By Misha Leuschen, Hinz&Kunzt
Peter sells Hinz&Kunzt in front of the Rewe supermarket in Altonaer Street. He decided to become homeless around 10 years ago. “I deliberately wanted to destroy myself,” says the 48-year-old. He resigned from his job, gave notice on his flat and wanted to smoke marijuana, “until I ceased to exist”. A lot of things happened at the same time, but there had actually been something wrong in Peter’s life right from the start.
He’s the youngest of eight children and his family lived in dilapidated house in Harburg until they moved to the Karo neighbourhood. When Peter was 10, his mother left for a course of medical treatment. Two weeks later she asked for her evening dress to be sent to her. She never came home: she had needed the dress to celebrate her engagement to another man. Peter’s father broke down, became depressed and started to drink. Peter began to skip school, begging for food on the streets and helping out at church. When he couldn’t take it any longer at his father’s, he moved to a care home for young people.
Although Peter left school without any qualifications, he managed to get an apprenticeship as a painter by using his brother’s diplomas. He was successful and he worked as a painter for a while until he was hit by depression. His colleagues had given him a terrier, named Fini. “But she got sick and died in my arms,” he says, softly. This loss brought up lots of things in his life that had really wanted to forget. “I couldn’t deal with it. I let myself go completely,” he says.
Peter doesn’t know how he managed to pull himself together. But he picked himself up, got another job and began work his way up again. Things were also going well in his personal life. Peter met a woman and they had a son in 1991. But the relationship broke down and endless arguments about visiting rights wore him down. “I cried a lot and had suicidal thoughts,” he remembers. His son’s pain was the deciding factor for giving up the fight. He didn’t want the boy to be torn between two parents. “I saw him for the last time in 1999. It still hurts.”
Peter immersed himself in his work, trying to supress his grief and threw himself into a new marriage. When it failed, he gave up. For ten years, he rotated through men’s’ accommodation – sometimes living in rooms, sometimes in shared flats. The quiet, polite man only rarely expresses how bad things are, “I always put on a brave face.”
“I always wondered why women never smiled back when I smiled at them,” he says with a twinkle in his eye. “But no wonder – I didn’t have any teeth!”
Peter discovered Hinz&Kunzt through a vendor and wanted to give it a try too. There was one problem, however. “I thought that it was a gay magazine because of the two men’s names in the title!” It was a while before he realised it was a homeless newspaper. He’s been on board since 2010, but took a break because of another bout of depression. He still has to force himself to sell the magazine, some days. “I don’t want any pity.”
He’s feeling good at the moment. “I always wondered why women never smiled back when I smiled at them,” he says with a twinkle in his eye. “But no wonder – I didn’t have any teeth! I didn’t do anything for myself for years. Now I’m getting a new set of teeth, because I finally feel I have a slightly brighter future.”
Translated from German to English by Johanna McCalmont / Translators Without Borders