The Irishman with high hopes makes tiny houses in Berlin

Owen McCann, originally from Dublin, has lived in Berlin for over 10 years with his wife, Silvia, and their daughters, Luna and Alana Mar. He runs TinyBerlin and builds small sustainable Tiny Houses in Kreuzberg

When did you leave Ireland and why?
I left Ireland at the end of the 90s. I had lived in Spain and Argentina for almost 10 years, then returned home in 2008. I had planned to try in Dublin, but few not long after my return, Ireland entered an economic depression. Finding work in Dublin was practically impossible at the time, so I moved to Berlin in 2009 and have lived there ever since.

What did you do in Berlin?
In 2010 I met my wife Silvia and soon after we launched the fashion brand potipoti accessories. We had a small store on RosenthalerStrasse where we produced our handmade accessories. We have also worked in flea markets such as Mauer Park and Nowkoelln Flowmarkt and have even come home at Christmas for the Dublin Flea sometimes. My wife now runs the business on her own as I am fully focused on building Tiny Houses with TinyBerlin.

Hay bale trailer gears up for new life

What does your TinyBerlin business do?
I launched the TinyBerlin initiative in 2017 in Kreuzberg. Over the past three years, we have devoted our energy to the concept of building small miniature houses efficiently built on disused East German farm trailers. Using the slogan ‘reuse and recover’, we have converted old hay bale trailers and dilapidated circus wagons into beautiful, practical and affordable living spaces. Rents in Berlin have more than doubled over the past 10 years, and the option of buying an apartment is a pipe dream for most people, so there is obviously huge potential in this new type of housing. The issues around building permits aren’t too complicated, and for the most part, living in a Tiny House in Germany is pretty straightforward.

Small furniture for a Tiny House

Small furniture for a Tiny House

Tell us about compact life
Living in a compact space can be difficult, but it allows you to drastically reduce your spending habits. Small spaces usually force you to declutter and focus on your basic needs, while lowering your utility costs, rent, and bank indebtedness.

Are you using sustainable materials to make your homes?
The concept of “reuse and recover” can be time consuming, but it is well worth it. Our Tiny Houses use a fraction of the energy of a standard house and we use a combination of new and used materials. We use local websites to salvage used wood stoves, windows and doors where possible.

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What do you use to put the houses?
It depends on the structure, but we usually use Soviet era hay bale trailers (East Germany: GDR). There are many in rural Brandenburg. We build the structure above the frame at a height of about 3.7 m.

Who could buy something from TinyBerlin? Where can they put it?
Some people want to downsize and live in the country for a fraction of the cost of city living, but most people buy our Tiny Houses to complement an existing property, as they can be used as additional living space and can be easily placed on a piece of land or even in your garden if you have the space. They can also be great investments. We have clients who rent them out on Airbnb, and that suits them very well.

Berlin seizes Tiny Houses

Berlin seizes Tiny Houses

How do you fit everything into such a small space?
Storage is essential. We are currently renovating an old 8-meter Soviet beekeeper wagon. It has a storage tank of 4 m by 2.5 m under the frame. We will connect the storage tank from the inside via a hatch, so there will be plenty of storage space and easy access.

What can we learn from living in small spaces? Where do you put the bac?
Under the sink! Living in a compact space means you will have less waste in your life. Winston Churchill was right when he said, “We shape our buildings; subsequently, they shape us.

Are you having your average day right now?
We are independent and my workshop is close to where I live, so I can walk to work. Schools are closed at the moment, so it can be difficult to balance work and home schooling for our daughter. Obviously, a lockdown in the height of winter is difficult, but for the most part we are doing well.

Can you see a market for TinyBerlin in Ireland?
Absoutely. Ireland is full of old silage trailers and hay bales that could easily be used as the basis for a wonderful and inspiring little house. We would love to hear from anyone who might be interested in converting a silage trailer!

You have two daughters, Luna and Alana. Are they Irish or German?
Our daughters were both born in Berlin. My wife is Spanish, so the children speak German, English and Spanish.

What is it like living in Berlin right now?
We’re in the middle of a lockdown, so things are tough here for a lot of people. Berlin largely avoided the first wave of coronavirus in the spring, but this time it had a much harder effect on the city. As in most countries in Europe, the streets are completely dead and virtually all businesses are closed.

Is there something missing about Ireland right now?
The sea and a good pint of Guinness!

If you live abroad and would like to share your experience with Irish Times Abroad, send an email [email protected] with some information about you and what you do

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