Portrait: Layne Mosler, the Taxi Gourmet

by James Glazebrook

portrait Layne Mosler
When you meet Layne Mosler for dinner, chances are that she found out about the place from a taxi driver. Back in 2007, she started a blog called Taxi Gourmet, based on one simple, genius idea: she would get in a taxi, ask the driver to go to to his or her favourite place to eat, and and document the adventure, culinary and otherwise. After years of adventures in New York, Buenos Aires and Berlin, Layne recently turned the blog into a book, Driving Hungry: A Memoir.

We caught Layne on the week of the book’s release, just before she flew back to America for a short promotional tour. It was Eid, at the end of Ramadan, so we asked Layne to take us to her favourite places around Berlin’s “Little Istanbul” in Kreuzberg. We found her at Konyali, an unassuming restaurant directly on Kottbusser Tor, enjoying some of their homemade yoghurt drink, ayran.

portrait kottbusser tor food Layne Mosler

So how did you find out about Konyali?

Funnily enough, it was about this time five years ago, around Ramadan. I got into a taxi with a driver named Eren, who brought me here because this is the only place in Berlin which makes ekmek. Similar to Turkish pizza, it’s baked in a brick oven, and comes from Eren’s home village near Konya. This is one of my favourite places to eat, and it’s cheap!

Were taxi drivers open to sharing their food secrets with you?

Yes! This was my first summer in Berlin, when I didn’t speak any German, and the Turkish taxi drivers were very sympathetic to that. We signed our way, and muddled through with English, and they took me to all these places that I still go back to now.

They were very excited about me wanting to eat where they ate. When you ask someone about food, you’re creating an automatic connection. When you talk about their food, not where they think you want to eat, you can have an intimate conversation in a short period of time. A taxi ride is very fleeting – you have to quickly get to the nitty gritty.

When did you start exploring cities’ food scenes in this way?

The Taxi Gourmet project started when I lived in Buenos Aires – it couldn’t have been born anywhere else. I was dancing tango, so I had to get around town at very odd hours, and the taxis are so cheap.

The drivers there are so forthcoming and so charming, and they have these spectacular stories. You just have to nudge them and they come out with these philosophies and tales – whether they’re true or not, I don’t know, but they’re very entertaining. I was finding that I learnt more about the city during taxi rides than in any other context.

And the Buenos Aires taxi drivers know all the best places to eat?

Some of them. At the time, most of the taxi drivers were Argentinian, so 90% of the time, they would take me to a steak house. And I was running out of adjectives to describe beef!

I also knew that I wasn’t going to be in Buenos Aires forever, so I started thinking about cities that have really well developed taxi and food cultures, and I decided to see what would happen if I transplanted the project to New York.

And how were your New York taxi adventures?

It was difficult at first. Cabbies would be like, “you don’t know where you want to go?!” Most people in New York have an agenda, taxi drivers included. So I ended up having to give the drivers a fake destination, usually a straight shot of 40 blocks or so, and then when we were having a conversation, slip in the question of where to eat.

Then I ended up meeting these two women who drove taxis in New York. One is this fierce Nuyorican woman who wears brass knuckles, drives at night and beats up men who beat up women. But she’s the sweetest thing, who wears her shitzu like a stole around her neck – and she just blew me away. And, not long after that, I met this very petite, purple-clad cab driver who was also going to nursing school part time. We got to talking, and I thought, “If she can drive a cab, I could drive a cab.”

I studied anthropology, and I like the idea participant observation, and realised that I was reaching the upper limit of my understanding from the back seat of a taxi. So I decided to get my cab licence.

How was life as a New York cabbie?

It was terrifying! The first time I drove through the city was in a cab, and I didn’t do it long enough to lose the fear. Plus, because of the taxi lease fee, I walked away from my first shift with two dollars. Pretty early on I realised: this is going to be research.

Within the first three hours, I realised how preposterous it was to ask a New York cab driver where he or she likes to eat on duty. I used to be disappointed when they replied “I eat wherever there’s parking and a bathroom”. But then I found myself eating at Dunkin’ Donuts… because there was parking and a bathroom! Very quickly, I stopped romanticising the job.

But it was really lovely to meet people that I wouldn’t have in my normal day-to-day life. We make assumptions about people within seconds, but there would be at least one person per shift who would just defy my expectations. Being reminded over and over again, that all of our assumptions are absurd, was a good thing.

portrait kottbusser tor food Layne Mosler

After her American experiment, Layne found herself in Berlin for the first time. “I felt an immediate affinity with the city,” she says. “Doors were opening, and people were interested in my project, despite the fact that this isn’t known as a ‘food city’…”

One of those doors opened onto the passenger side of a taxi whose driver would go on to play a big part in Layne’s extended stay in Germany. In fact, our next stop, Leylak on Kottbusser Strasse, was originally the recommendation from this very taxi driver. “I haven’t found better börek in Berlin – it’s my husband’s favourite.”

food portrait borek

How did you meet your husband?

He read about my taxi adventures, and found them really interesting. He got in touch, describing himself as “a little gourmet”, and offered to give me a tour in his taxi, and show me some places he liked – especially because I hadn’t yet tried any German food.

I got a good feeling from his email, so we arranged to meet at his taxi cab. When he turned around I went, (voice quivering) “Oh…” Because he was quite beautiful, and I wasn’t expecting that at all. And then we got to talking about Berlin, about how he had danced on the Wall when it came down, and how the city has changed, and his relationship to it, and about books and philosophy… And I was really quite fascinated from the get-go.

And then I went back to New York, and on a whim invited him out for a visit. So he came out for a week and, among other things, rode along in the cab with me for a shift, which was great. I moved back to Berlin six months later, and have been here ever since.

I’m still very much in love with Berlin, in a way that I haven’t been with any other city I’ve lived in.

Even though this isn’t a “food city”?

Well, whenever I’ve found myself in more upscale restaurants, I’ve been disappointed. So far I’ve never found anything particularly sublime or mind-blowing, and when I’m paying €30 to €50 – and I’m used to paying €10 – I think it should be pretty close to sublime.

But what’s interesting is that are all these young chefs are coming to Berlin, not only because it’s cheaper to open a restaurant, but also because there’s room for experimentation and the public isn’t quite as demanding.

Just this year, a handful of young experimental cooks have come to the city to try their luck, and we’re starting to see the development of a food consciousness. However, they are going up against the mentality that the most important thing is to be full for very little money.

james and Layne Mosler at kottbusser tor

So what are your favourite places to eat in Berlin?

Well there’s this place, Leylak. I love how there are always people sitting around here and shooting the breeze. It’s nice, too, that a corner place has such good food.

My very first taxi adventure in Berlin was with a woman who moonlighted as a naturopath, and she loves Italian food. She told me about this place in Schöneberg called Muntagnola which looks really kitschy and touristy, with a menu in four languages and a sculpture of a fat chef by the door. But it’s owned by this family from Basilicata, who specialise in authentic dishes from that region.

Another taxi driver, who’s a part-time techno musician, took me to Balikci Ergun under the Tiergarten S-Bahn tracks. It started out a fish store, where the owner would make lunch for his family – until someone persuaded him to open a restaurant. It’s just like being at a fish bazaar in Istanbul – it’s really warm, and a lovely place to hang out. It’s a great, great place.

Then there’s the next place we’re going to, the Adana Grill-Haus, a tip from a taxi driver from that part of Turkey. Turkish cuisine is very complex, and every region has it’s own thing going on. I never would have discovered that on my own.

food meat turkish portrait

You’re about to go on a short tour of the US to promote your book, Driving Hungry. Do you plan to incorporate some taxi adventures into your trip?

Oh, absolutely. When I land somewhere, I feel overwhelmed. This is a way to cut through everything, and get to something democratic; something that someone has a relationship with.

I don’t feel really grounded in a place until I’ve had a conversation with a cab driver.

Portrait of Layne Mosler

Portrait: Matthew Gordon, Taiko Gallery

by James Glazebrook

Matthew Gordon, Taiko Gallery, Berlin

Meet Matthew Gordon, the co-owner of Taiko Gallery, a new tattoo studio and art space on Schönleinstrasse in our beloved Graefekiez.

Originally from Sydney, Matthew first landed in Berlin two years ago, after travelling to Europe with his Taiko partner Wendy Pham. They visited fellow tattoo artist Uncle Allan in Denmark, who mentioned plans to open a German outpost, and invited the Aussies to join him. Already half a world away from home, they were unphased by the last leg of a journey to a city they’d never even planned to visit. As Matthew says of his fellow countrymen, “we’re all crazy anyway!”

Matthew Gordon art space Berlin

Moving to Berlin was just the latest in a series of risky but rewarding moves for the young artist. At 19, he quit a promising career as a 3D animator, designing levels for video games and fly-throughs of skyscrapers in Dubai, and persuaded the guy who had started covering his body with ink to train him as an apprentice. Then Gordon cut his apprenticeship short to move to Melbourne, where he opened up a private studio with Wendy.

Inspired by Grime of San Francisco’s Skull and Sword, Shige of Yellow Blaze in Yokohama and local hero Owen Williams of TAMA, Matthew started carving out a niche in the tattoo world: “I don’t look at any other work or references. I draw from my head, and if it’s wrong, it’s wrong. It’s the only way to give yourself a style”. That style, which Matthew calls “open illustrated Japanese”, renders Eastern-inspired imagery in vibrant colour and (not surprisingly) perfect 3D, with dragons and snakes covered in intricate, interlocked scales that pulsate from the subject’s skin. He conservatively estimates that his forthcoming art book contains over 5,000 hand-drawn scales.

Matthew Gordon Medusa snakes sketch

The desire to be different that informs Matthew’s work is also shaping the shopfront that he single-handedly renovated from a water-damaged, nicotine-stained Fahrschule into a beautiful, white-walled, multidisciplinary space. “We’re trying to create something different, that’s not just a little hole-in-the-wall studio,” Matthew explains. Taiko Gallery  is “more about the art, and less about making a million dollars,” serving as an exhibition space for the founders’ paintings, and a venue for life drawing classes and other creative events. Above all, it is “a positive place”.

Matthew Gordon art space Berlin

Unfortunately, not everyone is pleased about the latest development of this small Kreuzberg side-street, where old school Berliner haunts like the 24-hour bar Bei Schlawinchen rub up against the internationally-owned curiosity shop The Cheese Mountain Tragedy. The subject of thoughtless protests against the perceived gentrification of long-gentrified Graefekiez, Matthew finds himself cleaning spit off the gallery’s window almost every day.

But far from feeling threatened by such low-level hostility – “I’ve got a scythe in the back; I’d like to see them try” – he has been surprised by the extent to which foreigners are tolerated, if not always embraced, in Berlin. “Most of my time is spent in my own little bubble. I feel like an alien sometimes, but that’s OK. I’m in my own little world, no one really pays attention to me, and that’s fine.”

Matthew Gordon at work tattooing

“It’s definitely opened my eyes to the way that Australians deal with foreigners. If you go to Australia, and you have trouble speaking English, it’s horrible for you. People are abused to their face, and it’s just shit. If I ever go back and see that, those racists are getting told to shut the fuck up.”

Provincial attitudes aside, Matthew is optimistic about the future of Taiko Gallery and his adopted home: “Even in the two years I’ve been here, I’ve noticed more art going on and I’ve met lots of interesting people. Berlin is a great city. It’s a good place to have a new thing, one that doesn’t really exist yet. In five years, you’ll have built a reputation, with expats and Germans alike.” Put simply: “Being able to see Berlin grow is cool.”

Matthew’s book of snake illustrations, the Compendium Vipera, is now available via Illustrated Monthly.

Taiko Gallery, Schönleinstrasse, Berlin

Taiko Gallery, Schönleinstrasse, Berlin

Tattoo ink bottles

Matthew Gordon leg tattoo

Matthew Gordon tattoo sketch skull snake

Matthew Gordon Taiko Gallery paintings

Matthew Gordon animal skull painting

Matthew Gordon painting close up

Matthew Gordon self portrait close up

Matthew Gordon, co-owner Taiko Gallery in Berlin

Portrait: Mike Shannon, Cynosure Recordings

by Guest Blogger

Mike Shannon Berlin rooftop

by Emma Robertson

Mike Shannon hates interviews. A DJ, producer and label boss for over 15 years, Mike is the kind of artist that prefers to let the music do the talking. When I ask him about it over coffee at his flat in Kreuzberg, he laughs. “Sometimes when art is over-conceptualised,” he says, “It takes away from the actual art itself.” Luckily for us, his music speaks volumes on its own.

It’s not that Mike is shy — in a city like Berlin where everything is in excess, there’s no room for timidity. Mike chooses to stand out in a different way. His particular brand of music doesn’t jump on trends or ride the bandwagon. A pioneer in the Canadian techno scene, his career has seen a steady upwards trajectory over the years and much of that has to do with the authenticity of his music: “For me, what I’ve been doing… I haven’t really moved around. I’ve stuck with it, and in a city like this, people appreciate that. Even if it doesn’t make you stand out, it earns you a different kind of recognition: respect.” It’s for that reason that when people write about Mike Shannon, they call him a DJ’s DJ. His technique, creativity, and understanding of music are very special. The art of performance is something he will never compromise.

Mike Shannon Berlin studio

As a DJ and a live act, you must experience a lot of pressure in your life: creatively, on stage, in the studio, in the office… What’s your favourite kind of pressure?

Favourite pressure? I don’t know if I like pressure at all! (Laughs) My favourite would have to be the way we’ve been doing things lately with my live act with David DeWalta! We only know more or less half of what we’re gonna do… Maybe less! The other half is wide open territory! There is a certain amount of pressure when you’re improvising like that that creates the best possible situations. When you’re in unknown territory, it’s amazing what can happen.

At the same time, though, you’ve talked previously about your move to Berlin lending you a sense of calm, particularly when you’re DJing.

Sure. That’s an example of a pressure that I’ve felt very relieved from playing in Berlin. There’s a big difference to the way things are here, as far as DJing is concerned. You play six, seven, eight hour sets. You pace things very differently. You take your time. There’s a different school here for that sort of thing. You play a whole lot differently than you would in an hour-long timeslot, for example.

Does that sort of energy affect you?

Totally. When you’re playing an hour-long DJ set, you have to get to the same point in a fraction of the time. There’s less time to tell the same story. I always prefer the sessions where you have time to build up to those explosive moments.

Is it difficult to maintain an element of surprise with your sets?

Digital culture has kind of exploded, so it’s definitely hard to pull out tracks that no one’s heard before. People are just generally way more aware of things than ever before. It’s easier to get access, which is kind of cool but it also means that the only way I truly surprise anyone these days is when I play my own things that no one’s heard before.

We talked about improvising earlier… Does that play into your DJ sets as well?

Yeah! I think there are certain combinations of records that I always somehow go back to putting together. They’re two things that fit together like a glove so it’s hard to separate them, but otherwise, even my DJ sets are pretty much entirely improvised.

I know you love to just get the gear on stage and see how things go on the fly, particularly with the live act with DeWalta that you mentioned earlier.

It’s funny, once we were playing at this Arma17 event in Moscow and we were on after this really amazing experimental jazz band. We changed the plan last minute and just did half an hour of ambient stuff and we had this really long droney intro. The transition that happened there was really amazing. We did it all on the fly, right then and there. It’s funny how those things just work out sometimes.

Mike Shannon Kreuzberg studio

Born and raised in the suburbs of Ontario, Canada, Mike’s career has taken him everywhere from Montreal to Santiago. He fell under Berlin’s spell in the mid 2000s: he’s happily made a home here with his wife and seven-year-old daughter, and likewise carved out a niche for the distinct type of techno that he creates, collects, and shares through his labels Cynosure Recordings and Haunt Music. He hasn’t forgotten his roots, though. His days in Kitchener-Waterloo throwing parties, booking his idols from across the river in Detroit, and cultivating a music community with like-minded friends has done a lot to propel him to where he’s at now.

The view from Mike Shannon's flat

Do you feel at home here in Berlin?

I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else really. I’ve planted a lot of roots here. I can’t imagine having the same kind of quality, even in Canadian cities like Toronto or Montreal. There’s no way I would have the culmination that I have here anywhere else.

Why not?

It was always a struggle for me to make a living as an artist in Canada. The sound that I was playing, that wasn’t really happening enough to sustain myself the way that I can here. In terms of success, of course it depends on how you gauge those things. But it’s funny, the grass is always greener on the other side, you know? You become a bigger artist in Canada when you’re away from it. People get excited about something that’s from somewhere else. You’re never famous where you’re from! (Laughs)

Do you think that your hometown, Kitchener, Ontario, had any influence on you, creatively or musically?

It’s a small town, so there were many moments where you had a lot of time on your hands! We built the scene there. We really built that ourselves! We had our headquarters downtown in a record shop… It was a meeting point for so many people. It became a community. And that was something that really influenced us. You realise how important it is all these years later, to have that kind of community around.

Can you tell me about the parties you used to throw back then?

We threw all kinds of parties, from warehouse events to art scene kind of nights. We were very lucky in terms of where we were geographically, we had connections with those artists that were just south of our border in Detroit, and they weren’t huge artists at the time either: Theo Parrish, Mike Huckabee, D-Wynn, Boo Williams, Robert Hood… Those guys would drive up sometimes, you know what I mean? I remember a party way back when Dan Bell played and he was cool with, like, a case of beer basically! (Laughs)

Wow. Times have changed!

Way different times. Those were the days! We were able to bring in high-calibre people. That’s what made it special, too, just having those deep connections and having those DJs come up and play what they wanted to play. We just kept plugging in the things that we loved and our heroes that we wanted to have play there. Every time we had the opportunity to take advantage of that, we would.

Mike Shannon modular synth

Like most music producers, Mike is a nerd at heart. His studio space recently relocated to a small room in his home in Kreuzberg, and when he brings me downstairs for the grand tour, his face lights up. He can barely keep his hands off the gear: even when he’s talking to me, he’s tinkering around on his self-built modular system or on his laptop.

MIke Shannon modular synth

Tell me about your studio set-up. What’s going on here?

Sure, yeah! Everything is based around my computer. I do a lot of sequencing and sound design with computer editing. Next to it, I’ve got this modular system that I’ve been building for years. I add a little bit to it over time, and recently I’ve gotten into building some of those elements from scratch, which is really interesting. I’m getting even deeper into the nerd thing! (Laughs) More than ever before!

Is this where you feel most at home?

Probably! I love being in the studio. For me, when things are getting stressful, or when things are getting to be too much, I disappear in there. It’s the best way to relieve some of my daily stresses. It’s my escape. For the moments that I’m in there, it’s an escape.

Mike Shannon studio nerd

You just moved your studio back here, right? How important is it to have this space in your home?

It’s been a big change for me. There’s certain moments where you have an idea and you can bounce on it right away! Whereas before, the time it would take me to go down the street to the studio, I’d lose the momentum or get completely distracted… It’s perfect to have this ability to wake up in the middle of the night and work on something right away if I want to. It’s easier to act on creativity in this environment.

In another interview of yours from years ago, you said that, “My goal is to make a track that won’t be forgotten after one play, a record that you could put on years from now and still get the same feeling.” Do you think your productions so far have accomplished that?

Not everything has been timeless, no. There are certain things that I slightly regret that definitely sound like they’re from a very specific time. I think if you can put a date on it, then it’s not timeless. It’s not so easy! But I do think I’ve made some tracks that are timeless. I hope there’s one at least!

Space Hall records close up

Mike is a vinylphile. His record collection spans multiple walls in his office, and it’s not uncommon to leave his place with a stack of CDs or records that he just has to have you listen to. He grew up in a musical household — a tradition that he carries on in his own home. There’s always some kind of melody floating around, whether it’s a Bohren & der Club of Gore track, a tune he’s working on with his daughter, or the latest release from his label. Ever since buying his first record (Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock’s “It Takes Two”) when he was young, Mike was hooked on vinyl. He’s become a regular at Space Hall in Kreuzberg, so he takes us on a quick tour of his favourite sections. Flipping through the house and techno crates, he’s completely in his own world.

Mike Shannon Space Hall records Kreuzberg Berlin

I read that you used to listen to Thomas Dolby’s The Golden Age of Wireless. You said something funny, which was that it was “a record that would fuel your little world.”

It really was! I still have that record in my office! (Laughs) I still listen to it. I put on “Windpower” and it changes everything! I’m moving in the office when I put that on!

Is there a record that kind of accomplishes the same thing for you today?

I think probably the coolest record that that I listen to endlessly is The Hearts of Empty from these guys called Dakota Suite. It’s on a label called Karaoke Kalk, which is by far my favourite German label. I’m rarely disappointed with the records they put out.

Let’s talk about Space Hall for a bit —

This is my favourite record store in the world! I buy all kinds of different records here — you can buy just about any genre here. That’s the best thing about this place is that they have a massive backstock that really expands all the way through every genre. Their techno and house section is particularly good, which is what I like to buy mostly. The guys that work here are crazy as hell! It’s a very relaxed atmosphere.

Mike Shannon Space Hall records

It’s my first time here and I feel very welcomed. I’m always secretly a bit intimidated coming into record shops for some reason.

I’ve totally been there. People get really scared! Some people get really intimidated in record stores, especially these famous shops; you walk in and your tension goes up and you’re scared to talk to anybody. There are definitely certain shops in Berlin that are like that but at Space Hall, it’s way more relaxed. I can light up a smoke in the shop and be completely at ease with what I’m doing there. I can almost always find what I want to find, too.

When you’re shopping, where do you start? Do you know what you’re looking for?

No, no, no. I almost never know exactly what I’m looking for in there. I start by looking at everything that’s new in house and techno, I look through and listen to all of them. I skip through and I like to shop maybe twice or three times a week. I start there in the morning and go through as much as I can. I could spend days at Space Hall and not get bored.

Cynosure records Space Hall

There’s definitely a certain romance about wax. Those who love it really love it.

There’s something about flipping through records in my bag or at the shop, something about that whole process that I find way more comfortable than scanning through CDs or files. I try to do that! I’ve had a couple of situations where my records didn’t come and I had to try to play with just burning some CDs… I couldn’t do it well at all. Totally lost on how I organise myself. With vinyl, you’re touching it and feeling it. There’s something really special about that.

Mike Shannon Space Hall records Berlin

Photo of the Day – March 18, 2015

by Zoë Noble

Görlitzer Park Blue Skies

Photo of the Day – February 22, 2015

by Zoë Noble

Berlin Architecture Bright Coloured Building Sky

Photo of the Day – February 19, 2015

by Zoë Noble

Kottbusser Tor Buildings Blue Skies

Photo by Zoë Noble

Photo of the Day – February 18, 2015

by Zoë Noble

Maybachufer Flying Birds

Photo by Zoë Noble