Life in the Schänke

Our next workaway took us to Leipzig, Germany where we would live and work in a community revitalization project for three weeks. Quite a departure from our time in the Italian countryside, this time we stayed in the heart of the city at Hausmark Schänke.

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The idea behind the Schänke comes from the movement of Degrowth. Degrowth is anti-consumerist, anti-capitalist and based around the concept that in order to tackle the issues of limited resources and inequality, we should reduce consumption while increasing creative endeavors like art, music and community. As such, money only changes hands out of necessity (someone’s still got to pay the rent) and activities like pay-what-you-can brunch and impromptu concerts occur regularly. The building, which had been purchased during a time when the neighborhood was largely abandoned, was still in the midst of rehabilitation with a bar on the ground floor, a daycare on the second and 5-10 residents at any given time. Instead of letting these properties fall into complete disrepair, individuals and groups bought them for peanuts and launched a variety of projects, most of them around the same political concept.

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I’d spend most mornings preparing lunch for the other volunteers who worked in childcare and building renovation. At night, I’d sometimes bartend which luckily wasn’t hindered much by the fact that I don’t speak a word of German (young people in Germany speak fluent English). Occasionally an older person would come in without any English ability but, much like love, bier translates easily into every language. I enjoyed my time behind the bar and slinging drinks was a good way of getting to meet locals, though politics was too often the default topic and many opted to launch into in-depth critique of US policy as soon as they found out where I was from.

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In the end, the city of Leipzig didn’t make as much of an impression on me as the neighborhood I was in. The constant noise (my window opened to the loudest train in the world passing right outside and I’d jump out of bed in a panic nearly every night startled by the sound) and the stifling heat (why did I think Germany didn’t get hot?) had me ready to leave when the time came. I did learn a few things though. I got to see an example of what happens when people put their politics into organized concrete action, taking care of each other’s children, feeding each other, fixing up their neighborhoods and it seems somewhat successful on this micro scale. People seem to feel empowered too, like they’re doing something significant, and thats pretty cool.

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