"A community is only as strong as it creates together!"

An inverter for a balcony solar system, a notebook, a powerbank, a smartphone and a CD player: At the last special repair meet up of the Ilmenau regional group of Ingenieure ohne Grenzen e.V., a wide variety of devices were put on the table to be inspected by the association's students and made functional again together with their owners. Also present: Michel Heftrich, self-proclaimed "repair journeyman on the road" through 50 repair meetings in Europe.

TU Ilmenau/Barbara Aichroth
Michel Heftrich, self-proclaimed "repair journeyman on the roll," visited the special repair meeting of the Ilmenau regional group of Ingenieure ohne Grenzen e.V., pictured here with Jan Lemmen (right), head of the repair meet up.

Whether old washing machines, refrigerators or computers: according to the German Federal Statistical Office, around 4.7 million metric tons of discarded electrical and electronic equipment were thrown away in the 27 EU countries in 2020 - a new record. In Germany alone, just over one million tons of electrical and electronic equipment ended up in waste collection points in the same year. That's an average of around 12.5 kilograms of e-waste per capita - 9% more than the previous year and 2 kg more than the EU average.

In view of these throwaway tendencies, the European Commission adopted a proposal for a"right to repair" in March 2023. The aim is to make it easier and cheaper for consumers to repair goods instead of having them replaced. The right is seen as an important step on the European Union's path to achieving a circular economy and becoming climate-neutral by 2050 as part of the European Green Deal.

To spread the idea of repairing beyond legislation, Luxembourg-born Michael Heftrich has embarked on his "Repairs for Future" tour: "Each repair saves an average of 24 kg of Co2, breathes new life into an old appliance, extends its life and conserves resources," says the trained metal craftsman. Even as a child, he would gather materials from landfills to repurpose into toys. In 2013, he founded the first Repair Café in Luxembourg together with the Tauschkreis Norden association, before moving to southern Burgenland a year later. There he opened another Repair Café in 2016 and in 2022 organized Austria's first nature art festival in an old mill converted into a Makerspace.

"Makerspaces and Repair Cafés like this are more than just places for repairing things; they also have a social aspect," Michael Heftrich is convinced: "This is where people from very different social backgrounds, who often don't have much to do with environmental protection, come together. A Repair Café is therefore the ideal place to raise their awareness, but also to make new acquaintances and friends."

The "Repairs for Future" tour, which started in Vienna on March 23 and took Heftrich on an e-velomobile to Ilmenau to the Repair Café, is to go via Denmark, Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg and France to Switzerland as well as Lichtenstein and Italy. The goal is to repair as many appliances as possible together with visitors at more than 50 Repair Cafés along the 5555-kilometer route, to meet as many committed people as possible, and to demonstrate alternative models of consumption.

He has already succeeded in Ilmenau. At the special repair meeting of Engineers without Borders, Jenny Hofmann, among others, was there for the first time. The biomedical engineering student has been involved in the regional group's public relations and fundraising group for some time now, which actively supports the Repariertreff in public relations and acquisition: "I think it's good that people first try to repair things instead of throwing them away right away. At the Repariertreff, I can still learn something myself." Student Lena Kaiser also helped an Ilmenau citizen at the special repair meeting whose smartphone screen no longer worked and who had heard about the repair meeting from a friend. She learned from Lena Kaiser how to use software to back up the data on her defective smartphone and transfer it to another device. Another Ilmenau resident made a separate appointment to get help repairing the inverter of his balcony solar power plant.

The repair meeting is led by Jan Lemmen, a student of engineering informatics at the Ilmenau Technical University: "Here I can put my knowledge of informatics and electrical engineering to good use and try out things for which I don't have the necessary tools at home." This is made possible by the cooperation with the Technologie- und Gründerzentrum Ilmenau (TGZI), which provides rooms free of charge, and donations from Ilmenau citizens and companies. The repair center has all kinds of screws, two soldering stations, and special tools for smartphones, among other things. Next, the students would like to purchase an oscilloscope and an isolating transformer to make the repair work even safer. For this, they are dependent on further donations.

"A community is only as strong as it creates together!" This motto of Michael Heftrich was also felt during his visit to the repair meeting before he got back on his bicycle to continue his tour. The next special repair meet up of  Ingenieure ohne Grenzen e.V takes place already on 10 June from 13 to 16 o'clock in the Unverpacktladen loose & lecker, road of the peace 5 in the Ilmenauer pedestrian precinct. In this time all interested ones with defective small devices can come past. On site the devices are examined, possible smaller repairs are made or software problems are repaired.

Another opportunity to get to know the company will be at the Ilmenau Science Night on July 1. At its stand in the Ernst Abbe Center, the regional group of Engineers Without Borders will be providing information about its projects in Germany and Africa. Adults and children can get to grips with the topic of global justice in a world distribution game. The "Repariertreff" also offers advice on defective electrical items. Just bring your broken cell phone with you! Or come to one of the regular repair meetings on the last Saturday of the month from 1 to 4 p.m. at the TGZ, Ehrenbergstraße 11 in Ilmenau.


Jan Lemmen

Head of the Repariertreff Ingenieure ohne Grenzen - RG Ilmenau