico City established a school of engineering. They educated the Mexican construction industry how to safely build high-rise structures on the unstable marshlands of the former Aztec city, Tenochtitlan. In succeeding decades, Mercedes and Volkswagen plants followed. This commerce added to the Germans’ clout in all of Mexico, and even today a German surname is respected.
Two additional Bellinghausen restaurants have been established. The Germans have largely integrated into the population, tourists no longer gape, and the menus offer Mexican food. Now, when you enter a Bellinghausen to dine, you enjoy the aroma of roasted chiles, tortillas and cilantro, instead of sauerkraut and bratwurst.