Turning rubble into dining rooms: Berlin based agency muxmäuschenwild have been transforming the secret, forgotten and abandoned sites of Berlin into festive ballrooms for their Golden Dinner series. In light of their last installment at the former Galeria Kaufhof at Ostbahnhof (easily recognized thanks to its iconic facade) last week, I asked Julia Kopper, founder and agency chef, what it takes to find and make use of Berlins urban ruins, why we’re mythically attracted to construction sites, and about the biggest challenges of the “Zwischennutzung“1 in the future.
1. What inspired you to create the Golden Dinner series?
The idea was born in 2012 in the ruins of an old theater in Mitte that nobody knew even existed. It was bricked after WWII and hadn’t been accessed in 75 years. Once the rubble was taken out, a beautiful old ballroom with a gallery was revealed – our first dinner location. No electricity, no running water. It was an insane project and a great risk. We only invited people from our private contacts and still managed to be booked out every night.
2. What draws us to abandoned spaces – and makes us want to even dine in them?
The location is an essential part of our perception. We love encountering the past and reviving it once more. At the Kaufhof at Galeria Ostbahnhof, we found a 50 Pfennig Ost-Mark in the basement. It must have been there for quite some time. Naturally, it’s always a huge challenge to revive spaces without any infrastructure, and at the same time, it’s tremendously exciting to breathe life back into them for a little short while [before they are demolished or used as building proper]. Additionally, the Golden Dinner is supposed to be a very intimate experience, like dining out with friends – friends with a very strange home, for sure.
3. What are the essential criteria for a building in order to create a successful Golden Dinner?
We stage our dinners only in spaces that have never been used before in context of such an event, and only in buildings that have left their first lives behind and are ready to be reincarnated. We aim for that interim period, in which the history of the space is still palpable and its future uses not established yet. Besides that, we have no restrictions – the space should be central, have a little big of magic and allow us at least some leeway in terms of infrastructure, like setting up a heating mechanism.
4. The Golden Dinner has been around for many years, despite your recent three year hiatus. Is there a certain art to pop-up dinners?
We are very careful with the designated spaces, allow them to be celebrated once more and charge the location emotionally. The space is always an essential part of our experience, and we try to align our Golden Dinner presentation to that spirit. Many decisions are only taken when we actually see the rooms for the first time.
5. Berlin and its topography are changing rapidly. How does that influence temporary pop-up concepts such as the Golden Dinner series?
Naturally, it’s becoming harder and harder to find the right places in Berlin, as there has been a rapid reevaluation of real estate and old ruins in the recent past. That’s also a reason why we were on such a long break with the Golden Dinner concept. It’s worth mentioning, too, that the concept of the Standortaufwertung2 has lost some of its relevance, as most of the building projects have been planned through and financed, or are already rented out or sold bevor the excavators arrive on the scene.