One of the side effects of the divided German capital was the presence of American soldiers, who came to serve and protect, but also brought with them MTV, junk food and a love of basketball – as well as an obscure new sneaker brand called Nike.
Last year you did a few very nice pairs of Air Force for your store Solebox - why did you choose the AF-1?
I love the AF-1. It’s the right shoe for me. It’s a classic and timeless silhouette. The simplicity and the strong appearance gave me the decision to go it when Nike offered us the possibility to make 12 pairs and we gave them away on the evening. The colourway is simple and classic just like the shoes – black, white midsole and gum outsole with a touch of red. Strong and straight like we are!
Can you explain a little history... does what happened after WW2 still have a big impact on modern Germany?
Germany was split in four Sectors after World War 2. Each Sector was under control of the occupying forces and Berlin’s situation was really unique. It was like an island within Germany, split by the famous Berlin Wall (Mauer) which divided Berlin in two parts: the East (occupied by the Communists) and the West, which was under the influence of French, British and American Allies. I know for some of you guys it sounds a bit like schooltime, and to be true I am feeling the same right now writing this down – but imagine how different life was in Berlin, where every sector was controlled by Allies from different countries?
Does it seem weird to you now to have had the wall running through the city?
I am born in West Berlin and it was always weird to have a wall running through the city. I am lucky that I grew up in the West. Sometimes I am still thinking how it was to have the city split like this? Or what might have happened if I lived in East Berlin – would I ever have the same love for trainers?
What are your memories of the eighties – the time the Air Force Was invented?
In West Berlin we had a nice time, we had many possibilities and my younger brother Mehmet was born in 1985 so I love the 80s. It was a great time! The first handheld games were on the market. Movies like E.T., Scarface and Return of the Jedi were in theatres. Music from David Bowie, Eddy Grant, Nena, Michael Jackson, Mike Oldfield you heard in the radio.
I can see me clearly on a BMX bike wearing a mesh shirt (ugly) and some Nike running shoes (Internationalist) and asking my parents for a Walkman.
How were German kids getting access to American culture?
MTV was rarely seen at this time as only about 15% of the households had cable but I was one of the lucky few – suddenly break-dance, rap music and graffiti found its way to Germany and we had new idols: Eric B and Rakim, LL Cool J, Kurtis Blow, NWA, Public Enemy and many others.
We did not only listen to their music, we saw what they were wearing but we did not know where to get the items we saw. Until we found out that the Allies had their own shopping facilities here in Berlin called The AAFES (Army and Air Force Exchange Service) better known as the PX. This was ‘The Place’ to get the hot stuff, which others did not have and The Truman Plaza became the spot to be!
It was an American microcosm in Berlin. You had sports facilities like basketball courts, baseball fields and athletic gyms as well as shopping facilities and incredible innovations such as free refills at Burger King which was new in Germany. It was the American Way of LifeTM. All of a sudden we had access to Big Red, Dr. Pepper, Twizzlers, Kurtis Blow and of course, to Nikes.
I’m sure soccer’s the national sport – how does basketball fit into the Berlin picture?
At this time, basketball was pretty exotic and only a very few had a clue about this sport. For example, the mother of my friend was married to a soldier in the US Army in Berlin, so he had a collection of VHS cassettes of basketball games.
The Allies influenced us in many other cultural things such as sports, food and clothing etc. The AF-1 is connected to hip hop, basketball and shoe collectors at the same time. I do not know if many people are still playing in AF-1s but if I was a bit sportier I would wear AF-1s to play basketball. The German hip-hop industry is still wearing AF-1 as their favourite kicks. And as we all know, many of us shoe enthusiasts have AF-1s in our repertoire.
What is the story with the new Berlin Air Force - there are three models. Can you explain their inspiration?
I am pretty sure the inspiration of the Berlin Air Force 1s is based on the American Allies in Berlin. With our history it makes sense to use military green.
On the Mid you see clearly the army background with the camo midsole and the ripstop material in olive and the safety orange highlights. My favourite is the Lo model – the technical visibility of the air unit reminds me of an army vehicle and the quality leather has a touch of a cavalry saddle. It would be really interesting to know what the designers had in mind.
But in my opinion, the main thing are the insoles which carry the story. The parachute heart reminds me of the Berlin Air-Lift, when the Allies supplied Berlin with food over the air. The insoles are inspired by the different Brigades based in Berlin, and they are looking like Army badges.
The camo model with the decoration on the midsole looks really fresh - do you know how they did that?
I was asking myself this too as I saw them first. It does not look like it’s painted on. Maybe they did it similar to a cake? Perhaps they put in a mould the main color material and some splashes of the other colors and mixed it a bit up? I’m not sure.
It’s definitely fresh, i’ve never seen it before. And the gum? Do you love Big Red or Bubblicious?
I love Big Red! Cinnamon was the taste of America in the ‘80s for me. Do you think it is the reason why the third AF-1 is looking a bit like a chewing gum inspired? After reading all this, have you ever thought that so much energy and idea is behind a shoe? Good Job Nike. From now on I will be more sensible and open eyed.