Getting to Know....Peter Koval, Creative Director of Berlin Notebook

by Stuart Lennon

Ink or pencil?

Both! I have been collecting pencils for many years now. I bought or got most of them as souvenirs, so while using them, they remind me of a certain place I visited. I really enjoy how they get smaller – it’s a beautiful metaphor for fading memories, isn’t it? – Being transformed into new words or drawings. But I also love to write with fountain pens. They force you to slow down a little bit, to be more attentive. Especially today, when you can’t be fast enough to instantly respond any request, it’s good to hold something more human paced in your hand.

However, I’m not backward-looking. I also appreciate writing with a “pen” on my Surface tablet. It can’t provide you the richness of the analogue note-taking. You won’t see and feel all the nuances of a line drawn with pencil or fountain pen on a piece of paper, but at least it introduces the experience of handwriting to the digital device.

What is the story behind Berlin Notebook?

I’ve always carried pocket notebooks with me. But I was never really paying attention to the brand or paper quality. For me, it was just a piece of paper, cut and bound to fit a pocket of my jacket, ready to be filled with lecture notes, shopping lists, unfinished poems and telephone numbers scribbled in the dim light of night bars. However, if you carry things with you every day for a longer time, you start thinking about them. Just take your notebook out of your pocket, hold it in your hands and look at it: How well or badly does it age? How does it feel in your hands? Does the shape or colour reflect your attitude? Does the quality of the paper fit your needs? Would you proudly show it off on a coffee table, in a team meeting or on your Instagram account?

I started looking for a more local and ecological alternative to buying a global italian notebook brand cheaply mass-produced in China - local and ecological not only in terms of sustainability of production and use but also reflecting the genius loci of the amazing place I live. Although there are some decent local stationery brands, I was surprized not to find anything which would come even close to the idea of a “Berlin Notebook”. In souvenir or stationery shops around the town, people are still used to buy the same brands as in Tokyo, Paris or London. This became a challenge to me: If there isn’t a “Berlin Notebook” we have to create one. And so we did.

I am very happy that I was able to convince Verena Gerlach to join the project and to design the cover. She is one of the best typographers in town and I’m pretty sure you won’t find anybody else in the world who knows more about Berlin’s typography and its history. We decided to take up on the typography of the street signs, something which strongly but rather subconsciously shapes ones experience of the place. So each Berlin Notebook is not only physically made in Berlin, it is also infused with its essence. The twist with added serifs and blackened types is a congenial comment on two important chapters in the city’s most recent history: the wild 80s and 90s and the gentrification embroidery of the last two decades.

It also took us quite long time to find the right paper and the format. As somebody who shares the green attitude of the city, it was clear to me from the beginning that we have to use recycled paper. It wasn’t an easy task to find a decent paper quality that would work well with both pencil and fountain pen. Each time I read reviews of our notebooks I feel reassured that it was worth the effort.

But Berlin Notebook is much more than a notebook...

Yes. As well as the notebooks, we also publish original editions and initiate unique collaborations with local designers and artists. For me, it’s a platform to meet interesting people and do exciting things together rather than just another stationery brand. It’s all about the people. The notebook itself is just a common reference point, an empty page waiting to be filled with something new.

What are your plans for the future?

I love series and formats. That’s why most of our projects and products were developed as series; and that’s also why we will never get bored. We’ve just published another edition - an amazing experiment exploring the creative tension between printed book and a notebook. We are already working on our own ink series and we will definitely focus more on collaborations with emerging artists and designers in the future. But the most exciting thing about Berlin Notebook is that I can’t tell you where we will or should be in let’s say five years. To be honest, I don’t want to know it. I want to be surprised.