Meg: What came next?
Claudia: After returning to the North Frisian Islands, I fell in love with an art history student from Hamburg, and so I moved back there and I went to hotel management school. I worked in catering and posh hotels, through the school. These were the years when Germany was very wealthy, and Hamburg has the most millionaires of all Germany. So doing that school you naturally slip into service at the Four Season Hotel, or when they have the special event in the government, they ask for trained waiters. I could make a lot of money.
All the big banks in Hamburg have their private floor where they even have a little restaurant. And if they sold the world, they needed waiters. So I got into very, very posh catering and I got into private houses of very rich people. I saw a lot—I was very, very curious. I also went into every single Michelin star restaurant and spent a lot of money. I was really like a puppy, being very excited about my profession.
Five years passed, and my boyfriend and I split. I did long, long travel—Thailand, Bali and six months in Australia, where I visited the people from that little North Frisian Island, who had emigrated there. While in Australia, I worked in Perth but also lived in the bush and got invited to a kangaroo hunt, among many other experiences. Australia gives you the feeling of being Alice in Wonderland after eating the shrinking cookie—everything is so much bigger there.
When I returned to Germany I met the second big love of my life. He had a big restaurant and also worked in advertising. We bought a big farm north of Hamburg. I started a little catering business. And that got very successful very fast. At that time, Hamburg was super conservative, it was black and white and very serious. My catering was called Art und Schnittchen. Schnittchen is a very German expression for a small sandwich, or canapé. We specialized in fancy food and fancy decoration and if the waiters were supposed to look like characters from a Tim Burton movie, voila, no problem.
I got the job of my life by the ex-chancellor, Helmut Schmidt. He was working for Die Zeit, the big weekly magazine and he planned to hold a birthday celebration for Marion Hedda Ilse Gräfin von Dönhoff, a renowned journalist and intellectual. They hired me as a caterer for 2000 people, with music, with Henry Kissinger coming. It was challenging, because there were people coming from all over the world—from the United States, from China, from everywhere. America sent people for security, so I was constantly going around with those people checking the space where the final event was being held. I succeeded, it was a lovely event.
Hamburg at that time was very decadent. People ordered the Caspian Caviar, the lobster, and the hookahs. I also worked a lot in alternative bars in night clubs. I saw events that got planned wrong and 50 lobsters got thrown away into the bin. I saw so much food disappearing into bins. Once I had a big insurance company as a client, and they had a special meal with chilled special-edition wine with the label done by Andy Warhol, and the bottle was $300, and nobody even looked at the label.
My boyfriend had a mid-life crisis, had affairs with all his waitresses, got deeply into cocaine, and lied to me. So although I felt something was going wrong, I sort of didn’t mistrust where I should have. And so we lost it all because by the time he confessed, the bank was deep into that house. It was a real big, big disaster and it was three hard, hard years. I was left with a Jack Russell terrier, a little van, and no money.
I had a pancreas infection half way through all that big drama with my boyfriend. It was very strong and I nearly died. I ended up with a good doctor and step-by-step he led me through. He always said trust your body, it will tell you.
At the same time I got into Shiatsu massage, which led me to Chinese medicine and then element cooking, which is winter food and summer food, food that speeds you up and food that calms you down, and herbs. I got very curious about all that and discovered that it worked for me.
Slowly I decided everybody is living on too high speed and it’s not good. More and more I had an uncomfortable feeling. What if you take all of this away from the people? All the drugs, the unhappiness, the alcohol behind all that. I worked in real luxury and saw a lot and finally came to the decision I wanted to step out. They could give me The Oriental to manage but I literally don’t want.
In 1993, I found a place in Ibiza and I rented that for three months. Groups I had worked with in Hamburg followed me to Ibiza and everybody liked it. Groups of about 20 people travelled down for 10-day stays and helped me with that start. There were two big psychotherapy summer camps and one yoga group. The psychotherapy people are still with me here, they are really like family. I knew them before they had children and now their children are grown-up.
I didn’t like Ibiza, because it’s far too eccentric in summer and dead as a dodo in winter. I made the decision to go to Majorca in 94 and I immediately found an old house from 1778, really pretty, with antiques. It’s a beautiful island. Those were good, good years, it was a big success. I learned the language, flights were easy, it was all cheap. That house was a dream—it was like a youth hostel but in a Fellini movie location. But the house was hard to run. It still had lead plumbing from 1778, it had hardly any water, no heating, and the winters in Majorca are long and dark. Then Majorca got so popular, all these famous people moved there, from Boris Becker to Michael Douglas and prices went mad.
In 1998, a friend invited me to Mojacar, in Spain’s Almeria region, which is the nearest beach town north of here. I immediately fell in love with this area, thinking this is exactly what I am looking for. And that’s how it all started. I wanted to create a safe place where people get high—class service combined with a simple lifestyle.