Growing up in the East Berlin district of Friedrichshain, Stay Cold founder Max has never liked taking the traditional route.
"It’s hard for me to accept things as they are. I overanalyze and I question everything,” he says. "I have problems with authority. This business is the natural consequence of it."
He credits his creativity to his mother, a fashion designer, who encouraged him to explore the arts.
"My mother pushed me into art from the very beginning. I always had an inner ambition that drives me to do creative things. I love to build things up. I painted a lot as a kid."
"There were no rules right after the fall of the wall. No one cared whether graffiti was legal. They had other problems to worry about. Those days, you could do whatever you wanted. I became really involved in the scene and wasn't interested in school."
After high school graduation, he wanted to study art but his grades weren’t good enough. His father was a construction worker, so he started an apprenticeship (Ausbildung) as a painter on a construction site.
"From the first day, I knew it was totally shit. My father always wanted to have a son who was like him but that wasn’t me. I was more the creative like my mother who raised me."
By day, he painted on the construction site. By night, he was spray-painting walls & trains. When he finally got caught by the authorities, they had accumulated an entire binder’s worth of photos documenting his graffiti. They told him he’d go to prison if they found him tagging again.
"I finished the three-year apprenticeship, but only for my parents. Afterward, they left me alone to do whatever I wanted."
Freed of family expectations, Max returned to school to obtain the proper qualifications to attend university. It was there that he discovered an interest in music.
“For 12 years, I only focused on music. I played in a lot of bands, traveled around the world like a hippie, didn’t care about money because to me, money was shit. I avoided getting regular jobs, where someone tells me what to do, because I don’t like following orders."
Now that he was older, he also began to realize that he needed to plan for his financial future. He started a t-shirt company with another guy but soon found it difficult to share control.
"We were making fun shirts with really black humor but I separated from my partner. I couldn’t work with him, he was like my father."
Afterward, he studied audio engineering, worked as a concert rigger, and started his own music studio. But the entire time, his interest in visual arts and the influence of his mother was never far behind.
Stay Cold did not only begin as a creative project but as an extension of Max's resistance to tradition and hierarchy.
"When you are doing illegal graffiti, you have do a lot of prep work and research before you actually make the piece. It’s more like planning an act of terrorism,” he says.
In some ways, starting your own business is not so different.