Heinz "Cookie" Gindullis - Friends of Friends / Freunde von Freunden (FvF)

Heinz “Cookie” Gindullis

As one of the most visible figures of the Berlin Nightlife Cookie, better known as Heinz Gindullis, has turned a tiny event location into a small empire. When Cookie moved to Berlin he was just 17 years old and had no intention of getting a traditional job or to taking a classic approach to life by commencing a university degree. After starting as a dishwasher in a Jewish restaurant in Berlin Mitte; he decided to run a bar at the young age of 21. That was in the mid 90’s. They were small beginnings with just a small room and a tape deck on four square meters. The main room had a DJ, buckets at the bar for cleaning glasses, plus another bucket for water that regularly dripped from the ceiling. The bar was originally meant to be referred to as the particular day of the week it opened such as, “ Dienstagsbar” or “Donnerstagsbar”. The only problem was, nobody could remember that, so instead everybody just called it ‘Cookies’. Since then a lot has changed, except with one constant element; that nothing stays the same for long. Cookie changed the location of his club and appearance many times. to be precise seven times.

Since arriving in Berlin, Cookie has opened and closed a range of restaurants and bars, with creative breaks in between. He was also involved in fashion for a time. Cookie is the heart and soul behind his internationally acclaimed club, which has been running now for an impressive 18 years. His most precious purpose in life, his son and his girlfriend (who is pregnant for the second time), has changed everything again for him in recent years.

Cookie, how did you manage to find your locations?
Pure chance. The first bar was in the cellar of the house I was living in at the time. My neighbor wanted to open up a bar with me. I agreed, but then he left for Egypt for six months and I decided to do it on my own. The next location used to be my sister’s workshop. The third location was offered to me, a room within the ‘Kalkscheune’. Then from Augustrasse, to Postfuhramt, Backfabrik and Charlottenstrasse, which was the longest time in one location, if you don’t count the location where Cookies is now.

You took a long break after Charlottenstrasse was finished.
Yes, exactly two years.

What did you do all this time?
Mainly events, catering and a little holiday. The problem was just that none of my friends had the money or time to go with me. And I had done the WM Bar for Adidas.

Did you have other plans in your life?
To be a banker ?! No !

Have you done any studies or completed a degree?
No. I came to Berlin, when I was 18 years old. I started as a dishwasher, the classic way; from dishwasher, to kitchen help and cook and then I started to work behind a bar. I happened to be working behind the bar of the most popular Jewish restaurant at that time. I started to do my own bars when I had just turned 21.

You have been your own boss now for over 17 years and are also responsible for a lot of people.
Yes. Aside from looking after myself and my new family, and then of course also for more than one hundred employees.

Are you afraid that you might fail? Have you ever thought about the possibility of failing?
If it fails, then it fails. Life goes on and life will continue to go on for everyone involved. Of course I worry. It depends…There are times when everything works out fine and everything is great. When it’s not going too well and you recognize that the team doesn’t work together, then you get a little scared. But on the other hand, if the team works well together, then it works!

Apart from Cookies you were involved in other projects, why did you withdraw from these additional projects?
Five years ago I opened up the new club, I started a web-based business, The Labelfinder, and all together it was too much at once. I never felt that I had enough time for both projects. In general you always feel you haven’t got enough time for your projects. But I never had enough time for Labelfinder, the club, the two restaurants and on top of that came the bar, Trust. If you’re never there for example, at Trust, and you see how things are going and what could be done better, it’s unfair to make comments and interfere when your partners are there around the clock. It got too much and I needed a break, or more to the point, I needed to focus on one thing. The one thing that is closest to my heart. This is the club Cookies and of course cream, CHIPPS and the catering. A lot of people don’t even know, that we do catering. In the last year, we have offered this service for big companies and also for Berlin Fashion Week.

Do you have days, where you would like to stop it all and start over with something completely different?
Yes, these ideas do exist from time to time, of course. Just recently in fact I thought about what I could do, where I could work, where could I apply! Questioning what would I enjoy doing. And then I thought about working for another restaurateur or for an agency and couldn’t actually comprehend working for someone else! Everything should stay how it is. Then I thought, I could sell Cookies, but after half a year or so I probably wouldn’t know anyone in the club anymore and I couldn’t party either. So that was that.

Do you go to work with new energy?
Sure, at times, when you have that new energy and you go with a WOAH to work! When the parties are great, the atmosphere is right and the right people are there, for example, during fashion week the club rocks. Then you get the energy to continue. But then you have times when it’s not like that. Sometimes I feel too old for the industry, you see all the young people and think: Oh my god!

But it constantly changes …
Of course! It goes on. The phrase I have heard the most over the last 17 years is: “ Last year everything was better!” or “ The last location was better !” or “ The crowd was better!” I heard this 17 years ago, already. The crowd now parties and enjoys the club. They are in the here and now. And those people will most probably say in a years time, that everything was better a year ago, because they had the best time at Cookies now.

Do you think it comes down to the fact people don’t like change?

How do you source your employees?
We are approached by a range of different people. It really depends on area they want to work in. For Cookies Cream; the chefs come to us. From other restaurants, they want to know how we cook vegetarian. The people for the club are mainly there, because they want to party and have fun. And now that we focus on a more professional bar, people that want to work in a cocktail bar find us.

Are they often friends of friends?
It used to be like that. But it’s not like that anymore. Friends of friends have it easier to get in the door, but they have to prove themselves the same way that everybody else does.

Do you have future plans?
Actually I decided to minimize everything a little and focus my main project, on what I’ve built over the last 17 years. Strangely since I made this clearer a lot of people have asked me to do something with them in a business sense. If there is something I am really interested in, I would certainly get involved. But as it stands at the moment, I wouldn’t do a small bar or a small restaurant again. Preferably though something big, a hotel perhaps…

How did you get this nice flat?
A friend of a friend asked me, if I knew someone that would need a nice, big flat. At that time Bea and I were looking for a new apartment, because we were expecting a child together. This apartment was all done up and renovated by the previous tenant. He found a new object to renovate, so he left us with this one.

Nice lamp! Where did you get this?
I got this as a present for my last birthday. Actually you should have ten of them for a really great lighting effect.

How do you manage family life and business?
I wanted to quit the office- job completely in the beginning. I only wanted to be at the club at night. It didn’t really work out that way. Now I’m in the office more often. I’m trying to be at home on the weekends. Arthur, my son, is then with me most of the time. It is quite difficult to manage both work and family life. I think it is always difficult, but of course due to my job requiring me to work into the night and morning, it makes it even harder. During the week, I’m at home very little. I guess I am a workaholic. I have to have an eye on everything.

Cookie thanks so much for talking to us about your entrepreneurial successes. We have had a lot of fun getting to know you a little better. Visit the Cookies club website here.

Photography: Ailine Liefeld
Interview: Jana Osborn