Berlin-based actor Gizem Emre found fame as a teenager and has now expanded her stage with a new, alternative business venture.
It’s not unusual for actors to maintain side jobs to support their acting career. But for Gizem Emre—whose film and TV appearances began in 2013 and have remained consistent ever since—the decision to not only work in the hospitality sector but completely take over a business was a brave yet curious one.
This portrait is part of our collaboration with ClassPass and our joint campaign, #bethebalance which takes us to Berlin, Munich, and Paris. Learn more at the end of this story.
“I’ve always enjoyed acting but I never told myself that I wanted to be a famous actor.”
Refinery High End Coffee in Berlin is a bustling space. The entrance, which is flanked in concrete, affords a glimpse into the Mitte cafe where filament light bulbs set the warm tone and baristas manning the coffee machines using only coffee from local roasteries to serve the continual stream of customers. Even though Emre only recently took over the cafe, she appears at ease in her new environment, smiling at every customer who enters—some she even greets by name. The sound of Erykah Badu’s Baduizm fills the room and Emre sits down to take a break.
The twenty three year old Berlin-born actor can already look back on a solid acting career. Her breakthrough came in 2013 in the German hit comedy Fack Ju Göthe where she played Zeynep an out of control tenth grader in a comprehensive school. In 2015 and 2017, Fack Ju Göthe 2 and 3 followed suit. Since 2014 her character Dana Wegener of the cast of Alarm For Cobra 11 – The Highway Police, which is one of the most successful TV series in Germany. While for many this back catalog of acting appearances sounds like the dream scenario, it turns out that being a well known actor has not been her only life goal: “I’ve always enjoyed acting but I never told myself that I wanted to be a famous actor. I’ve never thought about this as my main profession,” says Emre.
At the age of nine she discovered the joys of acting in theater and received coaching in Berlin-Dahlem: “We worked with text and were encouraged to interpret, make it our own. I really loved that. Today, I enjoy that I can freely unfold the role I’m playing in Cobra 11,” she explains. Her character, Dana Wegener, is a young police officer and the role challenges Emre. She does sparring sessions, works out, needs to stay mentally fit and does some of her own stunt work. For shoots, Emre commutes between Berlin, Munich, and Cologne. Even though she is fully invested in her role it doesn’t seem like she’s dependent solely on acting and even though her schedule is already full, she took a leap into entrepreneurship. By early 2019 she had taken over Refinery High End Coffee.
“You always had to be stronger than the boys to be accepted.”
Emre has drive and it’s a red thread throughout her life so far. At the age of 16 she worked as a waitress for a while, even though her parents demanded she remained focused on her schooling. “I always felt this urge to take care of myself, to pay for my new phone and the phone bill,” she says. Even then, she had thoughts about her own store and with the acquired coffee shop she makes that dream a reality. Her father heads the Refinery High End Coffee as a director, “my right hand” as she calls him and during the day to day everything is learning by doing for her.
The cafe is not just a hobby outside of acting for Emre. When she’s there, she’s extremely hands-on, quick to help out at the cash register should the line of guests grow too long or clear the tables. Emre is driven by a fascination for coffee and how it’s processed: “Every day, our head barista adjusts the coarseness settings for coffee beans and the spots for the coffee machines according to the weather. He tries the coffee and checks how the adjustments affect the taste. I want to learn that some day,” she says. While they always look for new roasters, Emre currently uses Berlin-based roasteries Bonanza and Populus: “I support the locals and I am totally convinced by their product.”
“Can you ever find yourself? So completely? Do you want that? I don’t know.”
Although she’s passionate about the cafe, she can’t always be there. Thus, her father is pivotal to the operation. “To me, my family is more important then I am to myself,” she says. Emre and her brother grew up in Kreuzberg. At the age of thirteen, the family moves further west in Berlin. She remembers a time in Kreuzberg that was shaped by a feeling of competition: “Girls weren’t inferior to boys per se, but you always had to be stronger than them to be accepted. I always had to prove myself.”
Emre likes to do “three things at the same time” but she finds comfort in yoga and meditation: “Doing yoga, I’m much more at ease with myself and my body needs it. I’m a very hectic person and after a yoga session I feel calmer, more grounded and it clears my mind.” The Achilles heel on her way to more peace, however, is the phone. “I always want to be reachable with every email answered immediately even though that only feeds the stress.” Her new role in business paradoxically helps her to shake off the pressure of being constantly accessible. At Refinery High End Coffee, she engages with people and is in direct dialogue with customers, so other communication channels suddenly become irrelevant: “I’m very focused here, otherwise it doesn’t work.”
Even when on a break, Emre keeps on working. On her way to a shoot in Munich or Cologne, she studies scripts for her role in Cobra 11: “The tablet is off, the phone, too, and I can focus on the essentials. Sure, when I arrive, I’m sometimes tired but that’s part of the job and I quite enjoy it,” she says.
Except for her part in the US series Homeland and Die Spezialisten for the German public broadcaster ZDF, Emre doesn’t shoot in Berlin very often. If it were up to her, that would change in the future: “It’s my hometown and I’d love to shoot here more often,” she says. “Things are happening in Berlin, shows like Dogs Of Berlin or 4 Blocks are shot here.” Emre lives in the spotlight, is an actor, an entrepreneur and, with more than 200,000 followers on Instagram, an influencer as well. Despite the noise and the different roles she juggles, Emre down to earth, grounded, approachable, someone you’d like to hang out with.
In the background, baristas at Refinery High End Coffee work the orders swiftly, guests look at the display filled with pastries and fresh porridge. Emre ponders a while over the question whether she ‘found herself’ between all these roles. “Can you ever find yourself? So completely? Do you want that? I don’t know,” puzzles Emre. And yet, a new chapter has begun in her life. Recently, in her early twenties, Emre decided to leave her parental home and has, in her own apartment, created a retreat for herself. The next step in the search for balance.
Gizem Emre is an actor and entrepreneur, born and raised in Kreuzberg, Berlin. She first rose to fame in Germany while playing Zeynep in the film Fuck Ju Göthe, a coming-of-age movie starring a cast of up-and-coming German actors. Since then, Gizem has starred in a number of productions, including TV shows such as Alarm for Cobra 11 in which she plays a police officer. In January 2019, Gizem opened her own artisan coffee shop in Berlin Mitte, Refinery High End Coffee.
This portrait was produced in collaboration with multi-studio fitness membership ClassPass, as part of the campaign #bethebalance. ClassPass and Freunde von Freunden believe in seeking balance: It helps you find the calm when you need it, and provides you with an intense workout when you want to lose control. Over three stories, we focus on how to keep the balance in your community, in leading a mindful lifestyle, or in stepping out of your comfort zone from time to time. Sign up here for a one month free membership with ClassPass in Berlin.