Relax and re-use by the river

Schiller River Club (www.facebook.com/schillersaigon) is not just another expat bar, well—at least that’s what German owner and founder Ben Schiller is aiming for. Located way out of town in Thu Duc, this riverside venue is far removed from the hustle and bustle of the city, a key factor behind its inception. Hosting everything from daily yoga and wellness workshops to internationally renowned DJs from Berlin, Schiller aims to bring a well-balanced mix of relaxation and rejuvenation to the city’s social scene.

Perhaps more importantly, however, through its own business practices and by hosting events raising awareness of pollution and sustainability issues, Schiller hopes to lead the way in cleaning up and preserving the city’s main waterway, which many customers come to enjoy. We caught up with Ben at the venue’s first-ever “Ecocentric Festival,” where he explained the ideas behind his new project, as well as his hopes for the future.

So, Ben what brings you to Saigon?

I originally came to Saigon in 2001 to visit a friend of mine who was involved in furniture design, but well—nearly 20 years later and I’m still here! When I first arrived there was no clubbing scene and very few foreigners, only Pham Ngu Lao which held together a few backpackers and, of course, some English teachers. There was no District 2 at this time, in the sense of today at least. Of course all of that has changed now.

Is Schiller your first business venture?

Not quite. My first project was with my lovely wife Ha: we opened a small coffee shop on Dong Khoi in District 1. After that became successful, I sold it and started building a house in Thu Duc on the riverside, which is the Schiller River Club we have today. In 2005 I also opened one of the first house music clubs in Saigon called Club Berlin. At the time it was not so attractive for everyone as we tended to stay away from mainstream music—we always played our type of music, but maybe we were a little ahead of time with that. We still play the same music at Schiller today, but it’s vastly more popular with the younger generations than it used to be.

Why did you choose to locate Schiller so far from the city center?

I chose this area because it is close to District 1, but also draws ambience from the passing river that Schiller River Club overlooks. After 15 years of living in the city I needed a break from the noise and the traffic. I feel that everyone else appreciates relaxation time as well, which has been the main positive feedback we’ve had from our customers.

The place feels very eclectic, what was the concept behind it?

I want a space where anyone can come by and feel relaxed. We have hosted a wide variety of different exhibitions, artists and performers and plan to keep doing so. During the week, my wife runs yoga workshops and treatments and we have art exhibitions showcasing young Vietnamese artists; recently we hosted yo yo from Hanoi, which was very well received. On the weekends, we usually have DJs but the difference with our music is that we cater more towards chilling and relaxing than dancing.

river view

What do you do to reduce your impact on the river?

We have always been driven towards keeping our environmental footprint to a minimum: we integrated glass and bamboo straws from the very beginning, for example. We also don’t use plastic water bottles: they are made from glass and a deposit is taken and then refunded when they are returned. During events we provide free refill stations so everyone is welcome to reuse their water bottles, which is something I’d like to see a lot more venues doing.

Was this why you hosted the Ecocentric Festival?

Yes, we wanted to run an event that highlighted both the river itself—by virtue of our location—and what we and other local businesses and organizations are doing to help keep it clean. We were supported by a range of different companies: Coconam, which sells glass and bamboo straws made by local people; Refill my Bottle; and Royal Saigon, who supplied organic and vegan food including cashew cheese. And, of course, my friend and colleague Nia: without whom it would never have happened!

Are you happy with how the festival went?

Yes, very happy! We wanted to keep everything as environmentally friendly and ecocentric as possible: while we had fun things like DJs, flying yoga and laughing yoga, we also had businesses there involved in recycling, the environment and sustainable living. It all came together really well. In fact, I felt really proud after the festival: usually there is a huge clean-up after an event, but after Ecocentric there was very little litter. Everyone was at the festival enjoying themselves, yet there was very little cleaning for me to do the next morning! The best part is that I feel that no one had to make a big change to achieve that—which is the message we wanted to get across.

Images by Vy Lam and Provided by Schiller