A throng of students, a large helping of journalists, one dog and a camera crew cluster outside a Schöneberg U-bahn station. At the centre is Carsten Voss: bespectacled, dapper and affable, he’s about to lead the group on a tour of the leafy neighbourhood…with a twist. Just nine months ago this former workaholic, once a sleek fashion player and bread & butter organiser, was living on the streets.
Today he’s conducting a very personal journey through what it is to be homeless in Berlin. The Querstadtein Homeless Tour, set up by a pair of friends inspired by similar tours in Hamburg and now run by a team of 15 volunteers, follows a genteel and tranquil course, taking in Winterfeldplatz, Viktoria-Luise-platz and the Zoo. If it’s a Penner safari you’re expecting, you’re out of luck – the route specifically skirts actual homeless hotspots to avoid voyeurism, though you’ll hear about them.
Most compelling are Voss’ good-humoured recollections of his journey from the fashion jet set to the streets of Berlin through burnout and depression, and his battle to leave them. Only here will you hear about the new bin designs which have made it impossible to reach in for a Pfandflasche, the labyrinth of housing systems, and the fact that you have to officially register as homeless in Berlin.
Voss, who also leads this month’s first open English-language event, has now headed about a dozen tours of all cuts and colours, the most unexpected of which was an entire Bolivian wedding party. A Mitte tour is also in the works, with its own Kiez-specific guide.
Querstadtein, English-language tour on September 15, €9.40/€5.40, booking available online here.
Originally published in Issue #119, September 2013.