Fortunately we live in a world full of interesting and amazing people, from different cultures, with different backgrounds and lifestyles. Once I got the chance to meet one incredible German woman, Geno Lechner.
Besides being a talented actress, Geno is a woman who lives her life in a very cosmopolitan way – she stays a bit in London, then in Paris or even in New York working on a movie, play or making television.
At the age of 12, she started giving her first steps in street circus, and since then she is connected to art performance. In her resume you can find movies like Schindler’s List, from Steven Spielberg, and Immortal Beloved, from Bernard Rose.
Delight yourself with this incredible Living Room.
On a cold Sunday Geno opened her lovely home and welcomed WOW with a warm tea followed by an amazing interview:
WOW: Geno, where do you come from?
Geno: I grew up in a small village in Bavaria, a very pitoresc one… our family didn’t fit too much in the regular way of the villagers since my parents are both sculptors and I have a lot of sisters and brothers. We always had lots of visitors around, lived in a completely different pattern than everybody else. Everybody was like “Oh my God, look what they are doing, and how they look like!”
W: And why Berlin? Why did you choose to live in Berlin?
G: Common… it’s the only place in the whole of Germany that I could imagine to live in. I’ve always been attracted a lot to it… I mean, the first time I came was in the age of 15 and the attraction grew. There were years after the wall came down when I was feeling like a little bit tired of Berlin but then also I was going abroad, to the United States and London, and I think it’s a good time for Berlin right now.
W: Tell us about your house, how did you find it…
G: I’ve seen situations in so many places like New York, London or Paris, where it is almost impossible for an artist to live, to survive, to find a space to work… And in 2000 I came back from Paris and said to myself – “Ok Geno… you know this city so well and you really really love it, so you have to find a place”. This was when I started to look for a house. It was during a nice summer when I started looking around by bicycle, regularily together with my friend that I know since years, and together we found this house… It was not easy…you really had to be let by your instincts… but, it happened! In December, 2003 we officially moved in.
W: This house is very special, and it has a special background…
G: Most houses in Berlin have a special background, I mean if you really look into the stories of each house it would reveal something extraordinary… specially not only because this houses lived through II World War and the Hitler time, but also because the city was completely bombed… my house used to be part of a big school, it was a Gymnasium for boys… we’ve seen pictures of how it looked like and it was impressive, really really big… then most of it was bombed…
I heard, that at the end of the war, they were using the building to keep prisoners… you know… when they were shooting people after very short notice, I mean Nazis… and with the end of the war, a lot of people were shot right there, like with a little “Tribunal”… some of this happened in the court yard.
During the time of the GDR (German Democratic Republic) there was no school, and we know that the state security, named Stasi, was using it, and it makes sense because it’s so close to the border…
The Stasi used the house as a connection facility for the telephone infrastructure, not to spy on people in the first line, but to connect the lines as far as I know. I tell you this because there’s a photo that I really would love to have. An old guy we met told us that after the wall came down, people started to rip out all the telephones and threw them out of the windows. Finally a lot of phones were hanging in the trees… I would love to have this picture, and somebody must have captured that action!
W: Where in Berlin is your house?
G: In the eastern part and actually we never found out how could these trees survived because normally the state was cutting all the trees close to the wall, so that people couldn´t hide. And there’s another sad story I have to tell. During months and months of hard work some people were digging a tunnel underneath the wall. In the end somebody informed the officials about the tunnel who went inside it and killed the people trying to flee.
W: Beside being an Actress you also have our own project… Volume 57…
G: It comes basically from being a traveler and working in different places… Since I got in contact with different artists in different places all over the world some of us created an international database to connect very special performing artists, that’s the basic idea. I was interested in doing so, because I have an agent in France, another one in London but in the it only works hardly,because “Geno is somewhere else, she is not here, then it will not work for you, you know.”
So one of the main ideas is to connect all the amazing artists and performances… the one that I know and the ones everybody else engaged in Volume 57 knows… the idea is that it spreads by itself, that everybody who meets someone interesting has an interest to lead them to Volume 57.
It’s already working, there’s people getting work through it. But is not only getting work, because we don´t considerer ourselfs like an Agency, but a platform within each person can present his work, but to also make sure that it can they strong people, I mean, everybody is free to speak their minds, for example “I don´t like this offer, I´m not going to do it!”. All of the people who are involved have these amazing ways, you know?! And you can not buy them, I mean most of them you can not buy!
W: Talking again about your place, I know that you were collecting materials to build up the roof top over a period of one year, replacing it with another floor… How is it going on?
This I did together with my friend, who is also my neighbor. We know each other for more than 15 years and we are both actresses, both the same age, and we love architecture. The idea came step by step.
Since I live in the top floor it made sense to do something with the roof. I could have only just make a hole and take a sunglasse from the terrace, but then we decided to take it one step further and we added a whole floor.
I tell you what a friend of mine said to me when he saw it for the first time… we were sitting on the roof and he said “Yeah, but Geno, normally only assholes get a place like this”… so in a way I always kept this in mind “Yes, he is right. I hope I’m not an asshole,”… I’m so fortunate to have this.
The friend’s hint made me be aware of my luck.
Do you considerer yourself a Berliner?
I live were I am… and I´m travelling too much…
I’m not thinking of leaving Berlin behind, because it´s my base. For me it´s one of the best places in the whole world right now for artists, as mentioned before. Sometimes when I have to go somewhere else for business or other reasons, it’s good to know about my place, where to go to when business is done. But still, Berlin is a very very hard city to make money, but on the other side when you don´t have money, you don´t have to take care about the money… you´re free! You’re really free!
W: Do you have favourite spots in your neigborhood or in town?
G: Café Obermaier is one. It’s a place which is really really nice during the summer. It’s one of my favourites. It’s a place where one can have bavarian food and a fresh beer in the beer garden. It’s so cosy, not very big, but a little bit pricey. But considering other cities it is not that pricey at all. And you always get the feeling that you get a lot for what you have paid, which is good.
Another place I like a lot ist called Themroc, it’s located in Torstr. in Mitte. It’s only 15 minutes from Kreuzberg. Themroc is based on a cult movie from the 70’s, from France with Michele Piccoli, and I like this place so much because a lot of people come together, some of them from different countries… The owners are from different countries as well, one for example is Persian and they all together could have never done a place like this where they came from. I really like places that make me feel home, and this is a place like that!
W: To finish, what would you advice to visitors that are new to Berlin?
G: I have so many spots and what I really like to do is either walk or pick up the bike. I think Berlin is a good city for biking. But you must take care of the cars. But Berlin is not about what you can see first, just go into the back yards… you’ll discover amazing things. For example, the street of Potsdamerstr., if you see it for the first time in your life, it’s very Berlin and then you open your eyes and you’ll see so many little bars that open doors to back yards, and suddenly you see something that you wouldn’t have staying on the surface… “Wow..what is this?”, you know?
I really like these backyards and I think this is “something”. Some people like to explore Berlin walking and others by bike, either way, it’s good to rest and experience.
Once again, thank you so much Geno for this amazing interview and for received us in your lovely house.
Interview by Filipa Mathias
Edition by Filipa Mathias and Marina Pandeló Paiva
Photography by Jesus Pastor
Art Concept by Celso da Costa Hamelink