Espiner's Berlin : The temple for street fashion

The old airport hangars are showing the latest in street fashion, and everyone seems to agree it’s the perfect location, writes Mark Espiner. Or is it?

People power. Thousands thronged to the "Berlin Fashion Week" held in the closed-down Berlin Tempelhof Airport.
People power. Thousands thronged to the "Berlin Fashion Week" held in the closed-down Berlin Tempelhof Airport.Foto: Kai-Uwe Heinrich

It really is true. When it’s fashion week in Berlin there just aren’t enough cabs to go around. I was standing at the Alexanderplatz taxi rank, normally bristling with taxis vying for business, and there wasn’t a single one. I started to panic. It was 9.10. I had to be at Tempelhof in 20 minutes for a rendezvous with Karl-Heinz Müller and Klaus Wowerweit Berlin’s Mayor for the opening of Bread & Butter’s tradeshow. We were going to look round the show together. It was too late for a tube. I had to get a cab.

Then I saw the miraculous vision of a taxi light. I flagged it down and hopped in the back. „Tempelhof, please,“ I said breathlessly. „Oh no!“ groaned the taxi driver „not again!“ and banged his head on the steering wheel in frustration. He had been there five times already today. „Please,“ I said, „I’m late.“ „OK,“ he said, „but I warn you the traffic’s bad.“

He was right. It got thicker and thicker the closer we got. It looked like the whole of Europe was flocking there. It was 9.25 and we were still more than a block away. „Jump out,“ he said. „You’ll be quicker on foot and I can pick up someone else quickly – it’s a very busy day for me.“

I joined the throng of people making for Tempelhof that for a few days at least has become a temple for fashion.

It’s an impressive, and dare I say it, beautiful building. Majestic and shot through with history. As I passed through the entrance I remembered how the BBC journalist Matt Frei in his three-part documentary about Berlin was as overwhelmed as I now felt. And thinking about all that happened here his question „Is it OK to like this building?“ popped into my head.

Is it OK to like this building, I asked myself, now that it’s stuffed with consumer fashion items. It was too heavy a question for me to grapple with so early in the morning.

From the balcony up high, where I’d been told to go to meet up with Karl-Heinz Müller and Wowi (as I had now learned to call him), the view was impressive. The swelling crowd was beginning to cram the main hall, building up at the turnstyles. They seemed drawn to them as if to a giant magnet. The old baggage conveyor belts had been repurposed. Instead of luggage they were carrying look books, catalogs and goody bags.

I caught sight of Müller. He was reading a copy of Tagesspiegel, I’m glad to say and he was waiting for the Mayor. „Having fun?“ I asked him. „Yes,“ he replied cautiously. „Still a few days to go“, I said and then Wowi arrived and I was left in his shadow.

He and Müller surveyed the scene as if it was their kingdom, which in a way it was. There was a bass rumble from the speakers and some ominous music began to fill the hall. There was an expectation in the air that was a bit like a rock gig. And then they took off.

Müller and Wowi parted the crowd with an entourage of TV crews, cameras and notebook wielding writers like me. We swept down the stairs and through the entrance into the huge converted porch. I noticed that Wowi wasn’t wearing jeans, which I thought was a bit of an oversight given that this was denim heaven. But he was casually dressed in an open-neck shirt and suede shoes. I thought I’d ask him about his choice of attire, but couldn"t get near him, so settled for talking to one of his bodyguards instead. Being a police officer, Jens wouldn’t tell me his full name and kept one eye on his boss while I asked him what clothes Wowi liked to wear. „Ask him,“ he said. What do you think about this whole tradeshow, then, I asked trying a more personal approach. Do you like it? Like everyone else I spoke to, Jens did. „All the modern stuff is here,“ he said, momentarily jumping out of his role as cop and becoming a bit of a fashion guru. „We get to see what’s really up to date now,“ he said, echoing the mood of those who had special access to the latest trends. Although, I thought, you don’t really get to see much at all if you’re bodyguard.

Wowi strolled on, leading the way with Müller who greeted people with hugs and handshakes. The whole thing had the feeling of a get together, a meeting of old friends. I had a quick chat with Tarlach de Blacam the managing director of the Irish knitwear company Inis Meain, who had just been the recipient of a particularly enthusiastic handshake. What was it like being here? Fantastic, he said. And great to see Müller again. He then told me that the Bread & Butter boss had come all the way over to Ireland to visit him and get to know him. They had even gone fishing together, he said proudly, and told me to look at his website for documentary proof. Wow, I thought, that really is attention to detail and good customer care.

That Tempelhof question was still bugging me though. So I put it to Tarlach. Was it OK to like Tempelhof? „It’s beautiful,“ he said enraptured by the grand surroundings. „The stonework in the sun this morning was amazing.“ Yes it had a Nazi past, he acknowledged, but he knew about it from the more positive Berlin airlift. And it was brilliant being here, he said.

As Wowi and Müller steamed ahead, I decided to hang around the Dr. Martens stall for a few minutes. „You can’t fault this tradeshow,“ said one of the team, „it’s brilliantly organised.“ But is it OK to like Tempelhof? I asked. „Definitely, it’s an iconic building!“ they said enthusiastically and before I could show any angst they tried to interest me in their new collaboration with the hip Japanese label Bathing Ape that I had never heard of before today.

If it was all a bit overwhelming – there were extravagant stalls for the major brands that were more like nightclubs with a strict door policy, and huge touchscreen maps to help you find your way around – the tradeshow was also very well-suited to the cavernous space of the old aeroplane hangar.

I decided to make my way out and then got confused by the mix of fashion show and airport signage. One sign told me to go to the Business Club and Press Lounge while another pointed me in the direction of Domestic Baggage Claim.

Back in the main hall people were still queuing up for registration. It looked like a working airport with people anxious to check in and get to duty free. I picked my way through the crowd and at last threw myself out through the front doors and on to the pavement where a load of taxis were waiting.

„Alexanderplatz, please,“ I said and flaked out on the seat. „Of course,“ the taxi driver replied and looked at me exhausted. I felt like I’d just got back from a flight to an interesting and unusual foreign country. „You’re not as tired as I am,“ he cheerfully said, „I’ve never been so busy!“ "You’ve got Bread & Butter to thank for that", I said. Mark Espiner

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