by Jen Miller
Last summer, art director Gabriel Kuo was at a party in Berlin when he noticed a German guy wearing a Patrick Ewing Knicks Jersey. Encountering this celebration of American culture—and one so seemingly out of context—was inspiring. He linked up with his friend Keren Richter, an illustrator and designer (and friend of CH), and they decided to test out German interest in a variety of American artifacts, specifically indie products from New York, where both artists had lived and worked.
Earlier this month, Kuo and Richter opened Rats, a concept pop-up store in the popular Mitte part of Berlin, named for NYC's most infamous, resilient and insouciant rodent. Cool Hunting visited the store and talked to the artists about why Berlin is today's indie epicenter.
Why open a pop-up store in Berlin based around New York products?
Gabe Kuo: There's a palpable curiosity here that becomes contagious. Post-punk, hip-hop, street fashion, street art, and indie filmmaking were all things created organically with minimal financial means. The artists didn't worry about market failure or finding an audience. That's where the thread lies between the cities. There's less fear here. In New York, you're not allowed to fail—it's trial by fire.
Keren Richter: There's a real energy and openness here I never felt back home. Berlin is a lot cheaper than New York, so people can take risks and do projects that aren't financially driven. In New York, it's about choosing the items that will sell best. Here, it's about which items we love. Also, in New York, this space would have cost $20,000 a month to rent.
How did you choose the inventory?
GK: Our concept is based on bringing things here that Berlin hasn't seen before, like Minimal Wave Records from Brooklyn, which celebrates forgotten and unheralded synth albums from yesteryear. I'm also a big fan of Swill Children, a publisher from Bushwick. I print my zines on their Risograph machine, which adds this amazing tactile, textural quality to the color printing.
KR: I tried to carry items I would want to own—brass pieces with an interest in simple geometry by Samma, indigo-dyed kimonos by Upstate, bottle openers by Fort Standard and lacoli and Mcallister, the Pollock inspired splatter ceramic bowl and platter by Ladies and Gentlemen Studio, and the fabulously sculptural cuffs by Quarry and Lauren Manoogian.
What are your most popular items?
GK: A brass pineapple candle-holder/trinket box. I don't think either of us expected the amount of interest in that object.
KR: And Future Eyes is the most interactive piece in the store. Nobody leaves without trying them on and having a good laugh at seeing the world through a prism.
GK: We also brought over about 40 bags of Cool Ranch Doritos and Flamin' Hot Cheetos. I think that's been a cult hit here—with everyone from American expats living in Berlin who haven't had a bag in years, to people who have no idea what they are and get addicted.
Any tributes to Patrick Ewing in the store?
GK: I made a zine about how Ewing succumbed to fate and injury. After that, New York just wasn't the same.
RATS is located at Torstraße 68, 10119, Berlin, Germany in the Mitte District. The store is open Monday to Saturday from 12-8PM, through 24 August.
Images courtesy of Rats Shop, Future Eyes, NBA, and pineapple images by Jen Miller