One of the few characteristics shared by all highly successful people, regardless of their profession, is a lust for their work. As one of the world’s booming creative centers, Munich is a bustle of artisans, craftspeople, and aficionados, making it a natural place to indulge in my own passion: storytelling. And what better tales to tell than those of the people who are directly responsible for fostering the stories among the members of their community? With that in mind, I set out on a journey to discover and write about a group of particularly passionate creative types and entrepreneurs in Germany’s cultural capital.
Küster / Company Management, Bavarian State Opera
Every night, the stage at the Munich’s National Theatre evolves from an empty space into a multifaceted set with a colorful backdrop, as stagehands and technicians piece together moveable platforms for the evening’s performance. “Although they’re not onstage, and maybe their work isn’t seen by the audience, they are all part of the show, as a piece of a big puzzle,” explains Claudia Küster.
From her seat in a royal box high above the action, the Bavarian State Opera’s artistic director discusses how her passion for the job stems from this interconnectedness. Küster, who has “lived and breathed” opera since the age of 4, said she grew up alongside singers, musicians, and other professionals who now feel like family. While attending the Heinz-Bosl-Stiftung Ballet School in Munich, she often took part in evening performances at the opera house, where she still works 30 years later. She says she enjoys being part of a company that can surprise her every time she watches the curtain rise.
Each opening night is the culmination of weeks of “family teamwork” by the ensemble cast and colleagues working behind the scenes, from costume designers to stagehands. Küster compares this all-important, climactic event to the birth of a child. “You’re proud because it’s yours. Your whole family is around admiring it, and you want to present it to everyone,” she reveals.
The Bavarian State Opera performs for some 400,000 people a year—and often to sold-out crowds. Pulling off the show is a daily challenge, frequently accompanied by problems that must be solved on the spot. From replacing sick musicians to organizing and scheduling, it’s a fast-paced environment that requires a lot of energy. Küster, a self-proclaimed perfectionist, thrives on the challenge. “It’s never perfect enough for us, and that’s the best part,” she says, adding that her efforts are rewarded whenever the curtain rises and then falls to the audience’s applause.
Küster believes that opera-goers can sense her dedication, her excitement, her passion. “Passion is something that sets me on fire immediately when I get in touch with it, see it or feel it.”
Jewelry Designer & Silversmith
“These two are my favorites,” explains Klaus Lohmeyer, choosing tools from the assortment of mallets and metal hammers that lines the wall of his workshop. The tools enable him to create the rough surfaces that typify his handcrafted rings, bracelets, and pendants. Lohmeyer founded Werkstatt:München in the late ’90s, after feeling dissatisfied with men’s jewelry designs. He now employs several like-minded artisans, and the pieces they create from silver, leather, and gold are sold in boutiques around the globe.
The character-rich atelier is tucked away in the courtyard of Munich’s trendy Glockenbach quarter, and radiates a positive vibe that reflects Lohmeyer’s personality. “If you’re creating something beautiful in a good mood, it shines back,” he says. Lohmeyer and his staff divide up the work so that the artists can work on the aspects they enjoy most, such as soldering, engraving, or finishing. He believes this method gets optimal results.
Lohmeyer is passionate about his technique: He opposes the use of machines and believes that “perfection” can only be achieved by human hands. “There is no ‘back button’ in my process, [accuracy] in the hand is vital,” he explains. Mistakes, however, can also be part of the process and force an artist to pursue new directions. Every hammered edge of Lohmeyer’s pieces reflects the love and care that has gone into its making, and the craftsman enjoys seeing the results of his efforts. It’s a basic human need to be able to see the results brought about by your own hands, he says, adding that having the freedom to adjust his technique means he can experiment and explore new niches.
As Lohmeyer shows off a pendant embellished with fish, skulls, and flowers, his love for nature becomes apparent. He’s also fond of sun, crown, and moon hallmarks, which date to medieval Germany when they were used to verify the purity of metals. Klaus says that leaving tool marks is vital, too. “You hammer and hammer for minutes and minutes … if a piece is beautiful, you know it’s beautiful.”
But making jewelry that looks great in a display cabinet isn’t enough. Each piece must convey emotion, enhance the wearer’s identity, and fit comfortably, according to Lohmeyer. Essentially, he wants to create jewelry that makes people happy. “The best compliment for me is to hear someone say they’ve been wearing my jewelry ‘every single day,’” he proclaims.
Two-star Michelin Chef
Setting up for dinner service with precision, the wait staff at Tantris carefully arranges stemware and cutlery on the tables. The restaurant’s interior features walls painted in a deep red, sculptures on each table, and creative lighting, providing a feast for the eyes. All that’s missing is the food—the empty plates await cuisine from the restaurant’s award-winning head chef, Hans Haas.
In the kitchen of Munich’s top restaurant, Haas creates delicious, artistic dishes that earned him two Michelin stars. The veteran chef says that consistency, endurance, and problem-solving are essential ingredients to his success. Haas, who worked his way up from sous chef to executive chef at Tantris, has always aimed high. “As I often say, it’s easy to climb, but it is hard to stay up there.”
Haas has been passionate about food since the age of 11, when he would tag along with his brother, who worked at the village inn. Years later, Haas mastered his skill under the watchful eyes of accomplished chefs. “It was like winning the lottery,” he says, reminiscing about his time with the late French chef Paul Haeberlin. The artistry and passion of these expert chefs laid the foundation that motivated and inspired Haas. “I wanted to look beyond just schnitzel,” he explains, “to get out and see more of the world.”
Haas shares his passion for food with others not only at his restaurant, but also through cookbooks and classes at a school he runs with his wife. He teaches in a home setting, instructing aspiring chefs to “try dishes right away.” Haas believes it’s important to “pass things on and not keep them to yourself.” He sees motivating people as an art form and finds fulfillment in hearing that his professional students now run their own restaurants.
“Perfection starts in your gut, then your brain, and when I feel good, my brain starts working,” Haas says, pointing at his stomach. He explains that even a common dish can improve when cooked with new techniques or equipment. It’s this kind of thinking that helped earn Tantris the Michelin nod. But awards aren’t as important to Haas as ensuring that his guests are satisfied—and keep coming back. To achieve excellence, he says, a chef should “never stop challenging yourself and stay curious.” He finds ideas everywhere and believes that constantly learning and reinventing are what make his job special. “You cook it for the thousandth time, and there’s a chance, a thought, and [suddenly], you know how to improve a recipe.”
Bergmann / Violin maker & restorer
The smell of wood lacquer made from the sap of bean pods hits you as you enter the Klangwerkstatt, the two-room studio where Matthias Bergmann makes and repairs violins. Different-sized bottles of the liquid fill the shelves of the main room, where wood chippings have fallen across the workbench. There’s a small stool in the corner, where Bergmann normally sits. He explains that making each instrument is a long process that can take months. He starts with a block of raw wood, from which he creates the neck, back, plate, and body of each violin. His hands are his primary tools in the process, which involves carving gouges, creating scrapes, and applying lacquer with fine brushes. Although he bases his designs on models of old masters, his goal is to bring individual character to every one of his violins.
Bergmann has a long history of working with wood. Before violins, he served as a carver, restorer, and theater set builder. He is passionate about his job, a fact that’s evident in the artistic, intricate faces and animals he carves into the curling wooden tendrils of his violin heads. He says he is motivated by the quality of the wood and the ability to “start again and again and again” each time he takes on a new project.
We step into the other room of his studio, where Bergmann tests the sound of a cello, simultaneously achieving a rare thing in playing music with the very same hands that crafted the cello. Making violins combines his love for music with his passion for sculpting beautiful pieces of wood. “The acoustic is something that makes it even more beautiful. Therefore, you actually create a sound sculpture!” he says with enthusiasm. Creating something he can hold in his hands is the part Bergmann loves most.
“Sometimes, I think maybe I should try a different profession, but as soon as I start working again, I think, ‘No, this feels right,’” he offers. He explains that he always learns something during the process of crafting each instrument. Even though other people may not see it or understand it, he appreciates his ability to see something new in every violin.
“Objects created by human hands aren’t ‘perfect,’” Bergmann says. He acknowledges that there are some “nearly perfect violins,” such as the Stradivarius that cost millions of dollars and are synonymous with excellence worldwide.
Knowing when a violin is finished is “a combination of steps and feeling,” he says, adding that he finds great joy in his work, which is a goal in and of itself. “Passion and fun are the two things that motivate me, and I know straight away if they are missing.”