A photographer, entrepreneur, fashion dealer, a father and a boyfriend, Carsten Kunst is a man with plenty of irons in the fire, yet he has an amazing ability to never appear overwhelmed or stressed out. On the contrary, Carsten seems to have time for a whole lot of things that most busy city dwellers are forced to forego. His rituals include heating his home with self-gathered wood throughout winter and taking regular morning swims in Schlachtensee, (his favourite lake, some 20 minutes by bike from his place) during the summer months.
We meet Herr Kunst in his light filled apartment in Schöneberg, to learn more about this renaissance man through his favourite belongings. Despite having spent 14 years in the same dwelling, his apartment is sparingly furnished and clutter free. We’re curious to learn more about what goes into his seemingly careful selection process.
Carsten walks us over to his large, built in, coal oven, and strokes his hands over the green-glazed ceramic tiles.
The Oven Heater
We’re at the end of fall with winter quickly approaching. I started using the oven about six years ago. Before that I was using the central heating system. I have memories of the old oven in my parent’s apartment in Wedding. It’s a different type of heat and a different feeling. Compared to central heating systems, where smaller heat sources are placed at various points around the house and often under the windows, an oven like this is placed in the centre of the room, projecting heat outwards. The oven also retains heat for hours after a fire has gone out, while a central heating system cools down almost immediately after turning it off.
It’s a time consuming process and a lot of work.Throughout the months that I am using it, from the end of October to March, it’s like having a pet that you need to take care of. It’s 45 minutes every morning and evening.
But you seem to like ritual…
Yes, I do, but my girlfriend Susanne, is not always that into it, because of the huge time commitment. But it’s worth it for the beautiful atmosphere it creates. It becomes the heart of the home in the winter, where we gather around on chairs and blankets. It’s also perfect for drying your wet clothes on, or for heating your drink to a perfect Ayurvedic temperature.
Carsten takes us into the kitchen where Susanne is making coffee and cleaning up after breakfast. The kitchen is small, but practically laid out, and like the rest of the apartment, it doesn’t seem to contain anything superfluous. Carsten picks up two knives and lays them in the palm of his hand.
It’s a time consuming process and a lot of work […] But it’s worth it for the beautiful atmosphere it creates. It becomes the heart of the home in the winter.
On winter evenings, after heating up the oven, we will head into the kitchen to prepare some food. Most important to me when cooking is having sharp knives. Around the corner from me there’s this guy in his 80s who is one of the last to practice the traditional German knife sharpening method called the Solinger Schliff.
(We found an article about him here)
Solingen is a German city famous for its knives. When you bring your knives to this man, he makes them really sharp, and they stay sharp for a long time. He has also taught me how to hone my knives properly, to maintain the sharpness even longer. After bringing my knives to him for the first time, cooking was suddenly a different experience; I realised the importance of good knives.
Carsten demonstrates how to properly hone, and then shows us how sharp his knives are by cutting an apple.
I love the process of cooking. I especially love using my tajine. I’ve had this one for 18 years now and I like the simplicity of it. Mix some good vegetables, herbs, ghee, spices and some liquid, put the lid on, place it on a hot stove top for 30 minutes, and you have a meal!
While in the kitchen we notice a jar filled with ashes and point at it, inquisitively.
Ah, yes, these are ashes from the Agnihotra fire. Let me show you and tell the story.
Carsten gathers the jar of ashes, a tub of ghee, a pyramid shaped metal bowl, brown rice and what looks like disks of dirt and walks into the living room. We follow him and sit down around the dining table.
After bringing my knives to him for the first time, cooking was suddenly a different experience; I realised the importance of good knives.
The Agnihotra Fire
I started doing the Agnihotra fire four years ago. It’s an old Vedic tradition that cleans the atmosphere.
You need a bowl shaped like a pyramid. I place it on this slab of stone that I found on the Danish coast. Inside it, you burn cow dung from a happy cow. It doesn’t necessarily have to come from India, it could also be from a nice farm here in Germany, but it has to come from a cow that still has its horns. This is because when the cow has horns it is connected with the universe, but when they cut the horns off, the connection is severed. So, it has to be shit from a happy cow that still has horns, and eats fresh grass.
You prepare the pyramid by rubbing some ghee onto a piece of cow dung. The fire must be lit at the exact time when the sun sets or rises, which is different depending where you are, and the time of year. There is now an app for your smartphone that tells you the exact time to light your Agnihotra fire based on your GPS location, but if you do it every day, you will learn to listen to the birds or pay attention to other signs in nature.
Sometimes I do it on the balcony or outside somewhere, other times I do it inside. It is good for cleansing the home as it purifies the atmosphere and neutralises radiation. It also reduces stress and improves clarity. It’s often used as a therapeutic tool to help people who are struggling with addictions.
Later you can use the ashes to clean your fruits and vegetables if you are not able to get organic produce. You can add it to body products, in creams and oils or you can add a bit to your food. It’s also great fertiliser.
When you’re ready to light the fire, you sing the mantra.
The mantra is the rhythm of the sunset or sunrise, and the words talk about how nothing is mine, but yours. Everything belongs to everyone, and no one.
You can sing the mantra out loud or quietly inside.
Each time you sing the words ‘Swaha’, you add a piece of rice. It’s important that the rice is whole and not broken. You add two pieces in total, and then you light the fire.
Even though it is not the right time of day, Carsten agrees to demonstrate. He sings the manta (below) and adds the rice to the cow flat. After he lights the fire. The room fills with a light and sweet smelling smoke — not at all what we had imagined burning cow shit to smell.
Agnaye Swaha Agnaye Idan Na mama
Prajapataye Swaha Prajapataye Idan Na mama
Unto the fire I am offering all.
This offering is not mine it is
Despite the minimal decor, Carsten’s abode does not lack intriguing objects to touch, smell and look at. While sitting around the table, we admire crystals and learn about the magical properties of the Edelweiss flower and how it can be used to purify water.
Next, Carsten brings out a pair of wooden clogs and puts them on, raising him another few inches off the ground and exaggerating his already tall and slender stature.
It [The Agnihotra Fire] is good for cleansing the home as it purifies the atmosphere and neutralises radiation. It also reduces stress and improves clarity.
It [the cow dung] has to come from a cow that still has its horns. This is because when the cow has horns it is connected with the universe, but when they cut the horns off, that connection is severed.
One of my best friends, Reinhard Plank is a hat and shoe maker. I started buying his collections for my fashion stores in the past, and we became good friends. His shoes do not just look nice, they feel great as well. The shoe industry often forgets about the pinky toe, but Reinhard makes shoes that give the feet enough space. His last gift to me were these wooden clogs.
Every time I visit him in Paris, I give him a massage, and when I tried these on, I felt so grounded and connected, and said “these are my massage shoes”. They are fine for walking too, but I prefer them for when I give massages.
The soles are made from Swiss Stone Pine from the Alps and it’s a super hard, yet really light wood. It smells really good too — apparently the smell of the wood helps bring your heart-rate down.
Carsten walks slowly and sweepingly around the room in his wooden clogs and tells us that Germans are some of the fastest walkers in the world, walking three times as fast as the Vanuatu people in the South Pacific. Without saying it, he makes it clear that he is in support of slowing down, in most aspects of life. With that he leads us to a corner of the living room, where we sit down around his turntables.
His shoes do not just look nice, they feel great as well. The shoe industry often forgets about the pinky toe, but Reinhard makes shoes that give the feet enough space.
My last turntables broke 10-15 years ago, so I put the rest of the system in storage and went through using CDs and MP3s for a while. Three years ago, I bought new turntables and dusted off my old LPs from the storage. A few weeks ago I went to the flea market and found a copy of the Concert for Bangladesh from 1971, in perfect condition. I had wanted it for a long time, but hadn’t found a good copy. The colours of the cover may be a bit faded, but the condition of the vinyl is impeccable.
Carsten puts on a record and plays us George Harrison’s ‘Here Comes the Sun’ while flipping through the accompanying booklet and humming along to the song.
Our tour continues and we’re shown a mock up of a book he is working on of his own photographs of Paris from the last three-and-a-half years, and further his two analog Contax cameras which he uses for most of his photography work.
Lastly we’re led into his office area and shown his newest passion, Le Bonbond. Quickly explained, Le Bonbond is a loop of super stretchy and strong lycra fabric used for movement, exercise and team building, which after years of developing has finally hit the market. Carsten, explains how it all came about.
Three years ago, I bought new turntables and dusted off my old LPs from the storage. A few weeks ago I went to the flea market and found a copy of the Concert for Bangladesh from 1971, in perfect condition.
While there, he [Alexandre] pulls out a large piece of stretchy fabric that he hangs from a branch, climbs into and suspends himself from. It looked like he was flying. I saw that and I was sold immediately. It was brilliant and simple!
The Le Bonbond
I went to meet my friend and business partner Alexandre by the lake one summer about seven years ago. While there, he pulls out a large piece of stretchy fabric that he hangs from a branch, climbs into and suspends himself from. It looked like he was flying. I saw that and I was sold immediately. It was brilliant and simple!
Alexandre had started playing around with it ten years ago. Four years ago, he bought this lycra fabric to make it more comfortable to hang from, which is close to the material we are using today. At that point, it was still not stitched together into a loop, but open. It was also four years ago, when the two of us where hanging out with our girlfriends by the canal, that I had the urge to get into the fabric all together to create physical structures with the help of our bodies and the fabric. After that point, we went from using the fabric vertically for suspension, to also using it horizontally for stretching and physical interaction. Alexandre made a new prototype in 2012 and later that year we did our first large group session in Paris with 14 people in the same loop. Since then, it has been a process of trying out different sizes, materials and stitching methods to make it as strong as possible. Now we have a final product in several sizes and colours, produced locally in Germany, available on our website and web shop.Photos by Rita Braz of Analogue Stories.
More about Le Bonbond on their Website and Facebook