Our vendors: Roger Meier (Surprise, Bern, Switzerland)

By Isabel Mosimann, Surprise

At the beginning of the 80s, soon after finishing my miller’s apprenticeship, I moved from the Canton of Aargau to Bern for love. The love disappeared, but Bern has remained. As I do now, back then I lived for a while without a roof over my head. Because I knew the street people pretty well, the Bern addiction help foundation Contact hired me to keep order in the open drug scene at Kleine Schanze and later in the Kocherpark. I did needle exchanges, cleaned up garbage, and in addition helped addicts over and over who’d been surprised by an overdose. I’d estimate that I brought about 400-600 people back to life during that time.

In the middle of the 90s, things got somewhat quieter. My partner at the time and I had a daughter and two sons and lived a bit outside of Bern. I have another son from an earlier, shall we say, encounter, and I’ve stayed in somewhat casual contact with him, though he didn’t grow up with me.

When the oldest daughter of the younger three children had just turned seven, our family broke apart. Back then I was working a lot and didn’t notice that my ex-partner was overwhelmed until it was too late – didn’t see that she was drinking more and more and couldn’t care for the children adequately. I didn’t deal well with the whole situation either, and finally had a nervous breakdown. We decided to have the children placed in a foster situation so that they could grow up in a stable environment. The next ten years I lived without a regular home again, but I organized things so that the children could visit me every other weekend in the apartment of a [female] colleague. And when I wasn’t with them, thanks to modern means of communication, my children could always reach me.

For last three and a half years, I was living in an old mobile home on a farmer’s land. Last April, the mobile home was struck by lightning and burned up. At first I was in shock, but I soon understood why it had to happen: because I was once again homeless, I went back to the city, and people from the municipal intervention group Pinto, who knew me from before, asked me if I would be interested in doing city tours for the Surprise Foundation. Surprise had contacted them to enquire about an appropriate city guide for their so-called Social City Tour. After the first conversation it was decided: as soon as the social city tour in Bern is fully organized, I will lead tours like they already have in Basel and Zurich. And until that happens, I’ll sell the street magazine.

“I don’t need a lot to live on, because I live under the open sky.”

Since May I’ve been one of the Surprise salespeople at the Bärenplatz and I’m slowly building up my clientele. Besides that I’m a listener, comforter or heartache box for complete strangers. I also help wherever else I can. Once a week, for example, an older woman comes by and I always help her buy a ticket and get into the tram. Every day I help a gentleman who has a hard time walking over the tram rails. For many people, I watch their heavy shopping bags while they quickly go take care of another errand.

Before, I mostly worked in construction, as a part-time mason, roofer and scaffolder. I’ve even been on the very top of the Berner Münster cathedral steeple. I’ve also had jobs renovating the concrete walls at the Mühleberg nuclear power plant, and hanging all day long on a rope plastering the Grand Dixence Dam walls in Wallis. Since an occupational accident six years ago, when a forklift ran over my foot, and with advancing arthritis, I can’t work full time anymore. Instead I do things like building a cat ladder for friends, painting a garden cottage or building furniture or lamps, like I did my very first week in the new Surprise office in Bern.

I don’t need a lot to live on, because I live under the open sky. Even so, I’m trying to set aside 500 to 600 Francs so I can fulfil my dream: a mobile ‘happy bed’! I want to build a bicycle trailer, weatherproof, with a comfortable mattress inside, where I can sleep comfortably.