The rooster woke us up this morning. Cock-a-doodle-do, cock-a-doodle-do, COCK-A-DOODLE-DO, he said. I rolled over in bed, trying to block the noise out with my pillow, imagining putting an end to him and my veganism right then and there and going after him with the axe. Cock-a-doodle-DO, COCK-A-DOODLE-DO, he repeated at ten-minute intervals. Mars groaned. I groaned. Then one of our neighbors started chopping wood. Nothing to do but get up and start drinking coffee.
It’s the second round of chickens we’ve had living here. The first went with the hippies to the new wagenplatz when the university kicked us off of half of our land. Then a few people went in together and got a few more, people who wanted to really know their eggs came from chickens that were free range. (Here here!) When the rooster first arrived, he was too young to cock-a-doodle. That was six months ago. Now he sings to hear the sound of his own voice as the chickens cower behind him, spooked from being attacked by someone’s dog two weeks ago.
I get dressed quickly. It’s not as cold inside as it is outside, but the fire is out now, has probably been out for a few hours, and I can see my breath.
I lumber into the house for coffee. The antifa-vegans cook the Friday vokü, and the smell of carrot-ginger soup and hummous taunts me from the kitchen. It’s about noon, and there are already five or six of us sitting at the bar. Smoking, drinking coffee, talking shit. I try Swan’s soup and eat Scissor’s leftovers, sucking down coffee, wishing I could inject the caffeine directly into my bloodstream.
It’s a morning like most others. Wednesday Swan and I cooked. Salad, potato-hazelnut soup, noodles with a tomato-veggie sauce, from-scratch chocolate chip cookies. There are always enough vokü leftovers to feed us, to prevent us from spending any money on food, to keep us too full and too lazy to go dumpster diving. Until the weekend. On the weekend we venture out, bundled up on our bikes, big empty backpacks still musty from the last week’s booty.
Full now–of food and of conversation–I walk back to the wagon, light the fire, and sit down to write, to play guitar, to read. I chop wood, I build a shelf, I write emails, I pet Moritz, Karlsson Pataket’s old, deaf dog. I work when I feel like it. (If by work, you think, things I do to get money.) Early in the morning. In the middle of the night, in my underewar, with a beer. In the afternoon in a cafe, with a coffee. Each day I get further from the corporate-desk-work world. That was another lifetime, on another planet. All of this is possible because of this place, because of the wagenplatz, because my rent is forty euros a month, because I heat with wood, because I’m freegan, because we all take care of each other when one of us doesn’t have anything at all.
I’ve heard “bauwagenplatz” translated as “trailer park,” but trailer parks are something different. Trailer parks are for metal wheeled contraptions, for individual people–people not necessarily interested in their neighbors. Bauwagenplätze are filled with wooden “wagens,” vehicles that, in former lives, were circus caravans, construction site offices, and garden sheds. Bauwagenplätze are for comm- unities, for consensus decisions, for the punk rockers and the hippies and the freaks and the misfits and the social outcasts looking to build something new in the cracks of the society they’d like to see burn.
In America this summer, I tried to describe my new life to old friends, friends from other lifetimes, friends who knew me back when I used to wear make-up and blow dry my hair. There were nods, smiles, and quick subject changes. There were blank looks and awkward pauses. And there was a small group of people who nodded with a sparkle in their eyes, telling me that it was amazing, that they were jealous, that my life sounded like a fairy tale. I showed people a picture I had taken just before leaving. “It looks like a little fairy tale cottage!” my family said. “It lookes like a shoe!” Helena said. “Huh,” said others, slowly, uncertainly. “You live in a shack?” a friend of a friend said.
At the time I was living at a wagenplatz with no grid electricity. Most of my neighbors had solar panels, but I was too broke for solar panels. I cooked on the gas stove in the communal kitchen. I charged my laptop in the laundry room we rented in the neighboring parking garage. Nights, I read by candlelight under a mosquito net. I used my neighbor’s compost toilet, and peed outside, trying to avoid the stinging nettles and getting nabbed by them a couple of times a week anyway. It’s not a life most people can imagine. It’s not a life Me Ten Years Ago could have imagined. But it meant, and it means, freedom. Freedom from rent. Freedom from a Steady Job. Freedom from bills. Freedom to be a writer without the starving. It meant that when I got fired from my teaching job for being sick too often, that I didn’t have to be scared about how I’d eat and where I’d sleep. At the time my rent was five euros a month, pay if you can.
Now I live on a bauwagenplatz with grid electricity, “regular” toilets, and a squatted house. With concerts and exhibits and pub nights and daily voküs. With chickens, a battle tower, three communal kitchens, a movie wagon, a free-shop, and fifteen people. We got a fresh delivery of beer today, tonight is the punk pub night, and it’s long about time I wasn’t staring at a computer screen, fumbling at describing the life I should be outside living.
Photos by T(H)Stewart.