IBicycles gather in a courtyard in Düsseldorf, and visitors queue up on the second floor of the adjoining building. If you walk past this, you enter a large, bright room that comes in a modern industrial style.
The open kitchen is framed by glass windows, garage doors on the concrete walls serve as doors to adjacent rooms and a swing hangs in the lounge area. Most people probably imagine a repair café differently.
A different approach
Once a month everyone can bring something that needs repairing and get it back in shape together with a helper – accompanied by coffee, cake and nice conversations. The event of the GarageLab association is financed purely by donations. The visitors do not have to pay anything else.
The fact that you immediately feel comfortable there is not only due to the design. Above all, it is due to the people who welcome every visitor with a radiant look and an enthusiasm for their project that is second to none. The voluntary helpers are old and young and practice a wide variety of jobs outside of the Repair Café: from managers to technicians to artists. However, they all have one thing in common: a passion for craftsmanship.
“Most of the time we fix real family sweethearts. Grandpa’s radio, old music boxes or a child’s beloved Smurf character, who has lost his guard,” says Markus Lezaun from the association’s board. “We also had model airplanes with wingspans of more than two meters. Or a coffee service that fell in its entirety at an old lady’s feet. We’ve really seen everything here.” The only exception: Large appliances such as refrigerators and washing machines are taboo. Thanks to the non-profit association, which wants to bring people closer to digital and manual technology, the possibilities of the Repair Café are particularly large. Since the helpers bring different backgrounds and interests, there is someone on site for almost every specialist area. You can fall back on the numerous workshops in the house and, for example, produce spare parts in 3D printers yourself that are difficult to obtain elsewhere.
The most important thing, however, is to teach those involved – in addition to the joint implementation – a new way of dealing with the things you own. “People think about repairs more often once they’ve been here,” says Lezaun. Having something repaired yourself simply leaves a different feeling than buying a new one.
For many people, the quick solution when their toaster is on strike or their headphones are roaring is: get rid of it! You can quickly buy almost everything new online, and it is sometimes delivered the next morning. But what is practical for us is not at all good for the environment. Every German produces more than 19 kilograms of electronic waste every year. Much of this could probably be avoided if we dealt with unloved or defective things differently. The city of Leipzig has therefore been testing a pilot project for a few weeks that is intended to counteract mass throwing away: the repair bonus.
At selected companies, Leipzig residents now receive a 50 percent discount on their repairs up to a maximum of 100 euros. This applies not only to electronic devices, but also to bicycles, textile and leather goods such as shoes. The offer was so well received that the entire budget was used up after just ten days. The state of Saxony then released a further 22,500 euros and thus tripled the funds for the project.
The hope: to bring the possibility of a repair back into people’s consciousness. However, repairs by a specialist are not the only alternative to the garbage can. If sweaters, microwaves and the like aren’t broken yet, but simply unwanted, you can sell them or simply give them away. That way someone else might find exactly what they’re looking for without having to buy it again. Flea markets, swap parties and second-hand shops are now plentiful, both online and offline.
Rent, borrow, repair
But it would be much better: rethink your own consumption. Do I really have to buy the ball gown or the table saw, even if both are probably gathering dust in the closet after one use? Lots of things are easy to rent or borrow these days, even clothes. Alternatively, you can try to consume as sustainably as possible. Quality over quantity and this is preserved through care and possible repairs.
The Repair Café is apparently well received: the rush is so great that the operators are considering a two-week cycle. Lezaun wants to be realistic about the effect: “In a big city like Düsseldorf, it’s still just a drop in the ocean,” he says. “In order to really change something, it would have to have completely different dimensions – we can’t do that on our own.”
A further step could be projects such as the repair bonus in Leipzig, which encourages people to repair and at the same time promotes the relevant companies. This is also well received by local residents. So good that even the additional funds will probably soon be used up, as Susanna Zohl, spokeswoman for the Leipzig city cleaning department, explains. The companies involved confirm high demand and a large increase in customers thanks to the repair bonus. Customers who would otherwise probably have thrown away their devices.
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