TWO BOTTLES ARE A LOAF OF BREAD
For seven years now, querstadtein has been offering tours through Berlin led by formerly homeless people in a way that very few people know.
For once it is quite cold on a Sunday in February. While all the guests are already shivering in anticipation of the two-hour tour, Klaus stands there with his jacket open and quickly puffs another one. His past is not only reflected in his relaxed dealings with Father Frost. Klaus has this typical, slightly bent-forward posture that can withstand any weather, but can also ensure that he disappears in the everyday crowds of Berlin. His face – sunken cheeks and tanned skin – shows years of alcohol abuse. From the start, Klaus talks openly and very directly about how he was a heavy drinker for over forty long years and homeless for seven years. Nevertheless, he managed to get out of the downward spiral. Regularly Klaus goes along his old paths, but neither to collect empty bottles, nor to empty full ones in rough masses. No, meanwhile it is his task to make this so close and yet so far world more tangible for us.
Every city dweller knows the almost daily encounter with the homeless in the neighborhood, as do Katharina Kühn and Sally Ollech. Seven years ago, the two walked past the same person every morning on their way to work. When she disappeared one day and didn’t appear again, the two began to ponder. About this sudden void, which illustrated the great distance between the very different realities of life and about the common prejudices against the homeless, although nobody ever seemed to speak to them. Instead, these people experience rejection, ignorance, and annoyed looks when they ask for some attention. Why is no one turning the tables? Why doesn’t anyone make these people subjects instead of objects of their situation? querstadtein eVwas born. In 2013, initially on a voluntary basis, the two women began offering city tours led by former homeless people. The previously marginalized should become experts in their city. Because only they know the everyday challenges of the street and every corner of the city.
A stigma that persists and attaches to addicts or beggars is that of laziness. Make a nice life without work at the expense of others. No way! Listening to Klaus, you will learn that life on the street is pure stress. Every morning at six o’clock Klaus went out. His sleeping place, one of the most important things in his life, had to be cleared in time – so that nobody discovered him. The lack of supplies of alcohol also became noticeable after a few hours of sleep. The vital sleeping bag, a change of clothes and a few belongings had to be hidden in the top-secret “bunker” in the bushes during the day. Then it started. Klaus set priorities: “First the stomach, then the liver, then the lungs”. Depending on how successful he was at collecting bottles, there were also spirits or tobacco. His basic requirement was around 20 euros per day. Anyone who returns empties knows how many empty beer bottles at eight cents each must have been. Klaus was lucky, as he reports: He was “only” an alcoholic. As soon as the really hard drugs come into play, the probability of drug-related crime also increases. Klaus, in turn, assures that he stayed away from it, despite the tough competition for the lucrative areas of Berlin. Once he was off his route and absent-mindedly picked up a bottle. He only regained consciousness in the ambulance – brutally beaten up. Klaus reports such “anecdotes”, also from the fear of the regulatory office or from his extremely high effort to drive to Pankow, to wash his clothes at a charity – looking clean and tidy was very important to him. But the best thing of all is the happy ending of his story: finally dry, he now lives permanently in a small apartment in Berlin Schöneweide and works atquerstadtein registered association . His biography, with all its confusion and happy coincidences, should actually be filmed. If the screenplay hadn’t written the life, it would probably be pretty cheesy.
However, it will be some time before Klaus and his colleagues can talk so freely and proudly about the past. It usually takes a few months to plan a tour together with the organizers from querstadtein e.V.to work out. The script is one thing, the presentation another. Revealing yourself in front of strangers is a big challenge for most people. Especially since communication on the street has been characterized by great shame for many years. For example, many homeless people do not go to authorities and offices for fear of rejection. And there is still no talk of the bureaucratic difficulties that come with not having a permanent residence or a postal address. But if they manage to overcome such inhibitions, unimagined potential can often unfold. Klaus, once shaken by life himself, now shows great solidarity with those left behind.
The situation at the borders of Europe, which has been ongoing since 2015, brought the team from querstadtein eVa few years later came up with the idea of offering similar tours with refugees. At the same time, this meant new challenges. Many of the refugees were (and are) traumatized, cultural bridges had to be built and, last but not least, the tours had to be conducted in a language other than the guides’ native language. Although the tasks were new, the emancipatory effect was similar. After a while, city guides from Syria were able to hold their tours, which were originally only offered in English, in German. They had arrived in Berlin. Even those who have traveled a long way now report with a mixture of sadness for what has been abandoned and pride in what has been achieved. Otherwise, their voices are often neglected in political and social discourse.
querstadtein eV undertook more tours from year to year and can now look back on an impressive network. But everything was different in 2020: The corona virus and the shutdown also caused drastic financial losses at querstadtein eV. All city tours had to be cancelled. To this day, there are concerns about the future of the club. City tours started again at the end of May, but in smaller groups to observe the security measures. FUTURZWEI sends all friends to the city tours and refers – exceptions confirm our rule – to the started oneCrowdfunding campaign. Because Klaus absolutely has to go on tour again and one thing is for sure: he’s looking forward to it.