Vadim Otto Ursus Henselder - otto

Vadim Otto Ursus Henselder - otto

"Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.” (Henry David Thoreau)

Charisma - that heady potpourri of charm, intelligence, and authenticity. I always thought there was a smattering of extroversion in there too, and then I met Vadim and I was bewitched! A calm and pensive and truly charismatic person.

Vadim and I are about the same age and as we sit on the porch of his laboratory kitchen in Schorfheide, we speak about important life milestones, style, coincidences, and most importantly: values. Determination, mindfulness, sustainability, and a lot of other very deep and meaningful words. As I listen, I catch myself thinking: “Cripes, this man is so far ahead!” And then cannot prevent the unbidden follow-up: am I this far ahead?

My worry has less to do with comparison and a lot more to do with admiration. Vadim seems to be quite settled or set in his values, which I think in this context is something positive. His youthful appearance, plethora of experiences, and the weight of his words brings to mind an article I read not so long ago: “Life as an avocado - it takes time to really mature” (Allard von Kittlitz, ZEIT).

Do I first have to feel the weight of life on my shoulders in order to understand and define both it and myself better? Well. D’oh (in my humble opinion). Is it right to equate age with experience and in turn experience with truth and values of an opinion? I have my doubts, but only as it sounds very much like a template. How then can a system of values change if it is not put to the test by youthful recklessness and the light-heartedness that comes with it, to query this supposed truth of the traditional? One only has to look to Vadim for that. And so I will, in just a moment.

What kind of values do I embody? What do I stand for? What do I want to stand for? These questions have quite a constricting feeling to them, that's how deep they cut. Maybe there are people out there who have asked themselves these same questions. Maybe before ordering a veal schnitzel, but I want to take a step back and ask how a set of values is actually formed?

Seeking an answer to this I stumbled across „Leitlinien für die Wertebildung von Kindern und Jugendlichen“ (Guidelines for the Formation of Values Education of Children and Adolescents) by the Bertelsmann Stiftung, where it says: "Values play an important role in our lives. As ideas of what is socially and personally desirable, they give us orientation for our actions and dealings with one another. Therefore, value education is essential. (...) Value education is a lifelong process in which people develop value awareness, value attitudes and value competence, and learn to act in a value-oriented manner. However, important foundations are laid in childhood and adolescence. Role models play a special role in this process."

I like this quote because it finds a nice balance between outside input and the ability to form own values and also be capable of growing further, particularly the last bit: role models, value givers. I am kind of leaving solid ground behind but my gut feeling tells me that I can't be all that wrong, what with all the spells, avocadoes and role models I’m juggling.

It was no simple task finding my way into Vadim's laboratory kitchen. It is part of a sprawling, almost enchanted village community made up of probably about twenty souls and set amidst the beautiful landscape of the Schorfheide-Chorin biosphere reservation. Pure Brandenburg romanticism! I am greeted by Vadim and his mother, Meggie, a strong presence in his life.

After training at Neugrüns Köche, one of the region-legion, Vadim’s path quickly led him abroad to new experiences and broader horizons, to Maaemo in Oslo, to Mexico, and back to Europe to Noma in Copenhagen. Nordic Cuisine at the absolute top level. Eight out of nine possible stars! One of the absolute core values of Nordic Cuisine is respect for nature and its creatures. The seasons always set the pace and determine the plate. These are values and approaches that Vadim was immediately able to identify with. His last stop before coming home to roost in Berlin was the Faroe Islands - and a place called Koks! Meggie accompanied him on many of these journeys. As an artist, she herself has been on the road a lot. An exhibition here, another project there. Indeed, it was a reciprocal way of keeping each other company.

“I was always given the freedom to find my own way and discover what I wanted to do. I was never alone and always knew that I had support.”

Shortly after our interview, Vadim and his team held one of three dinners as part of the Art Biesenthal, a country art residency for international artists held on the site of a fourteenth century mill on the nearby River Finow in Brandenburg. Meggie was of course part of this. She whirled through the crowd in a visibly good mood and helped take care of the many small details that made this event so special.

As soon as Vadim returned to Berlin he began successive remodelling and an extension of an old B34 East German bungalow into what is now his laboratory kitchen. Schorfheide is his sanctuary far from the noises of the madding city. This is where he applied his newly gained knowledge and refined it, always using what the countryside around Berlin had to offer. But there came a point when he had to tell himself: I have all these wonderful products. The time has come to present them to my fellow citizens.

And so, after the success of a few pop-ups, he received an offer to take over the location that now houses the otto on the Oderberger Strasse, a stone’s throw from Kastanienallee/Casting Allee. 

"We place great emphasis on teamwork. These are not only my colleagues, but above all friends. I want everyone here to be able to develop freely and contribute their strengths."

Vadim is a Berlin native and the quote that I got out of him can be construed as a call or a challenge to his colleagues:

“My motivation is not so much an unconditional love for the Berlin area, as I have noticed that my approach works here as well as in the Nordic countries, but it would probably work almost anywhere in Germany. It’s more about getting to grips with things a little."

This leads me to comment on the hush-shushed, controversial topic of veal production. Such distasteful methods for that tastefullest of meats where the extreme surplus of unwanted male calves means they’re sold for less than their upkeep costs – about €10/calf – the true doo of moo – and shipped around like old mattresses.

Organic veal is still a niche product. There are some starts to produce half and half calves (half dairy, half meat) in Germany so they are somewhat profitable in both areas, but farmers are usually already specialised and switching species is big bucks. Why bring this up? It’s to do with values. I can’t spout about the beauty of having any without mentioning the ugliness of not.

It always takes people who walk new paths and at the same time are willing to pass on their values. Personality helps. And thankfully, Vadim has lots of that! I am convinced that people influence each other by the things they do. People inspire and that spark jumps from one individual to another, until soon you have a fire. Let it burn! Let it catch! This fire can be the impulse that we may all need to change our way of thinking.

Which brings me to my final note: From time to time one can find calf meat on Vadim’s menu for the meat is exquisite, and he procures it from a dairy farmer located in the vicinity of his laboratory kitchen because, as I said, he keeps it regional. For years, that farmer would sell his male calves to be shipped to China and all that that entailed. But now, Vadim buys them, sparing the animals those atrocities no living creature should ever have to endure. A shift in the system. It is a small-scale change. But it makes a difference. It is valuable. Vadim’s approach is not to criticise others, but instead to open up new ways which work – to lead by example. This is an essential part of his nature that I did not want to exclude.

„We are quicksilver, a fleeting shadow, a distant sound... our home has no boundaries beyond which we cannot pass. We live in music, in a flash of color... we live on the wind and in the sparkle of a star." – Endora, the mother of all witches.

So, surely, if our time on Earth is so fleeting in the grander scheme of things, oughtn’t we to make sure we make it count, be principled and uphold good standards? Live well, I say, live valuably, and that’s the truth!