Our vendors: Gerri (Augustin, Vienna, Austria)

Interview recorded by Ruth Weisman, Augustin

I have been with Augustin for 20 years. I ended up there by accident. I had debts; I ended up on the street and then decided to get involved in a load of nonsense.

I have a council flat now, but I only use it to sleep – otherwise I am always on the move. Always barefoot. Except in winter, because it’s too cold. A lot of people say to me, “I wouldn’t do that in the city. It’s dirty and what happens when dogs leave their mess?” But I say, “Well, there’s water for things like that.” I don’t give myself any injuries either: you just have to keep your eyes on the ground. Most people look at me as if I’m stupid, but I don’t care. People who know me think it’s great.

I always go around the pubs on the Gürtel [a bar district] and sell the magazine. A few things have changed over the last 20 years: a few pubs have gone, because they’ve been torn down, for example. A while after I started, I was told by a few people that I didn’t need to ask any more if I could sell there because everyone knew me by then. Whether I’m on the Gürtel or on the underground, pretty much everyone knows me. My new motto is: If you don’t know Gerri, you don’t know Vienna. People also recognise me by my outfit. I also chat with people. If you hang out in pubs and bars you have to be able to get on with anyone. Most people want to talk more than anything. If I pick up on that, then I will start a conversation.

I work my 16 hours over the weekend, and I like being out and about during the night because there are hardly any other sellers around. I am on first name terms with all of the bar owners. They know that I am honest and they like that. I don’t beg for money.

I am what they call a Zuagraster here: a local who was born elsewhere. I come from a small village no-one has heard of, near St. Pölten. 16 houses and 2 pubs. When I came to Vienna I became a punk. There isn’t really a punk scene anymore, though. Before, the punks were hard. We really didn’t care. We weren’t scared of the cops. I did spend two days in prison one time. But we really didn’t stand for it.

This has always been my attitude, though. For example, I hate 12-hour shifts. [They are] not for me, but for the people who have to work those hours. And you can’t choose to do it freely, it’s more like: Will you work 12-hour shifts? And if you don’t want to, then it’s like: See you later. They are bringing it in everywhere really slowly, so no-one realises. Then, one day, people will have no family life left.

The most important things in life for me are to be well and for people in the street to leave me in peace. I don’t have a problem with that. If someone starts saying stupid things, then I will challenge them–but that’s just normal!

Translated from German by Nastassja Thomas