• Berlin
  • The shoe whisperer: Ibrahim Contur


The shoe whisperer: Ibrahim Contur

THE BOYS OF KOTTI SERIES! It takes a certain kind of character (and yes, apparently some testosterone) to stick it out around Kottbusser Tor. We talked to the bikers, shopkeepers, artists and punks who’ve made the Kiez their own.

Image for The shoe whisperer: Ibrahim Contur
Photo by Maria Runarsdottir

It’s the early 1990s. A young Yugoslavian model walks into shoe repair store Abgelaufen with a pair of swanky designer pumps that she got to keep after a photo shoot – or that’s how she describes the four ripped-apart pieces to the young man behind the counter. She’s been to every shoe repair store in town, and Ibrahim Contur is her last hope. At first he too sends her away, but after an angry visit from her mother, he finds the right glue, leather and metal parts and meticulously puts the pumps back together. “She cried when she saw that I actually managed to fix them. That was true love!” Contur says, laughing at the memory.

Now 42 and still operating out of the tiny store he took over from his father 22 years ago, Contur has garnered a reputation around the Kiez for being able to do the impossible. There’s something about his supremely calm and affable manner that makes you instantly want to trust him with your footwear, even despite the fact that he “never did an apprenticeship. Whenever I didn’t know how to fix something I looked up one of the old Meisters and I asked them to help me… and somehow, they always did.”

Contur was born in Wedding in 1974, but his family came here from western Turkey in the 1970s. His father opened Abgelaufen in 1986. Since then, it’s been the store that the other shoe repair stores in Kreuzberg send their particularly tricky jobs to. The constant flow of colourful Kotti customers makes for an endless wellspring of stories, which Contur eagerly shares. “One time someone came back after almost 15 years, apologised for the long wait and told me he had been in prison.” Another customer always had two pairs of boots on rotation – he’d come to pick up his just-fixed pair of cowboy boots only to exchange it for his second, newly ruined pair. This went on for a few years. “I’ll never forget that guy – I hope I’ll see him again someday…”

I´m not leaving until I have to… so probably feet first.

Contur is aware he’s part of a dying trade and it’s unlikely that his son, who has a walking disability, or one of his three daughters will take over. But it doesn’t seem to bother him too much. His own future here seems pretty set. “I’m not leaving until I have to – so probably feet first.”