Through the eyes of Haelan Kim
In our globalized times it has became commonplace to pack your bags, leave your hometown and move to another country or even on another continent which always means living in a new and different culture. Have you experienced it yourself, or ever wondered how that is like? Do expats embrace the unknown and strive to adapt to the new culture? Or do they rather get sentimental and stick to the traditions they are so familiar with?
Haelan Kim changed her home in Seoul for one in Berlin in 2012 where she founded KNOK STORE, Europe’s first and only concept store for Korean fashion and design. We met her and roamed the city together to explore Korean Lifestyle in Berlin.
So, Haelan, how is life in Berlin?
“It is wonderful, as it is so international, so culturally diverse. There are not many things I miss from home – but those are family, friends, and the amazing food, so tasty and everyone has very high expectations about quality and taste of each meal. Whatever you eat or cook, it has to be good – a good meal is deeply rooted in our culture. When we meet people, for example, we often ask ‘Have you eaten?’ instead of ‘How are you?’ And even if it’s more a general ‘Hi’, a hypothetical question, if denied we instantly move to cook or eat together. The relation to food is also a symbol of the warmth of Korean people.”
Hearing this, it is no wonder that the Korean food scene is so vibrant in Berlin, with even more expats coming and opening their own restaurants, doing catering or pop-ups. Surely you have eaten something from one of the Korean or fusion style food vendors at Street Food Thursday or Bite Club already?
“I think it’s because we all miss home food at lot and as it’s hard to find authentic Korean food here we start our own businesses, I also have done supper clubs in Berlin! I always try to find time to cook – I think this is the most “Korean” about me! I do my own homemade Kimchi, and cooking for and with friends to socialize is very important. I have a rice cooker prominently sitting on my kitchen counter. It speaks as the cooking is proceeding and once the rice is done it is letting me know in a friendly voice. All my friends love it!“
Putting food aside, Haelan also sees a lot of artists and students starting a new life in the German Capital, so the creative Korean art scene is growing, too. She points out the laid-back lifestyle in Berlin, where people are not always in a hurry, taking their time just because they can. And yet, people manage to be on time, which she loves, as ‘Korean time’ means being about 30 minutes late. Not due to lacking politeness but attributed to the heavy traffic in Seoul, it’s simply very hard to be on time! What is most attractive about life in Berlin is the overall space, both in the urban city and in mindset, it gives the potential to not only dream but to realize your dream! And that’s what Haelan did – she founded KNOK Store with her business partner.
“I am running this business, which for me means I am working, working, working! So when I get home late I often close my day with food, Netflix, and – a facial mask. And sometimes, I invite friends over and we gather at my place, all do a facial and watch a movie together. And of course food is involved – a typical girls night, and also very Korean.” – she admits, laughing. Just as Korean as the fact that for small meals she still prefers sitting on the floor at the small table she has brought from Seoul, or for movie nights, even though she has a sofa. Her interior and home can be described as a blend of both cultures, as is her life in Berlin – picking and keeping the best of both cultures.
Haelan Kim’s favorite Korean places in Berlin!
The Korean Culture Center is a meeting space for both Germans that are interested in Korean culture and Koreans living in Berlin. Hosting art exhibitions, concerts, lectures, workshops and language classes as well as Korean movie nights, they have galleries and a library and in there you can get a really good and authentic taste of Korean culture.”
Koreanisches Kulturzentrum, Leipziger Platz 3, 10117 Berlin Mitte
“Really authentic Korean Cuisine – great food and drinks! I like to sit outside and grill Korean BBQ with Korean beer or a Soj cocktail. The atmosphere is very chilled and often Korean friends pass by and then naturally join in for a drink or meal. I feel quite home here due to the tasteful minimal interior design that includes the old Korean doors, wooden tables.”
Gogogi. Weinbergsweg 24, 10119 Berlin Mitte
“It’s a small restaurant that offers really good traditional Korean & fusion food specialties paired with super friendly service and owners. It reminds me of a typical late night food bar that is so common in Seoul and whole Korea.”
Maru, Rigaer Str. 74, 10247 Berlin Friedrichshain
Korean BBQ in the park
“Me and my friends love grilling together in the park or at the canal in Kreuzberg! We mostly prepare a BBQ with Ssamjang, which is a thick, spicy paste used with food wrapped in a leaf. We grill vegetables and meat on a gas grill, as you can start instantly and save time without burning anything! A very Korean style of BBQ.“