Forager and culinary experience designer Inés Lauber’s fascination with food, not just as essential sustenance, but as a design material and storytelling tool has unearthed a new side to her home city of Berlin. The city’s past distinguishes its culture from other major European cities, having only relatively recently opened its borders after the fall of the wall. And for Inés, that makes it the perfect setting for designing unique culinary experiences that connect her guests using the universal language of food.
“I started five to six years ago digging into the topic of wild food and foraging,” Inés remembers, “back then I was in search of a lost flavour – like a lost taste, which is bitter. And I found it with all the wild herbs.” Working outwards from her own neighborhood, Inés’ eye has gradually become trained in identifying different plants, and recognizing where certain varieties grow: “Berlin is a whole salad – but of course you don't wanna just pick everywhere,” Inés smiles.
Foraging is a means to reconnect with nature and the seasons. And although it may seem paradoxical, to search for wild food in the middle of a concrete jungle is perhaps the most rewarding. In most big cities, our endlessly replenished supermarket shelves and instantaneous takeaway culture means food can arrive at your doorstep in minutes. Exploring wild food in an urban environment, Inés believes, “reconnects us to soil. Soil is supposed to be dirty, but it is actually the essence of life.” As the empty supermarket shelves of the COVID-19 pandemic reminded many of us, reestablishing an awareness of the processes behind our food production is key when it comes to building more sustainable future cities.
Berlin is unlikely to be the first place that comes to mind when you think of foraging. But Inés has unearthed a growing community of wild food foragers in the city that has since become a cherished aspect of the activity: “It’s the exchange, and community of these people that’s valuable.” Inés thinks of Berlin as “a city on the move,” attributing its diverse and constantly fluctuating makeup to its own story as a site of conflict and division during the war: “I see Berlin like a forest growing… because we had the opportunity to start all over again about 30 years ago when the wall came down and left us with a blank canvas.” Like seedlings to towering oaks in a forest, the city’s ever-changing and diversifying people and culture enriches life in Berlin for its inhabitants. This diversity is most evident in the many cuisines offered in Berlin.
“I see Berlin like a forest growing… because we had the opportunity to start all over again about 30 years ago when the wall came down and left us with a blank canvas.”
While studying product design at university, Inés discovered a new way to experience food – as a design material: “I was visiting a lot of different workshops, and I loved working and exploring all these materials, from wood to metal. But I really got stuck with food.” Today, Inés designs installations and events with a focus on food, including pop-up restaurants and bars, workshops, performances, and guerilla actions. Using food both as a design material and a storytelling tool, Inés has uncovered a newfound appreciation for food’s ability to “unlock the full potential of a story,” and establish meaningful connections between people. “I love the fact that food is a material that literally stays within you and you take it with you, it becomes part of your body the moment a person eats it,” Inés explains. It’s this that makes a food experience highly personal and even emotional: “It actually speaks to you on so many levels because all your five senses are involved, and the art and the food are brought together.”
Food, from Inés’ perspective, is a connecting tool, “first of all, because it's a unifying material. Everybody understands food.” But it's also meant by which we can begin to understand different cultures: “You could say it is an internationally spoken language.” Does Inés aim whenever she designs a culinary experience? To tap into something unforgettable: “The best possible thing a guest could say to me would be ‘this is the moment that stays with me for the rest of my life.’”
In the series Rider Stories, we explore perspectives on living and working in cities and beyond through the eyes of our riders.