Berlin - Two women stop at the storefront, which looks like a bog-standard Späti, or late-night shop, in Kreuzberg, full of drinks and snacks. Only at second glance do they notice that none of the products on display are real. The brightly coloured fakes have names like "Macho" chips, "Alles für die Katz" cat litter or "Punk" rusks. The passers-by have discovered the art Späti at Oranienstraße 188.
Behind the counter is Silke Thoss: "This is the Silky-Späti. I am Silky and this is my papier-mâché Späti." It turns out this is the "Salon 36" art space and that the visual artist is exhibiting her work. The proceeds go to support SO36, the legendary Kreuzberg concert venue next door.
"I knew there was this gallery that you could rent, and I thought: so many Spätis have opened up, I'll do a Späti now too."
The efferverscent 52-year-old in a red cap and white overalls proudly shows off her exhibits: "Queerios" cereal, "Feminist" chocolates and "Black Lives Matter" milk. All the artworks are made of newspaper, paste and paint. They carry messages - some ironic, others serious - against homophobia, sexism and racism. Deceased artists like Little Richard are also honoured.
"Here the products speak. They all have a message," Thoss explains and shows us "Rotzkotz" ("Snotpuke") biscuits, whose name is reminiscent of a punk band.
"I was inspired by the history of SO36, to which the gallery also belongs." So snacks and drinks are also named after David Bowie and Iggy Pop, who are said to have been among the first guests at the concert hall, which opened in 1978.
Time and again passers-by on Oranienstraße, which is busy despite corona, stop in their tracks and look in amazement. Because directly to the right and left of the art space are real late-night shops with real goods.
"It looks like it's real, but it's not," the artist explains. "I quite like to play with that, to imitate reality."
Beer bottles in the fridges, chocolate bars in the display, snacks on the shelf - it's all art. The colourful style of the more than 100 exhibits feels a lot like pop art.
"As an artist, I deal a lot with advertising, that's my theme," says Thoss, who lived in Bremen, London and Hamburg before moving to Berlin. "The advertising world promises something and we just buy it. Sometimes what is promised is totally crazy. I play with that, too."
The items were created half a year ago during the first lockdown as a record of the corona era, so to speak. Some of them were already part of an exhibition at the Holzmarkt centre, which awarded a work scholarship.
"But I definitely didn't want the word corona to appear," says Thoss, and yet chocolate bar names like "Risk", "Shock" and "Freedom" prompt us to draw conclusions about the pandemic.
In any case, the art Späti seems particularly suited to the dreary lockdown. "I opened on 1 December, when it was winter and dark and everyone was tired," says Thoss. "Then people came here and were happy and said: this is the perfect medicine for this lousy mood."
Not so much the fake products irritate people as the prices of between €25 and €90 per item. "Some people ask me: why is it so expensive?" reports Thoss.
The exhibits can be bought online. The proceeds not only benefit the artist and SO36 via the rent: she also passes on more of the proceeds to support the club during lockdown.
Bands like Die Ärzte signed the artworks
"I made boxes and cases with special products signed by bands that played at SO36 and had a connection to it," she adds. These include well-known artists like Die Ärzte, Fehlfarben, Oma Hans, Der wahre Heino and Stereo Total. The works were up for auction on eBay in December. The sale raised €1,600, which went to SO36.
Not all passers-by seem thrilled by the new art Späti in the neighbourhood. "The Späti has already been checked out several times by strange characters from outside who wanted to know: what is this place?" Thoss reports.
"But they didn't get in. When there are tourists, Spätis are usually good business."
So were they part of the Späti mafia?
"I can't prove it, it's just a guess," says Thoss.
So far, Silky Späti has been left alone. It will probably continue confusing Kreuzbergers until at least the end of January.