Once or twice a week, I leave my apartment building and am confronted by a pile of garbage in the street. A small, modest, neat pile of garbage, stacked near the curb, to avoid blocking the sidewalk.
You never know what you’ll find in these tiny landfills. The mainstay is cheap, stained IKEA furniture: rolling metal Lyörgny TV carts, "beech-finish" Billy coffee tables pocked with cigarette burns, Nuellmorg cupboards whose doors hang off at jaunty angles, sodden Blebby barstools. Inevitable, there’s a bulky, cream-colored 1994-vintage computer monitor or gargantuan, blocky dot-matrix printer. Then there’s the cast-off clothing that’s somehow not fit for the recycle bin — stained Wolfgang Petry T-shirts with their arms ripped off, or comforters blotched with large, unnerving stains. Then there’s the eerie pathos of the cheap plastic childrens’ toys and endless pairs of tiny plastic-and-velcro shoes (where are those kids now? Are they happy?).
The image to the left is typical. We have the decomposing chairs, sheets of unidentifiable disassembled white and wood-finish components, the white plastic toy baby carriage. Two frightening purple-and-black hulks, apparently couches, make love right out in the open. Note that for all the undeniable God-awful ugliness of it all, it is stacked so neatly that the bicycle path to the right is completely free. Yes, there is order among this apparent chaos.
This is not the result of a garbage strike or freakish breakdown in the German love of organization. It’s a normal neighborhood event. The people who’ve stacked up this garbage are have called up the Sperrmuell (bulky garbage) service earlier in the week. A big truck will haul this stuff away in the next few days.
Because the trash pile is temporary, the neighbors don’t mind. In fact, they love it. These displays are like little free garage sales. It’s not at all uncommon for ordinary folks walking along the street to spot something they like and take it with them, clutching their precious find to their chests and eyeing passersby with distrust as they scurry back to their own moist, furtive little apartments. Apparently, they’re afraid someone will steal the hideous lamp or fungal sneakers they rescued from the pile, since they have no legal right to it themselves. Sometimes, most of the pile is gone long before the garbage truck even turns up.
But not those ghastly purple couches. They went to the Great Living-Room in the Sky, I’m pleased to report.