Urban Tales

Mark Booch

A portrait of the owner of the "Erste Liebe Bar" café in Hamburg.

Mark Booch wasn't in the mood for a typical corner pub in a small town, so he chose a stylish and minimalist café in Hamburg called "Erste Liebe Bar". He was one of the first customers to receive his Siegfried, even before there was a Schindelhauer bike in a shop. As an enthusiastic Dortmund fan, he shows us that good (design) taste and football are not mutually exclusive.

Not in the mood for mass

Me and my amazing wife Sabrina own the "Erste Liebe Bar" in Hamburg. We don't have children because the bar is our baby. It's a full-time job. Until Corona came, the place was full 7 days a week from morning to evening. Then another 2-3 events until we hit the brakes and went on vacation for 3 months. We remodelled the café during this time. In 2020, we were able to start again. But then Corona came. So we didn't really work much during the Corona period. I've owned the bar for 15 years now. Luckily we were able to assert ourselves here and didn't have to move. But now it was time to rebuild the bar. Before we had a lot of concrete and a lot of oak. The Scandinavian look was very popular 15 years ago: concrete, wood, glass. There was nothing like that back then. But that had changed. And the inhibition threshold for a lot of tourists who come in was no longer there. It was getting bigger and bigger and I didn't like the feel of the crowd. This connection to our regular guests was lost. Although the sales increased, the fun became less and less. At some point, we said to ourselves that we had to change something. The concept and the place have been completely redesigned.

Top quality with sneakers and jogging pants

For me, there's only top quality in gastronomy. And in every area. You need a great location with an amazing facility. One should use the best machines and the best foods. That's my opinion and ideally you're also super friendly to your guests. You don't have to do everything they ask of you, but it's important to me to just say hello to people when they walk in.

And for me, being together is important. At the moment only regulars come in. That's really a lot of fun. I'm less interested in run-of-the-mill tourists. But we do have a lot of good tourists who are into design, who are into coffee and good food. It's loads of fun. But due to the low-cost tourism, it was no longer fun at some point. They are swept into town on Friday afternoon and leave with the boat again on Sunday. And they don't see whether there are beer garden garnishes or specially made tables or chairs. They just plant themselves there. And that's why it's so much fun.

I always wanted top quality but in a casual way. That's why I stand behind the counter in a T-shirt, wear colorful sneakers and always have jogging pants on. But I can still offer service like in a first-class place – without a stick up my ass. For us, it's more about the little things. For instance, our guests will always be asked if they would like sugar with their coffee. And we hand them the sugar, even if it's only 30 cm away. We're just trying to be attentive. We have very high standards and that's why it's difficult to find the right staff.

Simple and good

During high school and college, I started working behind the bar. That was cool back then, too. I didn't start with coffee. At 19, it was just a cool thing and the girls liked the guy behind the bar. Nowadays nobody does that anymore. Today they all become influencers. (laughs) But I didn't really feel like going to clubs. It was always too loud for me, too many drugs and I didn't feel like working at night anymore. At some point, I started working in a café, where the boss was always the big deal. That wasn't my style at all and that's why we do the "Erste Liebe Bar" differently. We may sell amazing shit, but we also know how to shut up about it. I make high-quality coffee, but without being super nerdy. I just do it and it's good.

D. I. Y.

I come from a rather conservative family in a small town near Dortmund. There, the classic restaurateur is a corner pub owner. Of course, that wasn't the ideal picture that my family wanted for me. But I've always had my own idea. It was always important for me to do what I enjoy. It took a few years, but now I'm doing things like barista courses without ever having attended one myself. I taught myself all this. There wasn't anything like that before. Of course, it took a long time until I had my first small roaster and we developed our own blend. 

Forever young

I always try to turn all the wheels and get new inspiration from everywhere. I travel the world and see what other people are doing. You have to stay young, too. How long has it been cool that the old dude with the gray hair is standing behind the counter? You have to sell your product and your shop in a modern way. I don't have to make bubble or matcha tea to do this. But we're also a bit behind when it comes to the whole vegan topic. In Berlin, you just have to have vegan cakes and certain products. You don't have to do that in Hamburg yet.

Bikes and coffee

I have always loved cycling throughout my life. And coffee has always played an important role. In the last 10 years, however, I have hardly ridden a racing bike because the work in the bar has become more and more frequent. And then came the forced time off due to Corona. Then last year, I bought a new racing bike and that's how I got back into the "scene". I met a lot of old acquaintances, but also got to know a lot of new people and since then a lot of cyclists have come here. And now the symbiosis of coffee and cycling is even more there than it used to be. I used to ride just for myself and occasionally took part in races or trips together. But the community has changed. People ride together now. They're more connected. They swap. However, I don't want to be a classic bicycle café. Especially not with a sponsor or bicycle manufacturer behind you. People can meet here, head out from here and get their coffee here for half price, but it doesn't have to be more than that.

Couch potato

I usually get up around 5:30 a.m. and go to the café around 6:30 a.m. I'll do some shopping for the store first. Sabrina is in the café from 6:30 a.m. and bakes everything herself, prepares the panini, makes the salads in the morning, washes and cuts everything. And I'm here to entertain people. That is actually her part, as she also likes to communicate a lot, but due to the current situation (Covid-19) there are only two of us at the moment. In normal operation, there are two of us in the morning, then three, then five at noon and then two again. We usually work until 4:30 p.m. or 5:30 p.m. Then get on your bike for a short or longer ride or go straight home. A totally boring guy. (laughs) I told my girlfriend at the time (now my wife) that, but she didn't want to believe me. I really like being at home and enjoying the peace and quiet. I just need that as a balance to my job.

Difficult but comfortable

Hamburg is a very liveable city and I don't really miss anything here. The weather is difficult, but Hamburg is comfortable. Berlin is a real big city that is rough and tough. And the older I get, the harder I find Berlin. You can do everything here by bike. I move around the Alster and around the port. That's it. Of course, Hamburg is also a big city, but Berlin is more multicultural, there's a lot more happening there, the gastronomy scene is much larger there, larger and with more companies. It's much more exciting there, but I still don't want to live there.

Beer and football

I'm Westphalian – a boy from Dortmund. You won't get rid of that either. I love beer and I love soccer. No matter how stylish and chic the bar might be, you won't get rid of that. For me, there's only black and yellow (Borussia Dortmund) and I live it the way a person from the Ruhr area lives it. A Hamburger can't understand that. Because of the (sometimes dramatic) Dortmund games, my neighbors know me quite well (laughs).

Air pump vs. machines

In my (little) free time, everything revolves around soccer and cycling. (laughs) If possible, I also go to Borussia Dortmund games. I still have my away season ticket. Of course, it was always great when Dortmund played Hamburg. Then my boys came over from back home. But mostly, I see the boys on away trips. And when it's off to a nice city in the European Cup, then of course, you're happy to hang on for a few more days. In the summer, I actually ride my bike almost every day. But I also need a lot of regeneration because I almost only ride with (former) professionals. I'm just an air pump. (laughs) Somehow, I just have "machines" around me here, but it's getting better and better.

Barefoot on the beach

I'm very sensitive to the weather, especially when it's cold. Although I wear winter clothing and occasionally ride my bike in the winter, I feel more comfortable on the trainer when the temperature is cold. I'm just a creature of comfort, I love warmth, I like being barefoot, water and the beach. So as soon as it gets warmer, even if it's only for an hour, I hop on my bike and just start riding. Hamburg now also has a better bicycle infrastructure, so I can be out and about in no time and just ride. Head out and just enjoy nature.

Espresso and cornetti

I associate a lot of stress reduction with cycling. The Corona period was really not easy, especially for us. But as soon as I'm on the bike, everything is gone and my thoughts are clear. I've always had that in sports. It used to work wonderfully when I used to go jogging. I ride a bike for the sake of riding a bike. But also because of the experience in nature. We can go fast sometimes, but I'm not primarily interested in shooting and cycling. I never wanted to make any comparisons. I never had the right ambition for that. It doesn't matter to me whether I'm shooting through the area at 20 km/h or with a 35 average. When in doubt, I prefer to drive 20, because then I can perceive my surroundings much more. If I, for example, when I'm traveling in Italy, I want to stop in every village, drink espresso and eat cornetti. And if there is a lake there, then I want to jump in there too. Before I got into racing bikes, I also did a lot of mountain biking in the Sauerland. 

Wear pro, ride slow

At that time, we had a film production facility in the backyard of our bar, which later became a bicycle shop. Back then, Stephan (Head of Design at Schindelhauer) brought the very first prototypes through the house entrance and I was totally amazed by the Siegfried. Since I'm a very visual person, I really wanted to buy the Siegfried. Luckily, I was able to convince Stephan and thus received one of the first Siegfrieds before they were even in the shop. In addition, when I buy a bike, the saddle has to be comfortable, but it also has to look cool. Accordingly, I customize my bikes a lot. For instance, I don't like the curved handlebars on Schindelhauers. So I bought new handlebars and new grips. I also remove all the spacers on the stem just to give it a sportier look. Wear pro, ride slow. (laughs) I like minimalism and little colour. It's not necessarily mass-compatible, it's more of a hobby. 10 years ago the market wasn't ready for it, but today you can see a Schindelhauer on every corner of Hamburg. (laughs)

Like on the first day

For me, Schindelhauer stands for aesthetics, quality and authenticity. And quality is very important to me. But you also have to spend money to get quality. Unfortunately, that's the way it is, but you'll benefit from it in the long term. My Schindelhauer-Siegfried is now 13 years old and it still drives like the first day. People often ask me about my Siegfried on the street. Hamburg is a rich city and I know a lot of people who ride a Schindelhauer. Also many of our regular guests. Some of them have very well-paid jobs and can easily afford a Schindelhauer. But people don't let it hang out that much. They wear normal t-shirts and jeans.

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