Repair Cafes: A Movement To Fix Our Throwaway Culture
Torn T-shirts, dead remote controls and jammed DVD players aren't necessarily doomed for the junk heap. Sustainability is the watchword at these special German locales.
GERMERING — Some “patients” are so bulky they have to be brought in crates and bags. Alexander Nehr has one with him, and he’s been waiting for 45 minutes to get it looked at. But his dad’s old tape recorder is worth the wait.
“It dates from the 1970s,” says the 37-year-old Nehr. “There are even recordings of me on it from when I was a kid.”
He learned about the Repair Café — where, quite simply, broken things are fixed — after reading about it in the newspaper. Even though an old friend is visiting him this weekend, he drove from Munich to Germering (some 15 kilometers west of Munich) with the broken recorder and its two large tape spools packed into a suitcase. Now the two friends are sitting patiently watching the lively goings-on around them and waiting for their number to be called.
The event is organized by members of the Evangelical Free Church. The concept is simple: Anybody with broken computers and electrical devices, clothes, bicycles and other items in need of repair can pop by and work with an expert to fix the item. “We wanted to do something that would be beneficial to the community,” says Repair Café founder Gerhard Busch.
But the idea is also a way for Busch and his colleagues to fight the throw-away mentality. Quick consumption, disposal, more consumption. He wants to see an end to that pattern. Sustainability is important to those involved with the Repair Café. Your electric toothbrush has given up the ghost? The reason could be as simple as depleted batteries. Replace those and the device might be as good as new. But even more serious issues such as chairs with broken legs aren’t candidates for the junk heap, says Busch.
The Repair Café idea comes from the Netherlands and has found imitators the world over. In Germany, there are Repair Cafés in over 30 cities. The Germering project was launched only recently.
Don’t throw out that broken remote control
The event is held regularly at the community center. Focused, individual “clinics” are held around wooden tables equipped with tools, voltmeters, needles and thread — whatever is required for the particular clinic. There’s a computer clinic, a clinic for items made of wood, and clinics for bicycles, clothes and small appliances. Visitors waiting for their turn cluster around the expert working at the table. Some help while others observe attentively as items are repaired — everything from broken remote control devices and microwave ovens, to torn pants and T-shirts, to broken chairs and laptops.
Brunhilde “Bruni” Bartl from Germering volunteers in the clothes clinic. As far as sewing goes, she’s self-taught. Her childhood dream was to become a dressmaker. But because she could get a free room if she trained as a nurse, she opted for hospital work instead. Now 68 and retired, she’s making something of her old dream come true at the clinic.
Skillfully she inserts thread into the white sewing machine and starts sewing an open seam. “Just before this, I showed a little girl how she could fix her torn tights,” she says. Tonight while she watches TV at home, she says she intends to knit some cuffs for a sweater a woman brought in.
The Repair Café is a team effort. Visitors don’t just deposit their defective devices. They also help fix them. Some 100 visitors have come to the Repair Café workshop on this Saturday. Eighty people wanted to have something fixed, but it was only possible to handle 60 items. “We were a little overrun this time,” Busch says.
“The whole concept relies entirely on the experts being willing to invest their spare time,” Busch says. And until now there have been too few of those, so that some clinic visitors have had waiting times of up to 90 minutes. For many that’s too long, and they leave.
Even if a device can’t be repaired, many are happy they turned up anyway because, as Busch says, “that means they can throw the broken item away with a clean conscience.”
What’s astonishing here is the degree of consideration people display towards one another. One visitor asks if she can bring cake for everybody to the next session. Another donates all manner of sewing equipment to the clothing clinic.
For Nehr, the visit paid off. All his tape recorder needs is a couple of minor replacement parts and it’ll be right as rain. He can buy them and come back to the next Repair Café in Germering — or he can use his newfound knowledge to install the parts himself.