»Work? What could I do? I’m illiterate. My life has fallen apart. I’ve kicked the habit ten times, but sooner or later you end up at Bahnhof Zoo again. I want to leave Berlin, get away from everything here. Go clean in the Black Forest.«
Belinda: »We’re not a couple, just friends. I had an apartment, but had to leave as the landlord let it fall into disrepair. Now I sleep in an old factory.« Patrick: »I hang out with punks at the moment. You’re not alone there.«
»Total collapse. It was bound to happen. I’ve been wandering through Berlin for six years, with occasional breaks. But I’ve got people that catch me. Like the Arche in Treptow, or here in the Bahnhofsmission.«
»I think someone should document what homelessness means for people. No-one can imagine it. The state treats people like me like rubbish. I’m really sick, untreatable. From living on the streets. I’ve fallen through the cracks, as they say.«
»My friends call me Grinsi because I’m always cheerful. The first time I was on the streets I was fifteen and a half. I have friends at Bahnhof Zoo who help me out with food, drink and cigarettes. I didn’t have a very nice childhood. If things had been different, I’d have a family and an apartment.«
»I live on the streets and sleep in the park. I like it there – the natural environment, the birds. Maybe I’ll go back to America next. I was there in my past life.«
»We both come from Poland. We got to know each other four months ago, in the homeless shelter in Potsdam where we were last living. There’s no way we’re going back to Poland. We have no home there, no family, no work, nothing.«
»I left Poland to work. I was in Hamburg and Munich, and have been in Berlin now for ten years. It gets more and more difficult to find work. Lots of people come to Berlin from Eastern Europe because there’s help here for people who have no work or apartment.«
»I haven’t had a permanent address since 2006. I’m out and about with my dog Laika, often in the Ostbahnhof. Laika and I have a lot of friends there.«
»I’m a dancer. I came to Berlin from another city to get away from my abusive husband. Now I want to finish my final secondary-school examinations. And live in peace.«
»I was passed around a lot as a child – foster parents, children’s homes, assisted living. Most of the time I was kicked out. I came to Berlin three years ago. I’m happy that I’m going to have a baby, but it’s much too early.«
»I’m a native Berliner but was in Hannover for a long time. I’ve put that phase of my life behind me. I want a new start in my home town. I don’t have a place to stay. An apartment and work – these are the most important things now.«
»I live in a homeless shelter. I left my home town when I was 17 and worked for 20 years in a fairground. One learns how to deal with very different people. The last time I was on the streets it was for five weeks. I got this homeless identification card then. Look at how sad I look on the photo.«
»I sleep in a church. Life on the streets is very stressful. You don’t get a moment’s peace.«
»I came to Berlin to work in construction. Then I worked as a cook on the Halligen in the North Sea. That was good but I wasn’t allowed to bring my dog. I don’t know where things will go from here, but I’ve always managed so far.«
»I come from a family of railroaders in Friedrichshain. I became homeless after the Wall fell. After my mother died I had to leave her apartment. Since then, I’ve had nothing. I can’t actually remember anything nice in my life.«
»I had a lover – a well-known opera singer. We lived in luxury hotels when she performed. I’m still hoping to get some money from her. Or to get discovered as a musician.«
»Forestry worker, landscape gardener, paver. I had three professions. One needs a good eye and good taste to work with stone. The same goes for laying tiles so that they look good after. That’s all over now. Life outside is shit. What else can I say?«
»I could write books about my life. My parents. I’d like to erase all memory of them, but I can’t. I probably received more blows than meals.«
»How long have I been on the streets? No idea. Really. I don’t even know how old I am anymore.«
»I was twelve and my father had just died. Then party drugs, heroin, cocaine – everything. I was on the streets for three years. Workers from the city mission picked me up. I had an open wound on my leg, rotten and inflamed down to the bone. Now I live in an assisted living residence.«
»I sleep at friends’ and relatives’ places. I have no money. During the day I’m almost always out with my dog Zantia. She has to get a lot of movement and learn to trust people again.«
- They sleep under bridges, on ventilation shafts and in cellars. While some beg desperately, others try their best not to be noticed. According to the experts, up to an estimated 4,000 people are without a fixed abode in Berlin alone. Right in the middle of the city yet on the fringes of society. They are ‘homeless’. A word that doesn’t even begin to describe the underlying causes and says even less about the people concerned. What happened before they lost their abode, their footing, their self-esteem, their home? Who are these people we often pass by without a glance?
- Reto Klar, photo editor-in-chief, and Uta Keseling, a reporter for the Berliner Morgenpost, went in search of answers – and found them right outside their editorial offices, opposite Berlin Zoo train station. City West, the ‘former West’ of Berlin, is currently in an optimistic phase of transformation, yet more and more people are now living on the streets around Berlin Zoo station.
- In the ‘Bahnhofsmission’ at Berlin Zoo station, every day up to 600 people in need of help are given a warm meal and drink, donated clothes and social support. The German aid organisation is one of the biggest in Germany. Last winter, the reporters spent three weeks documenting everyday life there. For the pictures and interviews in this book, a small boiler room was cleared in the Bahnhofsmission to create an impromptu ‘photo studio’ and a place to talk undisturbed. The result is the portraits of 52 people who are often hardly noticed in everyday life – i.e. the unseen.
- We would like to thank the staff of the Bahnhofsmission at Berlin Zoo station, the Deutsche Bahn Foundation and especially those portrayed for their trust, without which this book would not have been possible.