Italians not amused at Mafia-themed marketing

Petra Bratu, the owner of the Italian restaurant Cosa Nostra in Cologne.

A sign with the words “Cosa Nostra” stands above the entrance to a restaurant situated on the banks of the Rhine in Cologne. There’s also a silhouette of a man in a brimmed hat, accompanied by the words: “For honourable guests!”

“Cosa Nostra” is the name of the Sicilian Mafia, a group responsible for countless murders. Apparently, this does nothing to spoil the appetite of those dining at the restaurant. That’s because, like in many other countries, in Germany, names with Mafia connotations are deliberately used for advertising purposes.

There’s the Hanover pizza delivery service “Mafia Pizza Express,” a Berlin snack bar called “Wurstpate” or “Sausage Godfather,” and a Dresden dinner show with the title “Mafia Mia!”.

There’s also pasta in the shape of a gun called “Pasta Patrone,” a hot spice mixture called “Palermo Mafia Shooting” and even a Berlin language school called “Sprachmafia,” or “Language Mafia.” The opportunities are seemingly endless.

The Italian agricultural federation, Coldiretti, is not amused. “The misuse of Mafia names is a business that damages the image of products made in Italy,” Ettore Prandini, the president of the association, said recently.

The Italian restuarant Cosa Nostra in Cologne is named after the Sicilian Mafia.

These stereotypes serve to trivialise a problem “that has brought pain and grief to the whole country.” Italy’s Mafia problem was the subject of a recent Europol conference in The Hague, at which an anti-Mafia unit of the Italian police was invited to discuss strategies for tackling the organised crime gangs.

“I thought it had to be something Italian that you can instantly remember,” says Petra Bratu, the owner of the “Cosa Nostra” restaurant in Cologne. To make it clear that there were no actual connections to the Mafia, she chose to add: “For honourable guests.”

About 1,500 kilometres further south, Paola Pentassuglia sits in a huge grey building on the outskirts of Rome. This is the headquarters of Italy’s anti-Mafia authority. It’s where all the intelligence comes together, and international raids are also coordinated from here.

A souvenir shop in Sicily sells mugs featuring Marlon Brando as Mafia boss Vito Corleone in “The Godfather”.

The headquarters of Italy’s anti-Mafia authority in Rome.

Pentassuglia heads the department for preventive investigations. She finds it “absurd” when pizzerias in other countries are named after the Mafia. “It’s trivialising a criminal phenomenon that has caused many, many deaths,” she says.

She points to a picture on her computer screen of a barber’s shop in Ireland called “Corleone Barbers.” Corleone is the Sicilian town where some of the most famous Mafiosi came from, and the crime family in the classic film “The Godfather” is named after the town.

In Paris, the daughter of the late Sicilian Mafia boss Toto Riina even opened a restaurant called “Corleone.” In Italy it would be “naive” to name a business after the Mafia, because that would immediately attract the attention of investigators, says Pentassuglia.

On the other hand, tourists to the town can buy countless souvenirs with motifs from the famous movie. The Mafia is also encroaching on what Italians hold dearest to their hearts: food. Whether mozzarella, olive oil, or wine, the so-called Agromafia earns a lot of money from this. Last year, according to the agricultural association, it generated an incredible US$27.5 billion in revenues.

There has long been a certain fascination with the Mafia in Germany — and frequent raids show that the Mafia itself is present there. In 2007, six people were shot dead in front of a pizzeria in the city of Duisburg, showing that that the gangs have a very real presence in the country.

In the Cosa Nostra in Cologne, there are photographs of Marlon Brando as the Godfather and Robert De Niro in “Goodfellas” hanging on the wall.

People seem to be both attracted and repelled by the gangsters. It’s similar to the case of Jake the Ripper, who has an entire entertainment industry dedicated to him today.

The Mafia is not as strong “in the collective memory” in Germany as it is in Italy, says Sandro Mattioli of the German association “Mafia, No Thank You.” When two warring clans are involved, as in Duisburg, “people ask themselves, what does this have to do with me?”

At the same time, TV series and films like “The Godfather” continue to fascinate with their gratuitous violence, he says. “The Mafia becomes a cool phenomenon that is not based on the reality at all”.
In the Cosa Nostra in Cologne, there are photographs of Marlon Brando as the Godfather and Robert De Niro in “Goodfellas” hanging on the wall.

Owner Bratu says there have been practically no complaints since the restaurant opened 12 years ago. And those there have been were exclusively from Italians. “At one point an Italian family said: ‘No, no, Cosa Nostra — we’re not going in there. We have nothing to do with them.”

But many visitors wouldn’t even know the meaning of the name, she argues. “If I were Italian, I probably wouldn’t have chosen that name. But I didn’t think there was anything wrong with it back then”.