29-year-old Rafael Fellmer and his family lead a very frugal lifestyle, one that requires them to spend almost no money at all. They get their food from organic supermarket dumpsters, “pay” their rent by doing all kinds of chores around the house and use a barter system to get the things they need. They only use money when they absolutely don’t have any other choice.
Rafael Fellmer was born in a good German family. His father is a successful architect and his mother an art therapist. He himself graduated in European Studies, in Hague, so there’s no question he could have gotten a good job, if he so wanted. But a few years back, Rafael realized there were things in this world much more important than money. He started gradually reducing his expenditures by doing things that didn’t require him paying anything. The economic crisis, the global food and water shortage, climate change, they all inspired him to live a frugal lifestyle, and made him realize that giving up money is a sure way to a more stable world order. Although there are those who consider him a “deadbeat” for not getting a proper job and providing for his family from supermarket dumpsters, Rafael Fellmer commands a lot of respect from those who share his views, and he is considered the leader of the life-without-money movement that is gaining a lot of popularity in Germany.
For Rafael, the journey to a life without money began two years ago, with a trip to Mexico. A friend of his invited him to his wedding there, so he and a couple of buddies decided to travel there without spending a dime. He hitchhiked, offered to work on sailboats in exchange for transportation, slept in trucks on the street, in schools and at fire stations, but after 11 months he reached Guatemala’s border with Mexico. Two reach Italians had taken him on their yacht to the Brazilian coast. Fellmer cooked, scrubbed the deck and kept watch during the night, to return the favor, and then made his way through Central America, all the way to Mexico. He found the whole experience so rewarding that he decided to start living a life without money. It was in Central America that he met his wife, Nieve. She soon became pregnant, so the life-without-money project had to be interrupted. An airway employee they contacted on the Couch Surfing website negotiated a flight back to Germany for the couple, for just 150 euros.
Back in his home country, Rafael decided to stay with his parents until he could find a place where they could pay the rent in services: guarding the house, cooking, cleaning, computer maintenance and even pet care. Now the family lives in a small apartment in the basement of a villa in Kleinmachnow, near Berlin. They take care of the gardening and repairs and only have to worry about electricity and water bills. Fellmer says the pay very little, as they only use these resources when they absolutely have to. Still, the couple admit they sometimes have to pay for things with cash. Like when Nieves had to see a gynecologist during her pregnancy, and in order to get health insurance. “We’re not perfect,” Raphael Fellmer says. “We are trapped in the mill of money, without meaning to.”
Photo: Forward Revolution
Still, the Fellmer’s way of life is very different than most other people’s. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization , between a third and a half of the food in Europe and America ends up in the trash, 30% of which is discarded unopened. To Rafael this is complete madness and an insult to the people who work so hard to produce the food. Most of the organic foods he retrieves from supermarket dumpsters are perfectly edible. His pantry and “refrigerator” – a shelf in the yard under a tarp – are always full. He makes about three or four scavenging trips per week, usually around midnight, equipped with a head lamp and a big backpack, ready “to save food from the garbage.” Although entering supermarket property is considered trespassing in Germany, most companies don’t have a problem with people like Rafael. Some even instruct the staff to sort still-edible food from garbage.
The life-without-money movement has really been gaining in popularity in lost of German cities. There are forums full of useful information, from risks associated with dumpster diving to recipes for dishes made with scavenged foods. Rafael Fellmer says people like him are one step ahead of the Occupy movement: You can’t just camp outside banks to protest against the system. They boycott by no longer using its “fuel” – money.