Cuba in Cologne

by Annette Meisl

At “La Galana” cigars are celebrated as a symbol of deceleration and the art of living

Admittedly, the reaction sounds drastic - at least if the anecdote told by the American entertainer Groucho Marx is true. Marx is said to respond to his wife's request to finally stop smoking cigars with a curt "No, but we can remain friends... “have acknowledged. So the enjoyment of a cigar was more valuable to him than marital bliss? Probably not really and yet it makes it clear: what may be just a stinking cheroot for some people is for others a symbol of deceleration and the art of living, a supreme pleasure that - once you get to know it - you don't want to miss out on.

You don't even smoke cigars like that. You take your time for it (Annette Meisl)

Annette Meisl also had the same experience. 15 years ago, the Cologne artist agent spent the millennium change in the Caribbean country at the invitation of the legendary Cuban band “Vieja Trova Santiaguera”. There she also met Gregorio Fuentes. He was already 103 years old at the time and had a long life to tell about and his time as captain on Ernest Hemingway's yacht. She sat with him on a veranda for hours, listening to his stories about Hemingway and Cuban life. And like Fuentes herself, she smoked cigars while doing it. It was like diving into another world, remembers Annette Meisl. A fascinating world that she definitely wanted to bring with her to Cologne.

So she started to create a little piece of Cuba in the middle of Ehrenfeld. In 2005 she opened Cologne's only cigar factory at Venloer Str. 213-215. It's no coincidence that the name "La Galana" means something like "elegant woman who can enjoy life." And for Annette Meisl, the latter has simply included cigars since her stay in Cuba. Seven different formats are now sold in the tiny factory based on La Galana's own recipe. “Cigars are a bit like wine, the decisive factors are the vintage of the tobacco harvest, the seeds, and the growing region,” explains the 42-year-old from Cologne. Since rolling cigars in their factory is still purely manual work, the taste sometimes varies by small nuances despite the same recipe - but this does not affect the quality.

The manual work at La Galana is carried out exclusively by experienced Cuban cigar rollers who skillfully transform the tobacco leaves into a combustible leaf roll using small wooden desks. One of them is Alicia Espact-Parada. Even as a small child, she said, she looked over her grandmother's shoulder while she rolled cigars, says the native Cuban. She is now an experienced roller herself and uses a special knife to cut the slightly moistened tobacco leaf, the so-called wrapper leaf, precisely to size. With practiced finger movements, she wraps it around the cigar blank, which she previously pressed for 45 minutes. It only takes three minutes for the wrapper to artfully enclose the cigar. “Cigar rolling is an art,” emphasizes Annette Meisl. If, for example, the tobacco leaves of the so-called filler with the binder were rolled up too tightly or twisted, the smoke would not be able to flow evenly through the cigar - but that is exactly what is important for perfect enjoyment.

“After all, you don’t just smoke cigars casually. “You think carefully about when you want to take the time, with whom or in what atmosphere you want to light a cigar,” says Annette Meisl. She therefore deliberately wanted to create an environment for aficionados, for true cigar lovers, in the back area of ​​La Galana. And actually, when you enter the salon, you feel a little like you're in a bar in the middle of Havana. A red velvet sofa, an old leather wingback chair, a chandelier, the smell of tobacco, a large suitcase, an old piano and pictures of Che Guevara on the walls - that's how you imagine the legendary Buena Vista Social Club. The hustle and bustle of Venloer Straße seems light years away here. And so it's no surprise that cigar lovers who want to treat themselves to a break - for a cigar length, so to speak - come here regularly. They come to read or chat with other guests or simply to watch the smoke behind them. “There’s something contemplative about it,” says Meisl. Everyone here enjoys the cigar the way they like it.



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