By Frederike Arns, Hinz&Kunzt
“The place where I sell the magazine feels like home. I’m there on a regular basis and its somewhere that has to take the place of my non-existent apartment,” says Hinz&Kunzt vendor Petra, who is 55. Her pitch is in front of the Edeka supermarket in the Winterhude quarter of Hamburg and she is there six days a week, for five or six hours a day. She works longer hours in the summer and shorter hours in the winter because of the cold. Petra rarely takes time off, but, in the summer, she indulges herself with five days at the Wutzrock Festival. “If I’m not at my pitch, my customers always tell me how happy they are to see me again when I get back. Of course, you don’t get rich selling the papers – but your encounters are priceless.” Petra likes to natter with her customers about what’s going in the world, how the local football teams HSV and St. Pauli are getting on (“As a true Hamburg girl I’m a Bremen fan!”) and, of course, they chat about dogs.
Petra’s dog, Luna, is the apple of her eye – if she doesn’t obey her, Petra lovingly calls her “Else”. “People from the supermarket sometimes bring me a coffee or something and they also bring Luna dog food,” Petra says. “I hardly have to buy any of that myself.” Luna even has a dog walker. Petra’s job can be boring for her dog and Petra is pleased when someone looks after Luna. “Luna is only happy to go with this one person,” Petra tells me. “We’ve tried others, but it didn’t work out.”
Petra became homeless three years ago. She used to live with her father in the Lohbrügge quarter, together with her sister and her son (Petra also has a daughter and is in regular contact with both of her children). When their father died, they could not extend the tenancy because Petra’s sister was a sub-tenant, not a co-tenant. Since then, Petra has moved from one friend’s couch to another. “The main thing is that I don’t have to sleep on the streets,” Petra says. “I can always shower regularly. So, I probably look like a shop assistant and fit in in the noble district of Winterhude,” she adds, with a smile.
Petra receives Hartz IV benefits, but unfortunately never completed her education. “When I was young, I had other things going on: I had a lot of fun and didn’t go in for learning,” she explains. Prior to Hartz IV, Petra worked in pubs or call centres: “My first call centre job was good fun because I could help people out with good advice,” Petra says. “The jobs I had later made me realise that one was probably the exception. I often had to cheat people, and that’s not my thing.”
Petra knows that she is not a straightforward personality. “I know I can be a bit bad-tempered,” she admits. “My relationships are not like that, though. I don’t really want to go into it.” As long as she has her children, her dog and her friends, everything is good. One thing that she would love is to have her own apartment again. “I want to settle down with Luna. I’ve had enough of all this wandering about,” she says. “I’d like to have all my stuff in the one place. That would be great.”
Translated from German by Edward Alaszewski