Three doors to the workshop

Through the first heavy door into a dark hallway. Behind the second door there is daylight, and a wild green small courtyard behind old glass panes. In the third door simple window glass, a peek into the workshop. Inside it’s all corners and niches, not very roomy, workbenches and tools radiate many years of work.

Freiburg’s Talstrasse has been the third station of the Sandal Workshop, for a little more than 30 years now. You can’ t see anymore that this has once been a bakery. At the entrance there is the sandal collection on a low shelf, a coal stove is in the center of the room.

A narrow staircase leads to the upper floor, which has been restored and prepared for workshops and classes. Round ceiling lights resemble skylights, you look at the beams, the house is old after all.

It all started in the 1970s, with the White Shop (“Weisser Laden”) located in the Adelhauser Strasse. The  White Shop not only sells sandals, but also books, and now and then you get a free apple to boot. It is one of the meanwhile legendary “alternative projects” of the seventies and eighties.

The principal idea of the shop: To offer a meaningful product, work self-determined, a good deal of customers are friends, family and acquaintances. There is hardly any advertising, the customers just drop in, amongst them many students or people closely related to the then thriving environmental movement, or “eco-scene,” as it was called in Germany.

There’s quite a few people who work in the shop or just give a hand, usually for a limited time, and then go other ways. One who is involved very early on is Andreas Thilo, soon joined by Heinrich Assies. These two remain – and soon they “are” Sandal Workshop Freiburg.

By the end of the 1980s, fewer customers visit the shop. The sandal makers decide to go where the customers are: They set up their sales stand at craft fairs, artisan markets and eco fairs. And it works. The Sandal Workshop is back in the black. It remains, small but alive.

The fundamental ideas from the 1970s, they still turn out sustainable in the 2020s. A meaningful and well-made product, made of the best material, handcrafted, in a distinctive style, from a workshop that also draws on the personality of its three sandal makers: This is the Sandal Workshop Freiburg today.

A leap in time. It is 2019. A Japanese orthopedic shoemaker, Norihiko Tsukinowa, comes across the exhibition showcase of the Sandal Workshop in Freiburg’s pedestrian zone. Meets Thilo and Assies, arranges an internship. And he decides to step in. The Corona virus somewhat disrupts his plans however. But time does not pass unused: The old website is revamped, an online store is created, workshops and courses are planned. In Japan, such workshops are very popular – so why not in Freiburg?

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