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  • Writer's pictureRachael Page

Christmas, being Homeless and The Housing Crisis

Updated: Feb 12

For the past few years I've been able to avoid Christmas by leaving Berlin for Colombia to micro travel and work. This year though, I decided to stay in Germany to cut down on spending so that we can buy a property one day.


'We' is myself and my husband who I call Mr B in my online posts. We got married in spring 2022 and immediately moved out of a shitty sublet in Berlin partly because I hated the depressing shit-hole that cost us €600/month, and also because by paying rent we'd never save to buy our own place.


I was so 'over it' that I was prepared for us to live full time in my campervan- which sounds wonderful but which in practice is cold and dirty - and doesn't give Mr B a proper shower situation at the end of his dirty working day...


Fate shone on us at that point and we had the offer to buy a 'garden house' just outside the border of Berlin state. It's a 2-room, un-insulated cottage on rented land that we bought for €12k. It's possible to live there from April to October, but not through the winter months - not only because Nov - March it's extremely uncomfortably cold and there is so much condensation inside the house that it sends things mouldy and rotten, but also because the water is pumped up from the ground, and that would freeze over in the winter, giving us no water for drinking cooking and washing (plus it would burst the water pipes and expensive pump).


In Germany its traditional for some people to have these garden houses for the weekend. You can't register there as your main residence so if it's your only home you are therefore officially homeless. Now, since the housing crisis, these kind of houses are the only home some people (like us) can have.


It's quite ironic, since Mr B is a Zimmerei, and spends his working life putting roofs over other peoples heads from 6am-6pm.

*I do pay tax in Germany, I tried to register at the local tax office after evacuating our depressing Berlin sub-let, and the tax office told me that I MUST have a registered address where I reside. I replied, look, I'm homeless so you can either take my tax or not, but if you're refusing to let me pay the tax I'm going to need that in writing. They 'allowed' me to pay tax to the government who has totally failed my whole generation and every one since.


So this leaves us in the position of having to stay with Mr B's parents, and today is the 24th December. It occurred to me recently - not for the first time I'm sure, that Christmas is thrust upon us whether we like it or not.


Mr B's mother loves xmas and so we have festive songs on the radio, a big tree and every single surface in this large yet cramped house is covered in wooden toy figures which are traditional in the part of Germany that she's from.


It's claustrophobic.

With us two, the two parents, plus Mr B's brother and partner and child, the kitchen table can't seat us all properly and there's no place to stand and people keep bumping into each other.


It's a 3- level house that's probably 10 times bigger than our cottage, yet you can't move because it's so rammed with stuff. Theres literally no place to put down a yoga mat (They don't exercise anyway). It seems that living through the mean times of GDR turns people into hoarders. None of the stuff packed into the formica cabinets in our bedroom has been used in years or maybe decades, but we're having to live on top of it like another layer of street in Rome.


Our few belongings and my work desk are shoved in wherever possible. Some people, like me, find clutter very disturbing - just like xmas and being surrounded by meat at every meal as a vegetarian.


The distress or discomfort experienced when surrounded by other people's clutter is often referred to as "clutter stress" or "clutter anxiety." This term encompasses the negative emotions, such as anxiety, overwhelm, and frustration, that can arise when exposed to a cluttered environment that is not under one's control. Clutter stress can impact individuals differently, with some feeling agitated or uneasy in cluttered spaces, while others may experience more severe emotional reactions. Recognizing and addressing clutter stress is essential for maintaining mental well-being and creating environments conducive to relaxation and productivity.

I've always hated xmas food, not only because it's meat, but also the volume and regularity of meals and it makes you fat - "keep shoving it in" as my father said, keeps playing in my head as the smell of trying pork fills the air and pork-fat settles on every surface and floats up the stairs to our closed bedroom door.


Christmas-trauma...


The only light at the end of the tunnel is that we are currently in the process of buying a property with cash. Yes, with cash, sounds strange doesn't it? But in our situation landlords with rental properties and the banks see us as a risk, and governments don't see us as real human beings who have human rights to affordable housing so that we can keep the economy running and those pension pots full.


Note that I did enquire about a small mortgage to top-up our buying ability, but I was told that borrowing 50k would result in repaying €120k. As Mr. B said to me...


" I don't borrow 5 bucks and pay back twelve"

- I wholeheartedly agree, what a matrix trap.


We decided a few years ago after arriving in Berlin and seeing the situation that we would need to live very frugally and save money for land. Since Mister B is a builder, or 'Zimmerei 'in german which means carpenter, and since there is no way that we are ever going to pay half a million euros for some of the shit-hole, old-fashioned crap that people are trying to palm off onto our generations, we will build our own place the way we want it.


The property we are in the process of buying right now is a very rundown farmhouse, an hour outside of Berlin with an asbestos roof on half of it, and full of shit inside with stacked furniture and looks like it has not been liveable for at least a couple of decades. (It's much easer to buy a ruin so that you don't need planning permission)


[I would add a photo of the trash in the rooms in the farmhouse here, but my free wix account is up to 500MB so I can't]


We will need to spend the whole of our 2024 weekends making the front third liveable as an apartment area. This involves moving the sewage & gray water pit to the front of the property for the collection truck, removing all the rubbish from the inside, taking down all the walls and replacing all the water works and electricity.


We may well be living in a building site next winter, but there will be plenty of space to swing a rat and put down a yoga mat, and hopefully we will have some insulation, heating and a place to wash and cook.

I'm fully aware that some people are truly homeless at Christmas. but...


what really bothers me is that for most hard-working people, this kind of situation is the new normal.

Mr B's brother, his partner and 18-month old baby live in 2 wooden trailers near Zurich and would love to have a bathroom in their own house instead of trudging the baby over the muddy field every time they need a toilet or washing up done, or to fetch water by hand. They'll be having a 2nd child in June 2024.


I'm 51 years old and after a lifetime of paying off other people's mortgages with rocketing rents making saving impossible, I am just starting to build a home. Currently I have zero control over the space around me and I keep my food in boxes and a bar fridge in the basement.


Sometimes I feel like I'm at screaming point.

The way I cope is by working at my desk at all times that I'm not sleeping or exercising. If I were to give advice to someone who needs a roof over their head, for whatever reason, that being impossible rents or the impossibility of even being accepted for a rental apartment, I would say, live in the forest in the summer months or in a vehicle whilst working (yeah very difficult) and save cash to buy even a tiny piece of land.


..back to Christmas...


You would never know that there is a fuel crisis in Europe, the kitchen is kept at just below sauna levels, maybe 28 degrees C. I joked at one point if we threw another log into the fire we could get our bikini's on and have a proper sauna. I keep our bedroom door shut and the window open since the residual heat coming up from the floor is plenty to stay warm in fur boots and a wool jumper. I'm exasperated at the waste of fuel and all the plastic waste which is normal every-day here.


Tradition is peer pressure from dead people

Now at breakfast, I find out that the family-member sitting next to me has a cold / flu.... F'ing great because the flu I got in October put me out of proper work action for 6 weeks with brain fog. Mr B wants me to sit at every xmas meal even though he knows I hate it. Hardly anyone in the western world goes to christian church, but we have consumerism on the 24th December so we can give each other stuff we don't want or need and spread the flu.


Christmas sux, but forced Christmas sucks HARDER

This story is probably a microcosm of what's happening now for anyone born after around 1965.


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