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Name: Philippe Werhahn
Age: 30
Neighborhood: Neukölln, Berlin, Germany
Occupation: After studying fashion design in Milan, Hamburg-area native Philippe moved to Berlin to open his shop TingDing. He reconstructs items of used clothing, allowing the drape and movement of each piece to guide the final design. Though TingDing has been profiled in Italian Vogue, Philippe says, “I don’t really care about fashion scenes or fashion trends.” Instead, he keeps his pieces accessible to and affordable for Neukölln’s creatives. “Clothes-making is the closest I can get to people.”

This story appeared in the July/August 2010 issue. Photo by Achim Hatzius.

Neukölln was in West Berlin, on the border. The houses are beautiful—a lot of art deco from the 1920s. There are people living here from before the Wall, during the Wall, and after the Wall. And there are immigrants from Turkey who have been in Neukölln for more than 30 years.

Five years ago it was really dodgy—quite dangerous. A friend of mine who is into urban development made deals with the city and talked to the owners of empty shops. If they came down in price, creative people could move in. And it actually worked. All my friends and the people I work with, everybody lives in Neukölln now. It’s kind of rough and interesting, like a contemporary museum.

Berlin has never been a rich city, but now the unemployment rate is quite high. I don’t know anyone who’s got a regular job, basically. Everyone does little side jobs. It’s not so much about the money; it’s more about having the opportunity to do creative stuff. Almost every day there’s a dance performance or a little concert here. The prices are very low, so it’s easier to live this kind of lifestyle.

I live in my shop. I’ve got a 100-square-meter space; it’s my apartment, the atelier, and the shop all in one. I’m a night person, so quite often I keep the shop open until midnight or so. I don’t have the name of the label outside. I don’t do any advertising. If people are wearing my clothes, that is already an advertisement.

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Many of my customers are actresses, dancers. They come in and they say, “I have a performance.” I say, “I could do some costumes.” Then after [the show] we decide how we are going to do the payment: “OK, let’s have an event. We’ll have a bar, and maybe we’ll make some money with that.” I made costumes for Quartett Plus 1, a group of classical musicians. They had a concert at my shop; it was completely packed. They used the changing room for the stage.

I don’t really go outside this area. Berlin is famous for that: You don’t move around a lot. We call it Kiez, kind of like a block. People in Berlin really stay in their Kiez.

I buy everything I need—organic fruit, veggies, pastries, and flowers for the shop—at the Turkish market. There are a lot of designers looking for fabrics, and Turkish people buying all their supplies. I grab a coffee, sit down, and listen to the folk or rock music for half an hour.

I’m pretty much on a budget, so instead of hanging out at the bar, I prefer to walk. We’re allowed to drink on the streets in Berlin, so often on the weekends, we just get beer from the kiosks and walk around, talking. When the sun goes down, it’s nice to just sit on the canal, along the water, and have a beer.

Berlin changes a lot. The pubs I went to a few months ago, they’re not there anymore. Bars get locations that are temporary or free because the landlords are planning to renovate. They get quite famous and then close. They just disappear and open something with a different name. Things always lose too much when they get commercial. In Berlin, people put a lot of effort into not becoming big.

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See all of Philippe Werhahn’s favorite places in the Neukölln neighborhood of Berlin:
Mama Bar
Ping-Pong
Café Jacques
Popo Bar
Turkish Köfte
Turkish Market
Kinski Club
Sideseeing Design Market