Talk with Mr. Jong Young Lee, the owner of café Gong Gan. Mr. Lee studied Architecture at Berlin University of the Arts and opened the café & restaurant Gong Gan (meaning “space” in Korean) in Berlin-Prenzlauer Berg in 2013. Gong Gan is famous for Bingsu (Korean shaved ice, LOVE!). He opened two more places, offering some popular Korean street food such as Korean fried chicken and fried veggies.
CO-WC: The first impression of café was about a strong feeling of nostalgia. The entire place is decorated with old and familiar items, like typewriters, school lockers, Lego pieces, and so on.
Jong Young Lee: You can say it’s vintage.
CO-WC: What is vintage to you?
Jong Young Lee: About 10 years ago, looking back my life, I realized that I had spent plenty of time daydreaming without specific plans. Then I decided to do something I know and do very well. I’ve always been interested in the period 1910 – 1920. The time also brings back rich memories of my grandma; a transistor radio, a bowl of peppermint candies, and a wooden lice comb by her bedside…
CO-WC: Your knowledge about the history and personal associations were transformed into this place.
Jong Young Lee: Exactly, it’s about a period that heavily influenced both my childhood and life. I identify myself with those years. This is a true vintage to me. Plus, handcrafted goods at that time are durable and last generations. They might look old-fashioned, but the superior quality is invaluable.
CO-WC: I guess this is why the place makes me feel so warm and homey, just like when I visit an old buddy. It’s such an honour to have Gong Gan as the first partner for CO-WC Berlin project.
“I personally don’t find it uncomfortable to go to an all-gender restroom.”
CO-WC: Let’s talk about unisex toilets? How do you think about using gender-neutral restrooms? Would it be rather uncomfortable or…?
Jong Young Lee: Well, I personally don’t find it uncomfortable to go to an all-gender restroom. But for some guests, maybe. A shy lady might feel embarrassed to use it when men are around. In a case of Muslim women, it can be worse. But then, after all, it is quite bearable, for the use is only for a brief moment.
CO-WC: This is an interesting point. In fact, CO-WC project questions if the long-shared space can be reborn, as a place where everybody feels at home. If we believe the space is open for all, regardless of race, age, or gender, it definitely plays a bigger role than a bearable space as you shortly mentioned. We see this challenge as a big chance to change the perspective on others as well as on oneself (check out CO-WC idea).
Jong Young Lee: It’s possible, especially here in Berlin. Living here for 16 years, I feel that it’s a place where I can concentrate on myself and accept differences at the same time. When it comes down to gender-neutral bathrooms, you need a detailed, specific plan. In the end, it’s about to respect all the differences others have.
CO-WC: That’s right. Having respect for others is the key element of our project. Thank you very much for taking the time to speak with us, Mr. Lee. We appreciate your support and we will do our best to make it happen.
Jong Young Lee: You sure do.
CO-WC: Jong Young Lee, thank you very much!