YAHOO.COM - A Berlin family of
three has been living on practically nothing but love and the goodwill
of others for more than two years and counting—not as a victims of the
rough economy, but as activists who are on a money strike to protest
what they call our "excess-consumption society."
consumers, we support the system, and we are all responsible for making
a wasteful society," Raphael Fellmer, 29, told Yahoo! Shine. "This
strike is to inspire other people to reflect about our other
Fellmer, who said he'd held jobs since he was 12
years old, began his protest after years of working in hotels, bars,
restaurants and various offices. In 2010, after graduating from college
in the Hague as a European Studies major, he and two friends embarked
upon a 15-month "journey of humanity" to raise awareness of
environmental destruction and of society's many wastes, including
estimates that about one-third of all food produced worldwide (valued at
about $1 trillion a year) gets wasted.
trip involved hitchhiking from Europe to Mexico without cash, simply
depending on the goodwill and excess resources of others. It carried
them over more than 19,000 miles on more than 500 vehicles—including a
sailboat that took the trio from the Canary Islands to Brazil in
exchange for crew duties—and soon led Fellmer to meet his wife, Nieves
Palmer, who became pregnant along the way.
Now the couple, along
with their 18-month-old daughter Alma Lucia, are continuing to live
nearly money-free in Berlin, where they do odd jobs and organizing work
in exchange for living space, with roommates, in the Peace House Martin
Niemöller, which contains various non-profits. (Though Fellmer uses no
money, he said Palmer does use a little, mainly in the form of child
support she receives from the government, which is granted to all
Fellmer has become a full-time activist in the name of
bringing attention to problem of waste and overconsumption, running
organizations and websites including The (R)evolution: In Harmony with the Earth. There is a network of others, too, beyond the two pals he traveled with. A 2010 documentary called "Living Without Money,"
for example, profiles a 68-year-old German woman named Heidemarie
Schwermer who gave up money 14 years ago. She says she's never felt
But Fellmer admits his lifestyle is radical, explaining
that it's to get his message across. "Not everybody needs to do this to
such an extreme. This is for protest. We want to inspire people to think
about changes they can make. There are so many tools out there, so many
ways to reduce one's carbon footprint."
One is through the
fast-growing German movement of "foodsharing," in which adherents use
the Internet to share edible food that's been foraged from grocery-store
dumpsters. Fellmer founded an organization in which he partnered with a
leading German organic-food chain to create an efficient way of
"rescuing" food for distribution just before it is thrown away. He's
also part of a website, foodsharing.de,
which has registered more than 12,000 people across the country in just
two months of its existence, he said, and has drawn interest from
around the world in more than 20 languages (6 of which Fellmer speaks).
In the U.S., where about 40 percent of food—or about $165 billion
worth—gets wasted annually, there exists a similar fringe movement of
vegan dumpster divers called "freegans."
Other ways to take part
in what Fellmer calls "collaborative consumption" include using popular
couchsurfing sites, or finding people with empty homes who need
long-term house-sitters. "We have not only a surplus of food but of
housing," he said. "Everything we need is already there. We just need to
make the connections."
Even as a new parent, Fellmer said he's
been able to stave off money-related anxieties. "Children need from
parents love, attention, time. All these materialistic things are really
ridiculous," he said, adding that used baby clothes are as easily had
as thrown-away food. Germany offers universal medical care, although
Fellmer and his family have managed to find a dentist to give them free
services, and did gardening and repair work for a gynecologist when
Palmer was pregnant. (They did spend their one bit of money on the
overseas journey, however, when Palmer, a former psychologist, used
funds she had saved in order to pay a midwife.)
parents are supportive of his lifestyle and "pretty open," he admitted
to having plenty of critics. "People are very creative with their
negative comments. They say I'm lazy, abusing other people," he said.
"But when they talk to me, they learn I'm working 40 to 50 hours a week
on projects for the good of society."
Mostly, Fellmer hopes his
money strike can help change others' lives. "Money is hampering our
dreams. Most people have forgotten it, or are completely afraid of
living without money, so they are enslaved by the monetary system," he
said. "I hope to motivate people to believe a little more in their
Friday, June 14 2013 1:16 PM EDT2013-06-14 17:16:21 GMT
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