Given its reputation as one of Europe’s greenest cities, Berlin’s offerings of sustainability-oriented design destinations – businesses that wholly live out the ethics to which they pay lip service – are surprisingly few and far between. One such rare gem is tucked away on cobblestoned corner of the charming Richardplatz – a nook of Neukölln that was founded as a bohemian community in 1737, and retains a quaint village feeling still today.
The place in question takes the form of a small design store-cum-café: the kind of space that invites you to slow down and stay awhile, with its considered range of design objects accompanied by a deli café serving locally-produced refreshments. Its warm atmosphere does the communal tradition of its locale proud: sometimes even their upstairs neighbour will bake the plum crumble cakes on offer. Local designers stop by to offer their products for sale. Plans to host knitting circles and children’s story hours are underway.
This place bears a name that speaks for itself: ‘Heute Ist Morgen’ – ‘Today is Tomorrow’ in German. Three well-chosen words that capture a philosophy so simple, yet somehow so easily forgotten amidst the clamour of contemporary consumer culture: Sow the seeds today for the future we aspire to create for ourselves. As the quality of this future – both personally and collectively speaking – lies in our everyday decisions as consumers. With whom we decide to bank. What we pick up for lunch. How we get to work every morning. Which objects we allow into our lives. Even more crucial is the ripple effect of each of these deceptively simple choices. How will our decision to commit to a particular product affect the person that made it, the supply chain, the future of our planet?
The approach Heute Ist Morgen takes to this question, is the belief that we shouldn’t have to compromise between the demands of today and the aspirations of tomorrow. Between design and durability, quality and affordability. Each of our decisions afford us the agency to stand for the green, the fair, the transparent – and in doing so, to build demand for more of the same. Guided by the slogan, “Green. Fair. Community-Minded”, the store is proof that good design, ethics and affordability aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, they are more easily aligned than we might think, if we just knew where to look. Those in need of a little guidance need only follow the sharp-eyed duo behind the store: Tim-Robert Meyer and Philipp York, a former project manager and designer respectively, who we visited on a drizzly Saturday afternoon. Over a pot of Earl Grey and a piece of plum cake, we learnt about the origins of Heute Ist Morgen, its stance on sustainability in Berlin, and its plans for the future.
How did Heute Ist Morgen come to be?
Tim: We opened the store in August 2015 – just as a store at that stage. The deli café came later, in February 2016. The space used to be an office – it had been sitting empty for two or three years before we came across it. I found it by wandering the streets, looking for vacant spaces in areas we liked. We renovated it from ground up, and designed the interior together. We spent a lot of time figuring out how to divide the space between office, store and café. We modelled the fit-out in 3D on a computer first. We bought a few things second-hand, but we wanted to create as much from scratch as possible. For example, the counter is created from two old chests of drawers, fronted with wood and topped with a concrete counter.
Originally, Philipp and I wanted wanted to open a cycle store with a café – as avid cyclists, the idea was to create something that would allow us to combine our passion and our work. At that point, such a place didn’t exist yet in Berlin. We started to create a plan, but came to realise that it wasn’t super realistic. So we changed tack. We still wanted a store and café, and most importantly, something we could both stand behind. As a designer, Philipp was drawn to design products that look good and are functional, as well as being made from natural or recycled materials and fairly traded. Products that last a long time, aren’t disposable. It was important for us to create a space where you can not only buy those types of products, but also stay a while, and maybe drink a coffee or a tea – spend some time, have a conversation, and take the time to discover the stories behind what we have on offer.
Community is at the heart of the Heute Ist Morgen ethos. What does your local community in Richardplatz, Berlin-Neukölln, mean to you?
Tim: So when we were looking for a location, we were really attracted to the village feel of Richardplatz. There’s a nice mixture of things here – young families, small businesses, and a real sense of community and social responsibility. Our rent is affordable, compared with other parts of Berlin – say Mitte or Prenzlauer Berg – especially as we renovated and financed the whole operation ourselves.
Philipp: In saying that, the area isn’t always easy, and of course there isn’t the same buying power here as there is in Prenzlauer Berg or Mitte. But our customers are really friendly, open, engaged and interested. They’re keen to know the story behind the products, and bring a positive energy into the store. There’s a sense that things are happening around here. Even over the last year, so much has changed.
Turning to your product range: What do you look for in the products you stock, and how do you choose with whom you work?
Tim: When we first started out, we looked around online and started to build up an archive of products we liked. We went to conventions and talked with suppliers to see who was authentic and transparent. Eventually, people in the neighbourhood started approaching us, saying they’d like to stock their products in our store. Not everything is local – though we’re trying to increase the number of products that are. These notebooks, concrete bowls, and air plant holders are made here in Berlin. We have wooden doll houses from Latvia. Then there are these children’s backpacks that are made from recycled pet bottles. They’re made in Vietnam, but we work closely with the producers. The T-shirt fabric is bamboo viscose, and the kitchenware is made from bamboo fibres. There are these wooden watches made in Cologne. They’re wooden, and super stable – I mean, they survived the renovation! Our ceramics come from a social centre for the lesser abled in Berlin-Weissensee.
For this point in the interview, we turn to Nora Sophia, who takes care of Heute Ist Morgen’s café element. Though she wasn’t in when we popped by, we spoke with her later over the phone to hear about the digestible elements of the Heute Ist Morgen experience.
Hi Nora! As the café manager at Heute Ist Morgen, can you fill us in on how the café and deli fit into the overall concept, and what kind of experience you want to offer your customers?
Nora: Right from the beginning, we wanted to created a place where like-minded people can meet and relax. I want to offer our customers a curated selection of great, sustainably-created products – preferably from Berlin and its souroundings. My goal is to help turn the Heute Ist Morgen experience into more than just a shop and deli café – to diversify our offerings. There are several projects I am currently working on. Especially close to my heart are events and learning opportunities for families and children. The existing opportunities of this kind have been pretty limited up until now in this neighbourhood, but I have recently started working in cooperation with local daycare centres and other social institutions. I’m also talking to bloggers and caterers who focus on sustainable, clean eating and want to help us to grow our community. We can do this by working together, not in competition with each other.
The deli café offers a range of hot and cold drinks produced here in Berlin, such as ManuTeeFaktur tea, Koawach cocoa and GlamCola, all made in Kreuzberg. And as for coffee?
Nora: We offer coffee that’s freshly-brewed by hand. Not because it’s trendy, but because we love the sense of ritual and tradition surrounding filter coffee. It’s what my mother always had to drink. When I first set out to choose a coffee roastery to work with, I wanted to ensure the coffee was organic, and fair trade certified. Then I came across Coffee Circle, based in Berlin-Wedding, whose coffee isn’t officially certified, despite the fact that they farm organically, under very fair conditions. Their prices aren’t dependent on the global coffee market. For every kilogram of coffee sold, one euro is reinvested into local development projects.
On the note of sustainability, we turn back to Tim and Robert to delve deeper into their stance on consumer demand for fair, green products.
Why do you think it’s taking so long for sustainable consumer decisions to become the norm?
Tim: The first barrier that comes to mind is awareness. The question should be, as a consumer, do you want to create demand by giving the producer the ability to create the same product under the same requirements and same materials? If you buy something that’s made under poor conditions, you’re denying them of that ability. If the consumer isn’t aware of the consequences of their purchase, or has willfully turned a blind eye to them, that works directly against the creation of demand for fairly-made, sustainable products. Over the past decade, the media and the environmental movement have helped to create a public sense of consciousness amongst consumers, which has led to the establishment of a market for it. The organic, ecological trend started with food and has since filtered into clothing, but for a long time it was still very much on the fringes. For example, fair-trade clothing looked a certain way. I think now we’re at the point where you can find clothing that is made fairly and sustainably, but also looks totally premium – it has a design quality to it. It’s still a relatively new phenomenon, to be able to buy a backpack made from recycled pet bottles that also looks great.
Philipp: Exactly. People want products that look good, and at the same time, fulfill the criteria for sustainability. It helps that prices for sustainably-produced products have decreased dramatically in recent years, and are now almost comparable to other products.
Tim: Sustainability is slowly becoming the norm, and in the process, changing the market. For one or two more Euros, I can now have a good-quality product that will last longer. Individual consumer decisions all help to spread demand. Of course, you can critique every product – nothing is perfect. For example, you could say, “Oh, that bag isn’t made in Berlin, so it needs to be loaded onto a truck to get here”, but it’s the idea, the concept that’s behind a product that draws us to it. We want to work with designers who stand behind their products, who do something differently, and are committed to continual improvement.
Philipp: It’s a case of best compromise. If it’s made ethically, but not produced locally, then that’s at least a big step in the right direction. We’re also interested in products that indirectly pressure other brands to change their ways – in terms of both durability and affordability.
As a relatively young business, you’ve growing rapidly in terms of offerings and plans for the future over the past nine months. What’s next for Heute Ist Morgen?
Philipp: Well, we’re somewhat constrained by the size of the store, but would love to develop outwards. We’re thinking of opening a few pop-up stores to test our concept with a view to grow and establish the business more firmly in Berlin. We’ve already taken a lot on – by doing the renovation ourselves and having to learn how everything is done along the way, and now it’s time to focus on our respective strengths and areas of expertise. So, Tim will focus on the business side, and I’ll concentrate on the design and brand development aspects. That’s more or less how we work together. We make the core decisions together, but trust each other to take care of the elements we’re each good at.
Tim: We’ve established our base now – this store and café, as well as our offices – and we can springboard from there. The great thing about a fixed place is that you build up your network of core customers – a loyal community – and then you can start to branch out from there.
Philipp: We want the ability to just experiment, to try things out quickly without a laborious planning process. The idea of a pop-up is a great way to test out what comes across well with our audience, and also in different parts of town. I think you can learn a lot without undertaking too much – like having to open a whole new store.
Tim: We’d also love to create a magazine – a direction in which we’re already going with our blog – and have already developed this idea on paper, but as we said, we’ve taken a lot on already, and sometimes there just aren’t enough hours in a day. The magazine thing is fun, but it has to fit around our daily business.
And finally, what are some of the businesses taking sustainability seriously that you particularly admire?
Philipp: That’s a tough question. There actually aren’t that many in this city. I admire people who create special spaces – say a beautiful café, or a green courtyard – people who create something from the ground up. The [popular café] Roamers, for example – I love their space, love that they’ve made it so green. When I think of what I look up to or what I am inspired by, I think: nature. A beautiful garden, for example. It’s so much greater than us, because it doesn’t revolve around consumption.