The approach of not just assuming Munich is crap but of actually looking for where it can be cool is what he instantly liked about the Bonzensport crew, says photographer Conny Mirbach. Normally, especially as a young person, you think the folksy bourgeoisie simply sucks and just move to Berlin. These guys, on the other hand, have made themselves comfortable in their homeland. Although, “comfortable” is not quite the right adjective and the statement is not completely true. After all, during our joint video call, only Tomke and Julian (whom everyone just calls Shreddy) are sitting in the Bavarian capital while Jakob joins us from Mexico, where he recently moved with his parents. Nevertheless, the boys’ connection remains strong – just as strong as the will to search for something new. Along with Conny, we set out on their heels.
It's kind of weird, Jakob confesses, that they can’t spend time together as a crew now, because they used to hang out every day. All three are around 18 years old, an age when the crew is everything and everything else is kind of lame. Soon, they’ll visit him to film in Mexico City for the next video. The city with its colorful hustle and bustle suits their kind of skateboarding much better anyway, but let’s take it one step at a time. Jakob started skating because his father still had a board lying around at home from his more active times. Tomke has been skating for half his life as well. Shreddy is also a die-hard skater, but once in a while, he allows himself some time off. Just like at the current moment, he says. Before the call, Conny told a story about a wallride on some stairs in Paris that only Kevin Rodrigues has done so far – and Shreddy. Just passing by, only poorly filmed with a cell phone. He also easily pulls switch flips down an eight stair out of his hat. However, he only does what he wants, and sometimes he’s up for something other than skating. “It’s not just about skating though, it’s about the crew,” he deflects and adds, “It’s not even a skate crew.” Jakob and Tomke see it kinda similarly although they emphasize that skating is still at the core of Bonzensport. What else do they do then, is the question. Short silence. Then a somewhat embarrassed shoulder shrugging: partying. Everyone laughs. That’s just how it is when you’re young.
Even though they all come from different neighborhoods, Munich is small enough that like-minded people run into each other sooner or later. That’s how they met four years ago and have spent every free minute together since, whereby the crew has grown constantly and people who don’t skate have also joined. At some point, they were thinking of a name and because one of the guys was wearing a Bronze sweater, they came up with “Bonze” [German for big shot], but that sounded too bland to them. It needed something spicier, and so “Bonzensport” was finally born. Skating is, after all, a sport where you spend a lot of money while trying to stay as real as possible and not come across as snobby, they analyze the contradictory nature of the skate scene’s code of conduct. For example, you pay 120 € for a pair of Big Boy pants to look as ghetto as possible. When it comes to their own crew merch, there is none so far. Not for reasons of realness, though, or maybe somehow. It’s still in the planning phase, they say, it has been for a long time. In the end, it’s about the question who takes care of it... Responsibilities aren’t explicitly distributed within the crew. There is also no real filmer. Shreddy has an HPX and presses the record button most of the time, but when he doesn’t feel like it, someone else films, or no one. That’s why their Instagram account is not as full as you would expect from a crew their age. They’re always up for skating themselves, and then they do awesome tricks on a big stair set without anyone recording. For them, that’s also rather secondary. They find it boring to plan a trick and only leave the skatepark to film it. Tricks aren’t what’s important to them in the end. The beauty is in the time spent together in places you normally wouldn’t have found. It’s more real to only go out to film when everyone is up for it. So many tricks remain undocumented, but when a film session finally happens, everyone is really motivated and delivers. Spontaneity is the main source of energy for the crew. A sloganeering “If you don’t set goals, you can’t be disappointed!” is thrown into the room, but this should not be misinterpreted as lack of motivation, the exact opposite is the case after all. Tomke, for example, suddenly felt like doing a backside kickflip down a ten stair while sitting at the bar, and the next day, he got it.
To always do something new serves as their drive, to break away from traditions. Developing further is what’s important to them, especially when they do film something. They want to make crusty spots look cool and smooth. Spots that nobody has skated before. That’s how they define themselves. “We just roll through the city the whole day and ride some crusty shit spots. That’s skating for us.” It’s the youthful search for excitement, combined with the approach mentioned by Conny of not finding Munich sucky in the first place. The Bussi-Bussi capital (with its posh see-and-be-seen crowd) is not usually mentioned in the same breath as New York, Paris, or London, and the boys know that fewer things happen here – but a lot can still happen. That’s their motto. If you look at their videos, you’ll find the usual nonsense that kids use to challenge the existing adult world, but the Bonzensport perspective is not one of contempt, not one of rejection, but one of opening up and reaching out to one another. They go places no one else goes to do things no one else does and then see what happens. In the hope that something will happen, something will be initiated, and life will come into it. In the subway, everyone would always just stare silently at their phone, says Shreddy, but he’s looking for contact. They are busting their backs at their place of origin, which can only happen when you don’t give it up and leave it behind, but recognize the potential and are willing to use it – a typical love-hate relationship that is also expressed in the title of their video “ILOVEBAYERN.” Yeah, it’s ironic, but in the end, love really does prevail. Bavaria just has good beer, they joke. In Shreddy’s case, love even gets under his skin. He has the logo of the Munich public transport company (MVV) tattooed on his upper arm. Spontaneous idea, of course. Ironic, sure, but a statement nonetheless. Munich is difficult for skating, the police’s presence is annoying, but it is actually a cool city in which a lot happens. You just don’t see it that often, because so much remains hidden.
The crew searches for such hidden places. First and foremost Shreddy, he likes to drift through the city: taking a closer look at things, walking into backyards, without a plan. Quite in the sense of the situationists, only without their theoretical superstructure, which would only get in the way of spontaneity and destroy the realness. He doesn’t understand how people can plan their days or even their coming weeks. “I don’t know what I’ll do tomorrow,” he says, “or the day after.” He thinks about it for a moment and adds with a grin, “Friday, I’ll celebrate my birthday, but otherwise...” There’s the irony again although many things are actually important to them. Shreddy, for example, does photo projects on political topics, as he describes it. He documents the streets, the drug scene. For this, he also went into the passageways behind the underground garages under the Munich train station, where junkies have found their home (for further information, check out the Y-Kollektiv documentary on YouTube). He made an exhibition out of it in the studio space he was given. He wanted to show that Munich has more facets than just laptops and lederhosen, that it is also dirty. In the end, it wasn’t about that either but more about connecting to people who live on the fringes of society. “Communication must always exist. I’m a person who likes to make contact with whatever people, so everything just ties together a little bit more.” Those contacts flow over into the crew. On the one hand, Tomke and Jakob say, it’s hard to walk through the city with Shreddy without being approached every few minutes by someone he knows from roaming around, but on the other hand, it’s also allowed them to learn about spots they wouldn’t have found otherwise. Places away from the everyday reality of most of us.
In recent months, they’ve stepped up the search for these kinds of spots. Munich has not had an indoor skatepark for years. A sore spot in their skate scene, which has been fighting for it for a long time. After the DIY park built by skaters at the decommissioned Olympic railway station was also recently unceremoniously torn down by the city, there are now hardly any winter spots left. Pocci is a parking garage that the guys skate the most, there is some flat in the MaximiliansForum, and some stairs in the subway stop Giselastraße. That’s extremely limited terrain and it gets boring in the long run. Then the pandemic came along and made it even more difficult to hang out at the usual spots with the contact restrictions in place. While many others simply reacted to the situation with frustration, the Bonzensport crew, on the other hand, intensified their search for alternatives with a now-more-than-ever attitude. If you want to skate in Munich in the winter, you have to do it in a bit of a radical way, they say. Conny has been part of the Munich skate scene for quite a while now, but he hasn’t experienced such a spirit here before. “The spots were there, but no one has ever gone to the uni and jumped on the rail.” When he saw the Instagram video of this session, he was immediately interested in being there with his camera.
is a bar on the roof of the technical university and when Shreddy was
chilling there once, he discovered a stair set through a window. At some
point, they made their way into the building to look for the spot and
skate it. The next time when Conny came along, the door through which
they entered the building the first time was locked. So they had to
change plans and go in through the back. Unfortunately, this meant that
they lost all orientation and had to sneak aimlessly through confusing
corridors and past a few seminar rooms that were still full, always on
the lookout to not be discovered. In addition to the fact that
skateboarding inside a university is not appreciated in any way, in
COVID times, entering a university building in Bavaria could be
sanctioned with a fine of up to 500 € under certain circumstances.
However, that made the session a team-building exercise of sorts.
Although they knew each other by sight beforehand and Conny is a
respected skater and photographer, the guys weren’t sure how far he
would actually go. “After he followed us confused guys around the
university for an hour, we knew: Conny is a real G!” In the end, the
spot was found, photos stacked, and trust built. Complete success.
After the spot was opened by the guys, it then spread like a wildfire in the Munich skate scene and was visited by all sorts of crews. Two months later, the Bonzensport guys wanted to go there again. They had already heard that the securities were pretty pissed by now because new skaters were rolling in all the time. A 13-year-old from a kiddie crew, for example, was lifted up by the scruff of his neck and shouted at. The Bonzensport guys weren’t impressed by such an act of muscle-flexing but were also busted in no time – at least two of the crew, who were the first to arrive at the spot. However, they barely managed to escape the security and called Jakob, Shreddy, and Tomke, who just arrived outside and decided to search through another wing of the building instead. No sooner said than done, and they were standing on the second floor at the window from where they watched the security guard coming out of the other wing – and he saw them as well. They quickly got out of the building, but the security guard – two heads taller than the boys, totally muscle-bound in a tank top, the type of a well-trained gorilla, the fuse having long since blown in the last two months – went directly into pursuit. It was like a scene from a bad action movie, they said, as they pushed down the street in the drizzling rain, away from a drooling poor man’s Sylvester Stallone sprinting after them in the middle of the street, honking cars in tow.
Another spot that was also nerve wracking, but for different reasons. In front of the Olympic Park, there is a former military compound where two old factory buildings still stand. For one of them, friends of Tomke found an entrance. Through another friend, however, he knew that there was a rave on the site two years ago during which, tragically, someone died. The person had fallen asleep drunk in a room where a faulty generator was located, resulting in carbon monoxide poisoning. They went in anyway through a window, which were all boarded up after the incident. Tomke says that he hoped the rave had taken place in the other hall, but he knew from the narrative that the tragedy took place in a pump room and everything around them was full of pumps... He felt uncomfortable because he didn’t want to be disrespectful and visit a place where someone had died when they suddenly saw a red light in a corner. He was shook, he said, but he finally got around to having a look at what it was. As it turned out, it was a funeral candle that had been placed for the deceased. The crew left the place and didn’t set a foot back in but rather found an entrance to the other hall, which then became a chill and dry skate spot during the lockdown for them.
The sketchiest endeavor so far, however, was the full pipe in the subway tunnel. Shreddy has roots in the graffiti scene and knows the subway system pretty well. He discovered a full pipe on the U5 line that connects two subway tunnels shortly before the station. This had to be skated, of course, even if his MVV tattoo would have not saved the crew from a fine, but no thoughts were wasted on getting caught. The joy of a new spot always prevails. The temptation is much too big not to test it. Even Conny, who first intended to take a picture from the side window of the arriving train, decided – the true G that he is – to come along into the tunnel. So the guys ran 20 meters into the tunnel shortly after the departure of a subway, let another subway pass by, and left the tunnel again directly after. The action only lasted ten minutes. They didn’t want to take a higher risk because of the surveillance cameras. In the end, it was enough for a photo and not even the passengers on the platform really noticed what was happening.
However, they don’t have the kind of planning with military precision that graffiti crews have, studying subways schedules and observing the patrol habits of security guards. They’re too laissez-faire to do it at such a level, they say, but they admit that the treasure hunts and the cat-and-mouse games add to the excitement. They enjoy spending hours looking for an open window to get into a building or waiting for someone to come out of an underground garage to sneak in through the door behind them. They’ll continue to do that after winter and COVID are gone, but then they’ll maybe focus more on finding chill spots on rooftops. When it’s warm outside again and the sun is shining, you don’t want to crawl through any basement windows anymore – but let’s wait for Mexico City. Maybe the good weather and the crazy spots can come together quite well over there…