Updated: 7 days ago
By Fabienne Lang
2020 was a harsh and unexpected year, and that’s putting it mildly. So here’s a story that’ll warm your toes and lift your spirits. Grab your hot cocoa and blanket, and let’s begin.
Many of our beloved Berlin food and beverage outlets had to close their doors during the two COVID-19 lockdowns starting in March and November last year. With only take-away options available, independent businesses had to think outside the box to keep income coming in.
One such spot is Moabit’s beloved Perlou bar, which opened in November 2019. Sitting nicely at the intersection of Perleberger Strasse and Rathenower Strasse, it’s in a prime location. Previously a crumbling Kneipe, or pub, the space was given a second shot at life when four friends bought the joint in 2019. They turned it into the edgy Perlou bar we know today, sweetly named after its locale.
Nachbarschaftlich - meaning neighbourly
At street level, you’re hard-pressed to notice Perlou. But once you do, you’ll be oh-so-happy you did. Its cool and cosy vibe with exposed brick walls and luscious plants fill its two dark-lit rooms. It offers a New York City speak-easy atmosphere, or closer to home, it has any of Neukölln’s infamous Weserstrasse small and edgy bars’ feel. It’s just friendlier, or more Nachbarschaflitch, meaning neighbourly, than those.
What makes Perlou so accessible and warm is that you know straight away who runs it. Two of the four owners, Denis and Lucia, a laid back and friendly German couple who live and now work in Moabit, walked us through their motivation. It’s simple, really. It all came down to space.
The entrepreneurial foursome decided to open their own local bar because they typically struggled finding seated spots in other bars in the neighbourhood. And that’s how Perlou was born.
Denis and Lucia’s enthusiasm was palpable, and you could sense their love for Moabit. Berlin born and raised Lucia previously worked in a café in Neukölln, and as soon as she started working in Moabit she noticed the stark difference in clientele. People were much chattier and friendlier in Moabit, she said, taking the time to get to know her and the team at Perlou, compared with the impersonal and colder exchanges she experienced in Neukölln.
An entrepreneurial mindset
As the saying goes, “Once an entrepreneur, always an entrepreneur.” Just kidding, I’ve no clue if that’s a saying, but it should be! In Denis and Lucia, and their two friends’ case, this saying could very much be true.
As Berlin’s lockdown came into place in March 2020, like so many other entrepreneurs, Perlou’s team was forced to close its doors – a short four months after opening. But, that didn’t stop the team from forging ahead. During the summer months, they opened up one of their windows giving onto the street corner, turning the bar into a refreshing ice cream parlour. You’d rarely go a day without seeing hordes of ice-cream-loving locals queueing - safely - outside that window.
As the ice cream season inevitably closed off, and the second lockdown swung into place along with winter, Perlou’s owners got their thinking caps back on. How were they going to stay afloat once again?
Drawing inspiration from United We Stream, the Berlin clubbing collective that streams live DJ sets from various famous clubs around the city straight to residents’ living rooms-turned-rave-clubs, the Perlou team created WeKeezTogether.
It’s not quite a live streaming rave, but it’s the next best thing, in our humble opinion.
The play on words comes from Denis’ mom who thought up We Keep Together, trying to bring about a sense of togetherness during a tough time. The team took it one step further by switching the word "Keep" with "Keez" - again, playing on words - in this instance on the word Kiez, which means "small neighbourhood." And thus, WeKeezTogether came to life, and we love it!
As December rolled in, the WeKeezTogether team wanted to create something local, uplifting, and cheery…and they managed it.
Berliners and Christmas markets
But first, a little context: To say Berliners love their Christmas markets is an understatement.
In a regular year, walking around these enchanted winter wonderlands brings you the smell of hot bratwursts sizzling on grills, sweet glühwein warms your heart, and Christmas carols jingle in your ears.
It’s something we all look forward to over the colder November and December months, something to create seasonal cheer. Last year, however, with Christmas markets a hard no-go because of the pandemic, the city’s residents had little to look forward to.
But did that stop our local entrepreneurs from creating their own seasonally-spirited-cheer?
One of the WeKeezTogether initiatives saw Denis, Lucia and the team get in touch with other Moabit bars, cafés, shops, and restaurants to create something for the festive season: the decentralised Christmas market.
This decentralised Christmas market was a collective of Moabit food and beverage outlets selling different options from their windows or open doors. WeKeezTogether put up a map on their Instagram account so locals had the list of spots handy, knowing exactly who served what, and could walk between them anytime from 2pm until 7pm on Saturdays.
Locals could now take away and enjoy seasonal goodies. Think: glühwein, hot apple juice spiced with rum or gin (a personal favourite), popcorn, gyros boxes, baked goods, and much more glühwein.
We jumped right on this bandwagon, enjoying local fare from local places. What really struck home was a true sense of community.
As Lucia said, “It’s like a village.”
We passed other locals with their paper cups, merrily chatting and smiling to each other as they made their way from place to place. There was something very wholesome and heart-warming about the experience. You felt you were helping local businesses while you had fun, all while feeling part of a small community.
Other, bigger, neighbourhoods such as Friedrichshain offered similar take-away drinks and food options, for instance at Boxhagener Platz. However, they weren't done in a collective way, nor was there a particular sense of community. It was just like any other Christmas Market where you’re part of an anonymous crowd, but not a collective. This is what we love about WeKeezTogether’s idea, it was something personal and local, bringing entrepreneurs and residents closer together.
This little allegiance shows the innovation and hard work entrepreneurs are creating, surely not just in Moabit, but it’s strongly felt here.
"It's like a village."
That’s not to say other Berlin neighbourhoods are the devil and Moabit is a community of angels. It just shows that this unassuming quarter has more to offer than meets the eye. Once you get involved with its hip and friendly residents, you’ll see a whole other side to it, and the city.
What I love about WeKeezTogether and other local outreaches, particularly in Moabit, is that they show how a community in one of the most famous European capitals came together to create seasonal cheer - making it feel more like a cosy village than a major city.
The team persevered through a tough time, hopefully inspiring others to do the same, and helped spread some Christmas spirit in Berlin.
We're excited to see what WeKeezTogether comes up with for 2021.