Sharing my city: Amsterdam with Lizzy van der Ligt

car2go: Lizzie van der Ligt in an apartment in Amsterdam.

What does it feel like to go on holiday and not just live in someone else’s apartment, but to immerse yourself in someone else’s life?

What was travel like before the advent of platforms on which private individuals can rent out their apartment by the day or week or that enable you to discover an unknown city for yourself using car2go? For some people, those times are now little more than a vague memory. It’s just so fantastic to make your own fried egg in the morning in a city that was unknown to you until yesterday, to browse someone else’s well-assorted bookshelves and, in most cases, to be supplied first-hand with insider tips – following the motto: “immerse yourself in another life”.

Digitalisation and the opportunities offered by the “sharing economy”, in which you don’t need to own something to use it, are opening the door to new ways of living, travelling and working. People are not just sharing car2go vehicles, using Facebook to stay in touch with friends in faraway places and following their latest music discoveries on Spotify. These technologies are causing people’s own networks to grow exponentially. Often, all it takes is an email to get in touch with friends of friends on the other side of the world.

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Our video with stylist and blogger Lizzy van der Ligt describes this way of life and the wide-ranging opportunities that arise from networking and the sharing of information and things. What would it be like if we were one day able not just to book a private apartment for a city trip, but to totally immerse ourselves in another life for a day? Sharing my city: Amsterdam.

car2go: Lizzie van der Ligt next to a smart in Amsterdam.
Backstage AMG: A glimpse behind the scenes, into the dynamic heart of the AMG brand.

Behind the scenes: Backstage AMG.

We glimpse behind the scenes into the dynamic heart of AMG – and discover something truly sensational.

Affalterbach: Home of the AMG spirit.

What has become of tranquil Affalterbach? From small, mighty racing specialists AMG has evolved into the high-performance brand of the Mercedes-Benz universe. From its beginnings in a meadow on the outskirts of the rural community of Affalterbach to the state-of-the-art headquarters of today. Over the past five decades Mercedes-AMG has evolved impressively. A multitude of office buildings and factories have been added to the first workshop hall.

 

The current architecture has been awarded prizes for energy-efficient construction. A natural-gas-powered fuel cell supplies the new logistics center not only with 100 kilowatts of electricity but also with heating and air condition: up to 40 kilowatts are fed into the public grid; on top of that, the fuel cell generates oxygen-reduced air that is diverted into the tyre warehouse. But even the energy produced on the engine test benches doesn’t fizzle away unused but is instead utilised to provide electricity and heating.

From small, mighty racing specialists AMG has evolved into the high-performance brand of the Mercedes-Benz universe.

The right mix: AMG doesn’t burn rubber.

Legions of test cars and prototype vehicles are in use at the AMG headquarters around the clock over the whole year. Millions of test kilometres are travelled around the globe, on racing and test tracks, on public roads. One of the most important wearing parts of this intense development work is round, black and is used every time in quadruplicate: tyres. The logistics and storage of roughly 5,500 high-grip aggressive sport varieties is a challenging task.

To prevent a fire in the tyre warehouse, the oxygen ratio in the air is reduced to around 15 percent – no chance for an accidental fire. Even wanton arson would be difficult here, because any lighter needs at least 16 percent oxygen to be able to ignite. In contrast to the general atmosphere at AMG, the atmosphere in the AMG tyre warehouse is cool: the tyres are stored below 15 degrees Celsius to save energy.

Future needs history.

For a company that comes from racing, it is rather unusual to cultivate its own past with sound judgement: because anyone who strikes a fast pace seldom looks in the rear-view mirror. The documents and stories of the early years of Mercedes-AMG might have been lost – had it not been for the strong identification of some employees from the very beginning. They didn’t just put the remnants of days gone by in the cabinet all the way in the back. Over decades, partly outside of working hours, a vivid and impressive collection of documents, photographs, parts and even classic cars arose.

 

Under the guidance of Michael Clauss, who has been with AMG for 37 years, just as long as AMG has been in Affalterbach, the archive has become a fabulous treasure from which the brand constantly draws its identity.

Hospitality, Swabian style.

For many AMG fans, picking up a new Mercedes-AMG vehicle in Affalterbach is a veritable obligation primarily on account of the factory tour: “One Man – one Engine”. Every mechanic bestows a plaque with his signature upon completion of the engine mounting. In many cases it’s possible for customers on their tour of the engine factory to meet the mechanic who was responsible for the assembly of their engine. A very personal, distinctive experience that brings the AMG team and their customers even closer together.

For many AMG fans, picking up a new Mercedes-AMG vehicle in Affalterbach is a veritable obligation primarily on account of the factory tour.

Right next to the customer lounge is the delivery hall. Dark walls, bright floor, a magical lighting scenario. Here the customer now has plenty of time for their first moments with their new AMG.

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A shoot for the Classic Magazine in the flair of the 1970s featuring the celebrities W 114/W 115 and W 123.

Mercedes-Benz Classic meets retro-style fashion.

A shoot for the Classic Magazine in the flair of the 1970s.

Mercedes-Benz Stroke 8: model in the park hotel 1970.

Flashback.

The 1970s was about shag-pile rugs, psychedelic-patterned and colored wallpaper, bright clothes and Madge the manicurist praising Palmolive. The 1970s was the era of two Mercedes-Benz model series that made record sales: the previous W 114/W 115 E-Class model series (also known as the “Stroke 8”) and the W 123. The W 123 replaced the “Stroke 8” from 1975 onwards.

Flashback.

The 1970s was about shag-pile rugs, psychedelic-patterned and colored wallpaper, bright clothes and Madge the manicurist praising Palmolive. The 1970s was the era of two Mercedes-Benz model series that made record sales: the previous W 114/W 115 E-Class model series (also known as the “Stroke 8”) and the W 123. The W 123 replaced the “Stroke 8” from 1975 onwards.

Mercedes-Benz Stroke 8: model in the park hotel 1970.

Event location, the Parkhotel 1970.

The lifestyle of the 1970s is often talked about, but very little of it can still be seen or felt. Except in the Parkhotel 1970 in the town of Michelstadt in the Odenwald mountains. Here is a hotel which has kept that authentic style of the time and which was re-opened several years ago. Prior to that, the former spa resort and holiday hotel spent almost 20 years in a deep sleep.

Mercedes-Benz Stroke 8 and W 123 in front of the park hotel 1970.
Mercedes-Benz Stroke 8 with model and stylists in front of the Parkhotel 1970.

The Byzantine golden 1970s.

Of course, looking back on this decade, not everything was golden. However the era remains in our memories as a time of economic security, hippie fashion and easy-listening music, the 1972 summer Olympic games in Munich and the 1974 World Cup in Germany. Model, Alea Kay Wiles, supported by stylists Alexander Hofmann and Gina Pieper as well as the Byzantine gold Mercedes-Benz 280 CE from 1972 brings back the atmosphere of the time.

The Byzantine golden 1970s.

Of course, looking back on this decade, not everything was golden. However the era remains in our memories as a time of economic security, hippie fashion and easy-listening music, the 1972 summer Olympic games in Munich and the 1974 World Cup in Germany. Model, Alea Kay Wiles, supported by stylists Alexander Hofmann and Gina Pieper as well as the Byzantine gold Mercedes-Benz 280 CE from 1972 brings back the atmosphere of the time.

Mercedes-Benz Stroke 8 with model and stylists in front of the Parkhotel 1970.

Good times for Mercedes-Benz.

The Mercedes-Benz brand also felt the momentum of the seventies. The luxury class sedans and the SL models allowed the brand with the three-pointed star to shine brightly; the Mercedes-Benz executive class models – today, the E-Class – ensured good financial returns. When production of the “Stroke 8” ended in 1976, almost two million vehicles from this model series had rolled off the production line. The next model series, the W 123, was to see even greater success.

Mercedes-Benz Stroke 8 and model in front of the Parkhotel 1970.
Mercedes-Benz Stroke 8: Photographer Benjamin Pichelmann at work.

First fashion, then the automobile.

Photographer Benjamin Pichelmann wasn’t at the Parkhotel 1970 for the first time. Two years ago he assisted a fashion photographer for a magazine shoot. Since then he has had the location in mind for portraying a car in this setting. Classic Magazine has now given him the opportunity to bring together retro fashion and the Mercedes-Benz classic car.

Tête-à-tête in the lobby.

In this picture everything is real and almost all is authentic. The lobby of the Parkhotel appears in its original state as at its opening and the S 123 in the background is just as it was when it left the production line. Model Alea only knows the 1970s from her parents’ stories and the fashion she is wearing is from current collections in the popular retro look.

Mercedes-Benz Stroke 8: model in the foyer with W 123 in the background.

In the pool at the end of the day.

Heated swimming pools were the top notch for leisure culture in the seventies – in the Parkhotel, too. Benjamin Pichelmann didn’t want to miss out on this opportunity for the final shots. He could have taken the photos from the edge of the pool, but the images in his head had him climbing into the water.

Retro through and through.

In the 1970s any pool user dressed in a bathing costume like this one would have been in fashion. Back then, bikinis had long since overtaken the one-piece suit in the popularity stakes and the really brave bathed topless …

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Kyoto - Take your time.

Take your time.

Kyoto is famous for its temples and shrines. A group of artists have taken up this theme, giving the traditional a new twist.

The infamous mountain basin location.

The glass teahouse glistens in the hot midday sun. But the glass benches in front of it feel cool despite the heat. This modern art installation stands on the wooden observation deck of a little known Buddhist temple in the mountains east of Kyoto. The deck provides an ideal vantage point from which to observe the checkerboard layout of the city, famed above all for its countless shrines and temples. Not to mention because it’s also a great place to spot passers-by clad in traditional kimonos. 1,200 years ago, the emperor at the time decided to relocate his palace to the plateau here, surrounded on three sides by mountains, for protection. Kyoto’s location in a mountain basin is infamous: it makes the summers hotter and the winters colder. The Kamogawa River bisects the city from north to south, and in spring when the cherry trees blossom, it transforms into one long pink ribbon.

Kyoto - Take your time.
Kyoto - Take your time.

The natives love their city’s beauty.

But they are even prouder of Kyoto’s status as the cultural capital of Japan. Despite all the modernisation going on, traditions are upheld here more than anywhere else in Japan. That sense of elevated esteem inspires artists and creative spirits to ensure that in Kyoto, “old” is never equated with “old-fashioned”. A few of them have kindly provided an insight into their lives and work.

 

In the expansive park of the Imperial Palace, home to the emperor for 1,000 years before the imperial residence was moved to Tokyo 150 years ago, joggers do their rounds these days. Just a few steps away, Fumie Okumura resides in a gorgeous Machiya townhouse. Sunlight passing through carvings paints flowery patterns on the walls. “Before I moved from Tokyo to Kyoto two years ago, I thought of it as being very provincial,” remarks the 45-year-old about this city of 1.5 million inhabitants. “But then I began to understand that what’s visible is only a tiny part of this city.”

Kyoto - Take your time.

In search of an identity.

A former stage actress, Okumura reinvented herself as a food director. Constantly on the lookout for Japan’s future tastes, she develops new food concepts and marketing strategies, encouraging farmers to produce apple wine rather than apples, or to grow organic vegetables. Distances are shorter in Kyoto, making it easier for her to implement many of her ideas.

The impulse for change came in 2012 when she married a German gallery owner who had commuted between Kyoto and Tokyo for 30 years.

What Okumura loves most about Kyoto is its close connection to nature, reflected in its cuisine. And the Kyo-yasai vegetables, ancient heirloom varieties cultivated by farmers in the surrounding countryside. “Kyoto vegetables define the identity of the local cuisine,” says Okumura. Her own personal identity, a place where she truly belongs, is something she’s been searching for her whole life, explains Okumura. Judging from the twinkle in her eye, she may have finally found it.

The gentle passage of time.

The artist who goes by the name of Shoshu never really left town. Born in Kyoto, the internationally recognised calligraphy artist cannot imagine living somewhere else. “In Kyoto, time passes tick-tock, tick-tock – very slowly and gently.” In Tokyo, where he often travels on business, everyone is in a hurry. Bald and small in stature, the 58-year-old bears a passing resemblance to a Zen monk. He sits on tatami flooring in a small, inconspicuous house in one of Kyoto’s many narrow side streets. Spatters of black cover the walls. “Kyoto essentially consists of one big historic old town. At the same time, new things are constantly being born here. So it just makes sense for me to work here,” says the artist, known for his unorthodox style. What calligraphy character would he use to describe Kyoto? “Shinkyu – new and old.” In Kyoto, he asserts, everything comes together.

Kyoto - Take your time.
Kyoto - Take your time.

The same is true of his art.

While others base their work on the old masters, Shoshu prefers channelling the guitar riffs of his idol Eric Clapton into energetic brushstrokes using homemade ink. With a brush nearly as wide as a broom, he applies the ink to soft washi paper. His unique approach has earned him 200 students from across the country and prestigious commissions, including Mercedes-Benz advertisements.

 

“I love tradition,” emphasises Shoshu, “but we live in 2016. So we experience certain events, in politics and life. I want to create artworks that reflect this. That’s the only way tradition can be carried on.” His aim is to completely revolutionise calligraphy.

The same is true of his art.

While others base their work on the old masters, Shoshu prefers channelling the guitar riffs of his idol Eric Clapton into energetic brushstrokes using homemade ink. With a brush nearly as wide as a broom, he applies the ink to soft washi paper. His unique approach has earned him 200 students from across the country and prestigious commissions, including Mercedes-Benz advertisements.

 

“I love tradition,” emphasises Shoshu, “but we live in 2016. So we experience certain events, in politics and life. I want to create artworks that reflect this. That’s the only way tradition can be carried on.” His aim is to completely revolutionise calligraphy.

Kyoto - Take your time.

Innovation against all odds.

Innovation comes from three groups of people – outsiders, young people, and idiots, says a Japanese proverb. Eriko Horiki smiles and nods in response to this. The 54-year-old paper and lighting artist belonged to the second category. In her early twenties she resolved to save the art of washi from extinction – the manufacture of paper from the bark of the mulberry tree. There was only one small hitch: the former bank customer service representative knew nothing at all about the 1,500-year-old handicraft. For years, local craftsmen said, “You didn’t go to university, you never studied design or management: it’s impossible.” Undaunted, Horiki tried out new methods, began thinking in larger, more practical terms. And succeeded, with innovative, large-scale sheets of paper over ten meters (33 ft.) long. Fashioned into wall coverings or folding screens, her paper is used today by museums, luxury stores, hotels, and company offices to supply that unmistakable Japanese touch.

Kyoto - Take your time.
Kyoto - Take your time.

“Kyoto’s inhabitants are in no rush.”

Nature is Keisuke Kanto’s teacher. He loves the mountains around Kyoto. He stands tall and proud beside a maple on natural stones in Okumura’s courtyard garden. Kanto creates gardens so that nature can take care of itself – and look beautiful without any human interference. He, too, values the close ties that exist among Kyoto’s creatives – “not just for work, but also over sake in the evenings,” the 40-year-old adds with a smile. Kanto, who studied in Tokyo for several years, also appreciates the unhurried lifestyle: “Kyoto’s inhabitants are in no rush, not even the staff at McDonald’s.” The chain’s logo is brown in Kyoto, since red is reserved for the gods.

A feast less ordinary.

Takao Fujiyama magnetically draws diners’ attention to his side of the counter. Brandishing a sword-like knife, the 44-year-old head chef at Wakuden Muromachi cuts a roll of frozen pike conger into paper-thin slices, then drapes them over crispy green vegetables. Founded nearly 150 years ago in Tango, north of Kyoto, Wakuden is the proud holder of a Michelin star, and shook up the local restaurant scene when it moved to the city in 1982. In accordance with Tango’s cooking traditions, dishes are prepared in a very straightforward manner. “We combine the best of the countryside with the best of Kyoto,” explains Fujiyama. And they use rare ingredients such as grilled sea cucumber ovaries. Freshness is paramount: vegetables are organically grown, the restaurant catches its own fish, and staff all lend a hand during the rice harvest. On theme nights, diners get to take Fujiyama’s place behind the counter, knife in hand.

wakuden.jp/ryotei/en/kyoto

Kyoto - Take your time.
Kyoto - Take your time.

Pike conger (Hamo).

When head chef Fujiyama presses his knife down, there is an audible crack. The pike conger – a type of eel up to two meters (almost two yards) long – has around 3,500 bones, explains the chef. When it has been cut into wafer-thin slices by experts like himself, however, diners don’t notice any sign of these when eating it. Hamo is considered a harbinger of autumn and enjoys elevated status in Kyoto cuisine due to its long shelf life. Whereas in days gone by, other types of fish had to be preserved with salt to withstand the 100-kilometer (62-mile) journey inland to Kyoto, the pike conger stayed fresh much longer.

Pike conger (Hamo).

When head chef Fujiyama presses his knife down, there is an audible crack. The pike conger – a type of eel up to two meters (almost two yards) long – has around 3,500 bones, explains the chef. When it has been cut into wafer-thin slices by experts like himself, however, diners don’t notice any sign of these when eating it. Hamo is considered a harbinger of autumn and enjoys elevated status in Kyoto cuisine due to its long shelf life. Whereas in days gone by, other types of fish had to be preserved with salt to withstand the 100-kilometer (62-mile) journey inland to Kyoto, the pike conger stayed fresh much longer.

Kyoto - Take your time.

Savour like an epicure.

If you don’t look carefully whilst strolling through the back alleys of Gion, Kyoto’s traditional entertainment district, you could easily overlook the entrance. Zenya Imanishi maintains that he purposely avoided putting up a big sign. “The Zen Café is intended to be a quiet place for rest and relaxation, a secret.” The 43-year-old head of Kagizen, whose family has been producing Kyogashi – traditional Kyoto confections – for 300 years, serves up things like warm Kuzuyaki (toasted arrowroot) with caramellised wasanbon sugar in the café. When selecting the colour range of his confections, Imanishi is inspired by the refined taste that Kyoto displays in so many areas: not too overpowering, sometimes more symbolic than realistic. Up to the end of the Edo period in the mid-19th century, sweets were reserved exclusively for the upper crust of society, and were used in the tea ceremony, for example. These days Kyogashi are prized as souvenirs or small gifts.

kagizen.co.jp/en

Kyoto - Take your time.
Kyoto - Take your time.

Drink like a local.

“What a fantastic name,” exclaims Masami Onishi about Ki No Bi, the first gin made in Kyoto. It means “beauty of the seasons”. “I love the fall colours in Kyoto,” says the 72-year-old, who for decades was responsible for crafting the flavour of Suntory’s famed Yamazaki whiskey. With the aid of a binational team around head distiller Alex Davies, Onishi is working on the perfect flavour. To a base of rice spirit and water from Fushimi, Kyoto’s sake district, local ingredients such as yuzu citrus fruit, hinoki cypress wood or green tea are added to conjure up the unique Kyoto flavour. The new spirit is nothing less than a declaration of love for centuries-old traditions and the beauty of nature. 27-year-old U.K. native Davies, who has lived in Kyoto since the beginning of the year, agrees: “My favourite time of day is half past six in the morning, when I cycle along the Kamogawa River to the distillery.” In the evenings he prefers to sample the city’s excellent bar scene.

kyotodistillery.jp

Ups and downs.

Starting at the famed Kiyomizu-dera temple (1), a short way down the main shopping precinct, a side street (Sannenzaka, 2) branches off to the right, then heads abruptly downwards past attractive (if not authentic) shops and eateries. The route turns right again at the Ninenzaka steps, heading northwards. The Kodai-ji Temple (3) is well worth a detour. Several times a year the temple is open and illuminated in the evening. For shoppers, the route veers left at Maruyama Park (4), heading past the Yasaka Shrine (5) towards Gion (6). Devoted hikers should turn right here. From the park and Shorenin Temple (7), a fairly steep trail leads upwards to Shogunzuka Seiryuden, 220 meters (721 ft) above (30–45 min.). The observation platform (8), open some evenings in early summer and fall, offers a view over Kyoto. You can also get there by taxi.

Kyoto - Take your time.
Kyoto - Take your time.

Living on the river.

In Kibune, a small river valley north of Kyoto, the summers are noticeably cooler than in the city. Those prepared to venture onto the Kawadoko platforms suspended directly over the river and order traditional light Kaiseki cuisine, are rewarded by dining temperatures that are far more pleasant than those elsewhere. The majority of visitors arrive during the day, but overnight accommodations in traditional inns – known as Ryokan – are also available. 200-year-old Ryokan Ugenta offers small, very tastefully designed rooms in Japanese or Western style, with two floors. In good weather, breakfast is served on the Kawadoko platforms, otherwise in the rooms.

ugenta.co.jp

Living on the river.

In Kibune, a small river valley north of Kyoto, the summers are noticeably cooler than in the city. Those prepared to venture onto the Kawadoko platforms suspended directly over the river and order traditional light Kaiseki cuisine, are rewarded by dining temperatures that are far more pleasant than those elsewhere. The majority of visitors arrive during the day, but overnight accommodations in traditional inns – known as Ryokan – are also available. 200-year-old Ryokan Ugenta offers small, very tastefully designed rooms in Japanese or Western style, with two floors. In good weather, breakfast is served on the Kawadoko platforms, otherwise in the rooms.

ugenta.co.jp

Kyoto - Take your time.

Image Gallery.

Good to know.

Driving

If you want to drive in Japan, an international drivers’ license won’t get you very far. Some drivers need a notarised Japanese translation; rules vary depending on your country of origin. Navigating the narrow passageways of Kyoto’s old town is easier on a bicycle anyway; it’s the ideal method of unlocking the secrets of the ancient imperial capital.

Dousing

Red buckets filled with water sit in front of many houses on Kyoto’s narrow streets. Fear of fires, such as those that occur after an earthquake, for example, is especially prevalent in areas with old wooden Machiya townhouses, like Nishijin, the old silk weavers’ district in northern Kyoto. Many people even head to the local shrine to buy tablets offering protection against fire.

Drawing

The human-animal scrolls in Kozan-ji Temple are considered the earliest manga. The stories run from right to left, which remains the standard today. The Japanese comics have been co-opted by academia: the Kyoto International Manga Museum has 50,000 titles displayed on 200 meters (656 ft) of shelf space, while Seika University in Kyoto offers PhDs in Manga Studies.

Making Sacrifices

The emblem representing the huge Gion Matsuri festival in the Yasaka Shrine resembles the cross-section of a cucumber, and eating the vegetables in July is frowned upon in Kyoto. Instead cucumbers are sacrificed on the fire altar during the Kyuri-Fuji ritual at Renge-ji Temple. Since the cucumber resembles the human body, the July ritual supposedly wards off illness in the summer.

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Mercedes-Benz magazine - Fashion for Floors.

Fashion for Floors.

Carpets from Jan Kath blend ancient oriental handicraft with very modern visual ideas. They are all masterpieces.

You can tell he loves his product.

Jan Kath is sitting at a table in his company’s showroom in Bochum, rubbing his eyes. Hanging on the walls are carpets from the “Erased Heritage” collection. Against such a vivid multicoloured background, Kath looks a little pale, almost tired. The 44-year-old is constantly travelling the world – and on the phone both day and night. “We have clients in North America as well as Asia, so I could work 24 hours a day if I wanted to. But such was the path I chose,” he remarks. The interview starts, and Kath is immediately fully alert. He likes to talk, and you can tell how much he loves his product.

Mercedes-Benz magazine - Fashion for Floors.
Mercedes-Benz magazine - Fashion for Floors.

I just knew it was something special.

Mr. Kath, when were you first able to tell the difference between a high-quality carpet and a regular one?

I was surrounded by exquisite carpets from a very young age. My grandfather and father were also carpet traders and had a shop here in Bochum. For my twelfth birthday, my father gave me a valuable carpet, which I hung on the wall in my room. Which was a little unusual at that age, but I just knew it was something special.

 

What sort of carpet was it?

A classic Persian carpet, a Bidjar. I still have it.

 

What does the name Bidjar mean?

It’s a town in Iran from which the carpet’s pattern originates. The designs of the textiles vary from region to region and from town to town. When I was an apprentice, still back in my father’s shop, the instructor quizzed us on that. We had to be able to tell where a carpet came from based on its designs and colours, and how old it was by its texture.

Mercedes-Benz magazine - Fashion for Floors.

Tradition and modernity.

You still put this knowledge to use today. We’re seated here in your headquarters in Bochum surrounded by carpets from your “Erased Heritage” collection which are inspired by classic carpet motifs.

We have a huge portfolio of these antique patterns. With “Erased Heritage” we distort the classic design by superimposing further layers. The ancient pattern is visible underneath like old wallpaper behind flaking plaster.

Tradition and modernity.

We change the way in which we see things by doing what we do, but in the carpets’ production and use of the materials we employ the time-honored craft of hand-knotting. One-and-a-half years ago, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London – which is home to one of the largest collections of ancient carpets with some of the earliest examples in existence – declared that our “Erased Heritage” was spearheading new developments while staying true to tradition. So, we seem to be on the right path.

Your own path had many twists and turns, though. You quit the apprenticeship in your father’s store. Why was that?

I really didn’t want to follow in my grandfather’s and father’s footsteps, and besides I wanted to get out of Bochum and out of Europe. So I went to Asia, where I immersed myself in India’s techno hippie scene.

What did you learn during that time?

I broadened my horizons no end, I witnessed and perceived things that still influence my way of thinking today. And my work, too. You can see it on the carpet at the back there: it’s based on a Persian Heriz design, but apart from that it looks as if it’s fallen into a pot of fluorescent ink.

I had no real aim in life.

Why did you later decide to get involved in the carpet business after all?

It’s fair to say that I had no real aim in life. Over 20 years ago, I met up with one of my father’s suppliers in Kathmandu, where I was living at the time. He offered me a job. I became his man for the tough stuff, carried out quality checks, organized workflows. Soon I was freelancing for other carpet traders, too, travelling to Tibet and Mongolia. And then the German supplier called me to see if I would be interested in taking over his workshop in Kathmandu. I said yes.

 

You don’t seem to be afraid of making drastic decisions.

I was more naive than anything else. Suddenly I was responsible for almost 300 employees but I couldn’t even afford to hire a designer. So I ended up doing the designs myself. For the first five years I didn’t do too well, just following the mainstream.

Mercedes-Benz magazine - Fashion for Floors.
Mercedes-Benz magazine - Fashion for Floors.

I put all my eggs in one basket.

And when did Jan Kath become Jan Kath?

Around the turn of the millennium the whole thing didn’t make sense anymore financially. I thought: do something you really care about. I designed the Concept collection. It drew on the aesthetics of the industrial ruins in Germany’s Ruhr region, on the sense of decay, with a second layer visible behind. That was to become my signature feature. I spent my last 25,000 Deutschemarks on a photo shoot in the Zollverein industrial complex, which lay in ruins, and the production of a catalogue. I put all my eggs in one basket – and I got lucky!

Since that time, you have created 25 collections. How difficult was it to teach the new designs to the knotters in Nepal?

We set up knotting schools to train them. We produce cards which the knotters read. The cards are divided into dots, which read horizontally: seven blue, one green, two yellow. For me, every knot is like a pixel in a digital photo. The finer the knots, the more photo-realistic our work becomes.

Mercedes-Benz magazine - Fashion for Floors.

Make the occupation appealing.

Why not?

We had to build a new warehouse in order to stock all the colors. Plus, some of the knotters refused to work on the carpets. They have to switch color constantly, sometimes for every knot. It’s impossible to manage more than a centimeter (0.39 in) a day that way, which is extremely frustrating. It can take up to six months to complete a single carpet.

How hard is it to find young talent for this type of work?

These days, young people in Nepal or India have many more options open to them than 20 years ago. They can also work in a mobile phone factory or on a building site or go and work in Dubai. Although we pay above-average wages and offer families living quarters on our factory grounds, day nurseries, and pleasant working conditions, young people are nevertheless no longer interested in the strenuous task of knotting.

So what are you doing about it?

I’ve just launched a campaign with a fair trade organization to make the occupation appealing to young people again. I’m seeking to preserve a craft that has so far been passed on from one generation to the next, but is now at risk of dying out. Today, we’re able to produce virtually any antique design. Clients come to me requesting a traditional carpet, and we can supply it. We’ve developed a special finishing technique to give the carpets a patina that makes them look as if they are several centuries old.

How do you do that?

Normally, any tiny protruding hairs on the back of the carpets are burned off. We tried out what would happen if you did the same to the front. So we singed the carpet, burning the silk and wool threads down to the knot. Then we scraped the soot off and hey presto, we had a carpet that looked as if people had been walking around on it for 300 years. Even experts can’t tell the difference. The carpets also undergo special washes. Exactly how it works is a trade secret. At any rate, this process enables us to produce carpets that look exactly the same as ones that cost 150,000 euros.

A number of mainstays.

Your other carpets aren’t exactly cheap either, though. Who buys them from you?

Our business has a number of mainstays. We also work as subcontractors and consultants for fashion companies and a furniture manufacturer. The private customers who come into our store appreciate high quality. Time and time again, I watch how women drag their husbands into our stores. They follow reluctantly. But after ten minutes, they really open up. And because of us, younger people are also showing an interest in carpets again.

 

And a lot of celebrities, too.

Yes, but to be honest I find the people who have to work hard to buy my products more interesting. I ask myself: what will they pick out, what kind of ideas will they come up with? Dealing with celebrities can, of course, be interesting and fun, too. Recently, I visited Sven Väth in Ibiza. He owns several of my carpets. It turned out that we’d actually met 20 years previously. Back in my techno days. Once again, things had come full circle.

Mercedes-Benz magazine - Fashion for Floors.

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