Cycling for Chaplin – Bicycle Cinema of Chemnitz

I have been working in a community garden since last June. It is a community garden for the students of TUC, so anyone can work here. On the last week of June my garden-friends spoke something called a “Fahrradkino” that was about to take place in the garden on 3rd  of July. Of course I knew that “Fahrrad” means bicycle and “Kino” means movie theatre, but I could not relate any more. I came to a conclusion by considering this as a German thing and got really happy for the anticipation of a whole new experience.

All I knew was that there would be snacks and beer (you CAN NOT think of a gathering of Germans without any beer) and I could bring my own food if I wanted.

On the very day I stepped into the garden exactly at around 8:30 pm. It was still shiny daytime outside. I am really not accustomed to this summer of Europe. In my country we never see the sun after 7 pm, but here the days are ridiculously long in summer. Just behind the strawberry patches there was a small, cozy gathering of people. A white screen was already set for movie, there was a projector too. People were sitting on the grass comfortably, some brought blankets and bed-sheets.There were popcorn and drinks in one corner. Around the area eight bicycles stood on stands with no rider on them. But what I did not notice at first glance: The whole place was decorated with warm fairy-lights and candles in a delightful way. The whole scenario was so pleasing and peaceful that I stood for a few minutes to consume this atmosphere.

“Fahrradkino”, or “The Bicycle Cinema” of Germany, is a project that started in 2019, originally funded by the city of Chemnitz. This started within the framework of the application for the European Capital of Culture 2025 (Kulturhauptstadt Europas 2025). This funding program is called “Micro Project”. These projects can be submitted annually by any citizen, who wants to support the city with creative projects on the way of becoming the European Capital of Culture in 2025 and can be supported with up to 2500€.

Originally it started with a team of five people (Felix, Matze, Maria, Franzi and Susen). They planned to build a “Fahrradkino” by their own, but this was way too expensive and would have crossed their budget. So instead they decided to rent a cinema from a manufacturer (located close to Leipzig). Their idea was to match the location of presentation (in Chemnitz) and the topic of the movie. Moreover, they aimed at discovering lost places and wanted to have a democratic voting concerning the offered movies.

But the fundamental, as well as the most interesting, feature of “Fahrradkino” is the source of electricity for the movie. It should not come from the socket, but should be generated by people together using muscle power. The bicycles are clamped on brackets. The kinetic energy that is generated by paddling is converted into electricity and that runs the projector, sound system and the laptop. Usually the team and the viewers take part in paddling together to generate power.

Later I had an opportunity to text to Susen Döbelt, one of the founders of “Fahrradkino” through e-mails. I came to know many other enthralling facts regarding the “Fahrradkino”. They applied for funding in 2018 and finally got it in 2019. In June 2019 they had their first presentation at the old diamant factory and people could vote online for one of three films dealing with “bicycles”. The second presentation was in the community garden “Gartenutopie e.V.”, films for this place dealt with environmental protection. Their third event and the last (planned) presentation took place in the district Fritz-Heckert. Here, the audience could decide for one film dealing with the GDR (German Democratic Public).

Susen said, after these three presentations they got more and more requests. They additionally visited the art festival Begehungen, the day of mobility and the environment educators at Walden e.V.  In winter 2019/20 they had to decide if and how they can move on with the Fahrradkino. They invited more people to distribute the work on more than four pairs of shoulders (Felix and Matze decided to focus on other projects, Sebastian got on board to help them with technical problems we had) and establish an association. The basic idea of it is to combine cycling with the production of green energy and/for cultural events. They are now a team of eleven people.

At present, they have their own technical equipment and they try to refinance it with funded projects and donations. The presentation at the UniParaDieschen (that is the name of our community garden in Chemnitz) was part of a funded series of events within the funding program “kultur.sichtbar”. They did private presentations in backyards distributed over Chemnitz to strengthen social relationships of housing communities.

Anyways, I am getting back to the day I was talking about. The lady at the front gave a briefing on “Fahrradkino”. It was already dim outside, when she announced to begin the film. Eight people from both the cinema team and the viewer team hopped on the bicycle and started paddling. Slowly all the fairy lights lit up, the movie started as well.

I am not very good at German language. So obviously I was a little anxious about the whole movie thing. It was supposed to be a German movie and I wouldn’t understand a thing. But to my utter surprise, it was a dialogue-free French short film from 1902; it was called “A Trip to the Moon”. I enjoyed the movie, but honestly what I enjoyed more was the whole concept of cycling and producing energy to watch a movie. The people who were paddling seemed to enjoy the whole process. Some people were bringing snacks and drinks to the people who were on the bicycle. Whenever anyone was tired or wanted to get off the bicycles, he or she rang the bell and the person with disinfectant immediately disinfected the cycle by spraying on it. After that a new person would take over the bike.

The next film was a classic Charlie Chaplin movie; it was called “The Kid” (1921). We all had a good laugh watching that. By that time a few more people from dormitory started gathering around. It was fully dark and we could see the pleasant light and candle that time. Gradually this movie ended too. The third and last film that was screened was a documentary on bicycles. It was a very short, but informative English documentary.

With the ending of the third film, the cinema team called it a night and started packing up. All of us cleaned the whole place and collected empty bottles and sorted them out to be put in different garbage bags. But I guess no one was ready to leave immediately, so someone put on music and everyone started relaxing again! Finally when it was almost midnight, everyone started leaving one by one. Even I called it a night, packed my bag and left the garden with a delightful heart and a pleasant memory of bicycle theatre.

Sources and references:


Text: Layla Shams Tisha
Photo: Susen Döbelt

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1 Comment

  1. Avatar

    Great Article 👏


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