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Tony D. is the Wine Damager What wine and graffiti have in common

Wednesday, January 05 2022
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Tuesday to Friday: 1:00pm - 8:00pm
Saturday: 11:00am - 7:00pm

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Wine Damager
Brunnenstraße 6-7
10119 Berlin-Mitte
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He has grown up. You could say he has arrived. In Brunnenstraße in Mitte district, in his own wine shop called Wine Damager. Why should you discard your alter ego when it has served you well? A thoroughly exciting and impressive CV, from rapper to sommelier, one might say. "It wasn't quite like that," Tony, also known as Tony Damager, corrects me. 

"There are a few years in between." He said he never really knew what he wanted to do, even after his rap career. For a while, he said, he still tried rapping, even recorded things, "but it never was good enough for me. I didn't feel like I could achieve anything with my music again." Gradually Tony, real name Mohamed Ayad, realised that he had to do something else. "I can't just sit around and wait for something." So he catches up on his school graduation and does an apprenticeship as an event manager. Events could fit in quite well after the "rap thing", contacts in the music scene are there, but organising parties is not really his thing. 

"I HAVEN'T DARED TO TRY WINE FOR A LONG TIME."

Tony somehow slid into the restaurant business, as it is: you like to go out, you know a lot of people from the bar scene. So first went from rapper to connoisseur from the barstool to behind the bar. "But I didn't dare to try wine for a long time." In 2010, he was already interested in wine as a hobby, spending hours on it in the evenings. He buys wine tasting packages, wine subscriptions, reads tons of books, "but it never occurred to me that I could somehow find my place there. The wine scene, it didn't exist for me at all."

WHAT WINE AND GRAFFITI HAVE IN COMMON

There was no place to go, no friends, no colleagues to talk wine with Tony. "It's a bit like spraying. You start and you don't know where to find the others," Tony smiles. "It's all hidden and underground and it actually takes a bit longer until you meet like-minded people." Then someone refers you to other young guys who are also into wine and you have someone to meet for a bottle and talk about wine.

Tony finds the comparison exaggerated, but it somehow fits this parallel between illegal graffiti and elitist wine bubble. At some point, however, wine and bar find each other. Tony meets people from upscale gastronomy who know their stuff, with whom he goes out for a drink, and more and more quickly he finds a connection to wine and its circles. In 2017, he finally decides he wants to work with wine. "I was fed up with the long nights and the working conditions. That time was changeable and intense, but too exhausting on the long run."

A friend who is a sommelier refers him to Weinladen Schmidt. "Since then, wine has been my life!" When you have to teach and sell wine to other people, you learn relatively quickly. In 2019, Tony finally takes his WSET® Level 3 at the sommelier school in Koblenz - he passes with distinction, but in principle that's not so important to Tony: "It's quite nice to have that, but I don't have to base myself on it now. Standing here and doing a good job and also getting feedback from people is worth much more."

FROM WINE DAMAGER POP UP TO SHOP OWNER

His Wine Damager pop-up in the summer of 2021 is running quite successfully. The dream of owning his own shop had existed for a while at that point, but self-employment was not planned until a few more years down the line. "Bullshit," he says, "you can never really plan it and somehow it feels just right now," he says into the grey morning traffic on Brunnentraße.

The Wine Damager logo was hand-painted by a friend, the shop has high ceilings, lots of orange, it looks tidy. The focus lies on wines from Germany, but Italy, France, Spain - the classic wine-growing countries - are also present. However, Tony sometimes makes exceptions; he currently has a South African wine and a Lebanese one. "Otherwise, it's a very personal range, I almost try to represent my wine cellar." Tony is lucky enough to have a really good cellar at home in Charlottenburg district.

I SIMPLY TRY TO REPRESENT WHAT I THINK SOMEHOW BELONGS IN THE GLASS.

"Basically, I try to have wines that I am convinced of down to the last detail, I really don't make any compromises! His small assortment includes about 90 wines, and he doesn't want to have more than 150. A few funny things are also included. "My taste is one that suits a lot of people who somewhat represent the young wine scene."

In addition, Tony has a great passion for Burgundy, Riesling, but also Burgundy varieties, Chardonnay, in Italy he appreciates Tuscany and Piedmont, Mondello, Barolo, of course also the smaller satellites, Jura and southern France, Roussillon, where a lot of natural wines come from. He also has a nice selection of sparkling wines: "I just try to represent what I think belongs in the glass somehow!"

Almost every week, he has two new wineries in his programme, but sometimes it takes quite a while. Tony doesn't leaf through the catalogue and order something, but he is in lively exchange with his winemakers. At the moment, Tony is regularly on the phone with Matthias Wörner. The contact came about through an acquaintance. Wörner makes very exciting low-intervention wines and works close to nature, Tony explains. Until now, the wines have not been available in Berlin, but now he has them exclusively at Wine Damager. 

FAVOURITE WINES ARE LIKE THE CHARTS

When asked about his favourite wine, Tony fusses. He stands up, rummages through the Wine Damager wine shelves. "There's always the one wine that you like the most during the week and then you like to sell it. It's always the wine that you've liked extremely well recently." There is no favourite wine in that sense. "It's a bit like the charts. Sometimes it's number one, then it slips back to number three and another one follows."

Speaking of charts. The eye falls on the golden record on a wall at Wine Damager. Tony received it for the sampler Aggro Ansage No. 5. His albums Totalschaden, which has since been indexed, and Für die Gegnaz! were unable to match that success. At the time, his artificial figure Tony Damager fit perfectly into the Aggro cosmos around Sido, B-Tight, Fler and Co, who were marketed by the underground label almost as comic figures. 

TODAY THERE IS MUCH MORE LOVE

Rap still plays a role in his life today, if only because many people still recognise him or celebrate the rapper Tony D. "In a different way than back then and I would almost say more beautiful." He claims there is no more criticism, no one is tearing him apart on any forums. "You have haters along with all the success, of course." 

But the haters were no longer interested in Tony today. Tony is simply no longer a part of this "game". The attention now only comes from people celebrating what he has done, he said. "It feels a lot more positive as a rapper." In the past, he says, everything was much more extreme, you got the mega-hype and then you were also much more in the line of fire. _Beef battle things, that's all adé now. It's all really about the art I used to make and the art figure and how I am right now."

IN THE STUDIO FOR A FEATURE NOW AND THEN

From time to time he is still in the studio, for example he was on Tarek KIZ's solo album Golem. They fit together well, Tony thinks: "We're both a bit crazy, also in terms of style. Tony in real life radiates a pleasant calm. In his tracks, the artificial figure Tony Damager bellows exaggerated depictions of violence and martial battle declarations against his "Gegnaz". Others could make you think with their songs. Tony prefers to escalate - at least musically. 

In the future, Tony wants to go back into the studio more often, make a song once a year, but with others who will then provide the beats. "I don't have time for that." But a comeback is really not on his mind. "It's nice to go to the studio every now and then, but it's more out of nostalgia," so in principle it's turned around: today wine is the profession, rap is the hobby.

We are now standing at the wooden bar table in the middle of Wine Damager. Tony has brought out another bottle, because he currently has a favourite white wine from Felix Peters winery. "He was previously cellar master at St. Anthony and has just founded his own estate. This is an extremely cool Pinot Blanc that is matured in Burgundian barriques. You can taste the wood clearly, there's something very delicate, something fine, high quality... This is just a wine that totally flashes me."

WINE AND FOOD GO HAND IN HAND FOR TONY

Tony is almost unstoppable about what he has to say, it's a pleasure to listen to him. It's a pity it's in the morning and I still have a few appointments. I'm sure Tony would open the bottle otherwise. My bad. 

In his private life, Tony associates wine with food for the most part; his interests in both métiers are actually on a par and synonymous. After all, he earns his money with wine. But cooking at home is always connected with wine. Tony always liked to eat. He grew up with Lebanese cuisine at home for a large part of his life. Traditional Lebanese cooking still existed, and this cuisine was in him.

"It was always a real battle in my family. There was really Lebanese high cuisine at family celebrations, weddings, there was always cooking and also often these really richly set tables where you then also had these really special things." When he was 14 or 15, he even thought about training as a chef; he has always been a foodie. In principle, that didn't change when he moved out at 19. But it's a different cuisine: more street food, "all the fancy stuff didn't exist then."

WITH THE RAP CAREER COMES THE CULINARY LOW POINT

But he always knew where to get real good lahmacun on Kotti, or the best börek, or original Dutch fries on Mariannenstraße "This typical munch stoner food somehow," Tony laughs. The time when Tony was actively rapping was the culinary low point. "Then, when you suddenly have the most money you've evr had and could actually have afforded the best food, you just didn't have any plan about food and didn't really spend much money on it."

"We went to a steakhouse once and it was great to be able to afford a steak like that, or sushi. So it was great food, but it was uncreative and we didn't try out much." Eating out was status above all. "I remember the first time I went to the Europa Center with B-Tight at Daitokai and we ate teppanyaki."

A CULINARY AWAKENING

It was his girlfriend Sarah who reawakened his culinary side. She also got him into wine in 2010, showing him restaurants and cuisines Tony hadn't heard of. "Or even just a nice cheese selection, simple as that. I definitely fell in love with  food. Then with wine even more. But that started at the same time." 

And so it is also part of his favourite culinary memory: "In 2018, his sister got married in the south of France in Languedoce. There we were for three days in a small, quite beautiful village with a lively market. In between, I went to the little town with my girlfriend and my brother, who was also there, of course, and that's where I ate really awesome oysters for the first time." That wasn't the first time he had oysters, but it was unique, at a fish stall on the market, the oysters came directly from there in Bouzigues.

"And then we stood there, without a table, on paper plates with crushed ice and just ate the best oysters of my life. With my brother, with whom I had never travelled, somewhere in France, very authentically at the market."

As a native of Baden, his girlfriend Sarah is also a foodie by nature. However, it is he who wields the wooden spoon at home. Tony likes it very much in Badener Land, where his girlfriend comes from, and at times he would have preferred to move there. "Start over there, everything a bit calmer, more orderly."

LIFE IS GOOD THE WAY IT IS

"Fortunately, it never came to that," the Berlin native says today. My life is more or less as I imagine it. In the meantime, he appreciates about Berlin that everything is always in motion; that was not always the case, the association with the city was not always positive. "There also were times when I cursed the city, when I thought I would find my salvation somewhere else. That's when it was very stressful for me here. I think I blamed the city a bit for things not going so well in my life."

GERMANY IS GERMANY AND BERLIN IS BERLIN

"A lot of people do that. When life is going chaotically at the moment. In a city like Berlin, you can quickly blame it on the place and then tell yourself that you have to go somewhere else where it's quieter." Berlin always has its finger on the pulse, he says. Other cities are great too, but he always feels like he wants to be back here quickly....

"Also with this place, especially here in Mitte." The district reflects many of his feelings about Berlin. And Wine Damager works so well there precisely because of that. "The Berlin that was sometimes too colourful, too wild for me, that's what allows me to do the shop here."

In the meantime, he no longer has the thought that Berlin is draining him; on the contrary, he has rediscovered his love for Berlin. It is not like the rest of Germany, but much freer, there is diversity here, it is never boring. You never reach a point where you think the city doesn't give you anything anymore. You can read about Tony's favourite places here.

Click on the orange marked names to find out more about the individual locations!

Chicago Williams

Tony is friends with the manager, Nawid, and of course you always like to go to places like this when you know the people, feel comfortable and visit friends. "I just love the place and always feel at home there.

Marjan Grill

The Croatian restaurant at Bellevue S-Bahn station has the best charcoal-grilled Ćevapčići in Berlin. "I'm pretty sure of that. You can even smell them when you're standing at the station."

Rutz

Tony always remembers his first time at the Rutz with pleasure. For his birthday, he was allowed to bring a wine back then - a Château Palmer. After all, they are friends who work there, so there was even a little present: a pocket square.

"The Rutz is definitely a special place for Tony, unfortunately the wine bar is no longer there, but the Rutz will always be special."

Restaurant Rutz | 
Chausseestraße 8 | 10115 Berlin-Mitte

3minutes sur mer

"I just rediscovered 3minutes sur mer for myself. I love French cuisine, and it's just awesome there."

Lamazère

It's not an insider tip, but the Lamazère is simply great. "Back when we still lived in Neukölln, we did that for a few restaurants, we even drove from Neukölln to Charlottenburg to go to the Lamazère because we just really liked it."

Not only has it kept up the quality, but for Tony, it's actually gotten better and better over the years.

Lamazère | 
Stuttgarter Platz 18 | 10627 Berlin-Charlottenburg

Die Kantstraße in Charlottenburg

Tony sees Charlottenburg's Kantstraße as a place for himself. "As Charlottenburgers, we naturally eat our way through Kantstraße on a regular basis." The offerings are excellent in every category, whether Thai, Chinese, Korean, Tony and his girlfriend often decide where to go for dinner when they get there. 

Bar Freundschaft

Tony of course knows the guys there and the whole team. Bar Freundschaft recently won Wine Bar of the Year and is always worth a visit, according to Tony.

Entrecôte Restaurant et Brasserie

You feel like you're in Paris there. "It's a huge place, very French". Entrecôte is a very classic brasserie with an incredibly good entrecote, steaks and classic brasserie cuisine. Perfect, "if you want very classic steak with béarnaise sauce and nice fries, if you want a bit of Parisian flair."

Grill Royal

"Definitely a great place to eat, I love it there, not often, but I went there again after many years. Just after the wine shop opened, we wanted to treat ourselves again. Just coming in, the first glass of champagne, then you own the night, you get the feeling, the food is of course good, the people who work there are all very nice. A real classic, really good!"

Grill Royal | 
Friedrichstraße 105b | 10117 Berlin-Mitte

Big Bascha

"We used to go to Sonnenallee in Neukölln district for breakfast, but now it's quicker to go to Moabit from Charlottenburg. Big Sascha serves Arabic breakfast, manaqish, foul, hummus, all the Arabic breakfast classics."

Bonus: Die Sechste im KaDeWe

"Oh! And where I still like to be is, of course, the Kadewe. On the sixth floor!" Tony adds, although we really didn't need this further information. "One of my absolute favourite places," a matter of honour as a Berlin foodie.

"Pretty posh, isn't it?" grins Tony. You don't treat yourself to anything else, I added. So he has arrived. To wine and the best food in town.

KaDeWe | 
Tauentzienstraße 21–24 | 10789 Berlin-Schöneberg

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