NOTEBOOK PEOPLE: An Interview with Beate Mangrig // Trina O’Gorman

NOTEBOOK PEOPLE: An Interview with Beate Mangrig // Trina O’Gorman

In November 2021, while exploring the Baum-kuchen website (one of my favorite things to do when I’m online), I came across a new notebook cover. It was a vibrant, cheerful, beautiful yellow. The description of the notebook referred to its color as Sun Yellow. The notebook, which I discovered was an A5 ROTERFADEN Taschenbegleiter, also had a beautiful, bright, and cheerful turquoise suede interior. Those happy colors were just what I needed to lift my post-COVID lockdown spirits. I was weary, like so many others were after all we’d been through, and had to find joy wherever I could find it. Like many, it was a time when we were trying to find ourselves again, working to wrap our minds around the pandemic we’d just been through and were still coping with, and trying to grapple with what was lost and how to move forward. That notebook screamed “JOY,” and I added it to my cart immediately. It would serve as a symbol of the next phase of my life, the next chapter. That was my introduction to ROTERFADEN and their A5 Taschenbegleither. 

ROTERFADEN means “red thread” in German, and Taschenbegleiter translates to “bag companion.” I discovered this after going to their website to read more about the notebook I’d just bought. It was an impulsive purchase, but a beautiful one that would lead me to connect to both the company, the designer of that notebook, and its unique clip mechanism. While I waited excitedly for its arrival, checking my tracking updates far too often, I took the time to learn more about the ROTERFADEN brand and Beate Mangrig, the wonderful designer behind the Taschenbegleiter and owner of the company. By the time it arrived, I knew I would be in love with it for so many reasons.

I was intrigued by the design of the clips that hold the notebooks in the Taschenbegleiter. According to the website, Beate Mangrig, the woman behind ROTERFADEN, conceived and designed them when she was doing her “diploma thesis in design studies at the Hochschule der Bildenden Künste Saar (HBK Saar) in 2006.” I remember being in awe of her ingenuity, though I’d never met her. I thought she had to be brilliant and cool. 

That next summer, in late June and early July 2022, my sons and I and our dear friend, Jeffrey, traveled to Germany for a much-needed, post-pandemic lockdown vacation. Our ultimate destination was Berlin, but by then, I’d corresponded with Beate and knew I had to visit ROTERFADEN in person. There was no way that I could visit Germany without meeting her and her shop. Rather than flying directly from the US to Berlin, Germany, we decided to fly into Frankfurt airport, the closest major airport near Saarbrücken, and then take the two-hour train ride there, where we would spend two nights before heading to Berlin. When we stepped off the train in Saarbrücken, we were met by Beate, her partner Alexi, and their adorable son Theo. The reception was warm and familiar, as if we’d all been friends for many years, rather than meeting for the very first time. And I was right. She is brilliant and cool. 

It was during my visit to Saarbrücken, Germany, ROTERFADEN, and getting to know Beate that the seed for the Notebook People Project was planted. For so many years, I’d been enamored with and charmed by notebooks, conceptually, regarding them as something almost mystical, doorways into the imagination, minds, and souls of the people who carried them. But there I was, in another country, having become friends with this terrific human being behind an entire notebook company, and I realized that what was more intriguing than the notebook was the human being behind the notebook, in this case, a great thinker and conversationalist. I wanted to know her story and the stories of others behind the notebooks they carried and used almost compulsively. 

I am so, so, so delighted to introduce you to the creator of ROTERFADEN and my friend, Beate Mangrig. 



After we arrived in Saarbrücken and dropped off our bags at the hotel, our first stop was an unexpected (for us) visit to the Urban Art Biennale, an art exhibit at the Weltkulturerbe Völkinger Hütte Cultural Heritage Site. This former ironworks was the industrial backdrop for this urban art exhibit, which, as exhausted as we were upon our arrival to Saarbrücken after so many hours of traveling, captivated us. It was something we would have never discovered on our own, and I’m not sure I would have selected it as a thing to do, even if I had seen it in a travel guide. I would not have understood the appeal, and yet, it was fabulous and something that we remember to this day. Beate, a designer by training, appreciates art and has the heart of an artist, so of course, she understood its appeal. 

Fifteen minutes into our interview for this story, we quickly made our way to the topic of art, and Beate mentioned an artist named Bansky, who I’d never heard of. She was surprised that I’d never heard of him, as she described this London-based graffiti artist as one of the greatest artists alive today. She sent a link to me in the chat so I could read more about him later and I did. I’ve been researching this pseudonymous artist since. 

The BBC described Bansky as, “one of the world's most famous artists, but despite his global following, his identity remains, officially at least, unknown. Often described as "elusive" and "secretive" by the press, the "guerrilla street artist" counts A-list celebrities, such as actor Brad Pitt, among his fans and collectors.”They go on to explain that he is [A] hero to some, a vandal to others, his artworks sell for eye-watering sums, with councils and landowners rushing to profit from - or whitewash - buildings chosen as his latest canvas. And yet, the self-styled prankster and anti-establishment figure has consistently managed to remain anonymous.” He is fringe, outside of the box, and not the norm. 

Our conversation about art started with Beate describing herself as a young student, who decorated her school calendar/notebook masterfully. She had a tendency to doodle and draw during class as a child, often to the disapproval of teachers, who would ask her to “pay attention,” as if doodling and drawing prevented one from doing so. We have sound research from psychologists that shows us that doodling can enhance focus, thinking, and learning, but I still know, as a teacher and parent, that students are still asked to “pay attention” when they draw and doodle during class instruction. It made me wonder how many potential artists were being squashed by well-meaning teachers. 

We continued our philosophical conversation about art. Beate told me about Bansky because she was commenting on how we are always told that we are learning about the best artists, thinkers, and musicians in the world when really the world is full of awesome artists. I think the point we were probably making is that there aren’t just a few great artists in the world. That there are many, many talented artists who never reach the levels of public acclaim that the ones we learn about in school reach, and yet they are every bit as talented, though perhaps not as influential. Banksy, though, in his uniquely rogue way, is influential. Banksy is an anti-establishment enigma, breaking the arbitrary rules that tell us what art is supposed to be, showing up unannounced, and creating and displaying his art in public spaces that are accessible to all. We should all be so courageous.

Beate doodled during our entire interview, all while we talked and laughed and grappled with thought-provoking topics and questions. That’s the thing I love most about interviews for The Notebook People Project. Even though every interview begins with the same 10-question questionnaire, I never know where the conversation will go. It always goes someplace interesting, though, because all people, I would argue, are quite interesting and have unique and wonderful stories to tell if we are lucky enough to sit and connect with them. 

Beate has been keeping a notebook consistently since she was a little girl of about nine years old, the same age that many of us were compelled to begin writing in a notebook. When she was about 13 years old, she became self-conscious about her writing, afraid that someone might get a hold of it and read her innermost thoughts. This prompted her to destroy her notebooks by burning them in the oven, a decision she regrets. She continued to write, though, and shared the story of a time when she read some of her teenage notebooks to her then teenage son, Simon. She wasn’t embarrassed about what she’d written at that point. It was a great opportunity for her older son to see his mother, as a teenager, and she had a chance to be reacquainted with her former self. As Beate pointed out, “What we don’t write, we forget.” This is all too true; it is a sentiment that has been echoed by so many creatives and writers, including my favorite writer, Joan Didion. 

What we don’t write, we do forget, and we don’t want to forget our stories. We want to cherish the good ones. And the bad ones, well, they are lessons, and therefore worth remembering, too. Beate shared a number of lessons with me during our conversation and in a recent email. When we were talking about her doodling in class, she recalled advice from one of the teachers at that same school,

“..we had a teacher, she was such a nice woman. She was from Poland…. I remember one sentence that she said, “If you draw,” and I would say the same counts for every doodling and maybe even for writing, but this, you know, better. Or maybe for writing, it doesn't count. But she said, “If you draw, you should not think about the result.” Beate still carries this insight in her heart and points out, “It's not the result that counts, right?” 


When she sent photos for the interview, she included some of her quick drawings and a red drawing done by her younger son, Theo. About this drawing and drawing in general, she writes, 

The red drawing in picture 0067 is by Theo. It's so energetic and so powerful, don't you think? It's nothing "special," but it doesn't have to be. It is important not to forget that. We shouldn't focus so much on a perfect result but rather enjoy the process. (You know, I am in looove with the notebook "Trust the Process.” It fits my attitude to life.) The following can be said about all children's drawings: Drawing is trying, drawing is fun, that's what children should learn.” 


I would agree. When it comes to both drawing and writing and maybe even life itself, it’s not about the result; it’s about the process. It is the drawing, the writing, and the living that count most. The journey. 

I’m so grateful to Beate for sharing her story with us, and for her innovation, her ability to think outside of the box, her appreciation for writing, connection, and art, and most of all for her friendship.


1 comment

  • Karen Jarrell: July 06, 2024
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    Thank you for the great interview! I, too, am a long- term lover of Roterfaden and Beate! It was nice to see how inspirational she is and to just connect with people who are passionate about their craft!

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