Our vendors: Holger (Hinz&Kunzt, Hamburg, Germany)

By Jonas Füllner, Hinz&Kunzt

Every Tuesday and Friday, Holger stands at the Isemarket, selling Hinz&Kunzt in the early morning hours.

“I’m the market crier,” the 53-year old says. “People love it.” Holger isn’t doing it to increase his sales; rather, he’s doing it for the delight of visitors.

Appreciation is something that Holger hasn’t experienced much in life. Hamburg-born Holger went into a children’s home at a young age. He was rebellious and roamed the red-light district as a teenager. When he was old enough, he did casual jobs and “made it from dishwasher to waiter”, Holger tells me, with a twinkle in the eye. But that’s where it ended. “I can’t read or write,” Holger explains. “But I can cook.”

Things were okay for a couple of years. At the end of the 1980s, Holger was lured away and started working in a remnants shop which was “the biggest mistake of my life.” The problem? The shop sold stolen goods that he was supposed to organize. And if he didn’t? “I was given a whipping,” Holger admits. As a result of this job, he got into a terrible relationship of dependency. His Italian boss used the debts Holger had with him to blackmail him. “I wanted to go on the run but he ambushed me,” he remembers. “I had bruises everywhere.”

Photo: Mauricio Bustamante

Holger finally arranged to be caught while stealing. In prison, he was safe from his tormentor. After his release, he drowned his problems in alcohol and drugs. Drinking two bottles of vodka a day became commonplace. “What can you do all by yourself?” Holger asks. “You can’t hang wallpaper every day.”

Why didn’t he leave town? “I am a true Hamburger, no one will get me away from here,” he says defiantly. “I went to Hannover, Berlin and Düsseldorf. What can I say? They’re not Hamburg.”

At the beginning of the 1990s, Holger saw no alternative but to disappear. “I was simply scared of the Italian.” He hid in a basement and, later on, he slept under bridges. That’s how he ended up homeless. New friends from the street introduced him to Hinz&Kunzt almost 20 years ago. After that, they even helped him to find to his own apartment. Shortly after, he heard that his tormentor had died of a heart attack. “That took a load off my mind,” Holger admits.

But Holger’s real happiness comes from a different source: The die-hard St. Pauli supporter found his big love during a St. Pauli game seven years ago. Holger accompanied a disabled person to the stadium to watch the game for free. His now-girlfriend, also a wheelchair user, was there too. They fell in love quickly. “She painted a picture for me – with a question: ‘Do you want to be with me?’ Just like we used to do in school,” he tells me and blushes. “I immediately responded with ‘yes’.”

Translated from German by Jessica Michaels