Above and beyond; What's your Naim?

This Easter was spent at home, relaxing after a very hectic start of the year. As always when any of our shops is closed we try to get some upgrades and cleaning done. This time around I focused on the Hendrix Ibsen sound system. 

I have always been very interested in sound, music and equipment. I play guitar, at least I used to, and I intend to start playing sometime soon. The playing goes in waves. Long lasting waves. So I have bought many guitars, and sold a few. I have bought many amps, and lost/given away a few. I still possess three guitars and two amps. All my life I’ve been very interested in both music and the sound systems and gear. I got my first radio/tape player when I was 4-5 years old, and I remember recording music from the radio in 1984, telling my parents not to speak since I thought their voices would be recorded as well. I got my first proper stereo system with a CD player and my own record player when I was about 12. Until then I had used my parents record player and my brothers CD player. I bought myself a pretty decent stereo system when I was 15, for the money I received from my confirmation. The Denon mono amps I bought used in 94, I actually sold in Berlin 15-16 years later at double the price. They became vintage along the way. To make a long story a bit shorter, I discovered the sound of Naim Audio Systems in Berlin about 7 years ago. I went out to buy me some speakers, and specifically told the HIFI sales man not to hook up some very expensive amps. I was happy with my Denon. Sure thang he said, so he hooked up a nice but affordable Marantz setup. I had brought my own CDs, but somehow I wasn’t satisfied with what I heard. I expected more from these 2500 euro Bowers & Wilkins speakers. So then Emre, the HIFI sales dude, proposed to put on another set of amp/CD player, at the same price level. Ok I said, I’d never heard about Naim before, but Emre is a cool dude, so I had faith in him. So then he hooked up the entry level Naim amp and CD player. My instant reaction was a big huge smile. I just sat there grinning. Emre smiled as well, he new I was hooked. I’m sure he’d seen that reaction many a time before. 

So the sound of the Naim amps and other gear was just what I had been looking for, I just never new. Naim has a cult like following of crazy guys (most HIFI geeks are male) who buy and sell, upgrade and downgrade their systems. There is a huge 2nd hand market for used Naim, or preloved equipment as it is called. I don’t know how to explain it, but so it is. Most of us are hooked for life, and we only want to use Naim electronics. The speakers are not always Naim, but they have also built some great speakers over the years, though they don’t manufacture speakers any more. I always liked Bowers & Wilkins. At home I have classic Naim speakers from the 90s, but in my shops I use BW, Naim and Focal. Focal has merged with Naim, so there is a reason for my using Focal. They produce great speakers, as do Bowers & Wilkins and many, many more. 

Vinyl, coffee, literature, good stuff. 

Vinyl, coffee, literature, good stuff. 

I always thought making great coffee and building up the sound system have many similarities. It is not easy to make great coffee, and it is not easy to make a team of baristas always make great coffee while providing excellent customer service. It’s continuous work. I have spent two years upgrading the sound system at Hendrix Ibsen, as well as improving the acoustics in the room. I have installed sound panelling in the ceiling, and we have put up more wood on the walls, as well as repositioned a few of the speakers. I have filled the room with more books and shelves and some plants. and both added components and eventually upgraded components as well. I think I’m 85% there, with the last two steps planned for the near future. Of course all of this costs both time and money, but buying 2nd hand, or preloved, can cut the costs in half or more. The time is on me, since I really love this stuff I don’t mind. Every little effort is a piece in a bigger puzzle. 

One of many Naim components at Hendrix Ibsen.  Sound panels in the ceiling. 

One of many Naim components at Hendrix Ibsen.  Sound panels in the ceiling. 

So what does it mean to have a great sounding space? I have never been to a coffee shop, restaurant or a bar that sounds as good as Hendrix Ibsen. It might be one of the best sounding shops in the world. I don’t know, but I think it could be. I think great acoustics mean our guests are able to enjoy sitting in the space longer, that the vibe we create in our space is better because of a better sounding sound system. We are able to play music at a lower volume but still it sounds amazing, guests are able to talk, drink beer or coffee and listen to the music at a very comfortable decibel level. And when we do crank it up it sounds absolutely fabulous, and the good times can roll even more. And for me it gives a sense of purpose, it enables me to work with something I really love. And I always believe this rubs off to the spaces. The love for good coffee, good music, literature and good vibes. And as we all know, all you need is love, coffee and music. 

A Tail in Two Cities

A big part of writing a blog is to be allowed to come up with snappy headlines. I have read some of Dickens work. I couldn’t help myself.

My dog Kobolt is born in the former DDR and has spent half his life in Berlin and half in Oslo. I have lived about 6 years in Berlin and I think about 8 in Oslo. In German mythology a Kobold is something like a gnome or an elf, with a mischievous character and creator of strange events. Our Foxterrier fits the name perfectly. He’s very funny, a bit stubborn and very often up to no good, but always in a funny and harmless way. He is very gentle and friendly, but also full of energy. He makes me laugh many times a day. And he is also the main reason for my numerous walks, although I always used to walk around in the cities I’ve lived in. I’ve properly walked the streets of Bergen, Barcelona, Brussels, Boston, Berlin and Oslo, I guess because I find it ever fascinating to get to know the streets of the city I’m living in. Maybe I’m trying to sense the energy by walking the streets, I’m not sure. I only know I really enjoy it. 

Vulkan, Oslo. Just around the corner from Hendrix Ibsen

Vulkan, Oslo. Just around the corner from Hendrix Ibsen

Nikola Tesla, so I’ve heard, used to get great ideas when walking his dogs. For me, walking around the city with our without Kobolt is a very efficient way of cleansing my head and eventually think clearly. I get a similar effect when running, but then at the end of the run the mind is cleared of all thoughts and only breathing is left. The clear thinking then comes after the run. Since I spend so much time in coffee shops surrounded by life, noise and people, I get my coffee shop break by actually removing myself from my work space, which is the coffee shop (I work from my Mac, 90% of the time in one of my shops). If I need to make some bigger decisions, I always make them after a walk. I also get good ideas while walking, sometimes little things we need to fix, sometimes a bit larger things we need to change. 

Berlin.

Berlin.

I was lucky enough to buy the apartment I’m living in now back in 2004. Unfortunately, the Oslo housing market has gone apeshit lately, and centrally located apartments are now approaching 10.000 euro per m2. Some predict they will reach 15 in a few years. I really love my apartment. It has everything I need and more, and it’s located 300 meters from Hendrix Ibsen Junior. I’m thankful for the time I save by not having to commute to work, and the flexibility it gives me living so close to my shops. In fact, the top of the shop sign outside Junior can be seen from my apartment, if I bend out the window and look right. I think that is pretty cool. I normally wake up at 06.30 everyday, Junior opens at 07. I admit, I kinda did open Junior to get access to great coffee from 07 in the morning 3-4 minutes walk from my apartment.

In 2004 I wanted to study architecture. The school of Architecture is located in the building next to my apartment. I applied, but didn’t get accepted, so I started studying construction engineering. The plan was to finish a bachelor and then try to take a masters degree in architecture. But then many things got in the way, many things led to other things, and in 2015 I opened up Hendrix Ibsen at the Vulkan area, situated next to the school of Architecture, and about 500 meters away from my apartment. It’s all connected somehow. For the record, I never finished a degree in engineering, but I do have a bachelors degree in marketing and management. And I guess potentially a quarter of a masters degree in entrepreneurial management (called Gründerskolen in Norwegian). Throw in a year of history studies to add up to 6 years of higher education. I guess I like to study!

In the year 2000 I went to Berlin for the first time. I had spent about 6 months as an au pair in Baden Württemberg in 1999, so my German was pretty good, and I wanted to spend more time in Germany. It would, for various reasons, last 10 years before I managed to actually move to Berlin. For that was my reaction to my first visit to Berlin, I knew I needed to move there. Somehow I was also not in a rush, because I had a feeling Berlin would be the last stop. I had a feeling of coming home, I can’t really explain it better. In the years to follow I spent time in Grimstad, Bergen, Barcelona, Brussels, Boston and Oslo. Studying, working, living, partying, walking the streets. And except from in Norway drinking pretty bad coffee. In March 2010 I moved from Brussels to Berlin. And the rest, so they say, is history. 

Nordic Embassies Berlin. Norwegian man performing a Cowboy stretch. 

Nordic Embassies Berlin. Norwegian man performing a Cowboy stretch. 

I’m from a very small island village on the west coast of Norway. I think about 700 people live there. It’s a very friendly and idyllic place. I got a big chunk of my family living there. I think growing up there got me curious of the world, and even though I appreciate nature I prefer the big city life. 

For 2,5 years in 00-02 i was very fortunate to work for an IT start up company in Bergen called ICEsoft Technologies. That was a formative experience. I went to trips to CEBIT, to San Diego and all around Europe in business meetings. I was young and hungry and very enthusiastic. All good things come to an end, and I was left hanging in the fall of 2002. I think ever since, I have been searching for something similar. A cool job that gives a sense of meaning and purpose, while having fun at the same time. Hard fun. 

Oslo. 

Oslo. 

At some point the idea of having a job that would enable me to work both in Berlin and Oslo started to linger in the back of my mind. From 2006 I went frequently to Berlin, looking for something to do, a way to find a living there. 

Even though I’ve frequented coffee shops since 1997, I never thought I’d open up my own. Not until I met a Swedish dude in Brussels who had done just that, fall of 2009. I was then in talks with some friends in Berlin about opening up a café, but they ended up doing it before I was able to move to Berlin. I needed a little more time in Brussels to get to know the city. I had some streets to walk. 

I now live in Oslo and commute to Berlin about twice a month, sometimes day trips, sometimes I stay a night. Every time I’m in Berlin, visiting Oslo kaffebar, R/D or the Nordic Embassies and my great colleagues, I really miss living in Berlin. It’s this raw energy, this feeling that is unique to Berlin. Oslo is more established, though lots of cool things go down here as well. Especially in the fields of gastronomy and bar concepts. I think Oslo is fantastic, and I love living here. It is home. As is Berlin. I have two home cities, and I’ll always miss one of them. Sadly I can’t live in both cities simultaneously. But at least I now have work in both cities. And then there is a third city coming up, Glasgow. As in Berlin, Glasgow allows dogs in cafés. Oslo don’t. Kobolt is really looking forward to Glasgow, although he will miss Oslo, with all the parks along the river where we live. But new adventures are just too tempting to be left alone. New places to sniff out, new energies to be felt. 

I’m only on my second day of trying to spend less time online. I need to reshuffle the way I work, and I think Easter is a great occasion to do so. I’m looking to better structure my online time. But in the age of emails and instant communication this is a bit tricky. My aim is to be more efficient, so I can do more. More projects, more fun, more movement, more energy. I guess I need to fuel the need for getting stuff done. But first I’m going for a Kobolt walk, and then the ways of perception will be cleansed, and things will occur as they truly are. Cowabunga!

Woke up this morning

When I woke up this morning I tried not to check emails and the FB newsfeed. At least I decided to wait after I’d taken my Foxterrier for a walk. Shortly after I drifted into the old routine of checking email, news and FB for interesting reads. Not much came along, a news clip about the lying US President, but what else is new these days. 

 

It’s Good Friday. I went down to have a great coffee at Hendrix Ibsen, where I’m one of the proprietors and the (small) brain behind the concept. We open at 10 today, but alas the barista was still in bed when I called her at 5 after, so I needed to go elsewhere to get the day properly started and my zombeism cured. 

 

So I checked my closest neighbor and favorite spot Tim Wendelboe, but they are closed the next few days for a well deserved Easter break. I checked another favorite Supreme Roastworks on FB and didn’t immediately see anything about Easter opening hours and decided to try my luck there. No note on the door about opening hours, just a closed door. They also deserve a break, so I hold no grudge. The only doable option then is old timers Kaffebrenneriet, so I decided to try their espresso. It’s been a long while, and I thought to myself, it’s nice to try something different than the very light Nordic roast we serve at Hendrix Ibsen. So I order myself a double espresso. Kaffebrenneriet is classic, also in the style of espresso. Dark roasted compared to Tim, Java and Supreme, but still much less dark than the «proper» dark roast. Still, it has this ashy after flavor, though not unpleasant, more like ashy tobacco. Now I don’t smoke, so this is not what I prefer in my espresso, but I drink it, no complaints from my part, just stating the facts as I taste them. Some nuts and dark chocolate as well, but the ashy tobacco with notes of licorice is dominant. In my world of coffee, I don’t think this is a very good espresso, but I understand that a lot of people do. 

The place is slowly filling up, and the atmosphere is good, people are working, reading, talking, living their lives in this semi-public meeting space. Maybe it’s not so much about the flavor as the experience, as long as the products are good enough for most, and the location is stellar, with a brand now everybody knows. 

 

There is change in the air, we live in a Gutenberg Moment many say. But the change is slower than most think. The first email was sent in 1971. When did you send your first email? It is a very intriguing thought, that someone on the other side of the planet could be reading these words. Someone in Japan, sitting in a well known chain of coffee shops, reading these words written in Oslo, Norway, on Good Friday 2017. Or I could just start a group chat on one of the many available platforms, and discuss a subject related to opening up coffee shops with industry friends sitting in cities like Glasgow, Antwerp, Berlin, Tokyo, New York and Oslo. Or any other topic, receiving instant answers to my inquiries. It’s deeply fascinating how the world works now, compared to just a few years ago. And even further, I remember very well how lost I sometimes felt when I lived in Minnesota in 96-97. I was 17 then, and I really missed my friends back home. I got two letters from them during that year, and a few phone calls. I really had not much of a clue what they were up to. Now I know much more about what my friends are up to, thanks to Facebook, sms and emails. I don’t see them all that much, since they have families and I open up coffee shops all the time. But I know a little about what they are up to, at least what they chose to share on social media. I definitely know where they go on holiday, if they are buying/selling apartments, and in general other fun stuff they are doing. I like to get these updates, I think it’s nice. We all have our issues and problems, I think we all know that. No need to make all of them public knowledge. 

Oslo Kaffebar, berlin opened june 2012

Oslo Kaffebar, berlin opened june 2012

Kaschk, Berlin opened September 2014

Kaschk, Berlin opened September 2014

 

8 years ago I moved to Berlin, after a 6 months stop in Brussels. Two years ago I moved back to Oslo to open up a coffee shop. Then came the 2nd, and the third. The third is a restaurant, but still a coffee shop during the day. I thought Oslo needed a space like Hendrix Ibsen, just like I thought Berlin needed a place like Oslo kaffebar, which I opened up almost 5 years ago, together with a former customer now turned partner. Then eventually came a pop up at the Nordic Embassies (now made permanent), then a project with fellow Norwegians called KASCHK (of which I’m no longer a part of), then as we «speak» the coffee shop/bar/event and co-working space called R/D (razzledazzle) in Berlin together with the great folks from Factory/Silicon Allee. And now, we’re working on a R/D project in the lovely city of Glasgow, and soon I’m about to become a «Glaswegian» at least for some time. I wonder how Glasgow will respond to our Norwegian brown cheese. And Norwegian potato balls, not too far from the local Haggis. 

Oslo kaffebar, Berlin

Oslo kaffebar, Berlin

And then there is the «why». Why all of this, all of these shops, these projects (it’s been 8 in 7 years, 9 with Glasgow). It’s really hard work, long hours, sometimes very stressful. It’s been 7 years without a proper summer vacation (or any longer vacation). Why then?

I really believe our places contribute in a positive way to the local community. We create spaces where (almost) anything goes, where all are equal, and where we offer local artists and folks the opportunity to do cool things. That is part of our concept. To facilitate for activities, and see what comes out of it. We do opera shows, flamenco performances, concerts, book and album launches, art exhibitions, spoken word and poetry events, and many more both strange and not so strange stuff. And then we offer very good coffee in what we think are cool spaces with great acoustics and sound. I am one of those HIFI freaks, and I need a room to sound very good, if not great. We do acoustic measures to make sure your ears don’t hurt. We spend decent money on very good sound systems, so we can play great music at a low volume, so our guests can talk but still hear the music without the noise level becoming too high. In my opinion, it’s all about creating good vibrations. And of course the coffee has to be great and the staff very friendly. 

Hendrix Ibsen, Oslo opened may 2015

Hendrix Ibsen, Oslo opened may 2015

Pila, Oslo opened October 2016

Pila, Oslo opened October 2016

R/D Berlin opening April 2017

So why Glasgow? Well, why not? I’ve been asked to lead a very interesting project, where we are to open up R/D concepts in different cities. There is a very clear plan behind it, but I’ll leave that for later. It has to do with student housing and creating spaces and infrastructure for start ups. I’ve always been triggered by places where I think there should be a great coffee shop which also functions as a social meeting point and creative hub. Like inside the Nordic Embassies in Berlin. That shop is open for everyone, 7 days a week. Now how cool is that?

Like R/D in Chausseestrasse 19 in Berlin Mitte, which also functions as the reception area for the Silicon Allee project, meeting point and event space as well. Coffee is connecting people and ideas, but that is of course nothing new (ref. traditional coffee houses). What is maybe newer is more the idea of the coffee shop as strategically important for real estate development projects. If there is no good coffee shop close to an office space they are perhaps less attractive. At least for the modern office worker who is used to coffee breaks, who needs these breaks to fuel the mind, to create some space in between spaces. Going for a coffee break with colleagues also functions as a meeting where work related issues are being discussed, and possibly by moving out of the office and filling the body with caffeine, also new angles to old problems are found. Does the coffee shop break increase work force productivity and creativity? 

 

I wanted to start off this blog with the sense of change, this feeling of change in the air. Things are both changing and evolving for me personally. I’m getting older, and hopefully a little bit wiser due to my experiences. At the same time I feel the need to change a few things in how I work, in how my shops are managed and run. I think changes and evolution in any business are very important, both on the product side and operational, otherwise we risk to stop moving and slowly degrade, maybe even without noticing it, because it happens very slowly. 

 

I have decided to embrace the changes in both my immediate surroundings and the world itself. As I’ve managed to embrace the «chaos» of the last 7 years. So what if we spend much time online? Getting information has never been easier, and with a little effort sorting the fake news out is not too hard. I remember before Internet, how much time I spent trying to learn lyrics of songs. I’m not sure that time spent was any better than browsing the feed on FB, I’ve found some very educational stuff there. And even though it’s pretty nice to remember the feeling of saving up money to buy records (actual vinyl records, yes, I’m that «old») and the feeling of joy those records gave, I think it’s pretty magical to have an insane amount of music available for streaming through Spotify and Tidal (I prefer Tidal because of the sound quality). I still have a respectable collection of vinyl, many original pressings with amazing sound, but Tidal and vinyl can both exist in my HIFI world. 2017 is both analog and digital, like two conflicting thoughts existing simultaneously, an important feature in this complicated world. 

Hendrix Ibsen JUnior, Oslo Opened April 2016

Hendrix Ibsen JUnior, Oslo Opened April 2016

Nordic Embassies, Berlin Opened October 2016

Nordic Embassies, Berlin Opened October 2016

 

Coffee though, is still for me very much analog. Although AI and digitization will potentially change the coffee industry as well, and probably already is, but we’re just not noticing it yet. 

Embrace the change while drinking a good cup of coffee. Change can be very interesting, let’s make the best out of it. Changing a city by improving the availability of very good coffee. One cup at a time. Changing a city by creating spaces where people can meet and ideas will develop into projects. Change the mind of people, change a city, and maybe even make a small change to the world. But then again, it’s also just coffee. 

 

I started writing this blog because I believe in sharing information and experiences. If only one or hopefully a couple of people out there will get something out of reading this, then I guess mission is accomplished. Also, I do think that all the cool stuff I’m doing these days is worthy of sharing. And who knows, maybe something interesting will come out of it some day. 

Have a Good Friday!