Sad, Neat Little Piles of Garbage

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?).

  Window_sperrmuell_moyland_004The 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.

10 thoughts on “Sad, Neat Little Piles of Garbage

  1. Ahem…I won’t even mention how many (perfectly servicable and not at all purple) items my (ordinary German) husband has salvaged from the piles of Sperrmüll around our neighbhourhood. 🙂 Seesm to be a national pastime.


  2. I don’t know whether it’s a socio-economic indicator or a difference between urban and rural Germany, but around here the piles of Sperrmüll tend to grow before they get picked up, not shrink.

    If you’ve only got a few items for Sperrmüll it’s not worth the bother to call (and wait 3 weeks for the pickup), but if they’re coming to the neighbors you can discretely add one or two things to the pile.


  3. Its actually fun to watch how things on this pile come and go over time. Even the one who ordered the service may find something useful in it the next day.

    The rules for ths Spermüll service are locally different. Depending on the fee to order the service, neighbors may team up to share the costs. In some areas, this service is regularly once a year, and you’ll see people moving from one pile to the next the day before.


  4. >> On January 11, 2006 at 01:26 AM Scott Hanson writes:
    >> I´ve seen similar piles in the US.. what is the difference between the german and american piles?

    the difference is that, as andrew points out, in the US these piles are equipped with lots of price tags and presented in yard sales, garage sales, or antique shows. i live in paris in a fourth-floor flat, and if i dispose of a piece of furniture, say a mod deco chair cracked in half in front of my door in broad daylight, it will have vanished into thin air by the time i am upstairs. in this case, it’s not the polish but the magrebien
    mafia; either way this natural process is replaced in the US by the aforementioned sales.

    so if you sift through american piles, they are tuly trash even by the most venturesome definitions.


  5. Heh, I scored my first couch, coffe table and lounge chair from the Sperrmuell piles.

    My Army buddies and I would always go cruising around in a borrowed van from the motor pool the night before the official pickup days and see if we could score any decent furniture.

    Thanks for the memory. Nice blog.


  6. Actually, here in the US I have acquired quite a bit of furniture and computer equipment at CurbMart. It is not unusual to see items set out with a “Free” sign on them. In particular I seek out bulky dot-matrix printers from which I salvage stepper motors and shafting, but have also acquired bicycles and power tools.

    One Milwaukee suburb used to hold an annual bulk trash weekend; people drove from quite some distance with trucks and trailers to gather the goodies.


  7. Well, now the brazilian way:you give those bulk trash to charity, or someone you know that might need it ( altough I´ve noticed that my “Haushaltshilfe” have a much fancier mobile than the brand-new one I´ve purchased last month…).

    Since I have some useful second-hand appliances and huge debts, I´ve decided to sell the ‘best of’ the trash at “Mercado Livre” – alias – “Ebay”.But the second-hand market for furniture and home apliances seems to be something relatively new here.


  8. I always thought this was a good idea. I picked up two metallic lime green car doors one night in Frankfurt from just such a pile when I was full of the kind of drunken happiness that only a good German beer can bring. I wasn’t too happy seeing them in my bedroom the next morning upon awakening, but hey, you only live once.

    The ‘order among the chaos’ is key, imo. There is no way a pile would look that neat and well compiled in London. Mind you, there’s no way a cycle path would be observed and recognised as such either, come to think of it.


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