This is the untold story of a man who maneuvers through life without much safety net, which is quite uncommon in a country like Germany. “Survival-Claus” says: I’m too old to work and to young to die.” True: 60 years old means slim chances to get a job, or let’s say, hard to get a meaningful, interesting job.
He is a thin guy, missing some teeth in the front row, hair in a pony-tail, good shoes but looking somewhat worn like most of his clothes. “Er sächselt”, meaning, he comes from Sachsen, where one speaks Saxonian, a relatively heavy dialect from the East. Klaus was formerly an engineer working on gas pipelines and got layed off in the aftermath of the “Wende”, the German East-West Unification, when most jobs in former East Germany got lost due to the more efficient competition from the West.
We met him at the Breitenkopfhütte, an unstaffed hut – see also my other article -, wedged in a rock formation high above a side valley at 6000 feet altitude. When we met the first time, he talked like a chatter-box and seemed to cover up some awkwardness in the presence of hikers like us who had hoped to have the hut for themselves. It was clear that he had been hanging around the hut already for some days, using it as his momentary housing, free of charge. And so, in spite of the fact that it’s getting relatively cold at night so high up, he volunteered to sleep outside.
Outside. No kidding. On the small wooden bench in front of the hut! And the best is that he didn’t even have a sleeping bag. He told us a bit mysteriously, that he left it in Garmisch-Partenkirchen “somewhere”. Later, I learned, what this “somewhere” meant: somewhere in a barn, where he hoped that no one would discover it. He simply used one of the relatively thin wool blankets from the hut. “I’m o.k.!”, he said next morning, and claimed that it was only “a little bit” cold at night.
It seems that in summer time his home is generally in barns. This way he saves the little money he has for challenging mountain races and such. While other athletes spend a lot on participation fees, mineral powder, special food and sophisticated amenities like light back packs with water hoses attached, Klaus buys cheap chocolate or dextrose and just joins in for the fun of it. I guess he seldom pays his participation fees. Instead of fees he just runs.
Instead of buying food he recycles the leftovers of others. Used tea bags serve as herbs for his cereal, old coffee grains too. Everything he finds or picks in nature like wild mushrooms and berries he gratefully adds to his diet. And according to him these are gourmet meals all the time! Some years ago in Northern Norway he lived in an abandoned hut and discovered a deer that was killed by wolves. “Really good meat”, he raved. Enough leftovers for weeks to come since it was frozen and hadn’t rotted.
“Do you want any?”, he looked expectantly at me and reached over his plastic cup with some herbs mixed with some goodies of non-defined leftovers. For a moment too politely, I tried a little spoon and regretted it immediately. Maybe for people who are starving, but I’m not used to this coffee-cereal-herbal-joghurt mix.
This is his scavenge-survival-system for summer time. In winter time he probably lives a relatively boring life in Dresden in East Germany in cheap housing, provided by the community or so. That’s the life of a “Harz-4” recipient. Most people in Germany would say that you barely survive on “Harz-4”, the German version of welfare. But not so “Survival-Claus”. True to his name, he lives frugally from it all year around.
A few days after we have met Klaus at the hut, he stood in front of our house door: he looked a bit better taken care of, some flowers in his hand, smiling. He said he just wanted to say “Hello”. I asked him in and invited him spontaneously for dinner. He hesitated for a moment, then turned around, saying: “In this case I will need to get some fresh herbs!” A few moments later he was back. He got some, unfortunately from the neighbors yard, and I hope that the neighbor didn’t see it. He told us that he had just gotten kicked out from a staffed mountain hut a few hours ago. The host had told him that he would have to leave immediately. “That wasn’t very nice”, Klaus said in a soft voice and shook his head about that rudeness.
We didn’t offer him a quarter for the night but he anyway wasn’t looking for that. He would sleep in a barn, he said, “somewhere nearby”. Tomorrow he would hitchhike to the Mont Blanc, the tallest mountain of the Alps at the French-Italian disputed border (click here for more information). It would be a strenuous race for athletes. Klaus was now more relaxed, no more like a chatter-box because he felt more welcome this time which he truly was. He mentioned a daughter and his divorce and some depression in the past, some rocky road obviously. The freedom has its price I guess, if you dare such another life style.
Well then, as it started getting dark, it was time for a final good-bye. “Tschüss and thanks for the meal!” Next moment, scrawny Klaus took off, light like a bird and gone he was.