Please mention the photo credit: Roland Tännler
THE BIRTH OF FREITAG
TEXT: OLIVER GEMPERLE / PUBLISHED in 2016
I'm going to tell you a story I've told a hundred times before. I've rolled it out over business lunches, regaled fellow drinkers with it in bars and revealed it conspiratorially to companions over candlelit dinners.
It's the classic tale of the poor sucker who moves into a shared apartment only to discover soon afterward that his roommate is pregnant. And that poor sucker was me.
But let's go back to 1993. After a few half-hearted attempts, I’d finally moved out of my parents' home and into the city. To Zurich, one of the most fucked-up cities in the world. Zurich, back in 1993, was fighting a full-on drugs war. A disused train station looked like a battlefield, and after the shops closed, the city center was as dead as if there were a curfew.
To a young person, it seemed like nothing was happening. Despite that, we were all constantly going out. To bars in cellars and parties in subways, squats and empty factories. There really was always something on, and the quality of life was unbeatable because none of us had to get up next morning and go to work.
My room in the apartment cost me all of 300 bucks. No wonder. The flat was a dump, the plaster was peeling off the walls in pieces as big as plates, and wheezing away in the bathroom was a gas-powered flow water heater. Directly in front of the building, trucks thundered noisily across the bridge that cut the city in two.
One of the two other people in the apartment was a guy called Markus Freitag. He had a gently ironic way of talking and was always lower key than my other, more hyped-up, friends. Another strange thing was that Markus didn't smoke, do weed or care much about booze. All typical signs of a pregnancy, LOL.
I found out more one gray afternoon when he returned from one of the city's industrial areas. In the trailer attached to his bike was an old tarp he'd obtained from a trucking company. He heaved the bulky, stinking monster of a tarp up the staircase and, with one final effort, dumped it into our living room. «I'm planning to make a bag out of it» he says.
I must have looked nonplussed. A bag? Yes, for bikers, but one that would also be practical for other people. All made of recycled stuff such as tarps and inner tubes and car safety belts. OK. A very special idea, I had to admit.
My friends and I were always discussing ideas. But they tended to be ideas for movies, art projects and novels. We were all graphic designers, but now we were planning to do something big and important and perhaps get famous at the same time. Everything was possible: we had forever, and there was no need to get started today.
In his room, between the mattress and his stereo system, Markus spread out the washed truck tarp and drew a pattern on it. His baby was gradually beginning to take shape. Gregor, our other roommate, realized that the situation was getting serious. He left a note on the kitchen table informing us he was quitting the apartment and disappeared to his girlfriend's pad. I was the one who actually shared the long months until the birth with all its protracted complications.
Our apartment was transformed into a bag factory. When I got up in the morning – well, let's say towards noon – and wanted to take a shower, the bath was full of pieces of truck tarp floating in what looked like black sludge. It stank of exhaust fumes, fine dust and the steam of PVC softeners. A cup of coffee seemed like a better idea. The hallway was packed with boxes full of old inner tubes, and I had to squeeze past them to get into the kitchen. Rattling away here, from morning till night, was an industrial sewing machine that effortlessly drowned out the street noise. Fully intent on his sewing, Markus took a moment to ask me – just by the way, of course – if I already had something on today. A whole bunch of tarps still needed cutting.
In the meantime, Daniel had returned from his trip to the US and installed a computer and printer in the last free bit of space in our apartment. The baby's other parent was developing a database for orders, deliveries, inventories and so on. I had no idea whether he'd moved in or was simply working through, for nights on end. Did the two brothers ever sleep? But this was just an exception, and I knew it couldn’t go on this way forever.
At some point, I was holding a birth announcement in my hand. A silkscreen print on a truck tarp, 20 x 10 cm. TRUCK STOP BAR, Thursday, March 24, from 6:30 pm, on the Hardbrücke bridge.
The FREITAG bag was welcomed to the world by a bunch of individuals with drinks served from gas canisters on the sidewalk next to the urban freeway. They enjoy the drinks, the chats and, equally importantly, buying the bags. If I could turn back time and change anything, I think I'd probably have taken a camera with me and documented what proved to be a historic event. But I've still got a few good memories, and that's cool enough.
The suffering from my time in the apartment share with the FREITAG brother has long since receded into the background to be replaced by the joy of actually having been in at the start. All the big, much-discussed ideas have resulted in a few short stories, short movies and other attempts, but the FREITAG bag is known all over the world. And this has little to do with the idea itself, even if was an amazing one. That FREITAG has grown and flourished to the extent it has is due to its two amazing parents, Daniel and Markus. They've always done the best they can for their baby and had an unfailing instinct as to what was best for its development.
Today, FREITAG has come of age and is a synonym for Zurich's transformation into a stylish, lively metropolis. FREITAG stands for innovation, creativity and environmental awareness. But that's another story: the FREITAG story. And I'll leave that one to FREITAG's marketing professionals.