It had already been a good afternoon. The camera had afforded me a wonderful experience with a pair of precocious Roma girls. It seemed natural to follow this up by checking out a nearby handbag shop which I had passed a hundred times with a view to photographing it as well.
The bags displayed in the shopfront window were colourful, fun and exuded a very Berlin vibe.
But the reflection on the glass that bright day was proving challenging for photography. As I lingered at the doorway of the store, a woman inside looked up and smiled. That cue to enter ended with the procurement of a great story, brilliant photos and a cool bag.
Britta Eppinger fashions bags from discarded giant advertising banners that she collects from businesses such as cinemas and supermarket chains.
In enviro-speak, this is called upcycling, the converting of waste material into quality products.
The banners are sourced mainly from Barcelona where Britta, who is also a sculptor, lived for nine years. When she decided to relocate to somewhere quieter, she ended up in Berlin. Returning to her hometown of Hamburg was out of the question because Barcelona had conditioned her to living in a large international city.
“That’s also the reason I won’t live in Prenzlauer Berg,” she said of her choice to set up shop in Neukölln. (Prenzlauer Berg attracts mainly European and American residents, compared to the far more diverse Neukölln.) She shares her workshop space with another artist.
But Britta’s ties with Spain remain strong. Besides sourcing her materials from there, she uses Spanish in her brand name bolsos berlin, ‘bolsos‘ being Spanish for purse or pocket.
“As you can see, the colours on the posters are very Spanish,” she said, holding up a colourful bright-blue movie poster. “But I thought this also works for Berlin.”
I caved in to the desire to buy one of her cheerful creations, each one hand-made and unique. When I had made my choice, I was delighted to hear that the base of that bag was recycled from a Barcelona poster while the top was from a Berlin one. It was the perfect souvenir from my two favourite European cities.
I asked her to autograph my bag, which surprised her; it was the first time anyone had asked her to do that. You never know, I told her with a wink, you might be very famous one day, which means this signature would be worth a lot.
Even before I bought the bag from her, Britta was happy to pose for shots and gave me free rein to shoot.
I enjoyed my time with her and when I took my leave, she told me she had enjoyed our chat too, as the neighbourhood folk, most of whom were families and children, rarely stopped by for a chinwag. Most of her sales are secured at flea markets and online rather than at the workshop.
After that, I met Britta a couple more times, popping by once at her workshop during the local 48 Stunden Neukölln arts festival and again, at the Maybachufer flea market. Each time, she was keen to know what reception my bag had gotten, and I was pleased to give her good news. Since then, it looks like her range and variety of source materials have expanded… ω