Nike SB’s Skate Shelter is often the nucleus of skate events in Berlin. As much as the city is decentralized, with diverse neighborhoods sprawling in every direction, Nike’s indoor complex very much sits at the core of the skating community. As I make my way to the 800m² shelter, the sun is shining and a number of kids are taking the opportunity to kick, push around the city. If you talked to any of these kids, they would probably be able to tell about Denny Pham. Born in Rostock in Northern Germany, Denny Pham has quickly become a poster boy for Berlin’s skateboarding scene.
When Pham recently signed to Flip Skateboards, Thrasher and Nike SB came on board to produce “It’s A Phamtastic World” – Denny’s first ever video bit riding a Flip board. For the world premiere of the video, I was able to chat with Denny about skateboarding in the German capital.
So we’re at the Nike SB Skate Shelter in Berlin, only steps away from one of your favorite spots – the Warschauer Straße benches. What makes that spot important?
It’s a very important spot to me because when I started skating and watching German skate videos, I would always see the Warschauer Straße benches. I always thought it was a dope spot. I was 15 when I skated there for the first time and I was like “this is what I want to skate.” Then I started coming to Berlin more often, because originally I’m from the north of Germany, and I would sleep at my friend’s house sometimes; we would always go to the benches together. It’s funny because like 5 months ago I moved pretty much right in front of the benches. It takes two pushes and I’m there, so it’s my local spot now.
Nike fixed the benches like two years ago. They fitted new metal to the benches so they’re easier to skate. Even the metal was made by a local skater named Jan Kliewer.
We’ll talk about your favorites later, but what are some of the most iconic skate spots in Berlin?
Of course, Potsdamer Platz and the Kulturforum, because everyone I talk to knows those spots. It’s huge and it has everything, the double-set, ledges, stairs, rails. Probably 10 years ago people started skating it when it was still under construction, but we still refer to it as the “construction site” or “Baustelle” in German. That’s the most famous spot for sure.
We also have the Polish monument in Friedrichshain, it’s basically just stairs but the ground is perfect, smooth and flat.
Also there was Philharmonie across the street from Kulturforum, but it was destroyed. You can’t really skate it now. That was the local Berlin spot, everyone would warm up there, it was a dream spot. I wanted to skate there every day. It had perfect marble, manny pads, ledges, we never had spots like this in Rostock where I grew up. At first they would let us skate, then they were always kicking people out.
Do you run into problems with security guards in Berlin?
The States is gnarly, it’s definitely worse. In Berlin, the security is usually nice and polite. I don’t want to fuck with them, I don’t think it makes sense. If he says no, usually we will make a deal like “Maybe three tries?” We are doing our job, he’s doing his job.
When you came to Berlin, were there older skaters you were looking up to?
Michael Markfort, he was always one of my favorite skaters when I was 13. In one particular Element video, he had the first part, and I was thinking “this guy is so sick.” He and Jan Kliewer are sort of the older generation, I always looked up to them. I’m not the younger generation anymore, I’m sort of in the middle.
Are the young Berlin skaters looking up to you?
Yeah I guess, it’s more homie-style. Like we know each other, we see each other in the street. Sometimes I get Facebook messages like “You’re my idol!” or whatever, it’s kind of heavy.
As skate brands have such a big appeal in fashion right now, do you see a problem with non-skaters wearing skate brands?
I see that pretty often. I enjoy seeing skate brands become successful, like A$AP Rocky wearing a Palace hoodie, it’s cool. I don’t think its a problem, but I would like to see certain core skate brands get more support. Taste is taste, everyone’s is different. But sometimes the real skate brands are losing. Overall it’s interesting to see, but skate fashion is better than 20 years ago, we’ve moved on from the super baggy pants.
What are your favorite shoes to skate in?
The Janoskis are great, the vulcanized sole is perfect for skating. It’s flat, it’s kind of sharp, it’s ideal for heavy impact. It’s a simple shoe, this guy Stefan Janoski did a really great shoe. This is probably my favorite skate shoe. I try to skate in other shoes, but when I’m on trips I choose Janoskis because I know how they work. When I have like 20 minutes to skate a spot, I need to wear something reliable. But if I’m skating for fun at the Nike SB Shelter in Berlin, I try different options.
The Nike SB Free is great too, it’s super light and comfortable. The camouflage colorway is sick. The new one just came out, the Nike SB Free Nano, which is similar but the design was tweaked a bit, it’s more simple.
How did the Thrasher x Nike SB project come about?
FLIP is also involved, this will be my first part riding a FLIP board. Before I was with a Spanish company called JART. So around half a year ago Thrasher, Nike and FLIP approached me to do a video, and at the time I was already filming in Asia and Europe for something, just stacking up clips. So I really tried my best for this video, which just released April 27.
Nike SB is involved with their app, it works kind of like Instagram. So you can upload a trick, other people can view it and they can even challenge you by posting a trick of their own. So there was a contest and 15 kids got invited through the app, they can all rip.
Actually one of the winners is a kid from Cologne that I have known for three years, he is probably the youngest. I saw him a half year ago, and he has grown up a lot since then. Now he can skate like a man, before he was just a boy. That’s what we need in skateboarding: a new generation, fresh blood, these kids, I want to see more of it. Talking to these kids reminds me of my time as a teenager.
How have your feelings about skateboarding changed since then?
I love skating, it’s equally a hobby and a job. Now I have a schedule, I have to be on point, you know? I know there will be a contest next week, so I have to practice more, things like this. When I was younger you didn’t think about anything, you just went outside with your homies, skated and had a great time.
How often do you still do that?
I try to do that all the time. The last couple months I had to film for this Thrasher part so there was some pressure and deadlines coming. Now I’m done filming, I know there are projects coming up in the summer, but until then I’ll just be playing around. Maybe I’ll learn a few new tricks. It’s the natural way; it’s the best way.
Denny Pham’s Guide to Skating Berlin
Locations: “If it’s in the summer, I would definitely get a bicycle – because that’s the best way to enjoy Berlin – and go to the Tetris blocks by Gleisdreieck. It’s just a great park. The Tetris blocks have been around several years, it’s like an art installation. There are a lot of skate spots and cafes where you can hang out. I always have a great time there. It’s mellow.”
“From there I would go to to a spot beside Club der Visionäre, there are these concrete bumps you can cruise on, and some ledges.”
Music: “The perfect skateboarding soundtrack for Berlin would definitely be Bonobo and CunninLynguists. CunninLynguists has a dope hip-hop sound, and I actually used one of their songs for my part in the Thrasher video. They make some great beats.”
Brands: “I’m a Civilist fan for sure. The guys that run it are actually skaters. I used to shoot skateboarding photos with the owner Alex Foley, and 10 years ago Foley shot every skater in Berlin. He was the man for that. Also Sami Harithi on the Civilist team was one of the first German skaters to get recognition. I guess they opened Civilist five years ago; it’s a super legit brand. Also Ambivalent has been around for four years or so. I first heard of them when they threw a party at Prince Charles. They do simple stuff, the logo looks tight. I like simple stuff.”
Food: “I would probably grab a bite at White Trash, their nacho plate is pretty huge, it’s bangin’.”
Nightlife: “At night I would head to Franken, a skater bar in Kreuzberg. They have this Mexican shot, it has tequila, tomato juice and tabasco, it’s kind of what they are known for. There are always skaters there, we usually order a full skate deck of shots.”
Watch “It’s A Phamtastic World” presented by Flip Skateboards, Nike SB and Thrasher below.