A short stroll down Schönhauser Allee evokes images of Asian cities, with their small-scale commerce (an art of survival), their backpacking tourists in search of pretty girls and cheap beer. Bangkok images. A tiny internet- and telephone-café. A “China Pearl.” Tattoo studios. Massages. Clothes for the hippie, the hooligan. A gun shop, a remnants shop, a hostel for backpackers. More mini-cafés with computers, with this and that. Business activity is carried out in the sunlight on a chair in front of the door, with a cigarette and the inevitable latte macchiato.
This, more is less, is what Ettina and Sonja also had in mind when they finished their training as fashion designers. A label called Klonk, a store on Helmholtzplatz in Prenzlauer Berg for 300 Euro per month, a small, off-beat collection. Things you’d wear yourself. Customers you’d chat with for hours. A pleasant, relaxed Berlin life among their own kind.
And that’s also how it was until this Japanese guy – who’s actually French – walked into the store one day. This Yann came in because he liked the décor. Foliage on the ceiling, paper radios hanging down, paper TVs. He liked the clothes, too. He told the two young women that he worked for a Japanese firm that had 70 clothing shops in Japan and others in New York and elsewhere, and he invited them to travel to Tokyo to design a new shop there. A shop like this one here. Like in Berlin.
Now it exists; the two set it up in Tokyo. It’s called “Wut Berlin.” And Ettina and Sonja have become Ms. Schultze and Ms. Lotz. Business women, 26 and 31 years old, with a new store in the neighborhood Mitte. It’s only the beginning. They’ll see how it goes. But they’ve made the leap from low budget in Prenzlauer Berg to the high speed course of a small, global Berlin fashion company.
“We’ve become more professional,” they say, “harder.” It’s remarkable how naturally the two operate all over the world. The fierce competition with New York cultivated by the Berlin of the eighties still seems nothing but strange to them. Many of their friends live in New York, or come from there and live here now. Or even from Tokyo or somewhere else. “When you say in New York that you’re from Berlin you get an excited, enthusiastic “Wow!” That’s the reality today.
Something else is remarkable – their lack of illusions and the clarity which the two see themselves. “We’re selling the Berlin hype to the world.”
Ettina Schultze has noticed a peculiar phenomenon. “Berlin’s reputation precedes it. Its reputation actually creates its own reality, instead of the other way around. Berlin’s reputation makes people all over the world see something in the city that only comes true because they believe it.”
A thoughtful investment banker with offices in Vienna and Berlin is sitting in a café on the shady Ludwigkirchplatz in the western part of the city at nine in the morning, when Berlin’s air is still fresh. He has just come from London. “The first ones to buy real estate in Berlin on a large scale were the Americans and British,” says Peter Forstner. “By now, nearly all of Europe is buying, the Danes, Irish, and Austrians are especially active, but so are the Russians and Israelis. Mostly investment funds.”
The demand, says Forster, is so great that Berlin is a veritable seller’s market at the moment. “The seller can be selective: would he rather sell to someone from Britain or Vienna?”
Forster has also noted mental peculiarities among the investors. “Anglo-Saxons don’t like to buy in Kreuzberg because of the high percentage of foreigners. They prefer Prenzlauer Berg and Mitte. Austrians don’t care about that.”