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Shoemaker Michael Noisten from Bad Godesberg: A soul comforter for shoes

Shoemaker Michael Noisten from Bad Godesberg : A soul comforter for shoes

Michael Noisten has been a shoemaker for almost 40 years. He has made a name for himself in Bad Godesberg by carefully reconditioning shoes. In the meantime, he only runs a small workshop on Plittersdorfer Straße.

Every shoe can be repaired – Michael Noisten is convinced of that. More than that. The experienced master shoemaker, who has been practising his profession for almost 40 years, has made a name for himself by refurbishing shoes.

Hiking boots with disintegrating soles or white sneakers that look as if you played football with them, faded loafers and almost completely destroyed slippers, they all find their way to his Bad Godesberg workshop. He carefully cleans them, glues soles, reworks seams, dyes leather, replaces straps, until everything looks as if the shoes had just been bought. "In the trade, you have to create a niche for yourself at some point," he says, "and as far as I know, no other shoemaker offers this kind of refurbishment. Besides, it just gives me a lot of pleasure when I can bring shoes back into shape and I see the result with my own eyes at the end."

Only rarely does Noisten, who describes himself with a wink as a "consoler for shoes", have to pass on a repair request: "Unfortunately, there are more and more materials that can neither be glued nor reworked," he says, "especially with sports shoes, some kind of plastic or gel cushion is integrated, where I can't do anything if something is damaged. Or with vegan shoes. People mean well and do without leather shoes so that no animals have to die for the production - but then they come with plastic shoes in which they sweat a lot and which you can only throw away at the first damage. That is anything but sustainable.“

The Bonn Theatre ist also a client

At the other end of the order spectrum are those requests that you probably only get once in a lifetime: "I also work for the Bonn Theatre, among others," he says with a laugh, "and once I got 20 pairs of bright yellow rubber boots that needed to be made wider. They were all over the workshop, yellow everywhere. That was quite a special picture.“

Noisten is a third-generation shoemaker; in a way, he was born into the profession. "I was practically born in a shoe box," he says, grinning pensively. "At 16, I joined my father as an apprentice, then opened my first own workshop on the Venusberg."

Later he took over the family business, the Noisten shoe shop in Friesdorf. Until it was no longer profitable. In 2016, he had to close the parent company, where his grandfather once made custom shoes, and the branch in Beuel has also disappeared in the meantime. Only the small workshop in Plittersdorfer Straße, which he took over eight years ago, remains. And there, too, the crowds have dwindled since the Corona pandemic. "You couldn't have stood here before," he says in the back room where the workbench and polishing machine are. "It's all full of shoes." Now there are only about a dozen pairs waiting to be picked up by their owners.

Demand picks up again after Corona

"A not inconsiderable part of my clientele is made up of business people who travel a lot for work and wear out their comparatively expensive shoes accordingly," he says. "During Corona, however, they were all in the home office, so the shoes didn't break either. That was the hardest time of my life." Still, Noisten is optimistic. "Recently, demand has picked up again, especially in terms of refurbishments. You can already tell that sustainability is more important to people than it used to be.“

But is this social change strong enough to give the shoemaking profession a perspective? Noisten is unsure. "I do believe that there will always be people who practise this craft," he says, "but whether someone will be able to live only from repairs in the future, I doubt it." Above all, there is a lack of young talent. "In my days at vocational school I sat in a class with ten to twelve budding shoemakers, now, by contrast, I almost have the impression that there are perhaps that many apprentices overall in the entire country."

A look at the region underlines this assumption. "In the district of the Cologne Chamber of Crafts (HWK) there are no apprenticeships in this field this year," explains HWK spokesman Jascha Habeck. "In general, there tends to be little training in this occupational branch, as demand is also rather low. However, a corresponding affinity of potential trainees for the profession of orthopaedic shoemaker is recognisable – in that specialised area the demand is higher.“

And what does that mean for Bonn? According to the Chamber of Crafts, there are 13 shoemaking businesses in the city, plus nine master orthopaedic shoemakers. "Yes, but in about ten years at least four of my colleagues want to retire," says Noisten. So does he. At least that was the plan. "If you had asked me before the pandemic, I would have answered that everything was going well and I could stop at 65. Now I don't know where I'll be in ten years." But probably still in the workshop. As a soul comforter for shoes. Noisten shrugs. "Possibly. As long as I don't lose my passion, that wouldn't be so bad."

Shoemakers in Bad Godesberg:

- Michael Noisten, Plittersdorfer Straße 15a, 53173 Bonn; Schuh-Service Kirberg, Mainzer Straße 161, 53179 Bonn

- Karl-Heinz Wolber und Sohn, Schwertberger Straße 19, 53177 Bonn

(Original text: Thomas Kölsch; Translation: Mareike Graepel)