#VendorWeek road trip: Surprise’s Swiss tour to promote vendors

By Eleanor Susan Lim

Hitting the road in an old VW van, the team at Swiss street paper Surprise will bring their vendors’ stories to the people of Basel, Berne and Zurich this week.

The promotional road trip is part of INSP’s international #VendorWeek celebration, which pays tribute to the thousands of men and women who sell street papers in 35 countries around the world.

With their innovative event, Surprise aims to make vendors – and their daily work – more visible to the public.

“What we really liked was the idea to send Surprise on tour,” says deputy director Jannice Vierkoetter. “We wanted to rent an old-timer tram in three cities and have readings and talks from vendors and authors on the topic public space and displacement.”

Unfortunately, renting trams in the cities where Surprise is sold turned out to be prohibitively expensive, so the team decided on another mode of transport. “We came up with the idea to rent a bus, and on a camping website we found the perfect VW old-timer for a reasonable price!”

During #VendorWeek, the eye-catching bus will be parked in the central squares of Basel, Berne and Zurich, where it will become a temporary distribution point where vendors can buy their magazines. Surprise vendors buy their magazines for €3.30 each and sell it on for €6, keeping the profit they earn.

The bus itself will become part of the exhibition: passers-by and vendors alike are invited to leave messages on it with chalk pens.

Once on board the bus, members of the public can listen to recorded stories from vendors about their hopes and dreams, and their experiences of homelessness and poverty. The team hopes that these recordings, and the accompanying portraits of vendors, will touch people’s hearts and encourage a personal connection.

And of course, Surprise staff will be on hand to provide further information about Surprise and its various community projects.

Jannice also has another tactic up her sleeve to get attention in the Swiss winter. At around noon each day, the team will distribute soup, cake, tea and coffee to anybody who might be hungry or need to warm up.

“Food is always helpful in making a first contact,” she explains.

Alongside the bus, the Surprise Strassenchor [street choir] will also perform twice during the week – inviting local street musicians to join in with their performances. Since 2009, the Strassenchor has helped vulnerable people to gain confidence through singing.

“We thought it would attract additional attention to our bus and fit in with our topic of public space and displacement,” Jannice explains. “Street musicians are often restricted by a string of rules and regulations when playing in public places, and struggle to make a living. “

Showcasing yet another of Surprise’s ongoing projects, vendors will be acting as tour guides nearby, showing members of the public an alternative side to their city. Excitement for the tours is building, says Jannice: “A secondary school class has already signed up for an appointment with our tour guide in Basel!”

The Surprise bus will be in Basel on Monday and Tuesday, Berne on Wednesday, and Zurich on Thursday and Friday.