Baddie and the Freegans
One of the first things that struck me when I came to Berlin was how many people seem to stop and peer into rubbish bins. Case in point, as I was waiting for my mom’s flight to land on Tegel airport a few days ago, I casually leaned against a wall in the vicinity of three dumpsters. In the 25 minutes I spent there, I counted 5 shabby-looking people carrying huge plastic bags or trolleys packed with stuff stop, inspect, rummage, and then go away. That is one every 5 minutes! I was just beginning to form the thought: “give us a chance to actually throw something in there!” when, from the corner of my eye I notice a guy stopping, and reaching out; a disembodied arm extended and presented an empty bottle. Someone had just finished drinking from that bottle; and it didn’t even manage to reach the bin.
The German “Pfand” system has something to do with this. You have to pay an extra something (from 5 to 25 cents, approximately) for your glass or plastic bottle, and get your money back when you return it. But because not all stores accept all bottles, people (like me) who buy a drink while out and about get tired of lugging it around and just chuck it in the nearest bin. A (most likely homeless) person will then almost instantly materialize, and snatch it up to add to the large collection they will redeem at the end of the day.
It’s not just bottles, though, and not just homeless people. Many “freegans” are attracted to getting stuff for free, and “recuperating trash sensibly”. There’s a “trashwiki” site, and from the pictures you can tell this is happening in Sweden and Denmark as well. Dumpster diving is a necessity for some, and an ecological trend for others. You might remember my friend’s story that homeless people have some sort of mailing list to let each other know where events are held which include free food. I had my doubts about the veracity of such a list. But that was before I found this article on Wikipedia. There is a detailed list there of the areas in Berlin where you can go dumpster-diving; the names and locations of shops who have “good dumpsters”; the quality of the food; the days of the week and times you are likely to find the best food; and so on!
And yet. Since I came to this city, I have received these things for free: a croissant; a carrot; 2 kilos of bell-peppers; 5 courgettes; 6 bananas; and a lot of bread. The croissant was a gift from the owner of a tiny Italian coffee shop – I bought one to go and he just threw in a second one for the sake of it (and probably because Italian men like to flirt with food). The carrot’s story has been told. The rest, though, were all freebies from the Kiezladen in street I used to live on in Prenzlauer Berg. This shop was small but right opposite my house and the staff were very friendly so I was a regular. One Saturday afternoon, as I went there around shortly before closing time for some last-minute purchases, they had some bread by the check-out and offered it to me for free. “We are closed on Sundays” they told me “and it would just get binned.” It was perfectly good, fresh stuff and I was very happy to get it. Needless to say, the following Saturday I went there around the same time on purpose. And wonder of wonders, it was not only bread, but fresh fruit and veggies they gave away. That’s how, over time, I got the peppers and courgettes (out of which I ate for a week, inventing several recipes and stuffing myself until I was heartily sick and tired of either) and bananas (I hate bananas. But they were free…)
It’s rather a pity that after a few months I had to move away. I absolutely love freebies, and always try the small samples offered in stores or markets with a giddy pleasure – while shying away from dumpster diving so far, at heart, you could say Baddie is a freegan…