• 14th-16th October 2024
  • Exhibition Centre Berlin

“The Thirst for Knowledge is immense”

© Roland Justynowicz

Interview with Christian Gentemann

 

BCB: Christian, you have made a name for yourself amongst bartenders on account of your creativity. Now you have taken on a full-time job with the DBU. How did you end up doing this?

Christian Gentemann: Before 2021, I had very little to do with the DBU apart from serving on several panels. Then, early last year, our current chairperson, Maren Meyer, contacted me and requested a meeting. I really liked the atmosphere, and I really liked the people. The talks we had gave me a good feeling about what the organisation wanted to do, and I decided to come on board.

 

BCB: You were then appointed to ‘Head of East Region’ straight away.

Christian: That’s right. The DBU used to be divided up into ‘sections’, but now it has been reorganised according to the cardinal directions. I’m now responsible for the East, because I quickly realised that if I was going to take part, I wanted to have a real impact. And that’s not something that I can do on my own – I need to be working alongside people who can support my efforts. I got together with Maria Gorbatschova from the “Green Door Bar, Arnd-Henning Heissen (editor’s note: formerly with ‘The Curtain Club’ and soon to be found at ‘Frederick’s’), and Tarek Nix*, and we quickly agreed that training and professional development would be the focus of our efforts. Everywhere you go, people are talking about a lack of skilled staff, so it is more important than ever to ensure that everyone who is interested in the industry can get a firm grounding in the field. We want to make sure that people can discover all the facets of this profession, so that they are in a position to develop their own signature styles.

 

BCB: You have developed several formats to showcase these facets.

Christian: That’s correct. To date there are three in all. With the first one, ‘Behind the Scenes’, we explore fascinating concepts at regular intervals, joining together to take a look behind the scenes. And it doesn’t have to be a bar – it can also be a restaurant or a caterer. We started things off in Berlin with the ‘Provocateur’, and followed this up by visiting ‘Velvet’. Participants are given a wealth of insights into successful operations – the things that work, the things that don’t, and the areas where they are trying to improve. We’ve been getting some very good feedback.

 

BCB: The second format ...

Christian: ... is something we call our ‘How to’ series. Here, we select a bar topic and then take a closer look at it. The first event was called ‘How to start up a bar’. From A to Z, what all do I need? What is the legal framework? How do I select a location? What about finance? Arnd Heissen conducted the workshop, and he will continue to address this topic. New dates are already in planning.

 

BCB: Arnd Heissen himself is involved in this topic right now, because he’s in the middle of opening up a bar at Potsdamer Platz called ‘Frederick’s’. What is the third format?

Christian: The third format is called ‘The Taste’. Here, everything revolves around taste, and we run the gamut from sensory perception to product tastings. We also launched this format in Berlin last year. It is clearly in the interests of an association such as the DBU that these activities take place in every region, and that is why they decided to create my current position, in which I am helping to roll out these activities.

 

BCB: How did you develop your training and professional development formats?

Christian: We have basically drawn on our own experiences. We try to present the things that we have found helpful ourselves, things that we think would also be helpful for other people in the bar industry. Personally, I feel that most of what I have learned has come from the good people I have worked with. And the list of good, experienced bar professionals is a long one. We want to take this knowledge and this experience and pool it, so that we can make it available to others. The DBU has been working for many years now to establish ‘bartender’ as an official training occupation, and until such time as this happens, I believe that these three formats represent very effective tools for supplying the industry with even more knowledge and expertise. The thirst for knowledge is immense. Lots of people write to us saying the same thing: I want to learn!

 

BCB: Do you limit your invitations to DBU members?

Christian: We have made a deliberate decision to open our events to everyone. It is our long-term goal to gain as many new members as possible. Not that you can expect to see me running from bar to bar handing out membership forms (laughs). We want to offer something people want, and to do something worthwhile – to create real value. It is a great way to motivate people to join us.

 

BCB: Is it still possible for people who can’t be there when these events take place to benefit from the knowledge being shared?

Christian: Yes, it is. The DBU has its own app that allows members to share their thoughts on a variety of topics. We make this content available on the app – and in the next step it will be offered to the public.

 

BCB: Is there a way for the industry to get involved, i.e. beverage manufacturer X or supplier Y?

Christian: The DBU offers various modules that companies can take advantage of. Each of these is based on an annual partnership, and if a partner would then like to do more, they might sponsor their own format or series, for example.

 

BCB: In 2017, the DBU published its own training manual, ‘The bar manual for beginners’ (Das Barhandbuch für Einsteiger), that is also being used at vocational schools. As ‘Head of Education & Community’, will you also be visiting educational institutions?

Christian: That is certainly planned, because it offers a great starting point for communicating the basics of what we do. Maren Meyer has already started doing this, and it is something we will be expanding.

 

BCB: The changing hours of work are currently the subject of heated discussion in the industry. In particular, we’re talking about four-day work weeks and more leisure time. What is your personal view of the situation, and what is your position at the DBU?

Christian: There are some circumstances that cannot be changed: in the evenings, people are going to go out to eat, and they are going to go out to drink. This means that there will always be people working in the evening, and at night. Yet there are a lot of people who want to do just that anyway: time and again, I keep hearing from bartenders who are stuck at home on short-time work how much they miss their night shifts at the bar. They very much want to work then. And as to the topic of four-day weeks: it is quite an exciting idea. A number of the hotel chains that we are collaborating with – including ‘25hours Hotels’ – have already begun implementing these schemes, although it should be noted that it is not always possible to put all of these things into practice in a small bar. We can learn from these examples, by inviting the people in charge to take part in our workshops and report on the things that they have learned.

 

BCB: Please complete the following statement: If we brought all bar personnel together in the DBU, we would be able to...

Christian: ...speak with a much louder voice. I think that all of us have learned that the louder you speak, the more attention you get. And if you can back that up with good content, there is a much better chance that people will actually listen to what you are saying. Although it isn’t precisely the same thing, you can see a similar impact with DEHOGA (editor's note: German Hotel and Restaurants Association): they have established a channel to top government policymakers, and the primary reason they have been able to do so is the sheer size of their membership. When you transfer this lesson to the bar scene and the many smaller, local organisations that have sprung up – mostly with the same good intentions – it is well worth considering whether it might not make more sense in the long term to bring everyone together into one big organisation in order to be more successful. I myself believe that this makes a lot of sense. We currently have 700 members, and that’s a good thing, but we are nowhere near as big as we should be. We want to grow.

 

BCB: What events do you have planned in the near future?

Christian: In late March we will be taking ‘Behind the Scenes’ to the ‘Wax On Bar’ in Berlin (editor’s note: one of the participants will be BCB Brand Ambassador Damien Guichard, who is working as a bartender there). In April, we will be introducing our new education programme with kick-off events in Cologne and Munich. After that, we’ll be heading to Hamburg, where we are holding a workshop on drinks photography: As a bartender, how can you use your smartphone to take photos that perfectly present your drinks?

 

BCB: As a writer, that is a topic on which I could also use some additional training – I’ll make a note of that. Christian, thank you for taking the time to talk to us.

 

Following stints on AIDA’s cruise ships, at the ‘Lebensstern’, ‘Waldorf Astoria’ and ‘Cookies Cream’ bars in Berlin, and at the ‘3Freunde Bar’ in Hamburg, Herford native Christian Gentemann spent six years in charge of the ‘Bar am Steinplatz’ in Berlin-Charlottenburg. While there, he revealed an entirely new concept for hotel bars: he and his team put a range of unusual and exciting ideas into practice, including menus that solely featured transparent drinks, colourless drinks, or drinks focused solely on the flavour. He took the bold move of entirely removing gin from the menu and instead mixing his drinks with Doppelwacholder from Westphalia.

During his time at the ‘Bar am Steinplatz’, the bar not only won the title of ‘Hotel Bar of the Year’ from the Mixology Bar Awards twice (2017 and 2018), but also the ‘Bar Menu of the Year’ (2019) and the ‘Most Innovative Bar of the Year 2018’ from the trade journal FIZZZ. In 2019, Falstaff magazine anointed Gentemann ‘Most Innovative Bartender of the Year’. As Creative Director F&B for the Berlin-based PEAK Hospitality Group, Gentemann has shared responsibility for all the Group’s catering concepts since 2020. 

 

Christian Gentemann is the new ‘Head of Education & Community’ for the DBU (Deutsche Barkeeper Union e.V.). 

For more information on the DBU and its training and professional development formats, please visit:  dbuev.de

 

*Tarek Nix has since left the ‘Provocateur’ in Berlin for ‘Bar Lupo’ in Zurich, and someone else will be appointed to assume his responsibilities for training and professional development in the ‘DBU Four’.