Former teacher Heidemarie Schwermer has lived without money in Germany for 13 years. Our writer finds out how she does it
Twenty-two years ago Heidemarie Schwermer, a middle-aged secondary school teacher just emerging from a difficult marriage, moved with her two children from the village of Lueneburg to the city of Dortmund, in the Ruhr area of Germany, whose homeless population, she immediately noticed, was above average and striking in its intransigent hopelessness.
Her immediate reaction was shock. "This isn't right, this can't go on," she said to herself. After careful reflection she set up what in Germany is called a Tauschring - a sort of swap shop - a place where people can exchange their skills or possessions for other skills and possessions, a money-free zone where a haircut could be rendered in return for car maintenance; a still-functioning but never-used toaster be exchanged for a couple of second-hand cardigans. She called it Gib und Nimm, Give and Take.
It was always Schwermer's belief that the homeless didn't need money to re-enter society: instead they should be able to empower themselves by making themselves useful, despite debts, destitution or joblessness. "I've always believed that even if you have nothing, you are worth a lot. Everyone has a place in this world."