Between Restauranteur and Biographer

March 11, 2016
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By Rhys Tarling

Karl Mueller has been running a small restaurant in Midland for over two decades. It’s called Cafe Mueller, and it’s located on an out-of-the-way suburban street. The locale is so unusual that if it were your first time checking the place out you’d be convinced your GPS led you astray. I’ve been there a handful of times, yet I still get a strange feeling when I step inside the restaurant.

The strange feeling was compounded by the fact that it wasn’t going to be open for a few hours and that Karl was, for some reason, kind enough to accept my request for an interview concerning a biography he’s been working on for three years, Between Satan and Saint

I took a seat at a table while Karl excused himself.

The walls of the cottage-like Cafe Mueller are adorned with handsome black and white portraits of Hollywood celebrities (James Dean, Katherine Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart and the like) juxtaposed with canvases of Mueller’s own work – abstract paintings as adoring tributes to salaciousness. A vinyl player occupied a space near the cash register, trinkets and dolls were placed in an ordered fashion on top of a piano, which was located next to the kitchen.

Cafe Mueller is too endearingly odd to be labelled as something as generic as a restaurant. Heck, people’s homes don’t usually lay bare their quirks and interests so starkly.

Karl arrived with two tall glasses filled with fresh juice. We clinked our glasses and drank – a welcome respite from the seasonably and unreasonably hot afternoon. We got to talking about the man between Satan and Saint, Professor Herbert Melzig.

“I met him in when I was living in Sydney, in 1988. He and his wife were my neighbours. She invited me over for tea. My god, The professor was a messy eater. Just…” Karl then mimed, I assume, strands of spaghetti, crumbs, and other bits of food falling from his beard.“You know? But his mind…brilliant…on another plane…but still ate like a child. And he always had this strange way of talking – always with him there was a train of thought that derailed.” Karl giggled at his recollection as he handed me the print-out cover of Between Satan and Saint. The top left corner was plastered with a picture of the aforementioned professor pulling a whimsical expression, Between Satan and Saint was messily scrawled in the centre; the white font of the title popped against the deep-red coloured backdrop. The cover for this biography had the intimacy of a handmade birthday card from your oldest friend.

“He was a writer, too. Prolific. Wrote, I think, over 50 books in his lifetime. First book published when he was 19.  We became friends. And one night, when we were both digging into our veal cutlets in a fancy restaurant, he told me, completely out of the blue that he was Hitler’s personal translator. Was, in fact, often in the same room as Hitler and Goebbels.

“A strange time to drop that,” I remarked.

“Well…when would be a not strange time to drop that?” Karl countered.

I had to concede his point.

“The professor told me he fled from Germany in 1937. This was around the time when people’s backgrounds were being investigated. The professor was Jewish, you see.” Karl then motioned me forward, as if letting me in on a secret; an amusing gesture as we were in an empty and closed restaurant. “The professor killed six men. There were two attempts on his life, the first in Turkey and the second in Geneva. He’s not a murderer, you understand. It was self defence,” he insisted, thoughtfully covering for the possibility that I might be a person who would cast aspersions upon someone who killed a few Nazis.

I asked some questions about the professor’s whereabouts and activities between 1937 and 1988, but Karl was, somewhat ruefully, not forthcoming.

“I’m sorry, I don’t want to say too much about that. Suffice it to say, it will be a large focus of the book and some of the information is…quite surprising.”

“Where was the professor when he died?” I asked.

Karl shook his head sadly, “I don’t know. I couldn’t even procure his death certificate. He vanished without a word a few decades ago. The last thing he said to me was ‘I want you to write something about me.’ The professor was…hated. His children hated him. There was this book about the Nuremberg trials, I do forget the name of it, but he’s mentioned in it, briefly. He did some things, yes. But what he was accused of in that book, he did not do.”

“And…you’re sure?” I asked.

“I believe what my friend told me.”

He picked up the print-out copy of the cover and absent-mindedly fiddled with it. “But…sometimes…I don’t know.” Karl proceeded to lighten the mood with a joke, as if it were a knee-jerk reaction to keep doubts at bay.

With the clock ticking closer to opening time, I asked a final question. “Between Satan and Saint – Satan refers to Hitler, right? Who does the Saint refer to?”

“The professor was a close friend to Angelo Roncalli, who later became Pope Saint John XXIII. Melzig and I went to Vatican City, see…” Karl showed me a strange photo – it appeared to be dead holy man encased in a crystalline tomb. The next photo was less jarring – Karl and Herbert Melzig, exhausted but smiling, in the streets of Vatican City. “The professor’s and Saint John’s friendship is one of the key things I’m exploring in the book,” said Karl.

I shook Karl’s hand, and thanked him for his time and the fruit juice.

Due to legal hurdles that come with publishing a book of this nature, Karl is aiming to have Between Satan and Saint published by 2019.

1 Comments

  1. Hi Rhys, Thank you for your article. I have to correct you on one thing, I do not have a photo of me and the Professor in Rome, exhausted but smiling ! I wish I did, however, he would have been 105 years old, as I was there in 2014 for the canonization of Pope John XXII!