A pragmatic management team and highly motivated young people ensure that the now outdated association Fabrik für Handwerk, Kultur und Ökologie eV does not begin to stuff under the alternative economic robe.
No, we are not in 50 BC. All of Gaul is no longer occupied by the Romans, and this story takes place neither in Laudanum nor in Kleinbonum. It’s still a nest of resistance.
The fact that the factory for craftsmanship, culture and ecology is called a factory is basically nonsensical. Calling them manufacture would be more appropriate. But back then, when the factory was founded, it sounded too much like the establishment. Back then, in 1978, the founders put up a fight against the mustiness under their robes that had already been stirred up but could still be clearly smelled. They wanted to create a place in Freiburg where they could live and work how they liked: different from the rest.
When you enter the site of the former furniture factory at Habsburgerstrasse 9, you don’t get the impression of having arrived in the center left of Freiburg. Everything seems too accurate, too well-groomed and somehow: too idyllic. This is also due to the fact that renovated factory buildings are part of the aesthetic canon of Central European high earners at the beginning of the 21st century.
The decorative brick facades have remained largely unchanged to this day .The three-storey building in Freiburg-Herdern was erected in 1908. Around 50 workers manufactured furniture here for the Springer brothers. After expropriation during the Nazi era, exile and re-acquisition, the brothers gave up the furniture factory in the mid-1950s for reasons of age. A yarn factory moved in and produced synthetic threads until 1975. Then this company also dissolved. Three years later, Christian Petty bought the empty buildings. Petty, then a member of the Bundschuh printing works that still produces on the site today, financed the purchase with an inheritance and bank loans. This enabled him and his comrades to move into the halls that were in need of renovation.
Renovation work began in the fall of 1978. The first groups nested in the approximately 3,500 square meters of usable space. Construction work, organization and administration were carried out collectively from the beginning; every Monday evening the active members met in the “Elferrat”. The alternative project culminated in the founding of the association Fabrik für Handwerk, Kultur und Ökologie eV in July 1980 – and three and a half decades of self-government took their cooperative course.
Martin Wiedemann and Hans Schmid share the management of the factory.Wiedemann has been there from the start. At the time, he says, there were eleven groups from the alternative economy, organized in a grassroots-democratic manner and generous in interpreting official building regulations. This led to a quarrel with the comrade landowner, who as a private citizen had to answer to the building authority. Bureaucracy collided with freedom, the constraints of private property could not be reconciled with the ideals of the collective. It took five years for the quarrel to end in a friendly takeover: with the help of more than 500 private investors, the association bought the house and grounds from the heir in 1984 for around 1.5 million Deutschmarks.
The factoryis still in the hands of the association today. Only the administrative situation has changed. What was initially discussed by the “Elferrat” is now being dealt with by the board team and the two managing directors. The association owns the premises and buildings, takes care of house and financial management and runs the in-house ceramics workshop as well as the “Vorderhaus” theater stage. “We organize around 220 events a year,” says Wiedemann proudly, “mainly political cabaret, where we are the leading house in southern Baden.” The theater with its 188 seats is often too small, so that people switch to the big stages in the city got to. The top acts on the factory stage fill up to 1,500 seats .
The once dilapidated shelter for a few alternative projects has blossomed into a completely renovated economic, social and cultural center in the middle of an increasingly dead and abandoned desert of discounters: the factory registers around 200,000 guests per year on its premises – so almost all of Freiburg come to visit every year . This success is not only due to cabaret. The 25 local companies and organizations also attract visitors: the aid organization for war victims AMICA eV is among them, the carpenter’s workshop Freie Holzwerkstatt and an educational think tank called BAGAGE . There is also a kindergarten, a printing shop, two left-wing motorcycle clubs and the long-established bicycle repair shop. The factory houses FRIGA , the only independent social and business start-up consultancy in Freiburg, and a regional weekly market.
In the basement of the main building, Hartmut Lempp runs the free wood workshop . Solid wood has been used in construction here since 1979: “Furniture that doesn’t fall apart if you look at it twice,” smiles Lempp while demonstrating the advantages of a height-adjustable solid wood desk. “Of course I keep thinking about why I’m actually doing this to myself: dragging all the wood down here first and then lugging the finished furniture back up the steps. But then I look around outside, meet all the good people and I remember why.”
Much like the Gallic heroes Asterix and Obelix, the factory has also become a generally accepted cultural asset over the years. She and her founders ended up where they originally fled: in the proverbial middle of society. Which doesn’t mean that all their ideals and plans from back then went overboard: rather, a number of demands from the alternative scene became a social consensus. In the factory you can see how this process progresses when former adversaries learn to talk to each other: the city and factory work together and no longer against each other, as they did at the beginning. The Factory 2020
initiativeshould now ensure that the innovative force does not retire with its founders in a few years. There are no problems with young talent, but in almost 40 years even the most tried and tested structures are beginning to rust. Discussion rounds made up of management, tradesmen and junior staff analyze how the factory is doing and how it should go on. Those involved never stopped talking and listening to each other. That is also a secret of the success of the Gauls from Freiburg.
The plans for the future have been made: one dreams of one’s own children’s theater, another extension is planned to counteract the acute lack of space, and the old boiler in the basement is to be used in future to store the excess energy generated by the solar and combined heat and power plants. They continue to defend themselves against hostile takeovers by speculators: Asterix, Obelix and the other founding Gauls on the Habsburgerstrasse may not be 20 years young, but they have put a few hinkelsteins in the way of late Roman decadence – they have done that here in the past 37 not forgotten for years.