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DARMSTADT — As restaurants go, Oberwaldhaus in Darmstadt has enjoyed quite an appetizing history.

Over the years, the building, located on the edge of town, has drawn hunters, gamblers, soldiers, dancers, military police, immigrants, newlyweds and, of course, folks looking to placate their palate.

“This house is popular with Americans,” said Robert Colina, who runs the restaurant and cafe with his wife, Tanja.

To a degree, that helps explain the establishment’s colorful history.

Today, however, what matters most is the food and spirits that are served. The Colinas, who are Croatian, serve a mixture of German and Croatian food that is moderately priced for a place that exudes class and charm.

“The Germans like the Croatian and Balkan specialties, the Americans, too,” Colina said as he sat in the main dining area, a room adorned with several hand-painted murals of Darmstadt and German life.

Built in 1901, Oberwaldhaus started out as a hunting lodge. Even to this day, the building is surrounded by woods, a pony stable and a small lake, which attracts thousands of people each year.

At some point prior to World War II, the lodge was transformed into a restaurant, Colina said. After the U.S. Army rolled into town, it was turned into a casino and nightclub for soldiers.

Miroslav Vran, the head waiter, said he once had the pleasure of meeting a musician who played there during those casino days. One night, the performer said, a free-for-all broke out over a female dancer. Chairs were tossed, punches were thrown and just about everything that wasn’t bolted to the floor got heaved.

When the MPs arrived, the place was in shambles. And that was the end of that: no more cards, no more cocktails, and no more nightclub.

In the 1950s, refugees from Eastern Europe bunked there for a time while their immigration papers were being processed. Eventually, Oberwaldhaus reverted back to being a restaurant, but a succession of owners failed to make a go of it until Robert Colina’s father-in-law came along.

For the past 20 years, Oberwaldhaus has blossomed into a respectable establishment, a place that attracts diners, wedding parties and soldiers.

“Many, many Americans come here,” Vran said.

Fish dishes are popular here, and the priciest item on the menu — a pepper steak meal — is about $20.

Not bad for an elegant place with a fiery past.

To see previous After Hours reviews, go to: legacy.stripes.com/afterhours

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