First ′Strike Bikes′ Roll Out of Occupied German Factory | Business| Economy and finance news from a German perspective | DW | 22.10.2007
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First 'Strike Bikes' Roll Out of Occupied German Factory

Three months ago, employees at a German bike company occupied their factory to protest its closure. Now, they've started production of a limited edition "strike bike" to prove the company's viability.

a former employee working on a bike

Orders for the "strike bike" came from all over Europe

Without a boss or manager in sight, the bicycles are being assembled by the 135 former employees of the Bike Systems company in Nordhausen in the German state of Thuringia. Production started on Monday, and by Friday, the group hopes to have the limited run of 1,800 pre-ordered bikes ready for shipping throughout Germany and Europe.

"The mood is great," said one of the occupying workers, Eric Schillat. "We really hope that we will be able to continue to produce bikes on a permanent basis."

The group has occupied the Bike Systems factory since July, after the company was closed down and declared insolvent.

But unless the former employers find an investor with several millions to spend, they'll likely have to pack their tools and go home.

US takeover

the factory in Nordhausen

The workers have occupied the building 24 hours a day since July 10.

US private equity investor Lone Star acquired Bike Systems' parent company, Biria back in December 2005. Once one of Europe's biggest bike manufacturers, it was drowning in debt when Lone Star took it over. After shutting down another Biria subsidiary at the end of 2006, production at Bike Systems was stopped at the end of June. Ten days later, Bike Systems registered for insolvency.

Undeterred, the employees came up with the idea of producing the strike bike

"We want to show potential investors that we have the capacity cover the costs of production," Schillat said.

The three-speed bike, which is available in men's and women's models and comes in a symbolic red color, costs 275 euros. Customers needed to pay the sum in advance.

"We don't have any materials here," Schillat said, "you try ringing to order bike parts as a bankrupt firm."

Uncertain future

André Kegel, who used to supervise one of Bike System's production lines, called the strike bike "a symbolic action."

the strike bikes

The 17-kilo bike only comes in one colour -- red.

"You can't make any money with the strike bike," he told the German daily Die Welt.

In order to turn a profit, the Nordhausen factory would have to manufacture at least 200,000 bikes a year. And without an investor, the workers won't be able to raise the sums needed to keep the factory open. According to Kegel, for just the parts needed to produce that number, workers would need an advance of 7 to 8 million euros.

And according to Wolfgang Wutzke, the head of the firm in charge of the insolvency, there still isn't an investor in sight.

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