The Berlin Wool

The sunflower yellow S-bahn arced its way around an elevated sweep of railway, like a welcoming smile on platform 15 of the Berlin Hauptbanhof.

There’s a disarming low-key-ness to arriving in a new country by train – no passports, luggage collection or international arrivals paraphernalia – just a platform change for the metro to finish the journey. It was 7am on Saturday morning and the clickety clackety S-Bahn train I switched onto was almost empty save for a few wrecked looking ravers on their way home, some early rising Saturday workers, and me trying not to be too obvious about how thrilled I was at the marvellousness of falling asleep on a sleeper train through Belgium the night before, only to wake up in central Europe 8 hours later.

I’d come to Berlin for the Wedding Woll Weekend, a knitting fest organised by Wollen Berlin, a local yarn store in the Wedding district of the city, north of the Stadt Mitte/city centre. The shop is on the ground floor of a rennovated old industrial block which you access through a shady courtyard, transformed for the purposes of the weekend, into a knitting terrace full of trestle tables. A small market-place of dyers, wool makers and designers was set up in a space up on the 3rd floor on the other side of the courtyard with a balcony that looked down onto the knitters below.

Although it’s now in its second year, and attracting knitters from across Berlin and the rest of Germany, there is something about the slow sunny pace, and modest scale of the event which made it not only manageable and accessible for a complete stranger like me, but also unusually inviting. The fizzy excitement you get from knitters discovering new and beautiful hand-dyed yarns was mellowed by the space that people had for talking through their knitting curiorisities. There was a not-at-all-overwhelming friendliness to the way people were delighting in the knitwear they encountered on each other – so many keeping (and looking!) cool in sleeveless cotton and linen handknits from familiar designs we’ve been enjoying with customers all summer: camilsoles, vests and tanks by My Favourite Things, Paula Strickt, Petite Knits, Sweaterspotter and others. Summer knitting it seems, has a fertile home in Berlin! But it was Wollen’s celebrated YarnChix podcaster and Zine producer, Mimi (AKA @liebwedd) who stole the show in her beautifully modifed version of Heidi Kästner’s Pomme made in Wollen’s own-label Lino Muka.

I finished my round of the stalls with a pleasingly plump brown paper bag of newly discovered sheepy yarns, and went on to investigate the Wollen shop. Rails, pegs, and shelves of wool by Dlana, Wool Dreamers, Dererum Natura and Rosa Pomar appeared like old friends in new outfits, arranged along Wollen’s lovely shop fittings that climb up the elegant walls of the lofty shop building. Thanks to Wollen’s owner, Ruta, the shop has also become a Mecca for knitting and sewing with linen: she stocks an almost edible pallette of 84 shades of dinky 50g skeins of Lina Muka as well as great bolts of richly coloured fabric, all produced and dyed in Lithuania. Wandering around the shop left me feeling like I was visiting Wild and Woolly’s slightly more grown-up central European relation – our shops are definitely connected – you could feel some kind common ancestry there, but this was the multi-lingual, Milch-Kaffee sipping, U-bahn-riding cousin – the one you so enjoy getting to visit in the summer.

My day ended around a table in the courtyard with a group of knitters whose usual knitting home is a wool shop in the north west of Hamburg called Mylys. They’d travelled together for the weekend and within minutes of budging up to make room for me on the bench, my project and yarn choices were being stirred into the chattering group mix and my foreign-ness and rusty German were of no consequence at all. The MyLys’ owner, Naïma Hakim, was already comparing notes with me about up and down yarns, patterns and other shop-talk. Wild and Woolly’s family circle now obviously included a much-loved cousin in Hamburg too.

My brief weekend away to a small wool show in Berlin ended as it began, lying on my couchette on the night sleeper making its way across Europe.  I lay awake listening to the sounds and rocking of the train and felt the night breeze coming through the open window of my compartment, and fell asleep thinking about how slow and small  our knitting can be, but how this weekend, it was also immense.

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