Once upon a time, there was a man from Munich by the name of Hahn. He had three sons, and the time came when he had to decide which of them would inherit his house. He told them: “Each of you must learn a trade, and whoever produces the best masterpiece will have the house.”
What he put into their milk as babies nobody knows, but all three of them developed tremendous creative powers. The oldest, Daniel (27), transforms disused trains and ships into magical meeting places; the middle son, Julian (25) became the proprietor of a charming café built in a construction trailer by the lake, named the “Gans am Wasser”; and Laurin (23), the youngest of the three, surprised everyone by producing the Sion, a solar-powered car. Which of the three will impress their father most and end up getting the house? That is the question we asked at the beginning of our interview with the three extraordinarily energetic Hahn brothers of Munich.
Daniel, Julian and Laurin, who should get the house?
Daniel, Julian and Laurin: We should all get an equal share.
Julian: There’s no race between us brothers in that regard. We support one another and still do a lot together. After all, it all started in a joint project – Wannda e.V. Daniel founded it in 2012/13 and we were among the first members.
What does the name of your association, Wannda, stand for? Wanderzirkus (wandering circus)?
Laurin: Wann-da comes from “Wenn nicht jetzt wann dann!” (If not now, when?!). We want to help people make their ideas reality, without delaying them. But we are a kind of wandering circus with our tents, which we put up and take down and then take with us to wherever we are offered a little space in this city. Our goal is to create more room for dreams, art and culture. We bring life to wastelands for which there is no use at the moment, such as the grounds of the former stockyard.
Daniel: We create places in which people like to linger, very casually, with their loved ones and friends.
Like your spectacular café on the bridge in Munich’s Schlachthofviertel neighbourhood...
Daniel: Bringing the MS Utting to Munich from Ammersee lake was a crazy undertaking. We needed divers; the ship had to be sawn in half lengthwise; we brought in expensive cranes, blocked tunnels, dug up traffic lights. People bailed on me by the dozen because this mega-project was simply too much for them.
Why didn’t you chicken out too?
Daniel: Well, it was about realising a dream. Almost every person from Munich has sailed around the Ammersee at least once on the Utting. Couples who got married on the ship are always coming up to talk to me. When you step aboard, you go on a journey through time. Something like that really speaks to me. The engine room alone is a dream. We will take every care to restore the ship to its former glory and use it as a café and events venue. In my worst hours, I thought to myself: If we’re going to go down, there’s no better way to do it than with this steamer!
Bahnwärter Thiel (Lineman Thiel) is your second mammoth project, It’s an interesting name.
Daniel: The Bahnwärter Thiel project haunted my thoughts long before it took shape with the purchase of the railbus. I like reading Gerhard Hauptmann and I first sought out a proper lineman’s hut, but in vain. Sometimes, I have to adapt my dream to the realities.
Then Doris Dörrie herself took an interest in this project.
Daniel: Yes, we got to know her because she had begun working with a refugee project, as we had ourselves. She and Bettina Reitz, the President of Munich University of Film and Television, had long been looking for an idea for a reading café with concerts and cultural events on campus. The railbus fulfilled that role for two summers, and even became a tourist attraction. It has now found a home for another five years on the grounds of the old Südbahnhof railway station by the Viehhof (stockyard).
Why do you take all that upon yourself? You could just go and peacefully study engineering, like other guys?
Daniel: At a certain point, I finally allowed myself to see my projects as a vocation. I am truly passionate about them, and I have become quite successful as a result of them. Conversely, one of my friends – a project and plant engineer with a large Munich firm – took almost his entire annual leave allowance to realise a dream at our Wannda cultural festival: He sold his homemade koftas there. They were by far the best ones around.
Laurin: Wannda has shaped our entrepreneurial mindset because each of us has built something independently within the association.
Julian: Yes, that is actually true – the idea with the trailers and how they could be used to create a mobile café like the Gans am Wasser, dates from the time when I took over the catering at Wannda. Laurin felt responsible for sustainability within our association from an early stage. Back then, he built a wind turbine that was used to power lights, and he also built a bike that could be used to charge iPhones. Then he completely switched to this technical track, and developed it successfully with the production of the Sion.
Diesel scandal and the threat of a ban on diesel vehicles in inner cities. Your invention of an electric car that is suitable for everyday use comes at the perfect time, Laurin.
Laurin: Absolutely. With the Sion, which uses solar energy as well as electricity, we wanted to bring a truly sustainable electric car to the market. It has a range of 250 km and recharges for a distance of up to 30 kilometres every day using the sun. My father drove eight kilometres to work every day for 40 years – I know so many people with a similar commute. This car is designed for them. But it can do much more. It also acts as a mobile power reserve, meaning I can connect my devices to it while camping or on a construction site.
You started up your project secretly in the garage with a school friend...
Laurin: Yes, exactly, that was at the end of 2012 with Jona Christians. We have been friends since first grade. We started working in secret back then because we didn’t want to be dismissed as crackpots. That was during a time when Tesla was still practically unheard-of in Germany. If we had told anybody about it back then, so soon after our school leaving examinations, many would have mocked us. It was better to wait until we had real results before going public.
When were you sure that it would be a success?
Laurin: That was on the evening we drove our design prototype for the first time. It was crazy! We had been working on it for a year and a half, and had finally reached that point: we pushed the car outside and drove off. Just the two of us.
Has Harald Krüger already test driven it?
Laurin: No, not yet, but in August 2017, we were on a two-week test drive and promotional tour in cities like Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Amsterdam and Paris. You could register for a test drive on our website. It was to say thank you for our crowdfunders all over Europe, who gave us such great support.
Is the Sion a cash cow?
Laurin: That is not the goal behind it; we are not doing this for money – not at all. We are doing it because we see that we need to change something when we think of the generations to come. At the moment, we are doing business in a way that does not take the future into account: we are thinking about the figures for the next quarter, but not about the years and decades to come, and there is no future in that. It simply cannot and will not work that way. That’s why we set ourselves the task of tackling one small problem within this huge issue.
And you, Julian? What were your high points during your first year running the Gans am Wasser café?
Julian: The entire café project here did not culminate in one highlight day, like what Laurin might have experienced at the official début of the Sion. So many things have happened – great bands that have played here and spontaneous artist performances. Everything always turns out a little differently than I had planned, but it is often much nicer. I am always delighted when those visiting Munich find their way to us. We are open all year round, in almost any kind of weather. We invite bands, so there’s lots of music here and open stage events with spontaneous performances by musicians, small plays and readings. Anyone who wants to take part can just turn up. There’s a Punch and Judy show once a month for the kids, and a regular yoga session every week. We regularly host a Brazilian dance group performing Forró ,which is the most popular couples’ dance in Brazil. When they come, we clear the tent for dancing – anyone who would like to come and try it out is very welcome. One of the dance teachers will be happy to show you the steps. There are some big changes ahead here. We will soon be building huge entrance gates to look like a pair of geese, 3 to 3 and a half metres tall. The beautiful thing about this place is that it will never stop changing.
Daniel, Julian and Laurin Hahn grew up 500 metres (as the crow flies) from the place in Munich’s Westpark where Julian has been running the Gans am Wasser construction trailer café since 2016. The brothers founded the Wannda e.V. cultural association in 2012 along with some school and childhood friends. All three are now also pursuing their own independent projects. Their motto has remained the same: “If not now, when?” – The brothers are distinguished by their entrepreneurial spirit, persistence and sustainable mindset.
In July 2018, Daniel Hahn started gastronomic operations on the steamship "Alte Utting", which he had moved from the Ammersee to a bridge in the Schlachthofviertel in 2017. In 2023, Laurin's plan to launch his innovative electric car, developed together with his friend Jona Christians, failed. The two friends have restructured their start-up and will supply car companies with solar solutions in the future.
In the meantime, Julian has opened two more special cafés, the café "Gans Woanders" in the Giesing district, where he and friends have converted an old kiosk between the railway tracks and Pilgersheimerstrasse into a kind of witch's cottage, the other is called "Café Lozzi" and is located in the Glockenbach district. And then there is the project with the lodge outside of Munich: Julian and his brother Daniel leased the empty Café Waldschlucht near Bad Kohlgrub during Corona. They are probably still busy renovating it. There should also be culture in the new Waldschlucht. Perhaps also overnight accommodation for excursionists.