In my last Berlin story here I wanted to tell you a little about the “spaeti”-culture and who is behind it.
The word “spaeti” is an affectionate nickname which derives from “Spätkauf” (late shop), a type of kiosk or small shop which is often so much more than just the local convenience store, rather like a social meeting point in one’s own neighborhood – called “Kiez” in Berlin – , anything from an extended living room to pastoral care.
The spaetis in Berlin are open around the clock to ensure the people have cold drinks, cigarettes, household items and so on. Obviously, people in Berlin think this is great, but someone has to forego their own sleep at night to stand behind the counter. I believe they deserve our respect, and for that reason I wanted to find out who these late sellers are and introduce you to them.
In 1980 the native Turk emigrated to Germany. On arrival he earned his living as a floor fitter. But he wasn’t really happy doing that, “and no-one pays decent money on building sites,” he says. It took a while, but for almost four years now he has been proud to be “Spati International”. Seven days a week he is in the store, his wife fills the morning shift and then Dogan the one until late at night…”it’s not really a dream job either, but there is almost always something happening and therefore it is not boring and that’s nice.” It is important to him that he provides a social meeting point for his friends (by the way, Doran doesn’t go by the German idea of “the customer is king”, because all those who come are friends!). For example, people come to listen to the music he puts on (often rare Ethiopian offerings, his favorite band Pink Floyd and much more) or they bring their own music along on an USB stick, on Sunday they come and watch the TV series “Tatort” or they are here to organize exhibitions. On hot summer’s days there once was a shower which he installed in front of his shop, but he was forced by Berlin’s biggest killjoy, the public order office, to take it down again. At some stage they also had live music, but only once and the result of it was a hefty fine … and he does find that sort of things around here extremely annoying ... while we are talking, Wenzel comes into the shop: “It’s all very family-oriented, you get to know the whole family, if you don’t happen to have any money, you don’t have to pay, or you can borrow a TV, oh, I just remembered, I still have your hair dryer, Dogan.“ People help one another. If Dogan has a problem with this computer, it can be fixed quickly. Sometimes things get really heated, he says, and Wenzel confirms this with a whimsical smile: “Every now and again you feel frustrated and just have to let it out, but everyone is friends again the next day!” Where did the name come from? Friends had suggested it: “International – because people from all over the world live here!”
>>> Späti International, Weserstrasse 190
Hüseyin came to Berlin in 1993. “Berlin is multicultural. That’s the way it is. I don’t like other cities! After working on a building site for 13 years he could no longer continue because of his health and he set up his spaeti called “Rigaer Getränke” (Rigaer drinks). He has been holding the fort every day since the opening 5 years ago, sometimes up to 17 hours a day, seven days a week! “By my rough calculation that amounts to about 37,376 hours.” He took his last vacation in 2008 and, naturally, he would like to see more of his 3 “brats”. In the Kiez, Hüseyin is more or less a constant institution for his regular customers…however, their number is dwindling all the time “Many can no longer afford the rents and are moving to the outskirts of the city. That’s all very sad. All those nice shops which were set up by young people are gone. There is no longer any room for something a bit different! Thank goodness the Wagenburg opposite is still here!“ Business has deteriorated because the surrounding supermarkets have extended their opening hours. “Big fish swallow up little ones, that’s capitalism for you..“. Nevertheless, he enjoys being the spaeti and is always here for his patrons, however, his prognosis is quite gloomy, the negative developments, like the gentrification of his neck of the woods, are probably unstoppable…
>>> Rigaer Getränke, Rigaerstrasse 104
When he was 6 years old, he and his family left their small Kurdish village and emigrated to Germany. After 2 years in a home for asylum-seekers in Pankow they were able to move to a flat in Friedrichshain and later in Neukölln. An acquaintance used to run the spaeti there. It turns into something which involves the whole family and at only 19, Ahmet takes over the shop “AK44”! How did the name come about? “There are several theories, the two more obvious ones are: AK for Ahmet’s Kiosk and 44 because that was the former postcode, or a close ideological kinship with the famous AK47.“ The store is open around the clock, the kiosk of trust in the neighborhood. The shifts are shared among himself, his parents and his friends. Almost all of those who come here are regular customers, who are known to Ahmet by name and, anyway, he knows their stories. However, here, too, the customers have changed in the last few years. “We used to have benches in front of the store, it was the social meeting place for social misfits. They came early in morning, a Pilsator beer was available for one Deutschmark, (even now it is still only 50 cents) and then in the evening, they were all completely drunk and would have huge fights. Every day the same thing. They were the first to go. A few of them repeatedly surfaced in one of the talk shows and there are still a few exceptions around who continue to frequent the place because of the Pilsator, which is their fuel, but then they disappear into the train station opposite.“ The rents are increasing, there is redevelopment happening, the social misfits are replaced by students, young artists etc. and now in turn it is difficult for those groups, and the first ones who came 5 years ago have to leave. “Years ago, Berlin was a Mecca for everybody. But now, the only really cheap places to live can be found in somewhere like Hellersdorf, but who wants to go there!” But back to the day-to-day routine at the spati. Ahmet likes to describe his shop as an “in-your-face-Kiosk”. “If you don’t have a sense of humor, you needn’t bother to come,” he says. He enjoys scaring away shy tourists with refreshing directness. He is a spati man through and through and likes it that way, but apart from his ambitions to be a heavy metal drummer, he would really like being a Formula 1 driver best ” Let’s see what happens. Everything just came about. I don’t give a damn about goals!”
>>> Kiosk AK44, Saalestrasse 39a
Florian Reischauer has been living and working as a photographer in Berlin since 2007. Pieces of Berlin, a blog about everyday life in Berlin, is one of his main projects.