We’ve been close with the guys at Civilist, Berlin for quite some time now, always stopping through whenever we get the chance to be in Berlin. Whether it’s a skate trip, BMX trip, long weekend away with respective girlfriends or whatever, chances are we’ll visit, because there’s always something of note going on.
Opening the doors in 2009, after a minimal refit from the previous use as an old art gallery, Civilist became the go-to space for skate needs, streetwear desires, exhibitions, launches, parties and general hangouts for a tonne of Berlin heads. Later on the space next door became available and Nike SB helped out to fit the shop out with a reimagining of the crews favourite spot, what they like to call ‘The National‘.
Some time ago we started wondering why we’d never featured them here at Breaks because we’re big fans of what they do. We sent over these questions and our man on the ground over in Berlin spent some time with the crew to shoot the amazing imagery you see here. The Civilist aesthetic shines through strong in the black and white so scroll on down to see the pick of the bunch and make sure you roll through the store next time you’re in Berlin.
Tell us more about Civilist, where in Berlin are you and what you do?
Civilist Berlin is made up of two stores that are based in Berlin’s Mitte district. We’ve been around for six and a half years now. Basically we are a skateboarding / menswear store located in the heart of Berlin. Our background lies heavily in skateboarding as we all were or are still skateboarders. When we decided to open a store seven years ago we felt Berlin was in need of a store like ours.
When we started most of the brands that supported us were somehow connected to skateboarding. Through my work as a photographer for Berlin based Lodown magazine and my traveling I became friends with lots of people around the world, those people were the ones that supported us from the beginning. Brands like Palace, Fucking Awesome, HUF, DQM, Vans Syndicate, Norse Projects, Nike SB and Anything, amongst others, were the brands that we all started with. We were super lucky and happy about their support since day one. Most of them weren’t available at all in Berlin or Germany. We had most of them exclusively and got the stuff directly from them. I am to this day super stoked and really thankful that those people believed and started to work with us.
Back then we felt that Berlin and what it went through after the wall came down needed a store like ours. Berlin got more and more attention from the media all over the planet about how cool it was and how it was constantly changing. Especially as the nightlife was exploding and tons of great clubs and bars were popping up. So we thought it was time then to do a store.
As young skateboarders back then we were happy to have a “go to“ store to hang out and get the stuff we were looking for, where you could hang out and have a good time. So we wanted to give something back and not only set up a regular retail store but build a community and hang out place. In the beginning we used to do all kinds of stuff here in the store, like parties for our friends at Keinemusik (Berlin’s coolest record label) for their record releases, exhibitions with Ed Templeton and stuff like that. So it was more or less a social room for all kind of things.
So how did it all start?
It all started in 2009, when my partner and I decided to make it happen it all happened super fast. Before we opened our store we were running a Nike SB pop up store around the corner for seven weeks and we felt like people were looking for a place like our’s. When the pop up store ended we were super lucky that we found an empty space here in Mitte and applied for it. The owners of the place were running a gallery and wanted to get rid of their space, when they heard what we wanted to do they gave us the contract. From there on, from signing the contract to the opening of the store in December 2009 it was only two months. We hit up all our friends from the brands that I was mentioning above and they sent what they had in stock and then we opened.
What was your first collab?
Our first collab was a Chukka Low that we did with Vans Syndicate. As always in life the things you do for the first time are the ones that will always stick in your head. It was so awesome to work with those people at Vans. Specially with Rian Pozzebon as we became really good friends after this project. It all started out when the guys from Vans came to our store and asked us if we would be up for doing a collab with Vans Syndicate. We were super stoked as we were huge fans of Vans Syndicate since day one. So somehow a dream came true…
When doing a collab, what do you look for?
First of all it depends who we are working with. Usually we start brainstorming about the story we can build around the product. We always try to work on a story around a product, it’s not enough to just change some colours here and there. First of all it is more fun for us to work on a collaboration and I think it’s more fun for the designers of the brand we are working with. As an extra it is always really fun then to develop a launch event around this theme, just as we have done with all our releases so far.
What’s been your favourite collab you’ve done?
Actually, all the collaborations we did were pretty fun and are our favourites, of course. Usually the first thing you do in life, whatever it is, is probably the thing that’s going to stick in your head the most. The first collaboration we did was with Vans Syndicate. They approached us and came to the shop, half a year after we opened. We were huge fans, we also were carrying the shoes already, so when they were asking us we were blown away, especially after such a short time. So of course this was the first one we did as a store, which makes it a very special one. One year later we did the first collab with Nike SB, which of course was also super exciting, so it wouldn’t be fair if we would say “Vans was the best one”. Both are very important to us because we were working with both of them for such a long time, it was definitely fun with both of the brands, working with their designers and the whole crew that was involved.
What sort of difficulties are there when collaborating with another brand?
I think they aren’t that many at all, of course it’s always a very long process. It usually takes eighteen months from the first draft and talk until the final product comes out. It’s a pretty long time, because they do samples, then we get them, we need to make some changes, then they take some weeks to redo it, but other than that, I think they aren’t really any difficulties.
What’s your favourite neighbourhood in Berlin and the best bit about where you are based?
For me it’s Mitte, where our store is located and also my apartment is only one street away from. I have been living in this hood for twenty years and I have seen it change, mostly in a direction that I’m not really into. Gentrification as it’s best. But for us as a store it’s the perfect neighbourhood. Especially our part of Mitte, where our shop is based, because we’re not at Hackescher market for example, where all the flagship stores are. We got a nice park next to the store and a nice little skatepark.
The hype has totally shifted to different neighbourhoods now, a lot of people say Neukoelln is super happening at the moment, but I think that’s probably more when it comes to bars and food places as well as second hand or vintage stores. For shopping Mitte will always be the place to go, it’s like Soho in London. What I want to say is, Mitte will always be the destination for tourist visiting the city. For our shop we think it’s the best neighbourhood. MBH.
What’s the best thing about Berlin in the summer?
Actually, and this is mostly why people come to Berlin at this time of the year, is that when it’s getting warmer, you can use your bike, you can cruise around, everybody is sitting outside, drinking on the street, we have tons of little parks. That’s what I specially like about Berlin. Berlin and its surroundings are so green and full of parks and forests, it’s amazing.
So I would say that’s the best thing, if you know you can take your bike. I mean, I’m used to the four seasons that we have here, but you can feel it immediately when Spring is kicking in, everybody starts sitting outside, having drinks in the park, cruising around. This is probably the same thing in other cities in Europe as well – but in some countries like Spain where the weather is good all year around, for them it’s pretty normal, for us in Berlin we have four seasons, after the strong winter it’s really good to be finally outside again.
Do you think that with product becoming universally available because of the internet, own-branded clothing is becoming the last bastion to get customers through core skate shops door?
Somehow it is. With certain brands, and this is something that is specially important for shops like ours. I mean that’s why we’re always digging for new brands. We were the first ones in Germany carrying Fucking Awesome, before it got way more hype. We were the first ones carrying Palace here in Germany as well. I really like how those brands are working and not being over distributed. This is something that really helps stores like us, Slam City, Ben G etc.
Besides that, for our shop one big thing in the future will be our own brand. With that you have way more control, you can choose which shops you want to work with, you can fill the brand with an image and so on. Especially for a city like Berlin, it is important to finally push something out of the German capital. We’ve experienced it here in the store as so many people that visit us are looking for a Berlin based brand. They looking for local brands, that they can’t find in Australia or the US or elsewhere or is hard to get hold of. So through online shops it’s super easy nowadays to get a hold of every brand you want, no matter where it’s based. As long as they have an online store you can buy it – if they’re from South Korea or Cape Town it doesn’t matter – it’s delivered in less than a week, whatever. Every single person now has access to those brands. Ten years ago you had to ask a friend if they were going to New York and could bring something back for you.
That’s one of the reasons why we will focus on our own brand. Of course we want to sell it to other shops in the future as well, to push Berlin and support other stores with a brand that isn’t available through a million doors. I think it’s definitely a necessary step to do.
How did you come to have a big Nike SB annexe?
It goes all the way back. Since I am also working as a photographer and I used to shoot everything for Nike SB here in Germany for years when they started over here. We did a couple big Nike SB tours, we went to Tokyo, Cape Town and Dubai so I always had a good connection with the brand. We’ve known each other for such a long time, so we did a pop-up store with Nike SB in 2009. This one house was empty and we took it for seven weeks and made a pop-up store, with books, shirts, an exhibition and a mini ramp in one room. After that my partner and I were looking for a location for Civilist. So when we found it Nike SB was down immediately as we worked together for years already.
Does that not piss off other shoe brands?
Not at all, I mean as you can see we did a collaborations with a lot of different brands. I think if you look at shops in general, there isn’t really any problem. If you have a multi brand store or however you want to call them: they carry adidas, Nike, Converse, Vans and even some other brands, too. So I think for us I don’t want to limit myself to just one brand in the first place. I mean there are the customers out there, there are people that are only into Nike, or only into Vans, they’re people who love adidas or Converse, and whatever. So we want to carry all these brands. If we do one collaboration with one brand, it’s good for us, because it spreads our name, but also good for the brand, because we have a certain image, and then the next year another shoe company says let’s do a shoe as well, why not? The best example is Supreme, they do five shoe collaborations within one year: one with Vans, then Nike, then Clarks, in the end I think it’s no problem at all.
Are there any trends in skating that you don’t like?
Actually, if I was younger, I would probably say yes. But now, I see it differently. The only trend that I didn’t like was the one a few years back when the pants were sitting like leggins, super tight, this was something I couldn’t connect to. But to be honest, right now is a pretty interesting time, it’s very diverse, I like the diversity. All the different styles, you have super baggy people, then the Dickies Chuck Taylor guys etc. And as long as I see that the person wearing it is not wearing it because it’s a trend, I’m totally fine with it. Of course when I was younger, I was different, but nowadays there’s so many things, especially when I look at the people in Berlin, there are all kinds of different styles: the younger kids, that are influenced by Fucking Awesome, Supreme, the all canvas style, but then, when you look at the people who actually skate for Supreme, you have someone that is wearing tighter pants and denim jacket, but also people sporting the hip hop style. The young kids change, someone who now maybe looks super hip hop, will wear something different in a few years. When I was young, I was also changing, because you get influenced by the people you look up to.
There are the trends of people doing certain tricks now, that we used to do back in the 80s, like the no comply, these tricks got super modern again. And through Instagram it’s super easy now to film a little clip and put it out there. It’s not really annoying me anymore, maybe I’m a bit more grown up and more accepting. If he’s a 16 year old kid, following his personal dreams, dude that’s totally fine. I’m not judging these people, if they walk into the shop, I’m not judging them because they look different. I kind of like it right now that everybody is doing totally his own thing. I really appreciate it.
Whats next for you guys?
We’re working on a collaboration for the next winter trade show, I can’t say the name yet but it will be a big one. We are working on something for the summer trade show as well, we will work with Skate Mental, there will be a new Civilist board – because this is like not as huge as the releases that are with Vans and Nike, it will be more of a smaller release. Then a big focus is on our own brand, right now just looking for new designers. I know plenty of people from my work for Lodown Magazine and such. I’m not sure if I’m looking for someone I want to work with for the next ten years, I’m just thinking from season to season. There are some very talented guys here, so I might also wanna give someone in the future, like a young eighteen year old designer kid, the chance to design for us. I don’t want to limit us on only one person.
Through my work with Lodown and my old friends from skateboarding, I sit down with them, give them a little mood board, let’s say: “the winter season”, so they can do some designs for shirts, hoodies, maybe a jacket. So yeah, the big focus will be on our own brand. We also might wanna redo the shop from the inside. After nearly six and a half years, in December it will be seven years, it’s time for a change. The whole building is getting renovated anyways, so there’s a good chance that while they change the window fronts we will close the store for two or three weeks and totally re-do it. But no worries, in the end it still should be a shop and not a super clean styled boutique, we don’t want the young skate kids to be afraid of touching something. It still should be influenced by our background in skateboarding, that doesn’t mean it should be dirty though! People should be comfortable in our store, not like the stores that look and feel like museums where you’re afraid of touching something. You’ll still be allowed to drink a beer inside… Prost!
Photos: Roberto Brundo: