“I see myself as an astronaut far above the earth” – Hinz&Kunzt vendors on how COVID-19 has changed their lives

By Jonas Füllner, Hinz&Kunzt

“I spend a lot of time sitting at home, playing my violin and reading,” Jan tells us by phone. This Hinz&Künzt vendor finally found an apartment four years ago after being homeless for a long time. At 74 he’s in the ‘vulnerable’ bracket and therefore in self-imposed quarantine. “I see myself as an astronaut far above the earth,” he says and chuckles at his own ability to fantasise.

Then he becomes serious again: “People don’t realise how lucky they are. The virus may be dangerous and deadly. But no one need be afraid that their house will be shot at or that a bomb might go off as was the case during the war.”

Matthias has a similar point of view. Homeless, he lives in Haus Jona, a homeless shelter. Before the coronavirus crisis, those who stayed overnight there had to leave during the day. Now they’re allowed to occupy the rooms round the clock. “I keep away from groups of people though,” he tells us over the phone. “At the same time my thoughts go to those who are unfortunate enough to have to sleep on the street.”

Jan, 74, was homeless for ten years. Reading from a children’s book. Jan tells Primary schools the tale of life on the street, ‘An averagely happy life’. [Credit: Mauricio Bustamante]

One such individual is Micha. Before the sale of Hinz&Kunzt was stopped as part of pandemic restrictions, the 35-year-old was still in good spirits. Fear of the virus was alien to him: “The homeless have strong immune systems.” This was reiterated by Kai. The 45-year-old has been living on the streets for many years. This past winter, he’d found a refuge through the Winter Emergency initiative of Hinz&Kunzt. The fact selling of the magazine has been paused has deeply wounded him. “I’m back to begging,” he admitted. But he remains optimistic. “Don’t let things get you down” is his motto. Sooner or later the virus will die down and normal life will resume.

In contrast, Miro is rather afraid of this eventuality. These exceptional circumstances came at just the right time for the 54-year-old. When one of the homeless people on the Winter Emergency initiative became ill with coronavirus, Miro and the others on the program found themselves quarantined. In previous years, the program had ended on 1 April. This year they are allowed to stay until the end of May. Even so, Miro has the same problem as all the other sellers of Hinz&Künzt. Rainer tells us what it is: “It’s beyond me, how I shall manage over the coming weeks without selling the magazine.”

Translated from German by Louise Thomas