In the first of an occasional series we’ll be taking a look at our favourite shops, hang outs and bars across the city, starting with amazing Tempelhof homeware, hardware, gifts and curios shop English Traders.
Here’s our chat with manager and co owner, John Masters:
I've enjoyed a carefully unplanned career that has wandered through public relations, bookselling, stage lighting, circus, the Free party/DIY/Traveler scene, legal event production, and film set construction. I currently manage English Traders, a small and peculiar homewares store in Berlin.
The travelling and the free party scene of the 90's and it's persecution by the establishment was an eye opener. It grew a generation of creators, producers and technicians who became the backbone of a new industry when rave and festival culture became mainstream.
In 1992 I was spending the winter in an abandoned factory rebuilding my caravan for another summer of madness. I got to know another resident, Jeff who invited his photographer mate Martyn Goodacre to come and visit.
Almost 30 years later I went to Martyn's "Whos Fuckin Planet" exhibition and saw my old caravan in a couple of shots, it was great to hook up with someone from back in the day and swap notes on our paths to Berlin.
By 2015 my own journey had found me in Berlin, self-employed, underpaid and bored. I had a deal on an affordable ground floor office space in Schillerkeiz, and creating a shop seemed the logical next step. Using some old film set tricks and a mahogany door found on the street we cut a doorway and created a Dickensian shopfront.
It's been running for about 7 years and for the last couple of years we have been building an online presence. Faced with the unusual dilemma of wanting to sell things whilst maintaining a shred of moral dignity we decided to source items that are both " Schönes und Nützliches” i.e. beautiful and useful.
We sell bottles and food boxes out of steel, not plastic, we get our blades from small European manufacturers. Our blankets are spun from the wool of beasts that graze organic Scandinavian pastures. You can use both under the light of our solar lanterns. We like to encourage urban horticulture, so we sell small veg kits and we have a seed bomb named after Tempelhof field.
There's room for a bit of fun too, we have a great collection of tea towels featuring anything from David Bowie to Pugs against Drugs we also have books and maps from a couple of unusual publishers. We are sited pretty much on ground zero for Berlin gentrification, Schillerkiez, close to the east entrance to the Tempelhof Airport. While it is without doubt one of the most spectacular urban parks in the world it attracts tons of visitors and rents have skyrocketed. Whilst this means the shop does well it also means our Kiez is changing. We have lived here a long time and we're seeing old friends and familiar businesses vanish as speculation gets a grip on the place, hopefully they will get the rent cap back before it's too late.
Whilst we used to sell a fair few products from the UK, English Traders is more about finding useful things from all over the world. Brexit has made importing from the UK an expensive and complicated faff anyway, so we'll usually look elsewhere unless it's a unique item we really must have.
The virus has pretty much wiped out our sales, so we have battened down the hatches and are just going to have to ride it out. We have used the extra time to install a digital stock and sales system to comply with the current German sales regulations and there is always improvement needed on the website, which is our only avenue of expansion at the moment.
In normal times it's quite a satisfying job, we don't sell stuff people don't need and I get to meet people in the store and on buying expeditions.