The Petrolettes All-Female Outlaw Biker Fest Wants You To Join the Gang

By Victoria Linchong . July 20, 2017

A new breed of outlaw biker chick is storming Berlin and they aren’t sitting in the backseat wearing low-cut leather bras.

Instead, they’re revving up the handlebars of their DIY motorbikes and flying down the road with their hair flapping in the wind like a flag. If you’ve ever felt the need for speed, now’s your chance.

Next weekend, women riders and wannabes are gathering for The Petrolettes.

The Petrolettes is an all-female outlaw biker festival in a historic airport just outside Berlin.

The festival is the brainchild of Irene Kotnik, a filmmaker originally from Thüringen who came to Berlin after several years in New York City. Last year, she rounded up her all-girl motorcycle club The Curves for a weekend bender that ended up attracting 250 girls from throughout Europe.

The event is poised to be even bigger and badder this year, with cruises through the countryside, a plethora of powerhouse female musicians, lean mean machines to test drive, and a drag race down the airport runway. No men are allowed except on the very last day. We met up with Irene and co-organizer Lula Rose at a cafe where we managed to find out more despite jackhammers starting up the instant we began talking.

So what you got you involved in motorcycles?

Irene: Leaving New York. I was kind of stranded in Berlin. And I wasn’t sure if I belonged here or not when I went for a film project in south France. I already had my drivers license. But I thought motorcycles were like, old men in a mid-life crisis who wanted to step out of their family life and go for some adventures. Or you had these real rocker, kind of hardcore…

Well, yeah, redneck gangster types. The outlaw motorbike guys.

Irene: It had always this taste to it. So I was going to south France right next the ocean to this event called Wheels and Waves, which included motorbikes and surfing. And I saw all these colorful young people, who were just crazy about what they made with these motorbikes. They just took them in their hands and made something really outstanding. Each piece was a work of art. And it inspired me.

I came back to Berlin and I was like, okay, I need an old bike and I’m going to make it mine. Of course it’s not so easy, because if you’ve never done any technical or mechanic stuff, it’s not as easy to get into it. I found an old bike and it was a bitch. I had to learn how to fix it. I had to learn how to modify it. But I actually enjoyed it… getting my hands dirty.

So you never had any technical experience. But you were riding before?

Irene: Yes, I did ride, but very briefly. Because my father wanted to do a road trip on Route 66 on a Harley Davidson. Exactly that same thing where you have this old man on a motorbike.

You went on Route 66 with your dad?

Irene: I got my license in Brooklyn. We met in San Francisco, went down Highway 1 and then in Santa Monica, we went as far as Las Vegas together. Then we cut through Death Valley and Yosemite Park and went back to San Francisco. But that didn’t get me. It was fun riding. But when I went back to New York, there was no one I could share this with. You know how it is, you’re just happy to have a roof over your head and a tiny apartment in a great location.

So just being here and seeing other people doing something inspired me more. I rode by myself and learned a lot and met a few more girls. And I was shocked how the girls in this macho kind of scene were looked at. They were either women who were sitting in the back or women who were half-naked standing next to the bike in stilettos. And I wasn’t accepted; this little blonde girl who was interested and curious and wanted to learn. The guys were like, who are you? Who are you belonging to? And either they were treating me small or like a flirtatious sexy thing.

Petrolettes Irene Kotnik takes her motorbike out for a spin
Irene Kotnik takes her baby out for a spin at Wheels & Waves 2017.

It’s a completely misogynist culture. The whole biker chick shit.

Irene: Then I met my friend Cäthe [Pfläging]. And we talked about why don’t we forge a unity together. And now we [The Curves] are like 30 women, only in Berlin. With them, I organized The Petrolettes last year. I sparked the idea because usually, the events that you go to, it’s like 10% women. But I noticed that there are more women out there riding. And when I started to organize, a friend was recommending Lula for a band booking. Because doing motorbikes isn’t that much fun. You need to have a great party. What I like about her is she is massively tall and has no attitude.

Lula: What? No attitude?

Irene: She understood right away. We were going at nighttime into dumpsters and picking up stuff that we could decorate the event with.

Lula: No shame.

Irene: Now that we’ve been through some months already preparing this event, it makes perfect sense. I just cover all the motorcycle affairs and she covers all the music stuff. So she takes on creating the program of live acts while I can get my head around the motorcycle industry.

I’m very much trying – not to push, that’s the wrong word – to open some more horizons of a target group, and that’s female. There haven’t been many products that have been designed for us, made for us. There’s no such thing as a woman’s bike, but there’s definitely accessories, comfortable stuff, that women would enjoy, but this industry is so man-dominated. But it’s coming.

Petrolettes Lula Rose and Irene Kotnik
Lula Rose (L) and Irene Kotnik (R). Photo by David Biene.

So the whole thing is taking place in an abandoned airport?

Lula: No, if Schönefeld closes down, then this is where the planes are going to land. It’s the Plan B for Schönefeld. But it’s like a nice 1960s airport that is only used for private charter flights.

It’s very compact. We have a village scenario where all the action takes place, the stage, the bars, the vendors, the games, the test bikes. And right behind that is the campsite. Secluded, but very close. There’s also tons of opportunities for accommodations in the area. We even got some contacts if you want to stay in a castle.

Irene: And we also reserved an arsenal of cabins and bungalows. So if you people don’t want to camp out, they can stay in a bungalow with a nice bed and a hot shower.

Lula: Because we can only offer cold showers. We’re hot enough.

And there’s music.

Lula: It’s actually quite a mix this year. Just because you ride a motorcycle doesn’t mean you share the same taste in music. We’re talking about women in different age groups with completely different outlooks in life. So Friday, it’s kind of electro-based and almost going into a witchy direction with this very interesting avant-garde group Nâr. Saturday, we expect an early rise-and-shine because there’s going to be a ride out. There’s several beautiful routes because the festival takes place in Märkische Schweiz. In the meantime, we stay behind, we put on some music, we do some games for the girls who don’t have a license or who don’t want to go.

Irene: And the roller derby girls are going to be there. And we have tattoos and tarot.

Lula: So it’s like a loose kind of vibe. The first DJ goes on early evening. And so Saturday is all about punk rock and classics, like pedal-to-the-metal. We got Randy Twigg, she’s like the go-to hard rock DJ in the gay scene.

Irene: Saturday is kind of packed. And then from 4:00 to 6:00, we intend to have this race. I never drink before I race. I can’t, I’m just way too nervous. It doesn’t matter if it’s just 200 meters. I cannot party until 5:00 in the morning. So we’ll really have the grand party on Saturday, after the race is done, and we’re all like, YEAH FUCK YOU.

So it’s Friday and Saturday, and you guys are returning on Sunday? 

Lula: No, Sunday goes on. Last year, we had the experience that a lot of women who came from far away wanted to leave early in the morning because they had a long drive back. So what we do is we have two local bands on Sunday and we open up our gates for brunch and all the boys. So the boys get to come and see what we’ve been doing and pick up their girlfriends. Also, it’s a nice gesture for the local people who will have to endure our noisy shenanigans.

At the Petrolettes 2016.

But no men.

Lula: Well, we have Anita Drink DJ-ing… so we’re only women attending, but we have a dude dressed as a women DJ-ing. It’s not about us versus them. Because we’ve had some critique about being an all-girl event. There tends to be this attitude that it’s very secluding and what kind of man-hate is that. And it’s not about that, it’s about the special bond that arises when there are no men. It’s a very special vibe.

That’s ridiculous because there’s no critique like that against male biker culture.

Lula: No, that’s just natural.

Irene: Last year, they were like, Oh! They’re doing a lesbian fest! Would I ever say, Oh! They’re doing a gay fest? We’re both not lesbian and we’re both not thinking that men are bad.

Lula: I read somewhere that there are like 70,000 registered female bikers in Germany. So it’s not that there aren’t many women. It’s more like the events that are catered for motorcycles are not that interesting from a women’s point of view.

Irene: We’re going to write history. I was speaking yesterday with a professional rally racing woman and she said that there’s never been in history, an only girls motorbike race that’s organized by girls, the personnel is only female, and of course the attendance is only female. That’s really showing some balls.

Can any woman join?

Lula: Anyone. We don’t even want to exclude girls who are not motorcycle riders. Me, myself, I don’t have a motorcycle license. I don’t have any license. But I really enjoy the chance to experiment with it a bit. And I do have aspirations. So it’s like a playground. In many ways, it feels like a playground for adults, where you get to hang loose, have fun, and maybe push some boundaries a bit in a healthy way.

Irene: It’s a special atmosphere. It’s not a yoga retreat. These women don’t mind if there’s only a cold shower. These women don’t mind riding all the way from Spain. Last year, we had women coming from Poland and Denmark. It’s a certain kind of woman who goes with the flow.

The Petrolettes is taking place from 28-30 July. Find out more about the program and how to attend on their website.

The Courettes (Garage / DK)
Drift (Devotional Synth, Dub Wave / UK)
Fotzen Power Germany (Punk / DE)
Saudia Young (Noir Rockabilly Blues / BER)
NÂR (If We Tell You, We’d Have to Kill You / CH)
Trixie Trainwreck (One-Woman Blues / BER)

Wanda de Lullabies
Evilyn Frantic
Valentina DeMonia

Anita Drink (Disco Punk)
Randy Twigg (Metal)
Lady Nico (Rock ‘n Roll)
V (The Kollectiv)

Tallulah Freeway

The Petrolettes 2016.

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