With as many as 5,100 South Koreans living in Berlin, the city’s Korean population is certainly strong. It’s likely that in every Berlin borough, you’ll find a K-concept store or Korean restaurant offering something innovative, exciting and naturally, very cool.
Whether it’s the creative freedom, laid-back lifestyle or endless access to art, Berlin is undoubtedly a haven for young artists, designers and photographers.
We spoke to three Korean creatives who write, photograph and design about their work, their inspiration and why they have made Berlin their home.
Rae Tilly- Photographer and founder of YEOJA magazine.
Seoul-born creative, Rae Tilly is an art director, producer and photographer. She has combined her skills, passion for visual arts and politics through her online publication YEOJA.
YEOJA (which means woman in Korean) tackles intersectional feminism through subculture, art, fashion, beauty and health.
What brought you to Berlin?
During my studies, I had a professor who also worked for the DGAP in Berlin. After taking his course on Joschka Fischer and graduating from university, I decided to apply for an internship with the DGAP in Berlin.
At that time, my immediate goal was to learn German so that I would be able to pursue my academic dream of teaching a comparative film study course on post-war film from Germany and Japan. I enrolled in an intensive language program in the US, gained a basic knowledge of German, and made the move.
But life took a different turn, and after being accepted for the internship and moving to Berlin, I decided to make a life for myself here.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO START YEOJA MAGAZINE?
I wanted to combine my love for the arts with my passion for politics and activism.
My identity has had a huge impact on how I have been perceived by the world and how the world perceives me. I was adopted at four months by my american parents and it has been extremely eye opening to experience what being an Asian woman in two different western countries has meant.
While America is far from perfect in terms of tolerance for marginalized groups, Germany also has a very long way to go, even in an open city like Berlin.
I wanted to do something about the lack of conversation around non-white and marginalized communities in Berlin. I wanted to create awareness and representation through a platform that would facilitate this through written word and art (photography and illustration), as well as create a physical community and involve myself and my platform in grassroots activism.
What do you like most about the work you do?
I love being able to tackle important topics that other people are not ready to have or are too scared to have, because someone needs to have them. I also love the fact that I get to combine creativity with politics/social activism as they are my biggest passions.
HOW DO YOU ‘KEEP YOUR BALANCE’?
If I am honest, I am still working on learning how to keep a work-life balance.
When you work for someone else, it’s a lot easier to switch off after work. Still, I try my best to strike a balance by doing things completely outside of my work scope like skateboarding, watching films and reading (although I am guilty of watching a lot of documentaries and reading a lot of social and educational material which does still inform my work), and travelling.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE SPOT IN BERLIN?
One of my favourite places is my own home. My star sign is cancer and I also primarily work from home, so it is really important for me to build a comfortable and homey space where I can feel safe and spend my time.
But when it comes to public spaces that other people can also visit: for food, I looooooove Hang Mee in Fhain. It’s one of my favourite restaurants and I basically eat there once a week when I am in Berlin. 1990 Vegan Living and Mugrabi are also dope. What else? The Skatehalle for skating, Orankesee in the summer.
Joon Lee- Fashion designer and founder of PLYS
Joon is a Korean designer, mainly of bright, colourful sweaters! Having studied at Central Saint Martins, Joon’s knowledge of textiles is broad and impressive and he still seems to be constantly learning.
What inspired you to start PLYS?
I was cycling a lot when I first came to Berlin. Except for a few hot days in the summer, I still had to carry a pullover. We could easily find good windbreakers, but not so much of the knitted jumper variety that had bright colours.
I did a year of textiles at CSM and I was overwhelmed at how yarns are treated differently to form a swatch and the into a garment. I did a lot of research on knitting yarns to get neon colours and then I was ready to start PLYS.
What brought you to Berlin?
I was living in London for twelve years before moving to Berlin. It was really nice to have studied in London at Central Saint Martins, but I always loved the slower pace of life in Berlin. When I graduated I was determined to make my move.
What do you like about the city?
Museums, galleries, big open spaces, book shops, record shops and the general relaxing vibe!
Why did you study woven design and can you describe that for us?
As a textiles student in 2003, we had theoretical studies with other fashion students. I enjoyed the competitive vibe. I thought, it’s good to learn how to develop a ready to wear collection, rather than creating fabric swatches. I think having to study woven design plays on a bigger scale than textiles. It’s really important to know both which is why I transferred to a bachelors in menswear after completing my national service in Korea.
How do you unwind and stay balanced?
It’s hard to switch off even on the weekend, as I’m the owner of my business. I played a lot of games on my phone before, but it came to a point that even that didn’t help me unwind. I am now getting into sports and meditation- I also enjoy ballet.
I use a device called ‘Muse Headband’ – it monitors brain waves so it guides me to learn how to meditate.
CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR FAVOURITE PLACES IN THE CITY?
Albatross bakery– has the best pastries in Berlin.
Hardwax Record Store– to find some new electronic releases
Julia Stoschek Collection– to get inspired
Walther König book shop
MDC Cosmetic Store
Flora Choi- Designer and founder of GABE studio
Designer Flora chose Berlin out of a desire to work without constraint or formality. With her experimental designs and beautiful spacious home office, it seems she has certainly fulfilled those desires..
What brought you to Berlin?
Actually, it all happened very naturally. I hadn’t known much about Berlin, but when I was studying textile design in South Korea, I felt something was missing in my life and I was really desperate for a place where I could work and study without formality and constraint. It was then that I came to learn about Berlin, which was the symbol of freedom. I moved to Berlin in the winter of 2006, and I got used to the life here very comfortably because the city was like heaven for students. At the time it did not cost much to live and study here. Unfortunately, things are quite different now.
What do you like about the city?
Berlin is very attractive to me. There are so many possibilities that you do not easily see in capital cities. Everything is still quite affordable, and people are very open-minded. They don’t care what others think about them. It makes me feel freed from the pressures of life in Korea. In art scenes, there is a broadly creative environment here, which is continually inspiring.
What inspired you to start Gabe studios?
After studying textile design, I wanted to have a studio where I could pursue my strong interest in colours and textures of materials, where I could freely research and discover new varieties and combinations. That’s how the Gabe design studio was born. Since then, Gabe has always focused on making experimental designs with various materials and techniques. For each project, we research the ways to use visual languages with colour styling, inspired by moments and stories in our everyday lives. We present our work not only as design products but also as art installations.
What has been your favourite project to date?
This is not an easy question. I think my favourite project would keep changing, but at the moment it is the “Between” project which was a collaboration with graphic designer Eunjung Kwak in 2018. The project was about colors, for which we drew inspirations from indistinct memories of our daily lives. We are always surrounded by a feast of colors and their development, and there are these complex and subtle changes of colors, like during the daybreak in early spring, when the day becomes longer and the sky varies its colors at the same hour even between yesterday and today, or in late autumn, when one observes the changing temperature shortly before sunset. The sentiments of those in-between moments inspired the project along the process.
How do you unwind and stay ‘balanced?’
It’s quite difficult to multitask while thinking about other things or chores and to expect them to be perfectly done. I think a balanced life has to stay somewhere moving between concentration and space. Plus, I always need to have small fun in whatever I am doing, cleaning, cooking, or working. Being connected with others is another important part of positive mental state. Nowadays I do meditation, practice deep breathing in the morning and take a pilates course. These are all very helpful for relaxation.
Do you have any hidden gems in the city you could tell our readers about?
Buck & Breck Cocktail bar in Mitte – this bar is one of my favourite spots. The place is kind of hidden and unique, and their cocktails are very special.
Liebermann-Villa am Wannsee – it’s a house that german painter Max-Liebermann made by a beautiful lake. The view is amazing. I feel so relaxed there. I was there a lot between the summer and autumn.