Cotton from Gulu in Berlin

Acaye Christopher has only a vague idea of what happens to his cotton. He often sees the large pressed cotton bales being loaded onto trucks, but he is unaware of where they are delivered. Ato Evaline’s ideas are only slightly more precise. It will probably be made into clothing, and she has also seen “Cotton Wool” in the hospital, she tells us as we sit with her next to her field, the red of her scarf wrapped around her head contrasting with the bright blue sky. Charles Oboth, the Operations Manager of the Gulu Agricultural Development Company (GADC), confirms that most farmers know that the cotton is processed into clothing, however they are not informed or aware of what kind of clothing it is or who makes it. “But we do”, he adds with a smile, as the ginning machines rattle in the background.

Acaye Christopher and Ato Evaline during field work in 2023.
Acaye Christopher and Ato Evaline during field work in 2023.

A good 5,800 kilometers as the crow flies away, in the Kreuzberg district of Friedrichstrasse, where the glamor of Berlin’s main boulevard is replaced by snack bars, gambling halls, and a dreary vocational information center, you can find number 217. Behind the curtains of the large storefront windows on the ground floor of the gray-brown seventies building, you might suspect a gallery or an atelier, however certainly not one of the few German restaurants that belong to “The World’s 50 Best Restaurants”.

After a short ring, a bald man with a black beard in a snow-white, classic double-breasted chef’s jacket opens the door and invites us in. Micha Schäfer, head chef and creative director of the Michelin-starred restaurant Nobelhart & Schmutzig, leads us to a large horseshoe-shaped counter that surrounds the concept kitchen.

Ato Evaline and Acaye Christopher were amazed to see that the entire kitchen team in the middle of Berlin was wearing jackets made from GADC cotton, perhaps even from their cotton. The restaurant’s elegance paired with coolness, the balancing act between restaurant and nightlife has made Nobelhart und Schmutzig a fixture in Berlin and international gastronomy. Still, at first glance, the two worlds couldn’t seem more different.

At first glance… because what could be dismissed as hip superficiality gains depth through initiatives like Die Gemeinschaft e.V. Together with the Berlin restaurant Horváth, Nobelhart & Schmutzig is the initiator of the non-profit association Die Gemeinschaft e.V., in which artisan food producers and restaurateurs exchange, cooperate and support each other – to achieve positive impacts on soils, people, jobs, young people, animals, diversity and the environment through their work. What started small has now found supporters nationwide.

Head chef and creative director Micha Schäfer with his team at work in the Nobelhart & Schmutzig restaurant in Berlin.
Head chef and creative director Micha Schäfer with his team at work in the Nobelhart & Schmutzig restaurant in Berlin.

Micha Schäfer explains what the attitude means for the restaurant: “We want to ‘look behind’ not only at the food, but also at everything else in the restaurant. Who are the producers of the cups and glasses, where does the wood for the counter come from, and who is the carpenter? We want there to be people behind the products we use.”

The concept of “looking behind” also includes the restaurant’s chef’s jackets as well as the curiosity, interest and appreciation for the work that has been put into them in northern Uganda. What seems so different at first glance is not actually that far apart. Acaye Christopher and Ato Evaline are farmers who, in addition to cotton, also grow sesame and chili peppers for the international market, not to mention other crops for their own needs. Their extensive know-how and daily work guarantee high-quality products that find buyers and thus secure their livelihood. So there is little difference to a farmer in Brandenburg who belongs to Die Gemeinschaft. However, it would be interesting if the two worlds could get to know each other.

The whole interview by Stefan Rennicke with Micha Schäfer from Nobelhart & Schmutzig can be found at KAYA&KATO

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