Delicate tobacco – craftsmanship

by Annette Meisl
La Galana in the Süddeutsche Zeitung

In the middle of Cologne, Annette Meisl rolls Cuban cigars and runs a matching salon. Your customers are mainly men. But that is about to change now.

By Julia Rothhaas

You don't forget your first cigar. Especially not if you smoked it with the “old man” par excellence. On the last day of 1999, Annette Meisl sat on a veranda in Cuba and listened to Gregorio Fuentes tell her stories. Fuentes was the man who captained the “Pilar,” Ernest Hemingway’s boat, for years and is said to have inspired the character in “The Old Man and the Sea.” Meisl had actually recently stopped smoking. But she couldn't resist the charm of this centenarian.

However, the woman with the reddish-blond curls would never have imagined that the cigar would one day play such a big role in her life. Her love of cigars has led her to importing a piece of Cuba to Cologne for ten years. “Pure coincidence,” she says.

According to Meisl's cigars, customers come to Cologne-Ehrenfeld from Hong Kong or the USA. Here she sells “La Galana” cigars in a shop, which are available in six different formats. Corona, Petit Toro, Robusto and Co. cost between 4.70 euros and 19 euros per piece, all of which are long-filler cigars, i.e. made from whole leaves instead of chopped tobacco. There is also a Salon range and a selection of around 25 other brands. Pure random?

You take your time to smoke, it doesn't work between the two of you

“It wasn’t all planned that way,” says Annette Meisl, who doesn’t want to reveal her age but is probably in her mid-50s. “Rather, irony of fate”. The artist agent actually just wanted to give the Germans a little bit of their love for Cuba. So she started having women roll cigars at a small table at salsa and son band concerts and learned how to do it herself. With her Cuban scooter girls she traveled to Monaco, Palma de Mallorca, Dubai and Damascus for events. At some point she received official approval from the main customs office, which allowed her to run her own factory. “I can’t remember ever having asked that,” says Meisl. Doesn't matter. So she began to develop a blend with her ladies, “not a hard tobacco, but something mild.” They rolled the cigars in a corner of their office. A few years later, there was nothing left of Meisl's agency: the room on the ground floor of the listed house became a shop, the back room became a salon.

“Hardly!” says Werner. White steam slowly bubbles out of his mouth. At lunchtime the older man made himself comfortable on the leather sofa with a cigar and a cup of Cuban coffee. Just like Werner, very different people come here every day to smoke. You take your time for the cigar, it doesn't work between the two of you. The predominantly male customers usually sink into one of the sofas for an hour and a half. “There’s something ritualistic about it,” says Meisl. The special thing is the slowness that smoking brings with it. “When a few people sit together to smoke a cigar, I sometimes have to check a short time later to see if anyone is still in the room.” It's so quiet in the salon.

They are not allowed to have a bar here, but everyone can sit in the so-called tasting room until 8 p.m., and there is a free drink with the cigar purchased, according to the law. In the evenings, seminars, rum tastings and music evenings take place here.

The cigar is no longer just in the corner of the mouth of Schröder and Schwarzenegger

The “Institute for Adult Education,” as Meisl named her salon, looks exactly how you would imagine a salon to look. A brown leather Chesterfield sofa stands in front of a brick wall, opposite a black piano, dark red velvet curtains hang over a dark red velvet sofa at the window, and there is a small bar in the corner. Old radios and suitcases are stacked on a shelf displaying ashtrays, lighters and travel humidors, and portraits of all the employees can be seen on the wall.

The cigars, which are primarily rolled fresh on site at events, consist of five different dried and fermented tobacco leaves from different parts of a plant. The fresh cigars are a little spicier, but the regular “La Galana” is produced and flown in Honduras.

The cigar is still considered a status symbol, but it is no longer just in the corners of the mouths of Gerhard Schröder, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Udo Lindenberg. While cigarette consumption is slowly falling in Germany, sales of cigars and cigarillos have increased by 6.5 percent, according to the 2018 Yearbook for Addiction. Experts speak of the “hipster effect”; the cigar fits into the conglomerate of moustache, fixie and man’s bun. However, cigars are not less harmful to health than cigarettes, at most in the sense that no one smokes several of them every day, but rather gets infected once a week. The cigar is a male domain, you have to look out for women who smoke. They are given the cheroot, especially during photo shoots, when they are supposed to look lasciviously into the camera in a pinstripe suit (without a shirt underneath, of course). On you can find an explanation that has probably been known at least since Bill Clinton and his oh-so-tasty Lewinsky cigar: “There is something phallic about the cigar”.

Exceed limits? You should do it much more often. And so Meisl looked for five lovers

This idea is foreign to Annette Meisl. Or also: whatever. It's not without reason that her shop, like the cigar, is called “La Galana”, which stands for both noblewoman and bon vivant. “The Galana does what it wants. And takes what she wants. For me, this is a statement about how I would like to be and how I would like other women to be too,” says Meisl, who likes to portray herself as a femme fatale with black lace tights and dark eyeliner around her green eyes.

Be brave: She proved this to herself a few years ago when she started her “5L project” after her divorce and organized five lovers at the same time. Just sex, no love. She wrote quite explicitly about her experiences during the experiment in a book. Not every woman has to look for a series of lovers, but she believes that she has to cross boundaries. “You should do that a lot more often.”

Even when smoking. In the evening the ratio is four women to nine men. Annette Meisl invited people to a music evening where she sang “La vie en rose” and “Habanera” to the guitar. There's smoke in the room, but she doesn't let it bother her. “Then the voice will be the way I like it,” she says with a wink. This evening she doesn't want to leave anything to chance.

PDF of the print edition

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