Old bicycles for a better World!
BY DIRK KUNZ
BERLIN ■ The young man helplessly holds up his rear tire with his right hand. What he wants isn’t outrageous; he would of course pay for it, but he can’t even bring himself to ask how much it will cost to repair.
“If you want to ride a fixed-gear bicycle, you’re in the wrong store,” Wolfgang Mrosek dismissively says to the customer. The customer knows it’s not his fault. Most likely all he wants is a cool fixed-gear bike, a so-called “Fixie”, with a rigid hub, but without freewheel or brakes, so the bike can only be slowed down by backpedaling.
“There’s nothing more to discuss here,” says Mrosek; it’s his favorite saying and basically an order.
Chauvinist or Pain in the Ass?
While the young man complains to a friend about this “fu***ng a***ole”, the fifty-year-old shopkeeper assists another customer: a fair redhead coming to pick up her bicycle. Mrosek is friendly andmild, flirting with her while chatting about the linguistic similarities between Afrikaans and Dutch.
“I’m like your bicycle when I’m asleep- upright all night!” The woman rolls her eyes, smiles, and says, “alright, I’ve gotta go now.”
A Questionable Past
Mrosek previously worked as an auto mechanic, yet in a recent interview he claimed that he used to be a multi-millionaire.
“It was practically raining money,” he said, raising his hands in the air. It was reasonable to conclude that he had involved himself in services that may or may not have dealt with drug laws. He claimed that at the time, he had both the money and the connections to ride incognito in one stage of the Tour de France, although in the current interview he spoke of two races.
I, along with the internet community, am extremely skeptical. There’s no evidence whatsoever for his participation in the most difficult bicycle race in the world. When I expressed my cynicism to him, he simply looked at me and smugly takes a drag from his cigarette. “You and your chicken legs couldn’t ride,” Mrosek smirks, “you gotta have the right legs!”
He presses an old, framed photo of his rundown store; the photo shows a young man with shoulder-length, blonde hair, sitting in a train cabin with a bored look on his face. His legs are well-defined and outlined by his 80’s-style black and neon-colored bike shorts. His arms are like toothpicks, yet his legs are like well-tanned tree trunks. He cycled eight hours a day, but still it was hard to believe his story. The difference between a Tour de France cyclist and an amateur is like a souped-up NASCAR racecar compared with Fred Flintstone’s car. But his story isn’t completely unbelieveable; he still has his professional bicycle hanging on the wall in his store.
A yellowed sign hangs in his store: “This shop has no place for storage. We will consider any bicycle not picked up within seven days after the pick-up date to be a donation.” Photo: KUNZ
Wheels at Cost
Today Wolfgang Mrosek is fixing up old bicycles and selling them at cost. It’s important to him to refurbish old stuff so that future generations can have the opportunity to grow up in a clean environment. Included in the cost of the refurbished bikes are labor costs, rent, water and power. Mrosek’s shop has neither computer nor telephone, so his overhead costs are low.
It all started a few years ago when he became a father and needed to buy toys for his new son. His neighbour gave him some old bicycles, which Mrosek refurbished, sold, and used the proceeds to buy his son some playthings. The people in his neighborhood wanted these reconditioned bikes, which gave Mrosek the idea to establish his own business and be his own boss. Now his homeowner’s association calls him when there are too many old bicycles cluttering up the local parks.
Fixies kill children
Mrosek himself rides a bicycle with a basket on the handlebars and a tow bar. He could care less about carbon racers as it’s only slightly lighter than a good old-fashioned steel frame. He can’t stand Fixies, which he refers to as “penis enlargers”. He’s had to deal with them since the beginning of the Hipster trend.
“These bikes kill children,” he says, referring to an accident in Berlin, where a seven-year-old child died because the cyclist’s Fixie couldn’t stop in time. “When I see one in traffic, I bring it down, report it to the police and let them confiscate it.”
I read about Wolfgang Mrosek, the owner of the bicycle shop in Berlin, for the first time in an interview in the german newspaper “Süddeutschen Zeitung” and its online periodical “Jetzt“. A three-minute online video is circulating, and the comments vary: he is a jerk, a snob, he makes up stories, not stupid but unlikeable, braggart, do-gooder, etc. This was my first meeting with him; during a recent trip to Berlin I took the opportunity to visit his”Fietswinkel” (Dutch for “bike shop”) in Berlin-Neukölln. At first it seemed like he was irritated and that I was bothering him, but then he asked me if I wanted to take his twenty-five year old Pinarello (on which he allegedly rode more than 600.000 miles) for a spin, on pain of death if I didn’t bring it back.
His comment about my “chicken legs” really bothered me; I consider myself an amateur cyclist, and am irritated whenever a wannabe professional cyclist acts like a snob about it. But I’ve been cycling for over twenty years and cover about six thousend miles a year; that’s training that won’t leave you standing on chicken legs.
Translation into the English language: Shellie Anne Labell