Turning old into new - Upcycled bag project with Lichtenberger Werkstätten

Die Kollektion "upgecycelte Taschen" in verschiedenen Blau- und Violetttönen aus den Materialien der Nationalen Spiele 2022.
That's what they look like: the upcycled bags in various shapes and sizes made from the materials of 2022 National Games.

Shelves filled with colorful fabrics and boxes, purple patterns on the desks, a sewing machine purring in the background. The arts and crafts department of Lichtenberger Werkstätten gemeinnützige GmbH (LWB) in Berlin is bustling with activity on this Wednesday morning. Around 40 people with different abilities and disabilities are working together in the workshop. Depending on their interests, they sew, felt or work with paper and jewelry. Above one of the desks is a poster with the logo of the 2022 National Games - and not without reason. Over the past few weeks, the employees have been producing bags of various shapes and sizes. For this, they used the banners, construction fence and table coverings of the National Games 2022 in Berlin. Turning old into new - upcycling is the name of the game. The pieces are not only sustainable, but each one is unique. Some are purple, others blue, some may have a white "Special" on them, others may have the first letters of “Berlin” on them.

About the background of the project

Around 1000m of banners, 500m of construction fence coverings and over 30 printed stage and photo backgrounds were produced for the National Games 2022. They decorated the venues in Berlin - be it the walls of the swimming hall, the fences of the beach volleyball field or the photo background of the award ceremony. But what to do with the printed banners and fabrics after such an event? In fact, the idea to reuse these materials came from Lichtenberger Werkstätten. They collected materials, created prototypes from them and presented them to Special Olympics Germany. We are happy that this resulted in such a great collaboration and that you can now find the bags in the Special Olympics Shop.

An athlete is making a serve during 2022 National Games. In the background are construction fence coverings which we're used for the upcycled bags project.
The construction fence coverings decorated the tennis courts during 2022 National Games, for example.

Reuse old materials

During our visit to the workshop, it quickly becomes clear to us that Sarah Bruckmann, Specialist for employment and vocational promotion of the arts and crafts department, and the employees are already experienced in the field of upcycling.

"In fact, the LWB's arts and crafts department has been working with unconventional materials for a very long time. E.g. bags and book covers made from old jeans, handmade greeting cards from paper scraps and jewelry made from old city maps," Sarah tells.

However, reusing old materials can also be challenging if they are, for example, worn out by weather or very robust. The thick banner tarpaulin, for example, presented a challenge. "Turning it inside out after sewing was quite difficult with the sturdy fabric," says Sarah. "Sewing and turning it inside out was a lot easier with the mesh and fleece fabric." The two fabrics were used, for example, for the beach bag or the small pencil cases.

Upcycling a bag means teamwork

Sarah gives us an insight into the work of the team. For one bag, the team needs about half a working day - real manual and hard labor. In order for everyone to participate, production is divided into many small work steps. The employees can choose a task according to their abilities and interests. For example, for the closure of the beach bags, a Velcro strip, is first measured using a template, then cut out. The cut-out Velcro strip is attached to the bag with double-sided tape so that it does not slip during sewing, and finally sewn on. Workers can switch between tasks, and some specialize in one. Take Michael, for example. He has been working in the arts and crafts department since 2020 and mainly sits behind the sewing machine.

"I enjoy sewing, it's varied. And it's interesting to also use material such as the banner tarpaulins, for example. And the fact that we have this order with Spe-cial Olympics makes me even happier," says Michael.

Impressions of the upcycling project in the arts and crafts department of Lichtenberg workshops.

Impressions of the upcycling project in the arts and crafts department of Lichtenberger Werkstätten. Photos: Gülce Kayikci

Voluntary accompanying offers
Talking to Sarah and the employees, we sense something very special: the harmony and openness of the entire team, in spite of our visit throwing the daily work routine into somewhat of a turmoil. Sarah tells us about the group's regular activities, such as sharing meals and going on field trips. Sarah comments:

“The workshop is committed to offering accompanying activities that promote the employee’s personal development and health.”

In addition to creative outlets (e.g. drawing) or classes in math, German and English, we find many sports activities. These are voluntary and take place either during or after working hours. Nadine, one of the employees, regularly plays bocce. Some of them even are Special Olympics athletes. Michael proudly tells us that he won the gold medal in athletics at the 1991 World Summer Games in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota.

„Sports is high on our list of priorities. From the sports representative among the employees to the participation in the Special Olympics, to the accompanying offers that are also Olympic disciplines," says Sarah.

Our visit is coming to an end and we are thankful for the great insights into the everyday schedule of the workshop. Thank you Sarah and the arts and crafts team for having us and allowing us to peek over your shoulder!

Find the upcycled bags in the Special Olympics Shop!

Tote and roll top bags, pencil cases and even pennant chains - the products of the upcycling collection are varied and unique. They are handmade from different materials of the 2022 National Games and you can find them now in the Special Olympics Shop.

The singer Mieze Katz of the band MiA. presents two upcycled bags.
The singer Mieze Katz of the band MiA. with the upcycled mesh bag and the upcycled PVC rolltop bag.