“I am Dominic Neill. I’m the Community & Brand Partnerships Manager at The Social Hub Berlin and this is my SMACK story.
My first taste of “real” hospitality was being thrust into the role of reception manager at a Hostel in Berlin. No educated idea of what I was doing, I channeled the same zest for life and blind willingness to succeed that I displayed at my first job at “The Greek Sizzler” in Johannesburg, South Africa. Back then, Kosta the owner, insisted I memorized the entire menu in Greek… a bizarre request since I very clearly did not speak Greek but apparently this made us quote unquote “authentic”. I didn’t know it at the time but my newly found authenticity and lesson in going the extra mile would be invaluable.
Back to Berlin and I quickly found out that the work as such was the least of my problems. Checking people in and out, giving people directions by typing an address into Google Maps on THEIR smartphone (face palm) and the occasional encounters with bodily fluids associated to life in a hostel were child’s play compared to the real battle I was faced with. Not so long into my tenure I realized something was gravely off and of all things the German labor law, ill placed disgruntled employees and 5 years of tension were to blame for it resulting in what seemed like a fully blown, political war of ideals.
It was a battle of those who backed the staff council and those who didn’t in a hostel that paid the highest wages among all hostels in Berlin at the time. I didn’t get it at all… so much so, after 6 months I accepted the role of GM of the hostel and found out shortly afterwards that I would be overseeing the closure of the property and essentially the handover and sale of the building. All of a sudden I went from the humble reception manager in the eyes of those politically motivated to the arch enemy and backer of all things capitalism and things took on a WHOLE other flavor. While I had a full summer of hostel guests at an average occupancy of 98%, my parallel universe was scouring Twitter for the next threat of expropriation through occupation by pseudo-Antifa, regular threat assessment calls with a leading police official and even a couple visits to Berlin’s labour courts.
I had no way of really grasping the true context of all the craziness. To cut a long story short we got through summer and ended up closing an amazing place, with incredible reviews and a poster child for how a modern, large scale hostel can be run. For a long time I also couldn’t really understand how I or even we (a combination of both sides of the divided staff) got through everything… but a while later it dawned on me, we were saved by the guests! Roger the Australian who had too much to drink and then fell asleep at reception with his kebap on his forehead, Rosalia from Malaga who asked our bartender 12 times a night to play reggaeton and Rajesh, a 70 year old birdwatcher from Mumbai on the lookout for nightingales were the great leveller amongst us when they stepped up to reception and that is how we all got through it all!
Today I apply the short, yet bumpy rollercoaster like learnings to my role as Connector (Brand Partnerships and Community Manager) at The Student Hotel Berlin. Our hybrid model of hotel and student accommodation means that our guests are as colourful and diverse as they come and every day is a drive and push to make our property extremely welcoming and a breeding ground for today’s and tomorrow’s changemakers. I am proud that our identity and narrative within the city’s landscape has begun to take shape and I have been allowed to use my love for street culture and music to launch a thrift store, a barbershop and a music studio within our four walls. This constant effort to reinvent what is expected of hospitality spaces is what inspires me more than ever.
When I am not trying to remember the Greek word for sausage, chairing a kitchen meeting full of students or showing a famous hip hop artist our music space I am tackling my second career as a singer and songwriter or screaming at the TV because the football or rugby is on. If you really can’t reach me, hear me or see me… you can find me on the golf course.