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Blooming in the Corona cracks

ALLTAG HEROES! Florist Olga Sirotin was supplying the Adlon and Ritz Carlton with her beautiful blooms before the Corona crisis. Left to fend for herself, she's relying on locals' solidarity and a friend's bike to keep delivering her wild bouquets.

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The 39-year-old from southern Russia opened Blumenbett seven years ago on Prenzlauer Berg’s Kollwitzstraße. (Photo by Javier Maradei.)

Blumenbett is an unassuming shop on the northern end of Prenzlauer Berg’s Kollwitzstraße – but step inside and you’re met with a small heaven of blooms and greens, a myriad of colourful shapes and leafy species, looking so gloriously hardy and fresh you’d be damned not to leave with a bunch of delicate buttercups or spectacular peonies for home. Reigning over this fairyland is Olga Sirotin. The young Russian fell for floristry at age 16 during an apprenticeship at a flower shop in Bayreuth: “Working with plants suddenly felt so familiar.” It reminded her of those long childhood Sundays spent with her babushka tending to a vegetable garden brimming with beautiful bushes and flowers in her native Caucasus, near Stavropol. “I understood how much it was part of my life.”

When she moved to Berlin eight-and-a-half years ago, she decided to face the challenge of the “city’s endless possibilities” with a daring venture. What else but a flower business? Fast-forward seven years and Blumenbett is patronised by flower lovers who care for “handpicked” quality and a personal touch. Olga stands by sustainability, a concept she sold to a landlord in exchange for affordable rent in an unaffordable part of town. This means seasonal blooms (it’s peonie-time!) rather than long-haul flown species, and a personal weakness for the simple beauty of wild fennel (“the kind you see by the road driving in Portugal”) and local fern (“Fern has such a complex and uniquely beautiful structure!”) – two favourites she has tattooed on her arms.

The florist’s commitment to sustainability also shows in her efforts to educate regulars about the wonders they come here to purchase, and the secret to keeping them alive and healthy. “I tell people that they should care for their plants the way they would provide for their pets – they each have their own unique needs.” But her shop isn’t just frequented by regulars who trust her taste and value her advice to grow and maintain plants in their homes. Thanks to her knack for floral arrangements – “natural” bouquets that ooze the kind of freshness and wild simplicity only great artistry can achieve, Olga’s reputation looms large with clients who range from corporate event organisers to five-star hotels, including the Ritz Carltons, Adlons and Waldorfs of the city. A floral Berlin fairytale, you may think.

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Photo by Javier Maradei.

It was, until Corona erupted and broke the charm. With the lockdown, big hotels quickly cancelled were their flower arrangements, and no one is putting on parties that need flowers these days. Finally, with the social distancing measures and fewer people on the streets, 80 percent of orders fell through. Forced to reduce her four-person team to just herself, Olga was faced with the daily challenge of keeping the shop open. But solidarity has come in many forms – from neighbours making a point of embellishing their windowsills as a solidarity gesture to patrons funding her GoFundMe campaign.

And then came a special friend, an avid cycler made idle by the Corona crisis (she worked at a luxury hotel), who began using her old Dutch bike with a wooden wine crate to deliver Olga’s flowers to those self-isolating across the city. As home delivery orders kept on coming, the two friends sourced a second bike with a larger box. The idea was so successful that Olga is planning to continue home bike delivery once the restrictions are lifted – even adding a small motor to help it up Berlin’s steeper streets. Corona or not, many clients have relied on their regular supply of fresh blooms to cope with the times. “They have continued to order bouquets all along – flowers give them the feeling that life still goes on.”