Me: Did I tell you I’m volunteering at a homeless thing tomorrow?
Han: Yep. ML.
This has been going on between us for some time. For example:
Han: I quite fancy a sherry.
Han: Old man Han?
Me: Correct. I had a grand-aunt who used to drink sherry. It always reminds me of her. Auntie Peg.
Han: Peg short for Peggy?
Me: NEIN. Peg short for Margaret. English is weird sometimes.
Han: Ha hahaha!
But what was ML? Magnificent Linda? Majestic Linda? Selfless doesn’t start with an “m”…
Han: Mother Linda.
Me: Ha hahaha!
Han: Jedi Master Linda.
Me: Ha hahaha!
And so, on Christmas Eve, I found myself on the S-Bahn on the way to Ostbahnhof, passing Germans on bikes, tandem bikes and scooters… walking, Nordic walking and jogging. These people never stop.
Anyway, Kälte Nothilfe – it roughly translates as “cold (weather) emergency aid” – were hosting an event at YAAM nightclub to feed the homeless in Berlin for the 6th year running; they were expecting over 1,000 people. There were several different ways in which people could help but, this year, I decided I would be hands-on and actually go there. Setting everything up would start at 11 a.m. and the guests would start arriving at around 2 p.m. At 10.45, I was walking past Stump Tower.
Having never done anything like this before, I really had no idea what to expect (though visions of me in an apron and hairnet slopping some kind of gruel into bowls had come to mind). I got to YAAM just before 11 o’clock along with a few other people.
As it turned out, I didn’t have any time to worry about what I was going to be doing. Several vans were parked in front of the club and I joined the human chain carrying crates of food, drinks and various other stuff into the venue. As soon as I walked in the door, I was plunged into darkness and picked my way carefully across the floor to where people were depositing the crates on counters and tables. Seemingly, they were working on getting the lights to come on…
This went on for some time. Daylight, crate, darkness, deposit, daylight, crate, darkness, deposit until all of the crates had been unloaded and piled high in the club.
I had never seen so much food in one place in my life. None of us were really sure what to do at that point but luckily someone took charge and we started sorting everything into different “areas” – fruit, veg, sweet stuff, fresh bread, tetra pak, dairy, tea and coffee, toiletries, pet food, cigarettes… The lights also came on.
I was closest to the fruit and veg so it would have made sense for me to start there but half the time I didn’t know if the thing was fruit or veg. Is an avocado a fruit or a vegetable? I figured Googling it would have looked a bit weird. And what on earth was that terrifying-looking, red, spiky thing? Clearly, I was in uncharted territory here.
Toiletries. Toiletries were safe.
Toiletries done, I appointed myself “Head of Glühwein Transportation” and starting hauling the boxes over behind the bar.
I wanted to help the guy slicing the bread after that but there was only one knife. (Come on, people…)
Once everything was neatly organised, we started bringing in the Christmas trees.
The tables were set up and the decorating commenced. I realised that you can drop baubles on a concrete floor and they won’t break. Useful information. Tubs of white candy floss appeared (Weihnachtsmannbart – Santa Claus’s beard) and we draped it over the trees to look like snow. After getting through two tubs, my hands looked like Santa Claus’s beard so it was time to go to the bathroom to wash it off. Another girl was already there.
Even though the place essentially looks like a huge, bare warehouse, we managed to get it looking pretty festive.
I made my way to the “Garderobe” area where people were sorting out the clothing donations. I ended up working with a sweet, American, gay guy.
GG: Oh my GOD! This t-shirt is soooo cute!
(It was hideous – like someone had eaten 10 packs of Skittles and vomited the contents of their stomach onto some material.)
Me: I don’t think you’re allowed to take the stuff…
A German guy dropped a pair of trousers on the floor.
GG2: Aw, NEIN!
Me: DOCH! (snigger)
At this stage, the guests had started arriving. As is pretty typical for Berlin, it was kind of hard to tell who was homeless and who was just artfully distressed. A Johnny Cash t-shirt that I’d just folded (badly) was swiped by a guy wearing better clothes than I was. But that was OK because I definitely didn’t have my eye on it…
By now, pretty much everything was done. The first guests were helping themselves to the food, or sitting at the tables talking and eating, and the DJ had started. I was ravenous.
As I wasn’t really sure what the policy was on eating the homeless people’s food, I thought it was as good a time as any to leave. I hit the Backwerk at Ostbahnhof and got back on the train. An old homeless man was in the same carriage. In a move reminiscent of the Latvian Snot Rocket, he pressed his fingers down hard on one nostril, expelled the contents of the other onto the floor and then repeated the procedure on the other nostril. In the reflection on the window, I could see the snot dripping off his moustache and clinging to his beard. I immediately ran over and wiped it away with my bare hands, smiling at him beatifically as I did so.
Did I heck.
I figured I’d done enough for one day and went for a glass of wine.
Happy Christmas 🙂