The young club & art space Konzulát – or the former Czechoslovakian Culture Center, as it is still often referred to – officially opened end of last year. As a much-needed meeting point where you can see an exhibition, a concert or a screening, have a drink and a dance, and simply hang out with the likeminded folks, it gives us a reason to visit Stadtmitte more and more often in the after-work hours. The recently blooming Leipziger Strasse owes its new cool appeal to Elisabeth Paige, a musician hailing from New York, and Conny Opper, Berlin's well-known party master responsible for running venues and events such as Rio, Scala, Flamingo, Palast Neukölln, King Size Bar and the Berlin Festival. We met up with the power duo to find out more about the present and the future of this next big thing.
How did you come across this space and the idea of opening Konzulát?
Conny: I have been running temporary spaces for over 10 years in Berlin. That is how Berlin club culture used to work, moving from one place to another, taking over an empty space and making it alive. I got lucky with this space. The agency which is renting this whole block in Leipziger Strasse, investing in the creative new economy, artists, designers, architects, musicians... came to me and offered the place. For Elisabeth and me this was a great opportunity. We were not looking for the space, the space found us. It used to be the Czech cultural center. We are kind of following this tradition, but of course defining the up-to-date state of the art, culture, music, fashion. It is now really a place for culture, and a platform for meeting and exchanging creative ideas.
...Which kind of marries art and party? What is this space all about?
Liz: It is a combination. It's not just the same old party situation, but always paired with a cool new live band, or an art vernissage. The point is to offer people something more than just the standard party atmosphere.
And the gallery downstairs?
Liz: It is part of Konzulát. We curate the program. Usually we have a vernissage downstairs, and then the afterparty upstairs.
Conny: Right now we have an exhibition by Rafael Horzon.
What is your experience so far with this kind of space in this kind of neighborhood?
Conny: We had a fantastic opening party, everybody from the good old Berlin nightlife and art scene came to the event. It is nice how people appreciate a new space, and it is really missing here in Mitte. It is getting more and more gentrified, and especially the club culture moved to Ostkreuz, Kreuzberg and Neukölln. There is nothing wrong with that, but we think it is more important to make a statement here in MItte. And of course, Leipziger Strasse is still kind of a random place, but I think we really have the chance to define it, take it over and change it into something new and creative. It is very exciting to be a part of this process and to see new galleries and spaces opening here all the time. Even after 25 years, Berlin is still in the process of creative transformation, and you can really see it here in this street. Konzulát is connected to this process, and we want to make a positive input.
Berlin can still surprise me in the ways it is changing, and still in a good way. It is getting more and more international, a melting pot of different cultures and ideas. Elisabeth is from New York, so here you have the best example of bringing ideas from abroad, from the music and art scene.
How did you two began collaborating?
Liz: The reason that Conny ended up collaborating with me and the reason that we do it together is because I had experience in New York doing venues, parties and promotion, and I was very involved in live music there. Also with festival production and live music in Austin. When I came to Berlin, the whole music scene here was completely opposite of what I was used to in Austin and New York where you have a lot more diversity in music. Here everything was very much electronic-oriented. Conny was operating a few spaces, and for me at that time those were some of the only spaces where you had a cool party, but also a cool live band at the same time, the stuff that I was used to. So, when this space became available, we wanted to do something together, combine both of our experiences, and make something that is unique. It is a little bit challenging in Berlin. It was more challenging when I came here, but things are definitely changing when you have a lot of people from bigger cities with a lot more diversity in music, and more attention being paid to the international scene. It is also refreshing that it is not just the same circle repeating itself, and that people are a little bit more open to new genres of music.
You are also running the Berlin Festival, which is also the sort of event that brings together different genres and vibes.
Conny: 10 years ago, when I founded the festival, I really wanted to bring the full spectrum of the diversity of the city to the Berlin people, but also to people visiting the city. For me it was always electronic music and indie guitar music; the eclectic sound of the city. At that time I was missing a festival representing the city, so that is why we had the idea to found the festival. And the spirit is still alive. We are also trying to involve the whole Berlin scene, both art and music, and to create the Berlin spirit. That is why we are doing it now at the Arena Park, it still has this underground feeling of Berlin. Especially this year we tried to bring Berlin musicians and add international exciting newcomers to really define the new sound. It is so international here anyway. Richie Hawtin, for example, and all of these people moved to Berlin and they are a part of the city. That is what we also try with Konzulát, to be the first, to get the bands before they get big, to discover a new exciting sound or musican. That is a huge inspiration for us; the rule of the game, I would say. That creates the excitement you can feel at a party, and it is also a reason why people come here, to discover something new. And to feel like in a Wohnzimmer, to meet friends. That is the best compliment for a good party. The best place is the one where you feel like at home!
So, a recipe for a good party or a club does exist?
Liz: Yeah. What I have in mind while creating an event space is that it is always nice to bring people together who have a common bond, whether it is a shared love of a particular facet of the art world, or the music world. People create their own community based around something, so when they come to parties they know that they are going to see their friends there. I think it is really important to have a network of a community that you build. It can be based off of community that existed in Mitte for the last ten years, which Conny was a very big part of, or mixed with a new community of international people who bring their own spin on things. That is what people really like, and I think it is really important. I also feel like Berlin is at the moment missing something like this. When I came here there were many different bars or clubs where you had these scenes. It was very much a community feeling; you would go see this band and this whole crowd of people would be there. I feel like in the 5 years since I have been here everything is dispersed a bit, so it is great to have a space where we can try to be a home for that again.
You have always been juggling multiple projects at once. Right now it is Konzulát and the Berlin Festival. Is there anything else going on, or are you planning some new things?
Conny: To become an artist myself! Now I really enjoy having more free time for myself, and discovering my own creative identity in a new way. I started to write, paint and draw again, which is where I am coming from, old days in Bremen, almost 20 years ago. That's a very exciting experience for me, and is also inspiring me for new ideas. It is a good thing for me right now to concentrate on a few things, especially Konzulát, but also take some time for myself. But of course, there are always new ideas, but they are top secret! I cannot talk about it yet.
Good to know that there is something cooking! Maybe we can also expect a Conny Opper exhibition opening soon?
Conny: Yeah! That would actually be a huge deal for me. All these years I gave other people the platform to present their ideas. Now it is maybe time to present mine. It is very exciting and it would even make me a little nervous to organise that party. I can already promise that it will happen.
Are you maybe planning to revive King Size, or is it over for good? How come you decided to close it?
Conny: We did not decide that on our own, we were kind of pushed to decide it. Unfortunately, we had some troubles with the neighborhood, actually one neighbor in particular. From our point of view, we did not do anything wrong, we did not disturb anyone. When you do something like this, you do it with your neighborhood. But for five years we were a very important part of this neighborhood, the heart of Mitte in a way. That was the place where you went when there was nothing happening anymore. In King Size there was always something happening. This kind of place is missing now. People were really heartbroken, including me. It really felt like an ending, but the history of King Size will go on. We are definitely working on a new space, and whenever we feel ready, the story will go on. But it might take some time.
What else are you currently working on?
Liz: At the moment my main focus is of course Konzulát, but I am primarily a musician, and that was my occupation here in Berlin pretty much the last 5 years. I always played with the bands. Like Conny now I am also looking to get a little bit more free time from Konzulát, and then begin performing again and being more involved in the music again with different bands in Berlin.
Conny: The main room, the former cinema room is built like a studio, with amazing acoustic, so we have the vision to record bands here and make it also a studio space during the week.
Liz: We want to offer it to bands as a rehearsal space, and in the future develop it a bit more as a studio space. It ts great for bands because sometimes, especially in Berlin, finding a good rehearsal space or a studio space that is not totally booked or extremely expensive is a bit difficult in the center of the city. I think it is a great thing to offer that to bands, to show support. It is also a nice way to be more involved on a personal level.
Conny: We are also considering the idea to organize a one-day festival here, and maybe there will be a collaboration with one of these bands to produce a song here. We are still discussing it, but that is the direction we are going in.
What is happening next at Konzulát?
Conny: Right now the Make City Festival is happening all over Berlin. They had the opening party here, and they will have the closing party on Saturday. It is great to have something with a deeper context, and to have these people here and collaborate with them. And on Friday there will be the big closing party of Rafael Horzon's show, and of course we invite everyone to join. I think it will be big!
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Konzulát / Leipziger Str. 60, U Stadtmitte, 10117 Berlin / more info
Make City Festival Closing Party / Saturday 27.06 / more info