Frays and Strays: More Tales from the Seamy Side

Ever since I started volunteering with the foodsharing and the free-shop, I’ve become more and more familiar, and known to, the people who have no choice but to live of the scraps of this society. I started this work to preserve resources, mostly out of an environmental perspective. But I’ve learned a lot about how it is to lose out in the rat-race, never been able to participate in the first place, or restart from absolutely zipzeronothing again.

When I bring bread to the homeless, sometimes I find them hiding from the rain like these stray dogs in Sarajevo

Even though the foodsharing brunch is history, since the place where we gave out the food has been gentrified away, every homeless person knows me, and asks if and when the brunch will be started up again. I guess I’ll never get rid of the nickname “Lady of the cold kitchen”.

So much stuff, but still..

I meet many of the former guests at other initiatives: when I bring bread to the “Cold Aid” for the homeless. The queue starts at 6pm, even though the place only opens up at 9pm for people to sleep. The main language in that queue is russian. 99% of them are healthy, broad-shouldered males. They are the so-called luck-seekers. I’ve met some of those “economical migrants” back on the Balkan. When they shared their stories about being exploited in the EU. And still earning more, or at least something, than back home. They just laugh cynically when I ask them “why don’t you organize, why don’t you unionize?”. For each “luck-seeker” protesting against being exploited, there’s 10 who won’t protest. I meet them when I go to the bank, where I can open an account, and pull money out of the wall. For months, a Rumanian sat there begging. One of the people who did contracted, legal, work here, and never got paid. Since the sub-sub-sub-sub-contractor simply disappeared.

Other people fall through the holes in the “social” net. Because they are mentally unstable. The homeless woman I’m joking with one day, when she found a wok in the free shop  “woman with wok looking for room” next disappears for months. Then she comes back. She only comes back when she’s mentally feeling good. Otherwise, she hides. Under bushes. Trying to grab a few hours sleep in a shopping mall, until she’s kicked out. Too afraid of people.  Too afraid to take care of simple stuff, like getting her allowance from a bank account. Too afraid of filling out forms, and answering questions of strangers. And she’s a nice, friendly, open woman. She shared the story of her trauma with me. What happened to her as a child. And I understand why she is so afraid…

At the free-shop, sometimes clothing is hanging there for months, or too damaged. So, to make room, we hang those pieces on a “Stand of the last hope” for another few weeks, then bring it to other places, or, as a last resort, to a clothing container so it can be recycled one way or another. When I bring a huge bag to one of those containers on a cold evening, a guy calls me from the other side of the fence “is there anything warm in that bag?”. Shivering in his way too thin jeans jacket. Another “luck-seeker” from east from here. Since I know there’s nothing useful in the bag I’m carrying, I tell him about the free-shop. One week later he pops up.  Carefully selects one coat, a warm hat and some gloves. Next week he’s back. Taking a friend of him with him. Showing him the children’s clothing. I hear him explain how we work, and the other guy politely listening. Also, that you can bring the stuff back, so other people can use it, and re-use it, and re-use it again and again. Funny how poverty makes people environmental friendly…

My best friend in Sarajevo, a black streetwise tomcat.

When the weather is a bit ok, we put some stuff outside in front of the free-shop. Sometimes people are bit scared to come in, and we’re very much aware of that. I’m hanging some more clothing on the stand outside, and a young woman approaches me. “If there’s anything you can’t sell, could you maybe spare it for me?”. I look at her. Point to our sign. It’s a FREE shop. Anything is for free. Seeing she’s a little shy, I take her inside. She just stands there, looking at the racks of clothing. Looks at me. “For free? All for free?” I say yes. “The books too?” I say yes. Her jaw drops, literally. And she starts jumping a bit up and down and dances in place. Turns around and gives me a huge hug. She takes very little, just a few pieces of clothing and one book. No place for storage when you live on the streets.

In the face of surplus, need can turn into greed, or into giving

Unfortunately for others, everything for free opens all sluices of hell. That’s why we have the rule of “no more than 5 pieces per person per visit”. Unfortunately, we have found our free stuff being sold on flea markets, in second-hand-shops or online. Recently, a second-hand shop opened up a few houses from our shop. You do wonder who would be stupid enough to open up a second-hand-shop this close to a free shop, but still. The joke in our little collective was immediately “well, at least they don’t have to worry about getting supplied”. And we already did spot one of our guests immediately stopping at that shop after leaving ours.. Of course, the stuff at least gets re-used, but one of our basic ideas is an economy based on giving, not on greed.

Stuff just left to rot in an abandoned farm

But sometimes it’s hard to stick to that rule, if you know people need it, like children’s clothing. Or, if a refugee family finally got their own place, but still need all the basics, cooking utensils, bedding. So we keep that rule loosely. However for some people, it’s just hard to not get greedy when facing so much stuff. We had to throw people out because they tried to take our speakers, or our own pots & pans. “But I need it”. So does everyone visiting our shop. Or our collective old guitar. Even putting it up in at least 5 different languages doesn’t help, if a guy tries to take the guitar (which spells on all sides “not for free, inventory”), and you ask, “can’t you read?” and he simply answers “no”. He can’t read….. This is how unfortunately some stuff we actually needed (a small lamp at the old pc we have for people to use, a little thingie we used for storing small stuff like jewelry) disappears…

However, people learn, and can completely turn around. We had to warn an elderly refugee couple multiple times, and I even went as far as packing out their bags, waving fingers about “no more than 5” until I realized I was actually unpacking her personal handbag… But they settled. And probably realized the free shop would always be there. And always full. So they started bringing stuff back they didn’t need. And now, every time they visit, first they bring us a pack of coffee, and a few packages of juice, and usually some sweet stuff. Then they disappear to the back, unload stuff, and yes, take stuff again, but no more than 5 pieces per person per visit.

Just like a little girl, also a refugee, quickly runs into the shop, drops the hat she’s carrying in the hat box and runs out telling us “I don’t need it anymore, someone else should wear it, it’s a beautiful hat”. Oh yes, another one of those people only coming here to abuse our wonderful western system. Right. They have more respect and understand the principles of “giving” quicker than quite a few of our regular, native, guests who come here every day, for years now, and still try to sneak out behind our backs with more than the 5 items. Heck, I even had a good-looking, well-clad woman asking another guest to distract me so she could run out with a small bag of clothing, probably holding 7 items instead of 5.. I just looked at one of our other regulars and asked “did someone just actually tried to trick me so someone else could “steal” in a free shop?” That kinda behavior I can only meet with contempt.

Needs that can’t be fulfilled…

Not needed anymore…

When it comes to true needs. Socks. We can’t have enough socks. It sounds crazy. Socks are cheap right? But yes, socks. This friday a homeless guy came in. You got socks? I point him to our socks place. It’s always close to empty. He sighs, yep, socks are hard to find. We have tons of everything, but socks go like crazy. Socks and warm long underwear.. He didn’t look at anything else. Just socks he needed…

Living on the streets is even harder for a woman. Since there are only a few shelters with a place for women. And if no woman shows up til a certain time, they give the bed to a man. Homeless people are easy victims. They get beaten up more than most people. And this can be devastating.

Broken & Abandoned

One of our regular guests was doing well. She was looking better and better. Sometimes kept our toilet busy for 30 minutes, came out all made up with a new set of clothing, and the toilet smelling like cheap parfum for hours. Ok, most definitively not my style, but each his own. A few weeks ago she came in, I hardly recognized her. Wearing a hoodie, cowering. Her face one big mess. Hands shaking. Wrong time, wrong place, easy victim. Gone was all her confidence. Gone was also her concentration. Panicking cause she couldn’t find her bag. Which we later found outside, forgotten on the bench in front of our shop. One incident. Back to square one. And there’s nothing anyone can do about it…

Not even the officials can say how many people are living on the streets in this city. Guesses go between 3.000 and 10.000. Why? Because many don’t show up in the statistics. Since they’re illegal. Looking for work, and not having any luck. Or they did work here, and never got paid, and are too ashamed to go back home. Or, because their mental condition is so unstable, they simple don’t show up in anyone’s dossier. Strangely enough, those are the people who tend to give, even when they’re the ones lacking almost everything.

Random snapshots of just-being

Another set of impressions of the beauty of small lives hiding in the darker corners of a metropolis


In the free shop, from the corner of my eyes I notice two of our regular guests exchanging a piece of clothing. One of them is a fanatic knitter, always scanning the shop for left-over pieces of wool. She shows a sweater which the other customer liked, but which was just a bit too short, and therefore put back in the racks. The knitting lady secretly took the sweater home,  found a matching color wool, and made the sweater just long enough. Now she surprises the other regular with the finished product.

One of the alternative projects organizes a small protest against gentrification in front of their “shop”. It rains, an icy rain, and people dance with their scarfs pulled up to their noses, gloves and beanies on the jungle beat. One of the regular, more run-down-looking, guests of the foodsaving brunch passes by, asks me what is going on. He introduces me to his boyfriend, a far younger, tall, and good-looking blond guy. Just as I wonder about the combination of the two, the older guy quickly continues: “you know where to get a beanie for him for free? His ears are freezing, and he doesn’t own one”. Only then I notice the slightly absent look in the eyes of his companion and realize who’s taking care of who.

A former roommate who fathered 23 little black & white rats
A former roommate who fathered 23 little black & white rats

On my way to work, I see a plain looking lady with her – obviously mentally disabled – daughter sitting on a bench, waiting for the Ubahn. In front of her feet, there’s a huge cage, with a small white & black rat feverishly washing itself. Next to her daughter, there’s another cage, full of straw and probably also full of cuddles. Walking along the streets near Checkpoint Charlie on the way back, I see something moving from the corner of my eye. I look, and there’s a tiny little brown mouse, looking back with beady eyes. Must be rodent day today.

During the foodsaving brunch at the end of the month it is busy again. Many of our customers have a bit of month left after the end of their money. One of the guys tells me, we saved him again, he hasn’t eaten for two days. Another guest counters: Berlin isn’t a city at war, you can always find food here. I just politely step out of that discussion. A bit later, one of the other regulars brings me a gift. I always walk around with lots of black markings (I don’t call it make-up, too many people ask me if those markings are tattoos…), so she presents me with an eye-pencil, and look, it is even still packaged. I’m very happy with it, because maybe it’s a small gift, but she obviously got hold of it thinking of me (though I actually don’t want to know how she obtained it.. I’m afraid she took an, albeit small – risk for it).

Rodent-On-Wheelz - doodled in the metro
Rodent-On-Wheelz – doodled in the metro

Doodling one of my twisted kritters in the metro coming back from a noise gig, I notice the guy on the opposite bench secretly glancing at my paper. When I get up to catch the next line, he shouts “wait”, fumbles in his backpack, and hands me a flyer of another music event the next week. I look at it only when I get out and just have to laugh: how come in a city of millions, a guy looks at my drawings, and gives me a flyer for an event with experimental and industrial bands I happen to like. Not exactly mainstream, if 100 people attend to something like that, it’s a lot.. so this is just a bit too much of a coincidence. Just before the doors of the metro close, I walk back to stick my head around the corner “I was already planning to go there, but thanks”.

There’s a huge protest against the “danger zone” which was forced upon a part of the neighborhood a few weeks ago, resulting in dozens of cops invading squats, stopping people to ask for IDs, closing off streets and a general feeling of unease towards this “surveillance” from the people living here. Surprisingly – also for the organization – a couple of thousand show up. The atmosphere is peaceful and joyful. I watch someone I know making soap bubbles for the refugee kids hanging over the fence of their “emergency shelter” in front of which we gather. They don’t really have a clue what the demonstration is about, but sure are enjoying the soap bubbles. Afterwards, I realize you shouldn’t breathe in those bubbles when trying to catch them in your mouth. Still coughing up a soap mixture hours later.

In the free-shop, one of the regular customers shows me something undefinable she found, and asks me if I think it could be made into a lamp. She can’t do any “real” work, she tells me, but, well, you have to get under the people, so she spends her daytime at a “disabled center”. She’s always looking for stuff she can rework in something else, then brings it back to the shop. And after more than 15 years of “well.. it’s a way to stay social, sitting at home is so boring” she has become quite capable in upcycling stuff. I don’t think she realizes she has been pioneering a recent trend among the more well-off citizens for such a long time. But well, she doesn’t really have a choice: her creativity is caused by being poor.

Berlin. The end of winter. But still winter. Not that Berlin people care. February is still here, and already the smell of smoke of a campfire lingers in my hair. Walking past the Boxi square with minus 5 or so, I hear music coming from a group of people playing while sitting on the swings and the slide of the play-ground.

On one hand, yes, there’s literally murder in the streets: a guy bleeding to death after been stabbed by unknown people right in one of the busiest club areas. A gang racketeering a small underground club for “protection money”, so the people decide to stop their events, cause it’s not safe. Cops finding all kinds of excuses for breaking into an alternative project and confiscating dangerous goods such as heating-coal, fire-extinguishers and small bags of garbage. It’s like the alternative scene is being squashed between organized crime and “law and order”. On the other hand…. in the little dark and hidden corners, where people sometimes have no choice but to be resourceful and creative, dreams and ideas are kept alive, solutions are found by cooperating and making use of what is at hand. Just like the little rodents which you almost accidentally find in unexpected places at unexpected times, it’s hard to exterminate dreams and ideas. Thank goodness…


Impressions – 50 Shades of Dirty Snow


Winter isn’t just coming, it has arrived.

I never was a big fan of winter. My body is badly isolated by itself.

But ever since I started living in this city, I truly started hating it. Not just because winters are colder here (they are….). But how it transforms this city, its people. Hibernation strikes. People hurry from the metro stations to the next warm place, and don’t stop to talk or look around. They look at the ground, to plan their next step without slipping, and don’t smile or are open for their surroundings.

The city I lived in before I moved here was grey all year around. Grey sky, grey river, grey buildings, grey people. In Berlin, with all its parks and trees, and its inhabitants who love living outdoors, the difference between summer and winter is huge.

A splash of color on the Boxi Sunday Flea Market

Snow doesn’t stay white in a big dirty city. And in a poor city, it isn’t cleaned away either. So it turns grey. Light grey in the parks, since smog and soot is everywhere, thanks to the traffic and the coal heaters. A darker shade on the sidewalks, where it mixes with the gravel. Almost black on the roads. Or it turns red and pink, where the remains of new year’s eve fireworks are still hidden underneath. Or brown and yellow, since there are a lot of dogs in this neighborhood.

I remember one winter, which lasted for four months, when at Easter, it finally started thawing. And slowly, under layers of snow and ice, the confetti of New Year’s Eve resurfaced in front of our house. When the never too fancy smell of this city became even worse, since four months of dog shit and piss thawed out in a few days time.

Heaps of snow on the saddles of the bikes in my backyard. Nope, no biking in Berlin Winters

I remember my first winter here. When in October, after I peeled off layers of isolation when arriving at a party, a friend of mine (after giving me the nickname “Onion” because of all those layers) asked, “when do you stop riding your bike?” I didn’t understand the question.  “What you mean, when? Till what time at night?”. He sighed, and asked again. And I still didn’t get the question. Till he reworded it: “When is it too cold for you?” I laughed. I’m DUTCH. There is no weather where we stop riding bikes! Until my first winter. When, stubborn as I am, I kept trying to go with my bike. With. Not on. I spend one winter pushing my bike through the heaps of snow the city workers shoveled from the bigger roads onto the bike paths. Or tried to maneuver the wheels of my bike without falling off through the frozen tracks cars made on the smaller roads. I gave up after that first winter and went native.

But there’s plenty of people stubbornly refusing to admit winter has arrived.

Almost every small cafe still has tables outside. With ashtrays, candles and blankets. You see people trying to eat their food with gloves on their hands. The cutlery is just too cold to touch with your bare hands.

At a traffic light, a senior citizen is stuck in the snow with his wheelchair. I help him get unstuck, ask him where he wants to go. And end up pushing him over the icy sidewalks full of “false tracks” and through a park to his nursing home. How the hell did he manage to escape his nurses and get as far as those traffic lights? “I never depended on anyone” he grumbles, admitting defeat.

Also in the caves we huddle in, hiding from the cold and the grayness outside, the beat goes on…

At the foodsaving brunch, an small (smaller than me!) older guy with a very interesting face folded into itself, with a cap too big for his head protecting his ears and wearing at least two jackets on top of each other, takes some of the vegan potato mash. He puts in his mouth, munches, stares for a minute, munches again. Comes up to me. Accusing look: “Is there mustard in this?” Erm.. I don’t know. Could be. We don’t make the food, we only redistribute it. He groans, hands me his full plate. “I hate mustard”. I point out there’s plenty of other food, he should just watch out with the chili-sin-carne, it’s pretty spicy. He groans again. “No teeth” he mumbles, looking down to the floor. Well, that explains some of the interesting folds. One of the other guests overhears the conversation, opens her bag, takes out one of the boxes with food she packed for her kids, and, without a word, fills a bowl with rice porridge and hands it to the guy. His smile is worth millions, even without any teeth.

A guy walks around the place barefooted, leaving little puddles of melted snow. Now I do know some people who, out of principle, go without shoes, and walk barefooted 7 out of 12 months (and somehow manage to avoid all the broken bottles or still burning cigarette butts). But this is mid-winter. When even the hard-headed fundamentalists of the callous-feet-church, abandon their faith and start to be practical. So I speak to him, and tell him about the free shop, where there might be shoes his size. He tells me this would be very unlikely, his feet are size 47, shoes that size are not common, and yes, pretty expensive. But I shouldn’t worry, he does have shoes, they just need to get dry again, and points to one of the tables, where underneath, some really worn down sneakers and a pair of socks are standing close to five candles next to each other.

Pigeon Nest in winter. Its inhabitants went for warmer places.

People tend to stay at the brunch far longer than in summer. Long after the food has been eaten or packed. Quite a few of our guests don’t really have a choice about staying indoors or go outdoors. In a strange way, it improves the atmosphere. People tend to talk more with each other, socialize. But I really feel sorry for one guy who fell asleep on a couch, and who I had to wake up and tell to go outside, because we have to close the place up again.

It’s winter.

By now, rain has come. The last remains of ice slowly melt away. I can’t help myself. At every corner, I test if there’s some lose ice, and kick a brick of dirty snow on the road, so it melts faster. Can’t help myself. I hate the winter in this city.

But it will snow again. Snow which will turn grey, black, red and yellow. Just not green…

Impressions – Random Snapshots of Humanity

Random snapshots of people in a big city’s underside – how human we are…

  • Mummy takes her little son along to the giveaway shop to bring the toys she sorted out. He sees a box with toy cars to be given away on our shelves. Shouts out: wow, those are exactly the same cars as the ones we have at home. Mum tries not to look guilty. She was here last week too to bring stuff and secretly unloads another bag of toys behind his back.
  • Foodsaving brunch. A guy with bad teeth and probably no money to spare loads up his plate, and fills a container for a friend. First time here, and he thanks us so much: his housebound friend only gets 10 minutes a day for household help, barely enough time to warm up a microwave meal. And finally he can bring his friend real, good, food. He’s so happy, not so much for his own plate, as for the tasty food he can bring his friend.
  • A homeless guy has taken up residence on one of the wooden benches in front of the free shop. No matter how much we try to convince him to come in and get some free hot tea and cake in a warm place, he proudly refuses, and rolls up in his sleeping bag. The evening before I had a little chat with him. He enjoys the clear skies and the stars, even yes, it is actually too cold to sleep outside. One of my colleagues tells me, the only offer he actually took up, was the offer of the house to take a shower. When I leave the giveaway shop, there’s loud snoring coming from the sleeping bag, and I notice someone passing by has covered his sleeping bag with another blanket.
  • A team of people comes in half-frozen through the wet snow for the hot soup at the foodsaving brunch .They just organized a friendly football match with a group of refugees who just arrived in the neighborhood,. One of them asks me in the kitchen if it’s ok if the refugee team joins us for the food too. Of course. The only problem is, just one week ago, when the foodsavers found out about the shelter and started bringing food to the refugees, they were told they sometimes get too much food, and well.. now that food is saved and brought to the brunch. So those refugees might actually get the leftovers of their last night’s meal if they join us today.
  • One of our regular guests in the giveaway shop is in desperate need for help. She’s more an alternative minded person and likes bright colors and “india” fabric. But now she has to attend a classical concert of her grand daughter, who gave her a “dress code”. We have a lot of fun dressing her up in “classical” style… and she is semi-shocked, but also pretty satisfied when she sees the result in the mirror.
  • Foodsaving on the week market, and we have like boxes and boxes of prunes which need to be eaten the same day. Me and a new foodsaver bring it to one of the house projects, where they organize “cooking and eating with and for homeless people”. Immediately we are invited for the food, but no, we just want to get rid of the prunes. Quickly the plans are made for prune pie, and the spokesperson, in between calmly pointing out to a homeless lady “no smoking while other people eat” tells us there’s another initiative for involving homeless people to help themselves, but the source for the food ingredients is drying up, He emphasizes it is so important not to treat homeless people as if they are little kids, but to take them serious so they can get themselves out of that situation, with a little support. The guy obviously knows from personal experience what he is talking about, and you noticed how much the (still) homeless people respect him.
  • A woman comes in the giveaway shop with two little refugee boys. One speaks a bit of german, the other one only english. Big-eyed they look at all that stuff, and shyly ask if they can take some of the board games and puzzles. The woman tells them not to take everything, but leave enough for other kids. They politely nod, and make an obviously huge effort not to go wild on the cakes we offer for free. Then a bunch of german school kids storm the place… going through all the cakes, and the shelves. When I put a hold to their enthusiasm the moment they want to take a pair of crutches, they tell me, ok, they would only take stuff if they could really use it, for a school play or so, and then return it. After watching this, the refugee kids lose some of their shyness, and not only happily consume their cakes, but also find out there’s a piano… Which after 10 minutes, we wished they hadn’t.

Impression – Eeew.. am I settling down?

Biking downhill from the hidden garden of the Villa I realized something weird..

Yep, living in this neighborhood, in my little “scene”, always felt good.

But, looking back at another busy, full weekend, with renovating a bit in the giveaway shop, saving & distributing food on the market, where all the standholders know me by name (and friendly laugh at my slight wasp-phobia), going to another great gig & hanging outside with my friends waiting for it to begin, at the sunday fooodsaving brunch chatting with our regular guest, a random couch surfer or some people I dragged in to enjoy the free – vegan – food, then off to the circus acts in the garden of the Villa, and admiring the huge amount of apples & pears hanging in the old fruit trees (long live the Villa bees!), and end the night freezing my ass off under the stars watching a sweet little movie, every now & then scanning the sky in the hope the Perseids give me a falling star.

Dangit. I’ve “arrived”. My two feet, my heart and my head are firmly planted here. That’s scary. That’s frikkin scary. Omg, I haven’t “settled”, have I?

Though the word itself still triggers an almost allergic reaction (literally, as I noticed not that long ago, it results in choking & coughing my lungs out), eeks, I’m settled, in my own, slightly freaky, way.

Though, when talking to someone who (also?) loves traveling unpaved roads, yes, I do have a certain “longing”, especially for the Balkan – the beautiful german word “fernweh” describes it so well. Though I still picture myself as the crazy old woman on top of a mountain with 15 cats and 3 goats (and a donkey or an alpaca).

And I know my experience here might differ from others, who point out how this city can suck you dry, how hard it is to crack this nut, how much the anonymity of a city of millions can lead to utter loneliness, or can’t understand how I like living in, what one of my friends called it, the warzone, with its filth, its bad smells and its very present and visible seamy side..

My always present urge to keep moving is goners, that urge to move on, even when and where the situation feels good (thank you, nomadic ancestors, for the horizon fever & the always itchy feet). It’s so weird to realize this.

At least it’s gone for now. It prolly will be back in winter, since this city so frikkin different depending on season, but for now, weirdly enough.. the itch is gone…

Intermezzo – Foodsaving (shameless short promotion)

Sometimes you wonder when the “saved” food from the market is in a better condition than the food you bought and has been hiding in your fridge for a few days…..

Oh, and on a side note.. saving food is less stress than actually buying the stuff in a shop: it surely saves you the trouble of making the decision what to eat: you just have to make do with what you get (and you get to know the shop owner which makes it more pleasantly “shopping”).

And end the non-shopping by drinking tea discussing the different views on life a former east-german dissidente, a wicca from Bavaria and an ex-punk toxicologist can have

Impressions – Random Encounters in a Free Shop

Just some random impressions why I love volunteering in a give-away-shop..

  • The pensioned turkish guy, who “no I don’t need any help, do I look like it??” somehow manages to get his cart over the steps, and who tries to look in any direction except in THAT one, when two punk girls try on bras and t-shirts in the middle of the shop.
  • The six year old nerd-to-be, who desperately wants to help us, and after sorting all the children’s games and books on size, tells me about that he already hacked 3 computer passwords.
  • The elderly gentleman, who comes in in a suit-jacket, for three hours does nothing but try on women’s clothing, and walks out in his suit again.
  • A group of five mexican ladies, giggling and dressing each other up in front of the mirror in all the glittery, or ruffled or rather, well… dandy stuff that we normally have a really hard time even giving away…
  • Two young very normal looking guys come in, obviously feeling awkward, politely ask how much the old video- and music-tapes are, and after I explain the concept of a give-away shop, just go crazy for hours going through them. In the end, happily show me they even found a turkish movie, proudly tell me of their collection of 40 videoplayers and 1500 VHS-tapes (“we throw DVDs away), not only hang around for the coffee (and slightly concerned wonder if I had any already), but after going out the first time, run back in to make a money donation, and after another 15 minutes, come back with chocolate bars for us, and, stuttering, the promise, to bring any “modern” media next week.
  • The 60+ woman (“I do look young for my age, don’t I?), who arrives out of breath to bring huge bags of freshly washed clothing, because she likes the idea of the shop so much. But it includes a fur coat and some dead foxes, which, since we are also doing a vegan cafe, sort of makes us uncertain wtf to do with it. Takes 5 minutes for the stuff to disappear, a refugee taking the coat for his wife (“her dream”…), and a kid walks out cuddling the dead foxes…
  • The (russian?) heavily blonded, heavily maked-up and very well-styled lady (including cute hat!), who looks like she just stepped out of some movie from the 30-ies, and who every week brings another guy, who looks like she just picked him up from the street, to dress him up, look critically at the result, and re-dresses him in the next set of clothing
  • A guy picking up a few pair of children’s football shoes, and asking me, if they don’t fit, can I bring them back? Of course I say, it’s a give away shop. And he whispers in my ear, they’re for my grandsons, I can’t afford to buy them christmas presents, but I’m so proud of them.
  • An alternative looking young woman from Tel Aviv with her baby child, who followed her summer love to this city, and next got kicked on the streets, sitting on the floor in between all the clothing and just going crazy “all this stuff.. all this stuff, all for free..”

And so on…
So many people, so many stories in this city…