Tuesday, 4 October 2016

A World of Enchantment at T Fondaco dei Tedeschi in Venice

Grand Canal from the Rooftop Terrace of T Fondaco dei Tedeschi
(Venice, Italy)  A great deal of my life in Venice has been spent living on the Grand Canal right at the Rialto Bridge, so the Fondaco dei Tedeschi, at the foot of the bridge, has been a major part of my personal landscape. It was my post office, where I waited in line to buy stamps, mail packages and pay my bills. It was enjoyable because many of my neighbors had to wait in the same lines, so going to the post office was like a social event.

T Fondaco dei Tedeschi - Photo: DFS
The Fondaco dei Tedeschi was originally constructed in 1222 as the headquarters and restricted living quarters for the German merchants in Venice, which was then the center of the world's trade. It was destroyed by fire, rebuilt in 1505 and 1508, and functioned as a palace, warehouse and market. Then, under Napoleon, it transformed into a customs house, and morphed into a post office under Mussolini.

Rialto Bridge currently being restored by Renzo Rosso from water entrance of DFS
Just about 17 years ago, on October 1, 1999, I moved into my apartment at San Polo 622 with a balcony that overlooked the Grand Canal, and a full-frontal view of the Rialto Bridge. As time went on, and unregulated tourism became more rampant, I witnessed various forces battle for control of Rialto area.

Aerial view Fondaco dei Tedeschi - Photo: Archdaily
In 2008, the post office sold the Fondaco dei Tedeschi to the powerful Benetton family of Treviso, who hired Rem Koolhaas, the renowned Dutch architect, and his firm, OMA, to transform the beloved structure into a shopping and cultural center. The next player in the picture was the DFS Group, the Hong Kong luxury travel retailer, a subsidiary of LVMH, the French multinational luxury goods conglomerate, headquartered in Paris.

The reconstruction took place behind covered scaffolding, closed to the public. Venetians are always suspicious of change, and braced for the worse.

Thursday night Gala at T Fondaco dei Tedeschi
We have finally arrived in the year 2016. After a VIP bash on Thursday night, the T Fondaco dei Tedeschi once again opened to the public on Saturday, October 1st, and I am thrilled to report that it is teeming with excitement, magic and joy. The restoration of the structure itself is simply spectacular. When it was a post office, the Fondaco dei Tedeschi felt stark and Mussolini-like; now it feels bright and vibrant, like an elegant, exotic bazaar.

T Fondaco dei Tedeschi - Photo: Cat Bauer
Philippe Schaus, the Chairman & CEO of DFS was aware that they "were the guardian of something close to people's hearts," and took that responsibility seriously. According to The Moodie Davitt Report, Schaus said they had three major responsibilities:

1. To make sure that the architecture was consistent with its history.

2. To create something which adds value to Venice and elevates the profile of the city -- to add a dimension so people can stay in Venice longer, and don't need to go to Milan or Rome for shopping.

3. To bring a level of service to the building which that the customers of DFS have come to expect. They created 500 jobs, and had to decide how to fill them -- should they hire people away from other retailers, or train employees from scratch? 

Silva Shehata & Missoni scarves exclusive for the Fondaco
To me, the hiring was the most exciting element of the project -- DFS decided to recruit young people and give about half of them their very first job opportunity. According to the Nuova Venezia, over 400 people have been specially trained to work in the structure; half are in their first job; 80% have been given a permanent contract; and over 70% are women.

I spent several hours in the Fondaco dei Tedeschi on Saturday interviewing dozens of employees, and I have never met a group of people who were so excited and grateful for their jobs. It seemed like most nationalities, languages and skin colors were represented, from every continent in the world (maybe not Antarctica:-). Most of the employees I spoke to were from Venice or the Veneto. Even if they had been born in China, Brazil, India, Africa, Southern Italy or beyond, they had either stayed on after attending university here, or had arrived as children with their families.

The employees were professional, enthusiastic and courteous -- and remember, I was talking to them on their very first day on the job. A 25-year-old woman in the shoe department lowered her voice and said, "I want to tell you something. I have never had a job before in my life. We have created a entire world inside the T Fondaco dei Tedeschi, filled with people from all over the globe. I see this not as just a job, but an opportunity for a career."

A tall, 23-year-old man, brimming with confidence, told me that he had been born in the Ospedale Civile, Venice's ancient hospital. This was not his first job, but it was the platform from which he wanted to launch the rest of his life. He said he wanted to be a manager, and, judging by his demeanor, he has a good chance of achieving his goal. Another young man told me that he was not sure, exactly, what he wanted to do with his life, but he was positive he wanted "to be in this world, the world of fashion."

Fiori from Venice & Giulia from Jesolo in cosmetics
What was personally rewarding was that I encountered people I know in everyday Venetian life, almost unrecognizable in their newly-styled look.

Up in cosmetics, a young Venetian woman smiled at me: "But I know you already. You go to my gym!"

Over men's fashions, a young Russian student told me, "But I know you already! From the library at the university."

As I was wafting through the perfume section, another young woman asked me if I wanted to try a scent.

"What is it?"

"The Merchant of Venice."

I paused, then grinned: "I know the owner of your company, Marco Vidal. You are in good hands. He is passionate about his product and about Venice."

Chinese-French DJ MIMI XU at opening gala T Fondaco dei Tedeschi
It was like a marvelous mini Venetian empire, filled with an international buzz, with a strong presence of the Far East. T Fondaco dei Tedeschi combines history, culture, luxury and local products under one roof, products that give back to the Venetian community. On the ground floor there are select wines and food, along with a splash of products created by local artisans and businesses.

For example, the Ceccato family has been around for four generations. The Venetian clothing brand, Emilio Ceccato, is the official supplier of gondoliers' uniforms, which you can buy yourselves -- that is a real Venetian souvenir. A percentage of each purchase goes directly into supporting the gondoliers of Venice, helping to keep the ancient profession alive. I was at the very first presentation of the official logo a couple years ago, and I was there when the gondoliers got their very first check, which I wrote about here:

News from Rialto - Gondoliers of Venice Go Global

Escalator at T Fondaco dei Tedeschi
Philippe Starck, the legendary French designer who lives on the Venetian island of Burano, together with Massimiliano Alajmo, the legendary 3-star Michelin chef, and his legendary brother and partner, Raffaele -- they are responsible for the current Ristorante Quadri in Piazza San Marco -- have created a café/restaurant called "Amo," which means "I love" in Italian. The café part of Amo will open on October 15, and the restaurant part sometime in the near future. 

TIP: As soon as you enter the Fondaco, stop at the front desk and ask if you need a ticket to visit the rooftop terrace with a spectacular panoramic view of Venice. Due to space and safety, only a limited number of people are allowed up on the terrace at one time. They are still experimenting with the best way to control the line, so be warned that there could be a wait at the top anywhere from five to thirty minutes, or you might get lucky and score a singular view of Venice.

Once on the top floor, you will enter a contemporary cultural venue and meeting place, which kicked off with "Under Water," a video installation by the Italian artist, Fabrizio Plessi, a familiar face around Venice.

Ancient well in former medieval courtyard
The biggest complaints I've heard is that the ancient well that was in the center of the Fondaco was moved off-center, and that the floor is too contemporary and slick. I've also read some negative comments on the Internet. All I can say is that after living in Venice for nearly two decades, where gossip is an artful weapon, the only way to draw a correct conclusion is to witness something with your own eyes and ears, and form your own opinion.

OMA, the architectural firm founded by Rem Koolhaas, has created a page on its website filled with a description of the project, articles about the gala opening, images from social media and more, so click over there if you would like more information.

Cat Bauer on rooftop terrace of T Fondaco dei Tedeschi gala
Cat Bauer on terrace of T Fondaco dei Tedeschi
To me, the T Fondaco dei Tedeschi has pumped fresh blood into Rialto, the heart of Venice itself, a zone that was in desperate need for a transfusion.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog


  1. To me, the T Fondaco dei Tedeschi has pumped fresh blood into Rialto, the heart of Venice itself, a zone that was in desperate need for a transfusion.

  2. Is this wonderful shopping emporium (Venetian Selfridges!) on the back side of the Rialto Bridge, on the fish market side, or the front side of the Rialto? I am confused...as usual!

  3. Leslie, it is NOT on the fish market side where Sergio's shop is, it is on the opposite side of the Grand Canal. I am going to guess by when you say "the back side" of the Rialto Bridge, you mean the side of the bridge that does NOT face the vaporetto stop. Yes. That is correct. It is right at the foot of the Rialto Bridge. It's huge. You can't miss it:-) I just put up an aerial shot from Archdaily, so read the post again. If you don't know exactly where it is, I would assume that many people don't know.

    1. Yep, that aerial view helped! Wow, it is humongous! Next trip I can not worry about packing, because if I didn't bring it, I bet I could buy it there! Beautiful additions for residents, too. Wish I was one of them... :-) Ciao beautiful lady!