Sea Râmica: A Passion for Portugal Comes to Life in Hamburg
Remember when Chip and Joanna Gaines first introduced HGTV to shiplap, and the world exploded? To be honest, at first I wasn’t convinced that they were doing anything new and different. But the more I watched the world fall in love with couples like Chip and Joanna, the more I realized a shift is happening in the world of trends. And I love it.
People want to be like Chip and Joanna.
Their Texas-grown arts and crafts are suddenly more buzzworthy than the new iphone.
Driven by a desire to counteract the technology-driven world we live in, more people then ever before are getting their hands dirty, traveling the world, and finding outlets for their passions. At the moment, imperfections are being embraced, and even celebrated as one-of-a-kind. Small-batch whiskeys and craft beer are dotting bar menus everywhere, and hand knit sweaters from your grandma have never been cooler (ok, they’ve always been cool); The more homemade, the better.
To put it plainly, it’s downright trendy to be rustic.
Now imagine the word “rustic” brought to life, in a store, in the St. Pauli neighborhood of Hamburg, Germany. At first glance, Sea Râmica is trendy, stocked with piles of uniquely-shaped, ceramic plates, bowls and mugs. Serving platters are stacked in aesthetically pleasing piles beneath antique wooden tables, and handmade black-and-white prints line the walls. Gold details fleck the unique glaze of coffee cups, which sit picture-ready for an Anthropologie catalogue. As I lost myself in this lovely shop during an afternoon stroll, I became entranced with the cohesiveness of every piece, despite the fact that no two ceramic creations are the same. There’s a vision at Sea Râmica that grabs passersby at the storefront, and carries them through the shop. Passersby like me, intrigued by the idea of handmade Portuguese products being sold by Germans on a small side street in Hamburg.
I immediately wanted to know more about this shop, and meet the “Chip and Joanna” (or whoever) was behind the vision of the colorful display window in St. Pauli. Within a few minutes I met Harry, a warm, bearded, gentle giant, and fifty percent of the story behind Sea Râmica. Through Harry, I then met Sonja, his partner. Sonja’s bright, welcoming face, with a hint of mischief, is exactly the one you’d want to get a drink with, so it’s incredibly convenient that she runs Hamburg’s popular cocktail bar, Möwe Sturzflug. Together, Harry and Sonja have a creative energy that is immediately inviting. I wanted to know more as soon as I met them. And after a few minutes of talking, and a few more Super Bocks (one of Portugal’s iconic beers), it became clear that the world needs more people like Harry and Sonja. And more importantly, more businesses like Sea Râmica.
An original #travelcouple, if you will, Harry and Sonja have been everywhere from the Philippines to the Algarve, and their Volkswagen Bulli has the kilometers to prove it. So on a Friday afternoon, as the sun was beginning to dip in the Hamburg sky, I sat down with Harry and Sonja, to find out more about their travels, their tales, and their glazed and gold-flecked passion project, Sea Râmica.
Emily: “Thanks so much for letting me invade your shop today, and taking me behind the scenes. Let’s start at the beginning. How did you guys meet?”
Sonja: “oh… Since today, we are a couple for 13 years. We met at my bar. He was a guest in my bar, and then we became friends. I was 21, so I was very young, and he was a little bit older…”
(and the rest is history)
Em: “I get the feeling that you’re both pretty worldly people, and big travelers. Tell me more…”
Sonja: (laughs) “Yes. Last year we were in the Phillippines to snorkel with whale sharks. It was one of my big dreams.”
Harry: “You have to do it. You have to do it. And we snorkelled with five meter manta rays.”
Em: “Was it scary?”
Harry: “The manta thing was scary. It was ok, but it was stressful. They’re coming from everywhere! As Sonja mentioned, we’re always on the coastline or at beaches. It’s so crazy, we’ve been to Bali, Indonesia and the Philippines and we didn’t see one temple. We didn’t see a single rice field. Nothing. We’re always by the water. Even if there is no beach, if it’s only rocks, we go to the seaside. To feel the roughness, the wind, I don’t know… The coast is like a magnet for us.”
Em: “I never used to be this way, but after moving to Portugal, I understand the magnet you’re talking about. For me, it’s a perspective thing. I like that when I stand next to the ocean, I feel so small.”
Harry: “It has something to do with respect, in terms of nature. You feel the earth. And this hugeness. How big it is, and on the other hand, how sensible things are.”
Em: “I’m always fascinated by how often Germans travel. I’m not sure how many Americans you know, but most of them don’t see nearly as much of the world as Europeans do. Why do you think that is?”
Harry: “I learned this very early on. I come from Offenbach, near Frankfurt. And Offenbach has a huge community of Americans, from the World War military base. Nowadays, it’s not so big anymore. But when I grew up, there were many Americans. And most of them made a trip to Vienna, Heidelberg, Rudesheim, Berlin, Munich and Bavaria… and they made it in two weeks! Not like us. Germans would do it in seven or eight weeks! And I asked them ‘why?’ and they always said ‘Because we don’t have so much holiday time. We get only two weeks in a year.’ That’s amazing! Not amazing. Amazing is the wrong word.”
Me: “Amazing in a terrible way.”
Sonja: “Exactly, it’s horrible.”
Em: “And how did Portugal come into the picture?”
Harry: “When I split with my third wife, my two kids always came to my house on the weekends together. And when we split, I thought ‘what the fuck do I do on the weekends with my kids?’ And Sonja told me to buy a Volkswagen Bulli because she’d had one before”
Sonja: “I had one years ago, but I remember how beautiful it is to have a VW bus. I told him it’s so good to be so close to your kids, and to have that kind of relationship. Ten or eleven years ago, friends of ours moved to Portugal, so that was one reason we went. And our friend Tina always said ‘oh you have to come visit us in Portugal, it’s so beautiful and you can park your bus right at the beach.’”
Harry: “I’d say in the last years, we’ve been in Portugal for 3-4 months every year.”
Em: “And you always take the bus?”
Sonja: “Always. We went 3000 kilometers there in the bus.”
Harry: “It’s a strange word, but for me, it’s like therapy to drive such a long way. It’s easy, you can think about everything.”
Em: “And does the bus have air conditioning?”
Sonja: “It’s 35 years old. When you put the windows down, it’s air conditioned.”
Em: “Why did you fall so in love with Portugal?”
Harry: “I do not surf. I don’t like the food. The water is really cold. Some say it’s fucking cold.”
Sonja: “He doesn’t love to hike.”
Em: “I’m struggling to see where this is going…”
Harry: “So in fact, there’s not many obvious things to love. But I met this guy and I was telling him the story of how I immediately fell in love with Portugal, with the Algarve in the first place. And he told me the Algarve is one of the places in Europe with the most ‘magical hinkelsteins’ (ancient, man-made, upright stones) and… (Harry gestures to goosebumps on his arms.) I think this is one of the reasons I feel Portugal is a magical place. There must be something in the air, in the ground, some energy which I feel…”
Sonja: “And the landscape is beautiful; The roughness of the cliffs and the power of the ocean. We’re both ocean lovers. We’d love to go to Sweden, for example, but we are more into the ocean. When we see the ocean, we are home.”
Harry: “And we fell in love immediately with the pottery”
Em: “Which leads me to my next question, how was Sea Râmica born?”
Harry: “At least two times a day, you drive past pottery on the main streets in Portugal. And the places are huge! The first time we went in, we thought ‘Wow. This is really beautiful.’”
Sonja: “A few years ago, Portugal had this sort of modern, mixed with 70s, ceramic look. That was the time when we started to take some things home with us; one mug, a bowl. Every holiday, it was ‘We have to go to the potter and shop!’ Last year we traveled there with a couple, friends of ours, and we sat together at the beach with some Super Bocks, and then Lawerence, our friend, said ‘Why don’t you try this thing with pottery? You already have the shop space. Why don’t you at least bring it and try?’”
Em: “And why did you decide to come back to Hamburg and sell ceramics, instead of staying in Portugal?”
Sonja: “Because I own a bar, and that’s my business. I also love to live in Hamburg. We’re close to the sea, the city isn’t so huge, and I can walk everywhere… or I go by bike. Even this area is so familiar. Everyone knows everyone.”
Em: “How was the process of creating the shop, and when did you open?”
Sonja: “It was exciting. I’m used to stress, I work in a cocktail bar. I managed three bars several years ago. I’ve had 30 employees. So for me it’s no problem if I only have three hours of sleep in the first weeks. For me, it’s positive stress.
We had the idea in October, and in the end of November we opened the shop. We wanted to start with our own collection, but they said the manufacturer couldn’t manage it by Christmas. So they said, ‘Ok, buy the stuff you see, try it out in your place and see how it goes.’ And now in May we fly to the manufacturer and we will start our first two or three collections that we’ve designed.”
Em: “What’s been the most surprising thing about this whole process?”
Sonja: “That we did it! It was really like ‘Ok, let’s do it’ and then there were so many ‘zufall, wie heist zufall auf English?’ Ah! Accidents! So many accidents!
We went to the potter, and asked the lady if it’s possible to buy more than three pieces. In the end, it was 3,333 pieces. We had one less, but we added something to reach this number. And she said, ‘I’m not doing the transport for you, you have to figure it out yourself.’ So we called (DB) Schenker, and until now we’re still waiting for them to get back to us… Then our friends said ‘oh wait a minute! Our friends know a guy who does transports from Munich to Portugal, and on the way back he’s always empty.’ And then we called him… and it was like this all the time. Like, ok maybe it’s not working, but then it did.”
Em: “And what’s the vision for the future of Sea Râmica?”
Sonja: “We will start an online shop (in the coming months) and maybe another shop, in another city. At the moment, we’re not thinking we need to go to Berlin or Frankfurt, where you pay huge rents. We think even smaller cities will love this, and then we can also give a fair price to the customers, so everyone can afford it.”
Em: “Is there anything else you’d like people to know about your shop, and your story?”
Harry: “That we love what we do. In a way, it’s like we’ve been doing it for years. It’s strange, because I was an advertising and marketing guy, and I’ve found my new profession in not only doing photographs and graphics, but I really love to do the shopping window. It’s so fun for me. I love it.”
Sonja: “We call him the Deco Queen.”
Em: “Thank you for sharing all of this with me, especially the Super Bocks…”
To put it plainly, I’m always inspired by people with passion and curiosity. Normally, those people are travelers, always on the go, and somewhat hard to track down, apart from social media accounts (have you followed @sea_ramica?). But when I met Harry and Sonja, I felt like I’d finally met people who were able to take these qualities and manifest them into a business, without losing a drop of authenticity. Their passion is still palpable, and their curiosity for the world is visible in every unique stone Harry’s brought back from beaches around the world, and placed in the shop window.
In my heart of hearts, I hope Sea Râmica takes Harry and Sonja to the same heights as Chip and Joanna Gaines. Because nothing about this shop, and the couple behind it, is trying to be trendy, like I first imagined. It’s a complete and utterly natural love for the world (and each other), driving this business that recently came to life at 94 Clemens-Schultz Straße. And who knows? Maybe handmade Portuguese ceramics are the next shiplap. You heard it here first…
Pop in to Sea Râmica and say hello to Harry and SOnja
on Thursdays and Fridays from 14:00-20:00
Saturdays from 12:00-20:00
Tell them Emily sent you, and who knows, maybe a Super Bock and some stories will appear…