Frankfurt. She’s a classy lady, at first glance. She’s the kind of lady who wears little black dresses and high heels and rhinestone necklaces and stays out all night drinking expensive cocktails with bankers in five-star restaurants, one of the neuveua rich. With her twin blue-and-yellow plastic euro monuments (the first fronting the state theater, the second between the airport and the autobahn), with her banks and her guidebook nickname (“Mainhatten”) she’d have to be a woman obsessed with money, designer clothing, expensive jewelry. Wouldn’t she? Wouldn’t she?
But she leads a double life, and she’s got more dirty secrets and ripped stockings than she probably wants you to know about. She’s a disheveled red-headed junkie shooting up between her toes in broad daylight in front of the train station. She’s sitting on the hot-air vents in front of the Alte Oper with the Zeil punks, drinking cheap beer and rolling her own cigarettes. She’s spray painting a stencil on the wall in Nordend in the middle of the night, looking over her shoulder. She’s at the Au Fest, passed out in the bushes. She’s in the black bloc, protesting fur, at the Nachtanzdemo, dancing in the street.
Frankfurt’s Marauder’s Outposts
The Au (In der Au , S-Bahn Station Rödelheim Bahnhof, 5-10 walk)
The Au has been squatted since June 4, 1983. Host to a weekly Thursday-night vokü, punk rock concerts (5-7 euros admission), and the infamous summer Au Fest and a soccer tournament. The concert room is just small enough to be cozy, just dirty and cheap enough to be punk rock, with a free Fußball table and unisex bathroom.
Café ExZess (Leipziger Straße 91, U-Bahn Station Leipziger St)
A graffiti-covered autonomes center with an infoladen and lending library, concerts (punk rock, post rock, folk), theater, pub nights, and political lectures.
Dreikönigskeller (Färberstraße 71, walk over the Eisenersteg and take a left, the venue is about a half block on your right)
A regular old commercial venture, but if you like little blues/rockabilly/garage numbers, the best venue in town. A tiny cellar room with red rounded ceilings, a pint-sized stage (complete with Elvis shrine), and rock and roll music on the turn tables.
Raumstation Rödelheim (Auf der Insel 14, S-Bahn Station Rödelheim, 10-15 minute walk)
Though I’m not personally a fan of the „sterile youth center“ feel of the space itself, there are good folks doing good things here every damn week. Monthly voküs, concerts, parties, lectures.
Bauwagendorf Borsigallee (Borsigallee 26A, U-Bahn Station Borsigallee)
Frankfurt’s largest wagonplatz (think gypsies meets politically radical meets crust punk meets autonomous community living in wooden boxcar-esque structures) with a Sunday pub/cinema night and the occasional concert.
Club Voltaire (Friedrichstraße 43, Station: Opernplatz or Hauptwache)
Open mics, politcal lectures, and a space that tends to be sardine-packed with liberal students, wearer’s of long dreadlocks, and listeners of reggae and indie rock.
IVI (Kettenhofweg 130, Bahn Station Bockenheimer Warte)
Though run by the, in my opinion, rather-questionable “Anti-Deutsch” movement, this house offers a large and continous range of politically charged concerts, film nights, lectures, and parties.
Bike Polo (Börse, U-Bahn Station Hauptwache, Wednesday nights)
Every Wednesday night round about 8 pm you can find a gaggle of bike people sitting in front of the stock market building drinking beer and playing polo on pretty bikes. If it’s not Wednesday and you want to find a bike messenger, they can usually be found sitting on the steps in front of the opera house between jobs. If it is Wednesday and you can’t find polo, they sometimes play in front of the State Theater over at Willy Brandt Platz.
Critical Mass (Opernplatz, first Sunday of every month, 2 pm)
Take back the streets and get a damn good bike tour of Frankfurt’s bits and pieces.
Dumpsters (Behind every grocery store, everywhere)
The diving in Frankfurt is good, especially in the richer quarters. Extensive exploring will leave you drowing in obscene heaps of organic delicacies. Tuesday nights cruise around Nordend for excellent “big trash” scrounging, put out early for Wednesday morning pick up. The Tafel is a beaurocratic step-mutant of Food Not Bombs and usually distributes food once a week. (Last I heard, Thursday afternoons at ExZess, ask around to confirm.)
As for the old railroad bridge, the abandoned beer factory, and the best playground of all time, you’re going to have to find them for yourself. And on the way, you’ll probably stumble on a couple more of Frankfurt’s dirty, dreaded little secrets. For everything I’ve forgotten and the rest of the Rhein-Main area, there’s Untergrund (http://www.copyriot.com/untergrund), the region’s event calendar, also available on paper at most of the locations listed above.
Riding a tallbike does something fascinating to the people around you. Where you once met unfriendly glares or downcast eyes, you suddenly find a city full of laughter, smiles, and quickly snapped photographs. People cheer and clap, children stare and point, and the same question is on everyone’s lips: “How the hell did you get up there, and how are you going to get down?”
Building one yourself takes a good chunk of time–five or six hours at least–but is a lot less complicated than it might look. This is how I do it, but the beauty of the Frankenstein bike is that with enough scrap metal and time you can create just about anything as long as you remember one thing: gravity is not on our side.
You’ll need at least two old bike frames, all the parts you need to make a regular bicycle go round (i.e. working pedals, wheels, brakes, etc) plus extra chain, and a metal pole small enough to fit into your bottom frame’s fork (but must not be small enough to fit into the bottom of the top one). You’re also going to need bike mechanic tools (wrenches, screwdrivers, WD-40, etc), a bit of experience taking bikes apart and putting them back together, an angle grinder, and a welding machine.
Step One: Preparing the Frames
Pick two frames out of your pile of junk, and lay them on the ground one over the other, as you imagine them fitting together on your completed bike (see the picture to the left). Now look at the angle between the two frames’ forks. Can you create a straight line between them with your pole? If yes, then this combination should work.
Now get your frames naked. This means taking off all the little bits, from the lights to the wheels and the brakes. Leave the forks on both frames unless you want to change them out or clean them up. You can also save yourself some sweat by leaving the top bike’s handlebar and seat attached. I find it incredibly annoying to remove pedals, but you need to do this anyway. Otherwise you might up melting them during welding and then you’re just fucked.
Step Two: Fitting the Extension Pole, Welding
With your frames bare, you can now affix the bottom end of the extension pole snugly into the bottom frame’s fork (from above), where the rod from the handbar mount goes on a normal-sized bike. On the top frame, where the pedals once lived, is now a little empty metal tunnel. Place this part of the bike on top of the other frame’s “I formerly held a seat” part–these are the two peices you will be welding together later.
Measure roughly how long your fork extension pole needs to be (leaving an extra bit that will disappear into the top frame’s fork) and cut it to size with an angle grinder. Then, on the end of the pole that will be inserted into the top fork, cut two horizontal slits, several inches long. Hammer these now slightly moveable bits together until the top bit of the pole fits into the bottom of the top frame’s fork. Hammer it in as tightly as you can, violence is recommended and encouraged.
In the above picture someone checks to see if the frames will work together. In the picture below the builder has removed the top frame’s fork and threaded the pole through it in an attempt to build a triple decker. She ended up a double decker though, at the end of the weekend.
Now you can weld the two frames together at the top frame pedal tunnel (I prefer to invent my own bike terminology as I go…)/bottom frame seat post, and at the point where the extension pole enters the top fork. Do a sturdy job or prepare yourself for the two-meter fall you will endure when it falls apart.
Step Three: Details
Now that your two frames have become one, you can put all the parts back on that you took off–seat, handlebars, wheels, brakes, pedals. Extend the chain to stretch between the now-higher pedals and the back wheel. To avoid needing extra-long brake cables, I like to use back-pedal brakes. And using a smaller wheel in the front is sometimes a good idea as it helps bring the center of balance back toward the center as tallbikes have a tendency to tip backward. Once you get the hang of it though, having a tallbike with the center of balance in the back makes for a sweet dismount if you’re brave enough to try it. That is, pull the bike forward out from under you, landing with your feet on the ground where your bike just stood.
This is also a good time to use the angle grinder to cut off any extra bits of metal you don’t really need–for example the place where the top frame’s back wheel used to sit or the wings hanging around on the sides of the top frame’s fork. Weld on any extra supports you think you’ll need to distribute your weight more evenly over the frame, and you’re ready for the road.
Step Four: Test Drive
The hardest thing to get used to is getting on. Everybody’s got their own mounting and dismounting strategy. I like to put my left foot up on the left pedal, push the bike a bit, and then hop on once the bike gets a little momentum. To dismount I put my right leg through the top frame (I have a woman’s bike frame on the top for just this reason) and hop off to the side. And remember that riding a tallbike involves planning–are you going to make it through the light, steer over to a sign that you can hold onto, or lean on the shoulder of a friend on a regular bike.
And there you have it. If you have any questions, send away, and I’ll answer them if I can. If none of this made any sense at all or if you have another awesome tallbike building method, let me know that too. Good luck.
Instructabless has a large number of tall bike building descriptions, complete with step by step pictures. If you register with them, you’ll get an even longer list of possibile freak bike building manuals to check out.
Johny Pay Phone has a very interesting article about the history of tall bikes, with mind-blowing pictures and construction ideas, and a video from 1915. (Tandom tallbike, what?)
Atomic Zombie is a gold mine of photographs of finished really fucking tall bikes and Mad Max choppers.
And here The Rat Patrol, a Chicago freak bike group, has a gallery of their tall bike creations.
No experts, no masters. Despite my heartfelt belief that experts are over-rated and diy deserves endless high fives, I was nervous as fuck about giving the tallbike building workshop at the wagenplatz birthday festival in Köln. But, turns out, haha, I actually do know how to build a tallbike, and with someone who knows lots about getting the annoying bits off of bike frames and someone else who knows how to weld around to help, the day resulted in six mostly finished frankenstein bikes that even Mad Max could love.
CONTAINER BIKE/SHOPPING CART BAKFIETS
THE PEGASUS (kids frame on top)
THE QUICK CHOPPER (they built this fucker in what felt like ten minutes)
THE “I SWEAR I SAW THAT SAME FRAME AT THE FLEAMARKET FOR 100 EUROS” OLD SCHOOL CLASSIC
I’ll be posting semi-detailed instructions for building your own tallbike tomorrow. I promise. This isn’t like my other empty “I’ll post X next week” promises. This one is already finished and scheduled.
Heidenfahrt. The name of the rest stop where our brave heroes’ journey begins. “Heathen’s Journey,” it would be called in English.* An appropriate place to hitch a ride if you’re a bunch of godless sinners hoping to fly north on the A61.
I like to think that Heidenfahrt is on my side, a kind place that gently delivers me onto the autobahn time after time. That I’ve been hassled by police (Oh daemons of Satan, return to the firey pits from whence you came!) several times there is only further proof of the name’s sincerity…
He was a truck driver in red overalls transporting cars, and sure he would take us and drop us off just outside of Köln, that is if we didn’t mind waiting for him to finish his 45 minute break. We threw away our cardboard sign and got comfortable on the curb, happy to have found a bullseye on the very first move.
Inside the truck I curled up on the mattress behind the front seats, and Rabbit took the passenger seat. Our driver couldn’t speak much German, so after a short-lived attempt at conversation (Where are you from? Ludwigshafen. Where are you going? Ludwigshafen. Where did you start today? Russia. What? It turned out he had started in Ludwigshafen, was from Russia, and was going to Dusseldorf) he turned up the music, and we rode north in silence.
I like to think of the torture that is three hours trapped in a small compartment listening to hit radio as a good time to catch up on the pop culture I religiously avoid the rest of the year. And I can now tell you with confidence that radio pop today is a banal as ever, populated with whiny-sounding but well-intentioned men singing about heart break, bluesy R&B women over using the trill, and a sprinkling of songs that are almost decent, if you like that sort of thing. There is an entire generation of teenagers that will remember this music with nostalgic reverie, I think, and then we get dropped off at a rest stop just outside of the city, and swept into the heart of it by a man with a snake skin in his back seat and a four-year-old son to pick up from Kindergarten.
*Unless the name is a reference to “Heide” (heath, wooded area) and not “Heiden” (heathen). I prefer to assume the latter. It’s much more exciting that way, literary even.
The Kölner Dom hangs heavy on the skyline. No matter where you go, there it is behind you, looking over your shoulder, its towers watchful. The browning stone spires are a smirking visual reminder of the heavy-handed status quo–once dealt down by the church and now by capital–that rules the city, our big stone brother.
The first time I visited Köln I was 17. Our exchange group came to look at the Dom and eat lunch. We snapped a few photographs and were on our way. I recall being impressed by the Dom, its imposing stature and the impossible architecture common to European cathedrals. I recall feeling that way about just about everything we saw on that trip, my first time outside of the United States, armed with 17 rolls of film.
Six years later I would sit in front of the Dom hungover and waiting for a train, watching a group of brightly dressed emo teenagers sitting on its steps and snapping photos and wonder why so many people traveled so far to see this, the Kölner Dom, a miniscule corner in an otherwise (mostly) unattractive city.
Then again, I find a lot of cities unattractive at first glance. It’s only later– once I’ve explored the abandoned buildings crumbling in every industrial district, once I’ve climbed up onto rooves and seen the secret views and shooting stars–that I begin to find these places attractive, having finally realized that these cities have personalities after all, despite everything the tourist industry has done to pretend otherwise.
*This is a slogan hanging fucking everywhere in the city as part of some schmuck’s campaign for mayor. It’s incredibly irritating and is generally accompanied by photos of smiling white people.
“Nikki, you’re not going to be able to fix up the whole wagon without any money.” The words of a non-believer. “You’re going to need materials, tools.”
“I can borrow all of the tools. And maybe in the end I will have to buy a few things, it’s looking like stain and paint right now, but so far I’ve found everything I had on my “to buy” list when I started. It’s turning out to be a damn good thing I didn’t have any money then. The longer I wait, the more I’m finding.”
He shook his head, thinking I was naive. I shook my head, thinking he was mighty skeptical for someone who also regularly dug through the trash.
If I didn’t need to get the outside finished by winter, I would probably be able to find everything I need. A Frankfurt acquaintance spent three years collecting materials for the house he eventually built, gratis. With only a few months to scavenge supplies, I’m still looking at a pretty short list. It will probably end up setting me back a few hundred euros—a few packs of Styrofoam insulation, a few packs of that awful pink insulation (for the ceiling), some extra-long screws, a short but really thick beam, some sandpaper for the belt sander—but seeing as I didn’t have to pay anyone for the thing in the first place, it’s a fair enough trade. As for the stain I thought I’d be needing, I found several cans of it today, and a platz-mate gave me two more full cans for the outside. And yesterday The Carpenter found two jigsaws, a drill, and a belt sander in the trash, and gave me one of the saws. Time is on my side.
My mom used to make a version of this cake when I was a little kid. The internet tells me this kind of cake was popular in the depression, when people didn’t always have eggs and milk around. Wa-la, awesome vegan/poor man’s cake. If you want to make people oo and aah, bake them this cake. If it’s somebody’s birthday, bake them this cake. If you have to bake lots of cake for a Sunday matinee concert to raise money to repair a moldy concert room, bake this cake—it makes 20-25 pieces. If you have a big cake pan and a fork, but no bowl, bake this cake—you make it right in the cake form. If you have a friend convinced that all vegan baking results in heavy flour bricks, bake them this cake. It is delicious, even without frosting.
Click Clack Cake!
In a pretty big cake pan (we’re talking like a foot by more than a foot here, for all smaller pans, halve everything) combine:
6 cups flour
4 cups sugar
2 teaspoons salt
4 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup cocoa
and, if you have it lying around, a few pinches of vanilla or vanilla sugar. If not, no big deal.
Mix everything together with a fork until the cocoa is evenly spread out among the flour. Don’t forget to get the extra bits in the corners.
Dig two little holes in your dry-ingredient mixture. In one hole pour 1 + 1/2 cups vegetable oil (any kind is fine, but I wouldn’t recommend olive oil because then the cake ends up tasting kind of weird) and in the other, 4 tablespoons vinegar. Then pour 4 cups of cold water all over everything, and mix with your fork until smooth and even.
Bake for 45-55 minutes at—oh crap, my oven doesn’t have temperatures on the knobs, just numbers from 1 to 8, so bare with me— about 4 or 5. To check if it’s done stick a knife in the cake. When it comes out clean it’s finished.
It’s that happy time of year again. A time for anxiety! A time for paperwork! A time for visiting the disgruntled employees at the Ausländerbehörde—a term the online German dictionary so ominously translates as “aliens department”! OH BOY.
Oh wait hold on a second, it says here that my passport expired in May. Oops. I can just imagine the disgruntled look on their office-gray faces over at the visa-renewal office when I roll in with an expired passport! Or no passport at all! Does the fun ever stop? Did it ever start?!???
Step one: Take long, deep breaths.
Step two: Make an appointment at the American Embassy in Frankfurt to renew passport.
Step three: Fill out forms, get new passport-sized photos taken, and collect the money I need for the renewal fee which is a75 crappy dollars. And all for the pleasure of having one of those fancy newfangled passports with the evil electronic 1984-style id chip in it. Another big thumbs down for Uncle Sam! Come on, all together now…
Step four: Pray they send me the new passport in the promised four weeks so I can make a timely appearance at the visa-renewal office, where they will frown a lot and do their very best to make me as disgruntled as they are, and where I will pretend that I am really calm, yes calm, not ulcerously anxious at all.
Could you hand me that plastic bag? Make sure it doesn’t have any holes, I think I’m going to puke.
The trash gods are on summer vacation. Either that or they are patiently waiting for me to finish with all the things they filled my wagon with last month before starting the next avalanche. Either way the trash across the street smells horrible, and the trash bags are full of aggressive wasps instead of building supplies and kitchen appliances and shoes. I try to force myself to do at least one thing on the wagon every single day. Slowly, slowly, slowly, I inch forward.
At the beginning of the week Rabbit helped me rip the boards off of one of the narrow ends of the wagon. I crowbarred and he pulled off the boards, one by one. Then my arms told me to fuck off, and he ripped off the last row himself. I think he may be my guardian construction angel. Either way he helps and keeps me calm with constant declarations of how easy everything will be, while most everyone else sarcastically tells me to “have fun doing that” and walks away.
Inside of the wall we found a wasp’s nest, a mouse’s nest, and two tiny bottles of Jagermeister. And now I have to face the two rotten corner beams (and the corners of the upper and lower support beams on both sides). Fuck you, wood-eating worms, for putting me up to this.
I asked The Carpenter for advice, and he gave me a general direction, and a headache. A literal headache. But some very good advice. The headache came from the fact that I never bothered to learn any German construction vocabulary, so now I ask for help and get long, detailed instructions that I don’t always entirely understand, even when I ask for clarification. What I could really use is a building guru—someone to show me everything step by little step. To stand beside me and say, now you need this saw, and you need to cut here. Then I could go get the saw and make the cut and receive my next set of instructions. Hands on experience without all the feelings of anxiety at the sheer mass of shit I have to learn how to do, and then do, before winter comes.
I don’t think anyone believes me when I tell them I have no building experience. “I’ve hung shelves and that’s the extent of it,” I told Workshop last week. “Are they still hanging?” he asked. I pointed to the corner of the room where several wooden wine cases were screwed into the wall. “Well, it’s a start.”