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

For many years Rolf kept himself to himself whilst selling the street paper Hinz&Kunzt in Hamburg, Germany. But recently after his close friend, a fellow vendor’s death he has spoken out about his past and decided to move his life forward.

Rolf sells Hinz&Kunzt in Hamburg, Germany

By Jonas Füllner, Hinz&Künzt

Since the beginning of April last year, Rolf has had a roof over his head. His very own, real, apartment. A huge step for the 52-year-old. The Hinz&Kunzt vendor has been living on the street for more than 10 years. He frequents men’s shelters, hostels and other shelters in the city. When there’s nothing available, he sleeps somewhere on the streets of Hamburg. For a long time, having his own apartment wasn’t an issue. But when an apartment offer found its way to him a few weeks ago, he accepted immediately. Why? “It’s about time. I’m older now,” Rolf says.

I can’t remember when I saw Rolf for the first time. I’ve been working at Hinz&Kunzt for more than two years now. Rolf has always been there. We’ve never spoken to one another. Every morning, the large man with a somewhat stiff and awkward air, makes his way to the sales counter. He buys a couple of newspapers, gets a coffee and sits down on a stool next to the entrance. His back is very straight, as if he is going to jump right up again and leave. But Rolf is tranquility personified. While all around him people are hurrying around hectically, Rolf silently drinks his coffee. Only one or two veteran vendors are given an indistinct “hello.” Rolf has been with Hinz&Kunzt for more than 20 years.

But sometime over the last months, a change took place, probably triggered by the death of our longtime vendor Gerhard Kemme. Gerhard lived on the streets until his dying day. “The end will come if I stay on the streets,” Rolf considered. “But I want to live a few more years.”

Rolf suddenly took his life into his own hands. Not even four weeks later, he had all of his papers together, insurance, unemployment benefits application – all done alone. And he talked. About himself. Hesitantly. “I am the quiet type, never let anyone get close,” Rolf says, eventually divulging that he grew up in Bremen and was a trained typesetter. “Don’t have any more acquaintances or family there though. My parents are dead, too.”

What went wrong? How did he land on the street? “Alcohol,” Rolf says. “Lost my apartment, couldn’t pay the rent. The usual story.” A simple explanation. But Rolf adds, “I just didn’t want to do anything.”

Now, at 52, Rolf rises to the challenge. He intends to furnish his apartment alone, go shopping and tend to his household himself. “It’s a funny feeling when you stand there wanting to do something all over again,” Rolf says. “But suddenly everything falls into place, then I know what to do. When I want things to work, they work.”

Rolf has already once wanted things to work. That was six or seven years ago. He stopped drinking. Cold turkey. Without any help. “Wasn’t in very good physical shape. And I thought, if I keep drinking, then that’ll be the end of me,” Rolf says brusquely, as if breaking an addiction is the easiest thing in the world.

Read more vendor stories here every Wednesday.