Sun, May 27, 2007 - Page 18 News List

Back in the day

Lynn Miles and Klaus-Peter Metzke discuss the not-so-good, good old days

By Jules Quartly  /  STAFF REPORTER

Lynn Miles, left, and Klaus-Peter Metzke, who set up a cafe in 1960s Taipei, reminisce on their time in Taiwan.

PHOTO: JULES QUARTLY, TAIPEI TIMES

He called it a "sentimental journey" returning to Taiwan after 40 years but Klaus-Peter Metzke was grumpy. The business consultant was tired from lugging around his suitcases, his flight to Germany would take off in a couple of hours and the heat and humidity was getting to him.

"Come on Peter, sort yourself out," said his friend Lynn Miles, a long-term expat and activist, as we settled down in the Shida coffee shop, Taipei. The 63-year-olds ordered cold beers and we started our trip down Memory Lane.

We went back to 1967 and a place where Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) ruled the country with an iron fist and martial law was imposed for the longest period in modern history (1949 to 1987). Freedom of assembly and the formation of political parties were curtailed, free speech and the press were curbed.

An average taxi fare was about NT$6, pedicabs were NT$4, a month's rent was NT$400 and living expenses were about the same. America had an army base in the city and the few cafes that existed had strip lighting and played classical music.

After meeting on the streets of Shida, by chance, Metzke and Miles opened a cafe named The Barbarian (野人咖啡室), which helped transform the cultural landscape of Taipei by providing a place for intellectuals and artists to sit around with a good cup of coffee and listen to records.

Brother Hotel owner, Hung Teng-sheng (洪騰勝) backed the enterprise financially, but even so the basement coffee shop in Wumei Street, Ximending, was a "hole." It had seven tables and seating for just 15 people. The furnishings were homemade and the biggest draw was the music. There was nowhere else in town to listen to jazz, rock and the blues.

"It was a small, cramped hole. Once you were down it was like a trap and it was hard to get out. It was unlike anything else in Taipei at the time," Metzke said.

"It doesn't seem that special to open up a coffee shop now, it's normal, but 40 years ago it was something new, like opening a window. It was a place to meet and exchange ideas" at a time when people were discouraged from doing so, Miles said.

Lin Huai-min (林懷民), of Cloud Gate fame, is said to have written one of his books there. Pai Hsien-yong (白先勇) wrote a story in which The Barbarian featured. Native Literature Movement writer Li Ao (李敖) was also a visitor. The painter Shiy De-jinn (席德進) frequently dropped by and there were small art exhibitions.

Foreign students and journalists also hung out and according to Metzke, "It was the only place you could find these kind of people. The artists would come and do their own thing. They would read a poem, show off their works, even play the flute.

"There were so many big personalities, I still have their name cards. There was a deaf mute lady artist who was good at designing things and we also worked with Atayal Aboriginals on a weaving project.

"Taiwanese did not really travel abroad a lot at that time and if they did it was to emigrate and they did not come back. That was why so many people came to our coffee shop, it was an opportunity to learn a little about the outside world," Metzke said.

The German and the American arrived in Taiwan in the late 1960s.

Metzke described himself as a "Renaissance Man," with an interest in Chinese art and republishing academic books. He made a living by selling reprints from the National Palace Museum and helped out at the former Goethe-Institute in Taiwan (now the German Cultural Center).

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