The Fahrradwerkstatt (bike workshop) in Freiburg is legendary. If you live here and own a bike (and just about everyone does), chances are you’ve been. It began way back in 1980 – before I was even born. A group of environmentally-minded students got together and formed the workshop in the basement of the FABRIK, a centre for handicrafts, culture and ecology, where Freiburgers could come and repair their bikes using the tools available.
At first, the workshop was only open two afternoons a week and run by volunteers. But now, over thirty years later, it’s open six days a week and offers much more than just tools. You can buy anything you could possibly imagine (both new and old) that’s bike related, except, I hasten to add, a new bike. That luxury is reserved for the two other specialist stores that were created as a result of the workshop’s popularity. The three locations are managed jointly by a team of 14 (young and old(ish), guys and girls, german and foreign): everyone has the same rights and all decisions are taken together, which is a refreshing way of doing things, don’t you think?
More often than not, you’ll be greeted by this sight when you arrive at the workshop during the “Selbsthilfewerkstatt” or “Do-it-yourself workshop” hours, and that’s exactly what it looked like when I dropped by for the first time.
Vicky had told me about the workshop before I arrived in Freiburg. I had been a member of a similar initiative back in Strasbourg, Velostation, and was keen to find out more. So during my first week in the city I simply rode my bike over to the Radgeber (one of the team’s other shops) to ask if they needed any help. I told them about our plans for Greece and how we’d like to offer biking holidays, and offered to volunteer for a few hours a week in return for tips and advice on how to repair different types of bikes.
To my delight, the guys liked our idea and suggested I drop by the workshop to enquire. So that was it. I went along , spoke to the guys there and realised I was clearly not alone, and not a weirdo – there are people out there who are just as passionate, and in most cases even more passionate, about bikes than I am.
For the next year or so I spent 6 hours a week dismantling, repairing and building all sorts of different bikes. It was the perfect way to make new friends, improve my mechanic skills and have a lot of fun along the way.
When I first started off I realised just how little I knew about the finer details of how a bike works. My first tasks were to break down old bikes and salvage any parts, and then dismantle 3, 5 and 7 speed hubs to see how they actually work. I was amazed to see how many parts they consist of and here’s a photo to give you an idea (note the incredibly well organised tools – German efficiency at it’s best ):
As I started to settle in, and could efficiently murder bikes, I thought it was about time to kill my favourite bike of all time. I bought her back in Tübingen when I was studying there – for a meagre 50 Euro. But it was time to move on – she’d become rusty after years of abuse, and with my four other bikes we simply didn’t have any room for her on the balcony!
Here’s all that was left after I’d finished (the seat post and bottom bracket had rusted solid, hence why I couldn’t remove them).
After proving I knew the basics, I was given small repair tasks like altering brakes, repairing bottom brackets and re-centreing wheels – it was nice to be contributing to the daily workload. Towards the end of the internship I was also asked to build a bike from scratch. They handed me a frame:
some refurbished hubs, a couple of rims and a few spokes
and basically let me get on with it. Here’s a shot of the almost-finished product:
And the final price-tag (not bad for my first bike hey?):
As well as doing work for clients and potential clients, I was also given the flexibility to work on my own projects. At one point in the year we received a couple of damaged bikes that needing stripping down. It was the perfect opportunity to build Vicky a bike – I’d always wanted to take her with me on a biking holiday but never could because her bike wasn’t good enough. So I took this:
combined them with this:
a few nuts and bolts,
and a few more bits and pieces I found in the used parts:
and, after a bit of guidance from the guys, I ended up with this:
I gave it to Vicky after she recovered from her snowboarding accident last year and she loved it – and we even got to take it for a spin to the Danube valley in the summer.
One of the coolest things about the workshop was the eclectic music that played incessantly as we worked away: from jazz to German punk (which is actually pretty good) to rock to blues to the latest from the UK (which I especially liked). Several of the guys are really into music, hence the great tunes. But what I’ll really miss is the people:
Ally, Claudia, Islam, Jan, Jonas, Klaus, Lars, Lisa, Markus, Phillip, Rainer, Ralf, Reinhard, Ricardo and Widu – I learnt so much from you all and enjoyed every minute I spent getting my hands dirty down in the basement of the Fahrradwerkstatt. Vielen Dank für alles! Stay in contact and come and see us in Greece