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a long time ago
Individually Recycled Freewaybags:

This is a story about two brothers and a sewing machine turning their roommate's life into living hell. And then it's the story of Freitag Freewaybags. Is it politically correct to be toting a product this trendy?

In the early nineties I moved away from home and got an apartment with the Freitag Bros. as my roommates. You're young - you make mistakes, right? This was in Zurich, the city everybody knows from postcards as a place of riches, swans and a blue lake coloured in post-production. Only I wasn't rich, and our apartment was next to the transit route Germany-Italy which cuts Zurich in half like a chainsaw cuts a wedding cake. The kitchen window overlooked the gargantuan bridged highway - something like the East River Drive in NYC only there are more trucks than taxis. Continuous mini-quakes invading the building, making paint and mortar fall from the ceiling in plate-sized chunks. Cracks in our walls. Ideal habitat for all kinds of more-than-four-legged animals and mice.

Scientists have proven the permanent acoustic immissions of highways to be extremely unhealthy: Nervous stress, light sleep, depressions and it inevitably leads to straight-out insanity.

I don't want to leave the impression of being just another whiner. In reality the first couple of months with Markus and Daniel were bliss. But then my seemingly sane and friendly roommates started doing things that had to drive you more nuts more quickly than any noise imaginable.

For clarity it may be helpful to take a spin in contemporary history. The beginning of the nineties were not what you would call the culmination of aesthetic awareness: our apartment was a shithole and the world around it was not exactly groomed either. Pre-designer era. Cellular phones were as handy as a briefcase full of rocks and Macintoshs came in the original shape of a shoebox. The world was far from perfect and even beautiful Switzerland had a long way to go. Now going long ways wasn't really my thing at the time. I was on unemployment, got up at noon and tried to think of a story that would turn into my first novel. Roommate Markus Freitag was different. Hyperactive as he was - even in those times - he laid down the beginning of a story which I am about to reiterate here. As appropriately as I can.

One morning Markus attached a trailer to his bike and pedaled to a nearby industrial zone. When he came back it was with the old tarpaulin of a cargo truck. Lugging it up to the fifth floor he started scrubbing it in the bathtub. He then laid it out in his room between mattress and stereo, and drew cut lines on it. The prototype of the Freitag bag.

Our comparatively comfy apartment now radically changed and so did my life. For weeks the bathtub would be full of black, smelly water polluted with dirty tarpaulins. The hall was stacked shut with boxes of 'precious materials': old innertubes of bicycle tires, seat belts saved from the ravaging teeth of junkyard dogs and more, many more stinking tarpaulins. The kitchen table was replaced with a pre-industrial sewing machine. Its sound overruled anything you've ever heard chattering down a street. Traffic was closing in on me from all sides.

Apparently to reimburse me for my pain and suffering, they gave me two Freewaybags - a big one and a small one. The original models. I was really grateful at the time - I didn't know that the bigger bag was in fact considered to pay for all the pain still before me. The second - much larger - series was just in preparation.

Daniel Freitag had been able to test their bag on the back of a hard core bike messenger in San Francisco - and when he returned to Zurich from his globetrot, he took the last square foot of our apartment and installed a computer. Packing lists, invoicing, addresses: the printer added a new shade of yellow to the acoustic landscape of what I had to call my home.

At least I was finally able to hold that damned bag in my hands. Garbage turned into robust and sort of elegant-looking messenger bags. And not one was like the other. Drawing the cutlines on the printed tarpaulins Daniel and Markus art-directed the design of every single bag. I hadn't thought of this project as a business before, but slowly it dawned on me that they might be more likely to go places with their bags than I was to go with my novel.

According to general opinion, 1999 will be the end of the milennium - a good time to look around and assess the state of the world. Today Apple machines are colorful playthings; as the ad says: "they come in five different taste variations". Cell phones are so small you lose them like lighters. The lease on my new apartment is bordering on blackmail, but I managed to relocate to a quiet side-street. The walls are freshly painted, and I am the proud owner/operator of gadgets like remote controlled heating in the bathroom. It even heats my towel rack.

The Freitag Bros. are no longer making their bags in their apartment. They've got themselves a nice 'n neat little business with a couple of employees, a worthwhile home page ( and all that. The bags aren't sewn on-site anymore, they are outsourced to a manufacturing facility employing disabled people. So you've got that social aspect too - apart from the ecologist aspect of wearing all recycled materials. This is serious. Words like 'innovation', 'creativity' and 'niches' and other linguistic straws people use to make sense in the area of consumer products feel right at home here. Freitag bags are like a little spark in the dark, telling you: Look - it IS possible to just make a good product - even in times where everybody else has restricted their productivity to the buying and selling of stocks and bonds.

A bag for the politically correct Kindergarden teacher and the light-green/pale-red eco-socialist? Sure. But there is also this hipster appeal of individuality. To hell with that! Mass markets have managed to flatten out every trend - and the worst thing about that is they deprive me of the feeling of being different myself. It always catches up. I could just about see it happening in this case too. And that's mean, I mean mean.

At this point I would like to describe an encounter I had in New York not long ago:

I was in the city to do research for my new novel. NYC - the metropolis of lifestyle, trends, fashion. Like many fellow tourists I was geared to get a piece of the clubbing. And as we know NYC subculture hides in the fringe - right now the Lower East Side - I went down there. I found a bar that was pretty empty in terms of furniture - maybe it had just opened for a couple of hours, maybe it was meant to be that way - you never know in these places... Many people there, their number and dresscode suggesting I was at the hip place at the right time. Bingo. When I approached the bar for a drink, one seriously down-looking guy saw me over: "Nice jacket." he said, referring to my Swiss nickel-and-dime raincoat. I only wear it when it's raining dogs and cats. "Looks a bit like those Freitag bags! Do you know them?" I check to ensure I'm not wearing a Freitag bag myself (we know the tricks), and started telling the guy my story. He kept crying out: "Wow! That must have been GREAT FUN!" He was pretty nice otherwise though.

Summing it up, all I can tell people who want to get themselves a Freitag bag now is: "People, you're pretty late. Never mind the trends, create your own."

But then the Freitag Freewaybag is still one solid piece of equipment - they're nice, and the two guys certainly deserve their success. Respect, brothers!

by Olver Gemperle

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