Thursday, November 24, 2011

End of an era in Lae


THE sad news that longtime Lae resident, Paul Menzel, had passed away brought back many fond memories of the old Lae that we grew up in and came to love.
Paul Menzel, as hundreds of Lae residents over the years remember him, at his famous coffee shop at the IPI Building

My good friend, Australian Marianne De La Motte, who was born and raised in Lae and calls it her home, sent me the sad news a couple of days ago.
Menzel, for those who came in late, was of East German descent and since he first set foot on the then paradise of Lae in the 1960s, it became his home.
Born in East Germany on Oct 10, 1936, he passed away in his beloved adopted home of Lae on Nov 15, 2011, and was buried at the Hengali village cemetery in Lae on Wednesday this week.
He ran the famous Paul’s Coffee Shop, or the Terrace Coffee Lounge, at the old IPI Building along Second Street in Lae, which was legendary for its chicken soup, toasted sandwiches and coffee.
The old IPI Building, now also a part of Lae's history, with Paul's Coffee Shop (right)

Menzel’s story is a heart-wrenching one, of a ‘Cold War’ child, how he escaped from then socialist East Germany, escaped to West Germany, and somehow ended up in Lae.
“He escaped from there when he was 12 years old by hiding in the toilets on a train to West Germany and then had to learn how to survive as a child in a city,” recalls former Lae resident Sharon Bluett.
“When the Berlin wall was torn down in 1989, my mum was there and she brought home a piece of it for him.
“He was in hospital at that time after being attacked by a rascal.
“He cried when she gave the piece of wall.
“He had a really tough life but made the best of it.”
Marianne De La Motte: “Uptown Saturday morning was always the social highlight in Lae.
“Everyone gathered at Paul’s Coffee Lounge for their favourite, usually his famous toasted chicken and mayo sandwiches topped off with the best iced chocolate you can imagine, and to sit in the air-conditioning was a treat, a welcome relief from the humidity.
“As kids we put him through hell, kids just being kids, but he always took our antics with great humour and a cheeky grin.
“Thanks for the memories Paul; you were a true Lae icon, one which we all still talk about today.
“When we talk of the old days, Paul’s name is always there.
Well-decorated interior of Paul's Coffee Shop

Priscilla Chante Maro Wrambin: “Heard a lot about his coffee shop from my parents. Though I don’t know him, he has a legacy and it lives on in the minds of people who knew and loved him.”
Egi L Daure: “Paul was a very good man. I can remember going in to IPI Coffee Shop with my uncle, Eric Seeto, to drink coffee. May your soul rest in peace.”
 Lilly Nagai: “My condolences to sister Ambai Ruth Gigmai, who’s been with him through the good and bad times. RIP Paul.
  Ian Taukuro: “Sad news. I do remember my late mother taking my brother and me to Paul's shop for lunch back in the 80s.”
Longtime picture of two Pacific girls inside Paul's Coffee Shop

 Simon Merton: “I remember back in my school days.
“Every Saturday we would congregate at ‘Poofter Paul’s’ as we called it.
“It was actually called ‘The Terrace Coffee Lounge’.
“When we became adults, we used to share beers with him at the upstairs bar at Lae International Hotel.
“He was a great guy, we knew he was gay, he knew that we weren’t and we all respected each other.
“I left Lae in 1990, didn’t come back until 2001.
“I remember, it was a Sunday.
“My wife was pregnant with our first son and she wanted a milkshake, so I said,’ let’s go to Poofter Paul’s’.
“We went there, Paul wasn’t there, I ordered a couple of milkshakes and we sat down outside.
“I then went into the Hertz office for a moment to check on something.
“When I came back, I found my wife sitting having a conversation with Paul.
“He immediately looked up at me and said, ‘Simon, when did you come back to town? ‘
“After all those years and growing from a scrawny teenager to a heavy set balding adult, he immediately recognised me and called my name.
“I sat down and introduced him to my wife.
“I fondly remember him telling her, ‘why did you marry such a rough neck?
“I was only in Lae for a few months that year, but I made sure I dropped into see Paul at least twice a week and I used to have a regular drink with him at the Lae Inter.
“He was a character, with a lot of stories.
“I believe he originated from what was then called ‘East Germany’.
“He came as a cook on a ship and never left.
“I clearly remember him telling me to watch an Australian movie called ‘To Have and To Hold’.
“He said, ‘watch it, only people like you and me will have a true understanding of that movie’.
“Late, I watched the movie, and I immediately understood what he meant.”
Paul Menzel (left) having fun with friends at Lae International Hotel.
Reuben Pokanau: “Best coffee and sandwich in Top Town and I loved the joint.
“It was more up market in those days.
“IPI Building was iconic to Lae City landscape as well as Paul’s Coffee Shop.”
 Jacqueline Niblett: “My Dad was just talking to me last week about him. May his soul RIP.”
Gertrude Tamade Elai: “I can remember buying books at the bookshop next door and running in for a toasted sandwich.Sori tru.
  Simon Anakapu: “ RIP.”
Arau Jo F: “Sorry to hear about Paul's death.
“His coffee shop was the best, and was a classy little joint back in the old days.
“Went back to Lae in 2008, and saw that the IPI building was torn down, and ‘our’ Lae that we grew up in, had changed in the 23 years that I was gone.
“I wondered whatever happened to Paul, but thank you for letting us know.
“May he rest in peace.
“He was a character back then, and his legacy will live on.”
Jeff Lung: “He had the best toasted sandwiches in town. RIP Paul.
 Elliott Kadir:”Dispela em favourite ples blo mi na paps lo lunch.chicken toasted sandwiches. They were the condolences.”
Bernard Maladina: “ Bras, mi save go kisim empti botol long kofi shop bilong em long IPI Building na karim go salim long Coca-Cola fektori long Milfordhaven Road.
“I can still smell the whiff of coffee aroma coming from his shop and envision the expat ladies sipping their tropical juice from the balcony of his shop. RIP Paul.”
 Lilian Hayball-Clarke: “RIP Paul - we always had coffee and a bite at Paul's in Lae in the 80s, down from Kainantu on a shopping and friend visit or trip.
“A wonderful character - he will be missed - and his welcoming coffee shop.”
Tobias Riegel: “RIP Paul.  Checking for new books next door, then a Coke at his place before checking the mail at the post office. It was a great time. Lae has not been the same since.”
Glennis Korsman-D'elboux: “I worked there as well.  Loved mixing the marg with milk to make it bubble with the toasted sandwiches.  Loved the coffee.  Can smell it now can still c him charging around in his VW. I hope you are at peace. Xox.”
Larian Sloan: “Really miss his honey pots.Crumpets and coffee were fantastic and his toasted sandwiches were to die for...miss you Paul.”
Steve Turner: “We used to leave fire crackers in his coffee shop with a slow fuse.....I feel guilty now.”
John Moore: “Paul and his coffee shop will forever be carved into the indelible ‘good times’ spent in Lae, Papua New Guinea.
“The best steak sandwiches and iced chocolates ever!
“Paul was trendy before trendy was a concept.
“His cafe reflected his unique take on life.
“The ceiling was trick as it was painted mat black with the lower section created with rope.
“Paul remained cool through the onslaught of teenage jokes, pranks, and stupidity. Legend!”
Jacqui Towns: “Paul once told me he used to commute from East to West Germany every day to work.
“They had the usual border guards, train security etc., to check that everyone returned.
“One day he decided to escape to the west and hid by sitting on top of a toilet in the train.
“Left his mum and family behind and did not get to go home to see mum for 25 years.
“He got pretty upset when he was telling me about it.
“He was certainly one of Lae's famous characters and he taught his cook bois to make the best toasted sandwiches in the world!
“In fact, when I first arrived in Lae at age 16 Paul's Coffee Shop was the only connection with the modern world outside!
“I always loved the toasted chicken and mayo, but I was introduced to toasted cheese and banana there too!
“Always remember him fondly.crazy guy.always ready for a chat and a laugh.”


  1. Annalisa Aspden (Bluett)10:02 PM

    Great story and such a great guy, he used to let me get things on credit during the week and then I'd pay him on Saturday with my pocket money. One of his other signature dishes was the kabanna with toast and mustard. The patience he had for us teenagers was amazing.

  2. Robyn Fowler (De La Motte)2:10 AM

    As I said on facebook, he was a man that impacted so many lives that 30-40 years later he is remembered with love and affection by all the Lae Brats........Robyn Fowler (De La Motte)

  3. Robyn Fowler2:12 AM

    To Malum Nalu, a wonderful piece, you did him proud.....x

  4. Marianne De La Motte6:59 AM

    Beautifully written Malum, as my sister said, you did him proud, gone but never forgotten x

  5. Dianne (Bluett) Wellington-Miller7:23 AM

    We started going to Paul's coffee shop in the late 60's when we lived in Goroka and would drive down to Lae for weekends. I was about 10 and his cafe in the IPI was so cool. He had great music playing on the reel to reel tape player and the coffee and chicken mayo sandwiches were always the best. When we moved to Lae in the mid 70's it was a meeting place for catching up with family & friends. Paul would give you a warm hug and kiss when you arrived and make you feel welcome. Love and prayers to you Paul xoxo

  6. you said it all well Malum. Great story. R.I.P. Paul good memories

  7. Pauls coffee shop"A little bit of an otherwise hostile environment" thanks Paul,for all the good times,god speed...CORB

  8. I remember him well. Sad loss to the town.

  9. Angela Pennefather6:18 PM

    Thank you for writing this.
    A vibrant character whom all of us Lae kids have at least one funny/fond story about. You take with you a part of my childhood, many great memories and that darn toasted chicken and mayo sandwich recipe! Lae town will not be the same without you standing behind that beautiful old cash register serving amazing iced coffees to kids with nowhere else to congregate. Rest in peace - I hope the heavens know that you're coming and have planned the reception accordingly.

  10. Anonymous9:40 PM

    He first created the cheese, baked bean and onion toasted sandwich for me in 1970. RIP Paul.


  11. Peter Nizette6:10 PM

    An icon of the town. RIP. I, and our 'gang' - Greg & Jenny Pike, Crowley brothers, Jackie & Julie Mac, Steve Corby, Jenny Fraser and, and ... were there at the start - when the IPI building was built and Paul moved in. It was our favourite haunt - and Saturday morning gathering point. Paul always looked after us - and never kicked us out, despite that we ordered little and stayed long!

    Can only hope that someone else takes on the shop.

  12. John de la Cruz7:41 AM

    Pauls greatest accomplishment, as only he could create.......the most enormous Banana Split.....thanks to Paul I acquired a lifetime supply of those long spoons used for milkshakes and iced coffee/chocolate....RIP I will return them to you untap when we meet again, from the entire de la Cruz family and all relations.

  13. Anonymous8:24 PM

    Memories of times spent in Paul's coffee shop will last forever. A meeting place free from restraints of adult sensorship where us teenagers of the time could do as we wanted and were always welcomed. Jodie Brooks (Smith)

  14. Fiona Basson9:42 PM

    I like the de la Cruz family remember Paul and the famous banana Split! We used to come down from Wau to visit the Jacobsens in Lae and as teenagers this was the place to hang out! Have photos of a 'fancy dress' party with Paul who came in drag! The best iced coffee ever. RIP Paul. You have no idea how much you have left your mark. Fiona Hurrell

  15. Jan Fichant (Kingston)6:58 AM

    Such sad news... I also remember the old days when I arrived in Lae way back in 1979 and for years we used to all meet with our kids in "Poofter Pauls" on a Saturday morning for those famous chicken and mayo toasties and a good catch up...Sometimes Paul would be sitting at his "bar" by the door with his Afro wig and his beads and glad rags on. I remember my Mum visiting from UK one year and her sitting with him for ages with Paul telling her all about his amazing journey from Eastern Germany to Lae, ironic that I now live in Eastern Germany having come here FROM Lae !! strange world. Another memory of Paul that sticks in my head apart from many nights and "some" afternoons spent in Jacks bar was a party at Unitech where he arrived with a snake around his neck which I ended up wearing, not bad for someone terrified of the creatures.
    A great icon and a wonderfully funny and nice person. I hope the coffee shop in heaven will be equally as successful, am sure my Mum will be the first there !! RIP Paul.
    Jan Fichant (Kingston)

  16. Hartwig Herold8:47 PM

    How very sad. So many fond memories of sitting at Paul's place for coffee and sandwiches even during working hours in the early seventies.
    Lieber Paule, wie oft denke ich nach ueber die Zeiten als die ganze Breckwoldt Bande bei Dir "Pause" waehrend der Arbeitszeit gemacht hat!
    Nun hast Du auch endlich Deinen Frieden.

  17. Anonymous2:55 PM

    My love for ham cheese and tomatoe toasties came from him in the 80's.

  18. Anonymous7:02 PM

    Well done, Malum! I still think of all the coffees and toasted chicken & mayo sandwiches (and yes, after all these years I can't make mine taste as good). All those afternoons after school when Mum would treat us at Paul's. Really it was so she could have a good chin wag with him over all the glossy magazines. Rest in Peace, Paul. You left a leagacy. Tess Dangla Cruz

  19. What a wonderful tribute Malum! Indeed, Paul was often the Saturday morning ritual if you could get a seat! The place to go to after the movies, and where you meet people, always somebody there you knew. I leave-housed his house for 3 weeks when he went home to Germany in the 1970's. His toasted sandwiches were just so scrumptious as was his iced coffee!
    Joyce Culley-van den Bos (My father was at DASF Bubia and I went to Lae Tech in 1969)

  20. Well done Malum, lovely tribute. I used to go to Paul's coffee shop generally every Saturday as it was a wonderful meeting place, although hard to get a seat because it was such a popular place. I leave-housed his place for a couple of weeks when he needed somebody to look after his house when he went to Germany to visit his family. Great place to go after the movies!! So respectful of your own space and deserved the respect back. Wonderful memories, thank you Paul, rest in peace.