Thursday, November 8, 2012

An ecological family living in Berlin

In January 2010, Nicola Zolin, Benjamin Lesage and I, Raphael Fellmer, departed from The Hague (Netherlands) and set off on our ‘Journey of Humanity’ without any money, hitchhiking over sea and land, from Europe to Mexico.

To go on this path that had not yet been trodden turned out to be a true adventure from the very first moment. It was only made possible thanks to the thousands of people that, wherever we ca¬¬me to meet them, gave us their trust, their food, and their love. In Mexico, Nieves Palmer, a girl from Mallorca that had joined us in Guyana, became pregnant, and after having travelled 32,000 kilometres over land and water with over 500 vehicles in fifteen months, we went back to Berlin.

These fifteen months changed our lives completely. Already while crossing the Atlantic a second time, we felt that we didn’t want to, or even weren’t able to participate any longer in the excess-consumption society we live in. No more consumption, no more looking away from the billions of people that suffer from hunger every day. We decided to maintain our money strike in order to raise awareness of (bring attention to) the injustice, the suffering and the destruction of the environment, and at the same time to find possible solutions that enable a life more in peace and harmony with people, animals and nature.

The basement of our good friends’ house in Kleinmachnow, not far outside the gates of the capital, became our new home, and our family life started when Nieves gave birth to our dear daughter Alma Lucia, a gift from heaven.

After ten months of saving all that was still edible and usable from supermarket waste containers three to four nights a week, and always finding more than we could eat ourselves, sharing our treasures from the bins with neighbours, friends and people in need, it became clear to us that this waste of food shouldn’t go on like this; that this matter called for a more professional approach.

In the hope and trust that in health food stores we would find people who share our dream of a world without food waste, we wrote emails to three of them. We had to wait a long time, but then first a rejection came: “Nothing edible is thrown away.” The second one never replied. But then we received the long-awaited mail straight from the CEO of Bio Company, Georg Kaiser, who invited us kindly for a talk. We jumped up in excitement and were very happy with this breakthrough that paved the way to a society that doesn’t waste food. A stage win!
During the pleasant talk, it turned out that Georg was already trying to deal with this matter by intensifying and expanding the distribution of still edible, but not sellable products to charity foundations such as Caritas. We found it nevertheless important, apart from this ‘passing on’, to refine the overall concept as to how a modern health-food store can assume an even more structurally ecological policy. The results of our now fruitful cooperation speak for themselves: instead of the usual two big containers brimming with leftovers, now only one gets barely full, due to even more accurate selection. Inspired by seeing how our request kicked in open doors, employees at other branches of Bio Company started to regularly keep an eye on products. Friends and other like-minded people are now, in contrast to other health food stores, welcome to come and pick up any leftovers. Our sustainability consulting work bore fruit and we continued our common pursuit to set an example in terms of ecology and environmental protection. It’s nice to see that transparency and honesty pay off and that, when we deal with each other in openness, anything is possible.

It is not only our aim to help Bio Company in becoming more environmentally-friendly, but also to be a (positive) beacon that customers can use to orient themselves. Only once the consciousness of the consumers is sharpened by the notion that the vast majority of supermarkets are not separating their rubbish truly responsibly, let alone passing on the goods that can’t be sold anymore, will more and more people question whether they want to buy from these stores any longer. Every consumer should become aware that his or her choice of a product or company determines its bankruptcy or positive development. If we had a say in it, as of tomorrow there would be no more Coca Cola, McDonald’s and so on.
As we wanted to expand the concept further, we thought about designing a practical and effective app that, proper to the spirit of the time, links those who are looking for food with those who have and want to give food. That’s how we discovered, a platform for any farmer, supermarket, restaurant or individual who wants to share still edible products. As this was exactly our idea, we wasted no time and contacted the initiators, Sebastian Engbrocks and Valentin Thurn, the last one also being the director of ‘Taste the Waste’.

Our project was already in the crowd-funding phase and we sat down with Sebastian immediately in order to seek synergies and look for ways to bring this great food-saving idea to the public and potential sponsors. Although we initially thought the designing of the app would have to involve money, we decided not to invent the wheel a second time but to rather turn it into a crowd-sourcing project right away. This way the quest would not be for potential investors, but for programmers, designers and others that want to use their talent and vocation for the benefit of the earth and all that live on it. They would be involved in wholeheartedly and passionately getting one of the most important and useful apps going and in constantly improving it.  
The potential is enormous; in Europe alone every day more than half of all food products are destroyed. On a global scale it is still one third. More and more people are getting concerned about the excessive waste-producing society that we have been conditioned to accept. Instead of the careless throwing away of food, a rethinking is taking place. Awareness for the environment and animals, and compassion for the millions of children that don’t have enough nutrition to survive the first year of their lives, are rising.

Months later, fate brought our family to Berlin-Zehlendorf. More precisely, to our good friends Alke and Georg Goosman, whom we knew from Kleinmachnow. Since May 2012 we have been fortunate to share the Martin Niemöller Haus with Angelika and Renate and all the other lovely people there. This peace centre is located in the historical building where pastor Niemöller was arrested for his resistance against the National Socialists, as early as 1937. He survived the war in prison and continued to fight for peace and international understanding in the years that followed. For more than 30 years now, the building has been used by peace organizations such as Amnesty International, Aktion Sühnezeichen, Versöhungsbund, Service Civil International and many organizations and groups alike. One can sense the good energy that lingers there. The place is ideal for environmental- and peace-activists like us and we feel really good there.
We eat only vegan food these days, since 51 percent of greenhouse gas emissions are produced by the animal industries. These animals are fed more than 50 percent of the world’s grain harvest and even more than 90 percent of the soy harvest, and usually have a short, painful life of fattening and exploitation. We have decided upon vegetable food because this is the healthiest alternative, not only for our bodies, but also for the well-being of all people. If we didn’t throw away one third of the global food supply, we could feed 14 billion people.

Besides this, we believe that peace in the world can arise only from inner peace. Leo Tolstoy said: “As long as there are slaughterhouses, there will be battlefields.” We humans are responsible for the death of more than 60 billion animals annually, while in most cases we even pay someone else to do the killing for us. Jean Ziegler even considers the death of the 20 million humans that die of hunger every year, as murder. Each of us has the possibility to undertake something to end the cruel situation in which these people and animals find themselves. However, doing this should not only be considered an opportunity, but as our utmost human duty. If we treated all living creatures and earthlings the way we would like to be treated ourselves, a world in peace and without hunger would not be a Utopia for the next century, but a reality that we could create today. An old Latin-American proverb says: “When someone dreams alone, his dream will stay a dream forever. But when we begin to dream together, that’s already the beginning of a reality.”

The lifestyle of Europeans and the inhabitants of most other countries in the west is not one of sustainability, but one programmed on growth. But more than ever before we humans are dependent on a planet with limited resources. Instead of always faster, higher and further, we should slow down and let the economy shrink. This would reduce stress, depression, loneliness, as well as many other diseases of our modern civilization. These days many people live next to and on top of each other, but not so much with each other. The social ‘for each other’ is vital for the peaceful ‘with each other’, from which all benefit. Apart from the mental and physical suffering of our society, our individualistic and materialistic system also inevitably leads to self-destruction. If all seven billion people on earth lived the way we do, we would need three to four planets to support us. The fast development of our affluent society in the past 150 years has come at the cost of nature’s, our fellow citizens’ and other species’ destruction. As a result, fragile ecosystems are getting more and more out of balance. Before more forests get cut down and more rivers, lakes and seas get polluted; before more species get eradicated and more land becomes contaminated, we should all get to work and collectively do that which is in our nature: to mindfully treat and save all that is with respect and love. It is we who are dependent on our environment, not the other way around.

In an attempt to stress the urgency of the situation, my family tries to live as sustainably and as ecologically as possible. We eat what others don’t want anymore. We use second-hand clothes, furniture, cloth diapers and so on, since almost all we need nowadays, or think we need to own, is already there. It’s just enough to share things, to lend and borrow, to repair what is broken, to exchange and to jointly exploit. The Martin Niemöller Haus is a good example of how such a beautiful place can be shared by hundreds, even thousands of people that in the end all benefit from it. We almost only ride bicycles to get around, and our dear daughter is in the trailer at the back. When I have to go to lectures, conferences or media appearances that are further away, I hitchhike and use one of the 43 million cars registered in Germany, for once the steel giants are in motion, on average 3,7 seats remain vacant.
We are not trying to build a barter-society, but rather to form a harmonizing community of which we all are a part, and in which every individual offers up his or her gifts and talents for the good of all. Every human being has a calling, special qualities, experiences, and knowledge that are shareable. The beauty of it is that one is not only passionately and joyfully helping, but also sharing and supporting. Everything multiplies and nobody has less, but more of each other. To give is to take; to help someone else means to do good to oneself. This is the food for the soul and an elementary part of our being.

Instead of paying rent we take care of the gardens, the kitchen, and help with the general running of the Martin Niemöller House. We organize work camps and events, do office- and renovating jobs, and help wherever we can. Together we do interviews and features for radio, press and television. I give lectures at schools, universities and conferences; I write articles and am currently working on a book. Nieves gives free Spanish conversation classes, and together we do the most important thing of all: being loving, responsible and present parents, in which Nieves takes the lead.

Finally, the three of us would like to thank all the lovely people that support and help us, that send us good thoughts and have faith in us. Only thanks to you is our life possible! It feels right to make the world a little more peaceful and harmonious with you and if we continue to dream together and tune our thoughts, words and actions, Utopia will become reality.

For more information about living, traveling and a world without money as well as ecological tips on how everyone can reduce their carbon footprint visit:

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