Inside the World of PANKE
Seven years ago, Justas Rudziaskas and Erika Siekstelyte decided to take on a challenge. They wanted to create a different kind of creative space, a type of project they believed they hadn’t seen in Berlin before.
And so PANKE (pronounced pan-kay) was born. Situated by the river of the same name, the business is made of four main spaces- a café, club, gallery and a garden. They proudly support edgy creativity that happens away from mainstream culture. They do this by offering their location, to any creative projects that they believe needs more exposure than it currently receives.
I got the chance to visit PANKE late in the evening. The premises itself isn’t very appealing from the outside. Located off the main street, to reach PANKE you have to go through a yard surrounded by what looks like abandoned buildings. Taking a few turns past graffiti sprayed walls and overhead tunnels, you finally see a small sign pointing to the door of the building.
Outside, only muffled laughter and chat can be heard through the heavy thick door. But once inside, you find yourself cocooned into the world of PANKE. The bar smells faintly of smoke, with a few people lounging on the couch while others watch the poetry slam taking place in the corner.
Sitting down for our interview, Justas explains to me how him and his girlfriend Erika came across the location for PANKE.
“We’re both originally from Lithuania and moved to Germany because of our jobs. We were partying in Berlin and checking what spaces they had, but we found it hard to find somewhere we both really liked. Erika was working nearby here and one night we walked past here and saw this area. It was totally abandoned, no windows or doors but we had the idea then and there that we could do something with this area. We wanted to open up a place away from the intense Berlin scene and show the city what we liked,” explains Justas.
Justas believes creative people are drawn to Berlin because they can feel the special type of energy that the city has.
“Some cities are known for their banks or making cars. But Berlin is a city that is making money out of nightlife. That’s what makes it so crazy and different. People come for a few months to check it out and then bam they find some projects or partners and they start to create, maybe they put together a band, or write theatre piece.”
“There are 70,000 people in the city who are registered as artists. From those numbers you can imagine the energy that comes from the city. That’s why I believe the city is so crazy and different from other cities in Europe,” continues Justas.
Berlin even managed to inspire Justas and Erika. A creative person at heart, Justas has been part of a hip hop band, performs rap, is a former hot air balloon pilot and is a teacher of the Lithuanian language. For him he felt he slotted perfectly into Berlin.
While Erika first visited Berlin twelve years ago. When she returned to Lithuania she noticed the difference between the energy of Berlin to her own country, which at the time was in the phase of post-Soviet Union and was burdened by derelict buildings and a rough society. It led her to be inspired to achieve a new adventure in Berlin.
PANKE, which is a Lithuanian word to describe a girl who is part of a punk sub culture, are approached with many requests to use their space. But do they accept them all?
“People come to PANKE with their ideas that they want to showcase and mostly I say, ‘yeah let’s do it’. But the one condition I have is with music, because we don’t do punk or techno. PANKE is for chilled vibes, hip hop, funk or soul. We try to keep away from the rough Berlin style and not just be like another club.”
And do him and Erika receive any funding for their business?
“Berlin is full of government funding’s. We were mostly independent for many years, but now we have the gallery that is managed by a German curator and he gets funding for the space. This year he got a nice amount of money to showcase five exhibitions in PANKE gallery which we’re really happy with.”
Finally, my last question for Justas is, what does he see as the future for PANKE?
“I’d like to see PANKE reach ten years. After that I’d like some flexibility away from the business and do more travelling.”
And that is Berlin in a nutshell. A place where ideas are nourished and supported, but it is also a city of freedom, where nothing ties you down and you can let your creativity wander.