Survive in Berlin (Flashback 2013)

 © Sébastien Van Malleghem / Berlin / 2013

Survive in Berlin

When I came in Berlin during the winter 2012 - 2013, I started by walking the street day and night. Going straight on to talk to people, see how the city that was behaving at the end of it’s underground hype. After many random walks, travels in subway lines, loads of music, I met punks and their dogs in the subway station that led me to my main work “The Last Shelter”. But aside from that short portfolio, the story has always been deeper. I knew that Berlin and it’s margin was also facing a harsh reality: heavy winter: about -15°C down to - 20°C could be reached outside at night.

Inside one of the tents (sort of Yurt made with objects found in the streets), the men and women that were in Teepee Town were usually warming up with a small fire inside, making so much smoke it was hard to breathe in some of them. Some smoked crack or pot in their tents and keep on drinking talking and living without creating any troubles.

Inside one of the tents (sort of Yurt made with objects found in the streets), the men and women that were in Teepee Town were usually warming up with a small fire inside, making so much smoke it was hard to breathe in some of them. Some smoked crack or pot in their tents and keep on drinking talking and living without creating any troubles.

But many homeless and people in need I met where not living inside the Yurts or basic tents on the waste lands of “Teepee Town”, neither in Köpi. They would be in the streets in the cold, or with a home but they didn’t had enough money to buy food or hold on during the entire month.

Two friends, homeless, drunk at the bus stop. Berlin 2013.

Two friends, homeless, drunk at the bus stop. Berlin 2013.

I then did some research and found a Catholic Organisation called “Berliner Stadt Mission” which is an organisation emanating from the church to help people in need by providing food and “comfort of God”. They provide food each night and shelters to sleep for people in need. Approximatively two hundred people showed up every night at the doors of the organisation. (January 2013, stats must have changed by now.)

I mostly never showed these photographs because I thought they might have interested newspapers and magazines in Germany en therefore I kept them out. But as I was working and sending portfolios to them, I would receive these types of answers from the redactions:

XXX sent me your work about "The Last Shelter". Really great pictures, they seem to be shot in the Bronx, very astonishing that they are from Berlin. Nevertheless  atmosphere is very depressing, that could be a problem for a publication in XXX magazine. Aren´t there any cosy moments?

I always kept calm and respectful with the redaction by email but in my head… Man… no there is NO “COSY MOMENTS” when you try to survive in the streets, when you lost almost everything, when it’s minus 20 outside, when you are addicted to substance to avoid the sordid reality of loneliness and poverty. There is no “COSY MOMENTS”.

Another editor once told me “Next time, try to go photographs butterfly and bumblebees” and then hang up the phone without any other type of answer.

Well anyway, we as photographers and journalist always have heard stupid comments about our reportage, I just think it’s a lack of respect and professionalism towards the humans and the situation we are talking about.

In the end, I just didn’t propose the story anymore and the pictures where kept low in my hard disk. I just always liked them. Here are few I wanted to share with you.

When the Berliner Stadt mission was opening their doors for food service in the evening. Dozens of people of all kind where waiting in line in the cold. Berlin, Jan 2013.

When the Berliner Stadt mission was opening their doors for food service in the evening. Dozens of people of all kind where waiting in line in the cold. Berlin, Jan 2013.

Documenting social realities. Men and women sleeps where they can be safe. For many homeless it is almost impossible to sleep in the streets. As I wrote in “Réagir” (Drug addicts are in the same situation) It is impossible because it is  not safe . A person trying to sleep in the streets can be attacked, robed and raped. That is why some of them are sleeping on the floor here. It’s warm, safe, and they need to rest; unfortunately there was no more space to rest so they slept on the floor, it’s better than a manhole in the streets.

Documenting social realities. Men and women sleeps where they can be safe. For many homeless it is almost impossible to sleep in the streets. As I wrote in “Réagir” (Drug addicts are in the same situation) It is impossible because it is not safe. A person trying to sleep in the streets can be attacked, robed and raped. That is why some of them are sleeping on the floor here. It’s warm, safe, and they need to rest; unfortunately there was no more space to rest so they slept on the floor, it’s better than a manhole in the streets.

Though Russian guys first yeld at me, then agreed that I could photograph while they were playing chess. I noticed the scars on the arm and the marks on the table. It felt like a scene out of the 4oies, but no. It is 21 century in Europe. Berlin, Jan 2013.

Though Russian guys first yeld at me, then agreed that I could photograph while they were playing chess. I noticed the scars on the arm and the marks on the table. It felt like a scene out of the 4oies, but no. It is 21 century in Europe. Berlin, Jan 2013.

Berlin, Jan, 2013.

Berlin, Jan, 2013.

A suspicious look, Berlin, Jan 2013.

A suspicious look, Berlin, Jan 2013.

Two friends eating. There was a shelf on the side with few books people could borrow and read. One of the guys stood up and went by himself to pick that book. I didn’t say a thing, but when I was aiming I loved that eye looking at us like a mirror.

Two friends eating. There was a shelf on the side with few books people could borrow and read. One of the guys stood up and went by himself to pick that book. I didn’t say a thing, but when I was aiming I loved that eye looking at us like a mirror.

Later on, the man on the left reading his book. Then I had a nice talk with the man eating. Berlin, Jan 2013.

Later on, the man on the left reading his book. Then I had a nice talk with the man eating. Berlin, Jan 2013.

This was only one evening at the Berliner Stadt Mission, I went there twice. I documented the streets of Berlin and Teepee town for several weeks on my own. If you wish to see more of it just ask a questions in the comment section.

Thank you for reading,

Sebastien