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

By Jonas Füllner, Hinz&Kunzt 

Hinz&Kunzt vendor Rainer has been living in Hamburg for nearly 40 years now. But, born in Düsseldorf, he has never lost his Rhenish dialect. “Talking like this is just the way things are,” says the 63-year-old.

What brought him to Hamburg? “I’m no stranger to debt,” says Rainer, grinning. “It forced me into this.” Back then, he had just lost his job at Mannesmann [a German industrial conglomerate]. He barely had time to find his feet in Hamburg before he meeting a woman, he tells us. “That didn’t happen to me in the Rhineland,” he explains, and laughs. They married, and had two daughters.

Photo: Mauricio Bustamante

At the time, Rainer was trying to make a living on the stock market. He didn’t make a lot of money doing that, and he and his wife argued regularly. “And I also worked far too much,” he admits. After their separation, he never had another serious relationship. Looking back, he says, “I would only ever get involved in something like that once.”

If he had stuck to the plan he had made when he was younger, perhaps he would have been spared relationship woes. “I seriously wanted to become a priest,” says Rainer. “But to get there would have involved a lot of study. That made me give up on my plan.”

Instead, he slaved away at work: in warehouses, in demolition, as a car mechanic, a painter, a joiner. As he had no education, he took whatever work came his way. Nothing was permanent, although that suited him: due to a curvature in his spine, Rainer wasn’t very strong. Eventually he found work as a nurse for the elderly.

Then, 20 years ago, his back trouble got worse. “I could hardly move anymore,” he remembers.

Once again, he was forced to change his job. From that day on, he got a job in inland navigation. Rainer tells us he travelled to Brunsbüttel, to Berlin, and then down to Duisburg.

Rainer has always been drawn to water: when he was eight, his father taught him to row. As an adult, he got his sailing certificate and then took every opportunity he could to set sail. So he was happy when he was able to turn his hobby into a career.

There was only one catch: because he not only worked on the boat, but also lived on it, he had to give up his home.

Rainer was nearly 60 when his boss filed for insolvency. His work was gone, along with the roof above his head. It became apparent that he had none of the qualifications necessary to work in inland navigation. He went to prison for four weeks. After his release, he was left basically empty-handed.

“In spite of this, I’ve never lived on the streets,” says Rainer. He found places to stay with friends – and started selling Hinz&Kunzt. He only really slept rough for two or three nights. Before the situation escalated, he reached out for help to Isabel Kohler, a social worker at the street paper. She arranged for him to work in a residential home for older people, where he has been living for over a year now.

Rainer is happy. And he has a goal: he is saving up for a dinghy with an electric motor. He would like to sail it to visit his daughter in Elmshorn, with whom he keeps in close contact. “Then I’ll be free to go punting on the Krückau River in Schleswig-Holstein,” he says, laughing. “That’s worth saving up for – I wouldn’t have to pay to use Hamburg public transport!”

Translated from German to English by Dominque Mason.