“Money distracts us from what’s important”
Twenty-two years ago, Heidemarie Schwermer left her difficult marriage and relocated to the city of Dortmund (in Germany’s Ruhr area) with her two kids. A middle-aged secondary school teacher, she quickly became aware of the large population of homeless people in the town.
It shocked her so much she decided to do something about it. Schwermer believed the homeless didn’t need actual money to be accepted back into society, only a chance to empower themselves by making themselves useful. With this decided truth, she opened a Tauschring (swap shop), called “Gib und Nimm” (Give and Take).
Give and Take became a place where anyone could trade stuff and skills for other things and skills they needed, without a single coin or banknote exchanged. Old clothes could be traded in return for kitchen appliances, and car service rendered in exchange for plumbing services, and so on. At first the idea didn’t attract many of Dortmund’s homeless, because, as some of them told her to her face, they didn’t ‘feel an educated middle-class woman could relate to their situation’.
Instead, her small shop was eagerly taken advantage of by many of the city’s unemployed and retired folk eager to trade their skills and old stuff for something they needed. The unique Tauschring eventually became somewhat of a phenomenon in Dortuman, and even prompted its creator to ask herself some questions about the life she was living.
Not long after, Heidemarie realized how unhappy she was with her work. She made the connection between her unhappiness and the physical symptoms (backache and constant illness) she was experiencing, therefore decided to take up other jobs.
Schwermer began washing dishes for 10 Deutchmarks an hour, and despite the fact that people kept saying things to her like, “You went to university, you studied to do this?”, she felt good about herself. The courageous woman didn’t feel like she should be valued more because of her studies than someone working in a kitchen.
By the year 1995, the Tasuchring had changed her life so profoundly she was spending virtually nothing, as everything she needed seemed to finds its way into her life. One year later, then, Heidemarie made the very bold and courageous decision to live without money. By this time her children had moved out, so she sold the apartment in Dortmund and decided to live nomadically, trading things and services for everything she needed. It was supposed to be a 12-month experiment…