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John Riceburg: The day my neighbour was evicted

John Riceburg hated his crazy neighbour. So was he responsible when the sick old man got evicted? He sure felt that way. Now he's trying to understand evictions in Berlin.

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Photo by Montecruz Foto (Wikimedia Commons)

I fucking hated my neighbour. Let me get that out of the way right here, since I don’t want to paint myself as the good guy in this story, even though I’m sure that’s what you expect at this point.

So, my neighbour. My neighbour would occasionally ring the doorbell at 3am while I slept. He would sometimes leave a flyer on the doormat announcing that an unidentified person had been condemned to being “publicly shot in the neck”. (I was worried he was referring to me, but it turned out he gave those to all the neighbours, and he was talking about his 90-year-old mother.) And despite being over 60 himself, my neighbour would regularly pound on his own door with the energy of a jackhammer.

My neighbour was very sick. And I didn’t want to deal with it. More often than I can count, I said he should be kicked out.

One morning, an eviction company came and threw all his stuff onto the street. He had lived in his apartment for almost 30 years. He claimed he was giving it up voluntarily. It turns out the Jobcenter, who is responsible for his rent, had created some problem or other. And the Hausverwaltung used the opportunity to kick him out. This is Neukölln, after all, and someone will pay a small fortune for that apartment.

I didn’t see him again until the next morning. He had spent the night on the street. But he said he wasn’t worried: As soon as that check arrived, he would fly to Tokyo. This man is so sick he doesn’t even know that Germany doesn’t use checks anymore. As far as I could figure out, he even agreed to have his stuff thrown away, since he was “leaving”. That same day, another neighbour took him in.

I had witnessed this before: Every day in Berlin families are thrown out onto the street because of a few euros. Rosemarie F. was thrown out of her home in Wedding even though a doctor had declared her unable to move. She died the next day in a homeless shelter. Now the owners of the house can make some more money.

But I had never been so close. I can’t describe how sad, how angry, how helpless I felt – all because of a neighbour I wished would disappear. Clearly he needs professional help. I suspect the eviction will make him even sicker. How could any society permit this?

This nightmarish scene was brought to you by Der Kapitalismus. In this system, a place to live is not a basic human right. Instead, living space is monopolized by a minority, while the majority has to pay. A house owner might argue that the rent pays for the house. But the house I live in was built and paid for 100 years ago. Now the owners are just collecting money – and they are apparently willing to kill a sick old man just to earn a bit more.

Supporters of capitalism might tell you that despite all the brutality, the crises and the wars, the system is somehow okay because it corresponds to “human nature”. I’ve never been a fan of that concept anyway: I imagine my “nature” of always glancing at my iPhone is rather different that the “nature” of a distant ancestor eating beetles.

But that discussion aside: When you hear this story, who do you think represents “human nature”? The woman from the Hausverwaltung who would send a guy to die just so she could pile up a few more pieces of paper? Or the neighbour who opens her home to keep one of her kind alive? I think humans deserve better than this system. I think every human deserves a place to live.

As long as we’re stuck in this system, I am going to support the good people who try to stop evictions, occasionally with success: Zwangsräumung verhindern. I’ll see you there.