Berlin’s Christoph Klenzendorf- Beyond Bar 25 & Katerholzig (interview)
“We want to develop a Bar 25 for the next level. It’s never going to be the place it was before, it will never be a full-on hedonistic party temple, but we want to bring the spirit of Bar 25 and the network of people who developed that idea and develop the site involving them.”
Sitting in the haute cuisine restaurant of Berlin’s acclaimed underground warehouse complex Katerholzig, club cofounder Christoph Klenzendorf smiles broadly as he outlines the vision for Holtzmarkt, their next arts/ culture project scheduled to open in May 2013.
“In May it will still look quite empty,” he continues, gesturing towards the construction site on the other side of the River Spree, directly opposite Kater.
“The deal with the former landowner is that we’ll be given the entire site by then. We’ll start work in January and at that point we’ll get back the old part of the site, the part that faces the street. From then on once they’ve finished with the decontamination they’ll hand the rest of the site over to us.”
“What we want to do there is to start slowly, with different stuff,” he continues.
“We’re planning to start urban gardening because we hope to, within three or four years, have the rooftops filled with farming, we will produce food and fish for around 1,000 people. And we want to start that as a pilot project next May. We’ll also be building up a temporary container city to use when we’re still constructing the site and we want to use that for events, for the restaurant, theatre and party events.”
Urban gardening and fish farm talk aside, he’s adamant that the clubbing component of Holtzmarkt will remain central with activities switching over from Kater as their present temporary home winds down (Kater Holzig closes permanently in September 2013).
“The idea is that there will be a club there that’s open every weekend in the same way we have it here at Kater Holzig now. The club will be the heartbeat of the whole project; that’s where we all come from and that’s our personal wish, it will be open every weekend in the winter as well,” he confirms.
“But we also want to continue developing the cultural aspect, the theatre plays and the performances – everything else we have as well as the techno parties. We’re working with more organisations here in Berlin and that’s something we want to do more of,” says Christoph.
That his words – and plans- carry weight, was emphasized by Der Spiegel recently, in a lengthy feature in which the leading German news magazine Der hailed his metamorphosis from host of an infamously wild trailer park outdoor party to business entrepreneur negotiating with politicians and investment bankers.
“Hardly anyone would support his ambitious plans (for Holtzmarkt) if Klenzendorf hadn’t stood in the same spot eight years ago and imagined something that could be built on what was then an abandoned lot,” said Der Spiegel.
“His idea became the legendary Bar 25, one of the clubs that helped establish Berlin as a globally renowned nightlife hotspot.” (http://bit.ly/MLLNRj )
Chatting to Skrufff today, he admits he’s as surprised as Der Spiegel about the support he’s found from financiers and politicians for both Holtzmarkt and night life in general.
“This city is so poor relatively and it tolerates places like Bar 25 or Berghain, which would never be tolerated in a rich city such as Munich,” he says.
“This is why I find Berlin unique because you’re still able to do these things. The City Senate and all the people who run the city need the club scene because it makes Berlin so popular and this is why they talk to you. Even though you’re not the perfect business guy you see in business magazines.”
“For me it was a strange experience to start talking to these people and to hear them tell me ‘it’s so perfect what you’re doing for the city’. What are we doing? Partying,” he laughs.
Skrufff (Jonty Skrufff): Starting with the new club, today’s it’s a building site, what will it look like in May 2013?
Christoph Klenzendorf: “We’ll be building up a temporary container city to use when we’re still constructing the site, for the restaurant, theatre and party events. The idea is to start with temporary buildings, which become permanent buildings gradually. We have a time period of 99 years to develop the project which is quite long- longer than we will be around for, so that’s also the nice thing about the project. We can develop it for our eternity. That’s the main difference to all of our earlier projects because we always knew we had to tear everything down that we’d built up.
With Bar 25 we always knew we would have to leave and it’s the same here at Kater, though we have a fixed date here. We’ve always known that we can only stay here for a couple of years whereas over there we can keep on building.
We want to have a club there, of course, but the nice thing about it is that we have the possibility to build it the way it has to be- in other words concerning acoustic issues and practical matters such as how you run bars and all the services.
We want to have a dance club plus an event place for all kinds of culture. We also want to build a hotel because we are all doing guest businesses and for us it’s the next step. At Bar 25 we had hostel style bungalows which we were renting out and we really like to offer guests and friends and DJs a place to stay.”
Skrufff: So asking about the club, am I right in assuming that starting in May 2013, you’ll have a new club that’s open Friday to Monday every week?
Christoph Klenzendorf: “No. We’re actually just at the stage of planning how we will start. We want to build up a temporary space and we will definitely have events and parties at weekends, maybe also on weekdays. We’ll also be building the permanent structures in May as well.”
Skrufff: So there will be occasional parties but not effectively ‘Bar 25 is back’?
Christoph Klenzendorf: “That’s right. We think by the end of next year there will be a few buildings which we can use for events and after that we’ll develop the whole site continuously. We anticipate it will be partly finished within two to three years. And when I say ‘partly’ it’s because we never envisage it being totally finished, we’ll never stop developing. There should always be new rooms, ideas.”
Skrufff: Der Speigel described Holtzmarkteg as a 50million euro project, what do you do with 50million euros?
Christoph Klenzendorf: “Our biggest investor is a Swiss corporation who made it possible for us to buy the land. They actually bought the land. By planning in a huge hotel project that made it possible for us to bid the high amount for the land we needed to. The building is going to be a 32,000 square metre building that’s 30 metres high and it will be behind the railway tracks- because that’s part of the land too; it’s 6,000 square metres that faces to the street. There will be student accommodation there and also a business/ research centre for start-ups.
The whole idea is that it will be a research centre with people living and working under the same roof, researching into the future, on how to optimise our society and how we stop wasting resources. We all know we’re facing a future where resources are increasingly scarce for the increasing numbers of people in the planet and this whole house shall have this concept.
It’s been said that Berlin is the second Silicon Valley because the whole start-up scene is huge here so the idea is to build a space where these people can gather. It’s so big that it should be able to generate the finances necessary to sustain the whole site. The goal is that the cultural elements of the club can be sustained easily without needing too much money. Whenever you put a lot of financial pressure on a cultural project the creativity is reduced and we hope to remove that pressure.”
So there are these two big buildings, that will generate the money so the pressure on the cultural elements are low. And this is where most of the 50million Euros is going.”
Skrufff: You come from a background of co-running one of Berlin’s wildest clubs Bar 25 and presumably nowadays find yourself have meetings with financiers and very conventional people, how do these people treat you, I can imagine some could be condescending . . .
Christoph Klenzendorf: “It’s funny, I’m coming from the party business where the party lasts for 72 hours and you meet all these crazy people during those times- we’re all part of this crazy family. That became really funny because people approached us in a different way. Bar 25 was so popular and everybody wanted to have a piece of the cake of that popularity. And because of that, they started to talk to us. If Bar 25 hadn’t been so popular these people would never have acknowledged us.
There’s a profit for everybody who approaches us and the profit is the reputation- in becoming a part of a whole concept that is known worldwide. They see their profit from just being seen to be involved in the whole project. Sometimes I find it amazing and at the same time irritating because we’ve been talking to so many politicians as well. We’ve been talking to the CDU, the most conservative of Germany’s political parties and they’ll all really pro, telling us ‘it’s so amazing what you guys are doing’. This is something I experience in Berlin which I really like.”
Skufff: When you started with Bar 25, you were trailer park ravers, what was your background personally, did you go to university?
Christoph Klenzendorf: “No, I was looking around thinking about what I wanted to do. I moved here 20 years ago after living in the States and Western Germany. I didn’t know what to do but I started hooking up with the party scene, going to clubs and so on. I studied photography, learning by doing, assisting somebody. Then my cameras got stolen so I thought maybe that was a good time to quit that job so I then started with Bar 25. I had done some illegal parties here and there beforehand and I knew the scene because I was partying for quite a while.
So we thought maybe we should do something for ourselves. We started with nothing, we were two people and we started with a small cabin on the land over there (gesturing again towards the Holtzmarkt building site). The network grew immediately, all our friends came and the first year the whole place was packed. Then we started to expand and invest more money into it, doing the restaurant and the hostel and after a while it got so popular.
Also the restaurant too. My partner is a really good chef and we did this high class kitchen which also attracted really different people. So all the ravers came but also people who could afford to spend 30EUR each on a steak. And they all mixed up together and everyone enjoyed it. Which was why so many different types of people started coming.”
Skrufff: When you doing Bar 25 and partying for 3 days at a time, how did you manage to keep on top of all the business stuff?
Christoph Klenzendorf: “I don’t know (laughing). We were a big group of people and everyone was watching out for each other. So if one person stayed up until Tuesday morning another person would cover for them. It worked out quite well. It’s definitely quite hard to balance it because you’re working at night and also having to do business in the daytime and it’s getting more like this right now.
I’m getting older anyway and I’m not partying every weekend anymore, which is necessary. If I stay up until Tuesday then all the work is already piling up on Monday already. It definitely can be difficult. Bar 25 was easier because it was only a summer business whereas here at Kater we have a 12 month business now. The crew is growing and we’re all trying to cover all the work, it’s working out.”
Skrufff: Working with all these investors and commercial people, you must get people accusing you of selling out, how do you answer them?
Christoph Klenzendorf: “People talk a lot and many people say bad things, sure, I’ve kinda’ quit listening to people like that. What we are trying to do is to build up our own little dream. The people we’re talking to who we want money from understand what we want to do.
Of course it’s important to keep the balance which means not allowing big investors to decide creative matters. This is why we established a corporate structure to separate the power of money from the power of the voice.
I find it amazing to see that there are so many different people who never really experienced Bar 25 who approached us and seemed to understand what we want and our dream and spirit. The most important goal for us is to transfer the spirit and uniqueness of what we were doing before and I think it will be possible.
We’re asking for money from investors sure, but they don’t get a big profit when they invest money, they instead get the association and benefit of being part of a unique project that’s happening there over the coming years. It will be an overall art project and everybody understands that they can invest in it but they have to leave us our freedom to develop it. Because the spirit would be torn out. It would soon disappear. So now we have the possibility to use the money people give us to invest in the site while we make the decisions on how we run it.”
Jonty Skrufff: http://listn.to/JontySkrufff