they used to argue some about politics but they’ve learned
that no one’s mind is ever changed.
During the month since I first met the group, one member unexpectedly died at age 84. Dieter Rapp, the group’s
unofficial leader, acknowledges that at their ages, this is an
increasing possibility. Their friend’s immediate absence
begged the question, ‘How is this stammtisch sustainable?’
There isn’t new, young blood coming into the group and
everyone is over 65.
Rodger, a longtime member who now travels from
Berkeley three days a week to join the table, concurs that
indeed, there is not much human influx. “If Dieter ever
leaves, that would leave a big hole.” Ruth, his partner of 10
• WHAT DOES BREAKFAST AT THE
STAMMTISCH TABLE PROVIDE FOR YOU?
Dieter: Friendship, entertainment, feedback, information and a sounding board for ideas.
Rodger: I like to have someone to talk to and share
the morning paper — someone who will listen to
my stories and laugh at my jokes. I like bright, witty,
topical conversation with friends who know my history, and I know theirs. While I have that at home
with Ruth, I still come in for the communal chats.
Jeff: Friendship and stimulation. There are some
good minds at this table.
Ruth: A sense of belonging to an elite club of
intelligent people who are a source of friendship
• ARE YOU FRIENDS OU TSIDE OF
BREAKFAST AND WERE YOU FRIENDS
BEFORE THE STAMMTISCH?
Rodger: In times past, for 10 years or so we had
group Christmas dinners, canoe trips, summer solstice picnics on Mount Tam and significant birthday
parties. I met all of these people at Fred’s.
Dieter: Years ago we sometimes went on camping trips together; now contact is mostly limited
to the get-togethers in the morning. But we played
together quite a bit. For me, most of the friendships
developed at the stammtisch table.
John: Not in my case.
Ruth: I met everyone when Rodger and I got
• WHAT ARE CONVERSATION TOPICS?
together. We occasionally see each other outside
of breakfast — we may have dinner together with
another couple. I do email several of them as well,
either to send an interesting forward or on some
stammtisch business. In years past we used to go to
Dieter’s house for a pumpkin-carving evening with
dessert afterwards, and for many years we had a
Christmas dinner together in a nice restaurant.
Ruth: We tell stories from our past and bring
up problems we have with our neighbors, dogs,
government, etc. We ask things like “where
can I get my brakes, toaster, shoes fixed?”
Asking if you saw the game
yesterday is common, but
sports aren’t big. There is a lot
of “how was your trip.” There
is never any swearing, off-color jokes, complaints about
aches and pains or grumbles
about our spouses.
Dieter: I grew up with a stammtisch. When Mom said go
get Dad I knew where to go.
The concept of gathering at
a public place is something I
was born with. You talk about
events, health concerns, personal experiences, local and
international events — pretty
much everything except politics if I can avoid it.
Jeff: The news, responsibilities, projects.
Rodger: Travel, news about our jobs, law problems,
real estate, movies, art shows and museums, some
construction stories and problems. We reminisce
about the past, sailing and boats. Little is said
about sports, aches and pains or politics.
• DO YOU FEEL GUILT Y IF YOU MISS
A BREAKFAST? DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU
ARE MISSING ANY THING?
Dieter: Yes! Coming home to Fred’s from anywhere
in the world feels right.
Jeff: I don’t if I just miss a couple of days. Everyone
sometimes has things to do.
Rodger: Yes, the table is a continuous movie,
quite current and topical, and something is
Ruth: I know Rodger does. It’s a big part of his
social scene. I don’t like to miss when someone
comes back from a trip. Dieter especially has interesting stories to tell.
• HOW HAS IT CHANGED?
Dieter: Fred’s has pretty much
stayed the same over the
decades. Owners changed,
personnel changed, but the
essence of the place remained
— a local hangout with a cozy
feel and good food. The “we
share tables” motto brings
people together. Sausalito has
changed as well. There are
more young families with kids.
Also, now there are more tourists and many more bicycles.
Rodger: There was some
change in atmosphere when
Fred died, some change in decor when Steve took
over, as well as the menu. But most notably, the table
is getting smaller (at one time we had a mailing list
of 45) and now there are fewer women at the table.
Ruth: When I joined the table there were other
women coming from time to time. Now I’m the lone
female unless Dieter’s wife comes.
years, adds, “If Dieter goes, the group will fall apart.” Dieter,
however, says he hopes it will never end.
On any given day members of the group arrive and leave
nearly as unnoticed as a server refilling waters. This particular day, by 7: 15 a.m., Larry, the plastic surgeon, finished
his breakfast, quickly got up and was through the back exit
wearing his scrubs.
Soon after, Jeff packed up, Dieter had to run and even John
was paying his bill in preparation to leave. There were no real
good-byes nor any “when will we see each other agains,” as normally happens when diners at a table go their own ways. These
guys already know where and when. Tomorrow. At Fred’s.
Somewhere, Fred is smiling. m
★ ★ ★
This sign was crafted for Dieter Rapp by
Audi machinists in Germany.