Growing up the only black kid in the Swiss mountains was always destined to shape Jeniffer Mulinde-Schmid’s career path. First, a one-woman comedy show was born entitled ‘Schwarze Heidi’ (Black Heidi), before a part-time waitressing job at an old Kreuzberg rösti joint led to her next role: proprietor in chief of her own restaurant, named after her comedy creation.
“I was the worst waitress ever,” says Jeniffer Mulinde-Schmid, smiling as she recalls her first days at the Swiss restaurant in Kreuzberg, which, at the time, was still known as Helvetia Röschtibar. Waitressing was just a part-time job for her. As an actress, she was touring Germany with her comedy special ‘Schwarze Heidi’ (Black Heidi), in which she, a young black woman, spun Swiss cliches into comedy gold. But of course she ended up staying in Berlin.
The restaurateur, daughter of a Ugandan flight attendant, was born in Mombasa, Kenya. She moved to Switzerland as a small child to be with the family of her mother’s new partner, who lived in the mountainous uplands around Bern. “I was the only black kid around,” she remembers. From there, the family moved to a home near Zürich airport. That’s where she spent most of her childhood. After finishing school, she studied at an acting academy in Munich.
Upon starting her career, she was soon confronted with the ugly reality of the industry: “I was playing at renowned theatres,” she says, “but I was only cast in the black roles. They were the worst kind of cliches.” So she developed her own comedy program — and took that fateful part-time job at Helvetia Röschtibar. After the owner retired, Jeniffer Mulinde-Schmid took over the establishment and christened it Schwarze Heidi: “It’s me — it’s something that belongs to who I am.”
Naturally the menu still includes some Swiss specialities: rösti, spätzli, Toblerone mousse, and her very own Swiss tapas, or ‘Schwapas,’ as she likes to call them. Then there’s the fondue, which is doubtless the city’s very best. She offers three kinds, and the mixtures (mild, zesty, and with truffles) are specially produced for her at a dairy in Switzerland. Fondue is the most popular menu item at both Schwarze Heidi and the ‘Hütte,’ a seasonal stand that Jennifer Mulinde-Schmid operates from November through late January at the RAW quarter in Friedrichshain, a popular party spot.
She’s thinking about expanding at the moment and would like to open up further ‘Hütten’ in Hamburg and Cologne. And she’s contemplating writing a new comedy show about her experiences as a restaurant owner. She’s already got a title: “Black Heidi tells all.”
All photos by Lena Ganssmann
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