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A receptionist makes a virtue of sewing

Angelika Spisla sits at the reception desk in Hilden. And she’s at her sewing machine. During her working day, she has made more than 500 masks to provide protection against the coronavirus. And at the same time, she’s been collecting donations. With the official approval of her boss.

Angelika Spisla

Rata-tat-tat, rata-tat-tat. It’s an unusual staccato rhythm resounding through the reception area of a company that sounds a bit like speed rap from Eminem. And melds into a holistic artwork with the colourful large-scale painting mounted on the wall behind her.

The female “rapper” herself – blonde, round metal-framed spectacles, and dressed with sporty elegance – is not a musician. She’s the receptionist in Hilden, where TARGO insurers and PB insurers are based. And she sews masks. When the telephone isn’t ringing at head office, there are no visitors coming up to the desk and employees don’t want something from her, Angelika Spisla turns to her sewing machine. And sews – rata-tat-tat – protective masks.

I wanted to do something useful

Back in March, she brought her “Singer” from home into work. At that time there was a real shortage of face coverings. And nobody really knew whether they needed to protect themselves, and if so, how! It was getting quieter and quieter around Angelika Spisla, colleagues were moving to their home offices. Visitors had stopped coming. “In this situation, I wanted to do something else to help,” she said. And that’s where she got the idea to make masks during her working day. They were for her colleagues – in return for a donation – for a good cause.

She received the official approval post-haste. From her departmental manager. From the Management Board. “Great initiative,” was the view of Andreas Knorr, in Hilden, responsible for Internal Services and therefore Angelika Spisla’s boss. A stroke of luck: At home, she still had a box of fabric remnants. The Talanx Crisis Staff in Hannover provided bias tape and additional material. Then she started sewing. And not only at the workplace. Sometimes she also sews at home during the evenings.

She’s now made more than 500 masks. Check, polka-dotted, striped, “the inside is always white so you can see that they need to be washed.” At the beginning, the colour of the outer face covering was completely irrelevant. The main concern was for colleagues to have some kind of protection against the coronavirus. As time went on, she started to receive special requests. “Angelika, can you perhaps …” – of course, was always the answer. For one department, she sewed 25 masks in orange for an event. Then she sewed face coverings with skull-and-crossbones for the caretaker and his team …

Mother’s cast-iron “Singer”

Just as young lads used to learn how to use a saw and drill from their fathers, she learnt the craft of sewing from her mother, who was a seamstress. At the age of six, she was already working at a cast-iron “Singer” with a wooden pedal. That was when she started to sew clothes for her dollies. And later, as a mum, her three children had tailormade outfits. She uses three machines at home – “but none of them have computer technology, all that is too complicated for me. I like doing things by hand.”

Angelika Spisla has now been working at the HDI Group for the past 15 years. She worked in purchasing for the first three years and since then she’s been at reception. It’s truly her dream job. She likes engaging with people (“I know virtually everybody here by name”), she’s patient and well organised. “I’m definitely old school – I like things to be well organised,” she commented about herself. “She’s very sociable,” adds her boss Andreas Knorr. “Really friendly, always in a good mood,” is how her colleague Özcan Mustafaoglu describes her. “And just amazingly willing to help.” A bit like a good fairy, “just like our company, in a way”.

Moved by the fate of a colleague

She had already been concerned about the coronavirus when it was raging in Wuhan, China. She was then particularly affected by an article in the Talanx Intranet: about a colleague at HDI in Cologne, who had become infected and made it through the nightmare of being in intensive care. “I can’t understand the people who play down the pandemic at demonstrations,” she commented. It’s obvious that individual freedom is restricted by the government measures. And young people felt particularly cramped by the restrictions. “But it’s for their own protection. And to protect their parents and grandparents.”

Recently, she totted up her takings. “Total donations come to a really fantastic amount.” She’s using this money to support the vulnerable family of an old friend from school whom fate has dealt some particularly tough blows. “My friend is so grateful for every euro that colleagues put in the donation box.”

Angelika Spisla has now taken her sewing machine back home. “One day, there was a nasty noise …”. Something had happened to the machine. “I’ll take a good look at it in peace and quiet,” she said. “Somehow I’ll get it going again.”