I’ve been living in the van with Pete for almost three months before it occurs to me that we are travelers now and can therefore go to a traveler’s site.
I ask Gwen at Burg Lutter if she knows of any nearby. She doesn’t know what I’m talking about. “You know, a bit of land where people live together in vehicles…” Ah yes, she thinks she knows what I mean. There are three nearby in different directions and they are listed on a site called Wagendorf.
We wave goodbye to Burg Lutter and go off in search of the Wagenplatz (“Wagon Place”) at Hildesheim. There is a big construction site at the place marked on my map. Perhaps it has been evicted?
We stop off near some woods for a night and head down to Göttingen to another Wagenplatz: Barricade Göttingen
We arrive after dark. We park the van outside and wander around the wagons (quite literally old train wagons) looking for a light on or smoke coming out of a chimney. We find both at one wagon and call hello through the open window. Tim is in the middle of cooking, but he comes out into the cold in only a thin shirt long enough to welcome us, show us around a little – the telephone wagon, the woodpile, the toilet – and invite us over for dinner just as soon as we are settled in. Wow, what a nice guy. And what a nice place! I love it here, I whisper to Pete.
The van sorted out, we go back to Tim’s wagon with gifts of dumpstered vegan chocolate. He has other guests too and only a small wagon, so we all pile into the much bigger one next door. The man who lives here is away in Hamburg and possibly moving there but he doesn’t mind others using it. Tim gives us some vegan pasta and a beer and we sit around and chat for a while. It’s a good chance to ask some questions about the Wagenplatz. To me it has a real community feel, but according to Tim it’s quite mixed – some people keep to themselves while others hang out together more. There aren’t many communal spaces, but there is a big kitchen next door which we are welcome to use. At the moment it’s very quiet, a lot of people live elsewhere for the winter and at the moment there are only seven people here. There’s no water either as the tap they use in the graveyard is frozen in winter. I ask if they pay rent. Not for the land as the city lets them stay here for free, but they each pay €10 a month for the telephone, wireless internet connection and the wood they have delivered. Not a bad deal really.
We spend a few days hanging out in the Wagenplatz and ‘exploring’ Göttingen. It’s a tiny city, a university city and known as the ‘City of Science’. To me it’s somehow like a cross between Segovia in Spain and Coventry in the UK, but I couldn’t explain to you why. Göttingen University campus is small but very corporate. There is an o2 shop inside the “Studentwerk” – the closest thing I can find to a student union. I go there looking for a shower, but the gymnasium turns out to be a Fitness First.
There’s not such a big scene here and not much for us to get involved with. There’s a Youth Centre called Juzi – which to me looks like any other punk social centre, but I am assured of it’s difference – with a vokü or soli-küche as they call it here (the word ‘folk’ or ‘volk’ in German has a negative conotation for a lot of Germans as it was a favourite term of Hitler’s) on a Tuesday night. We decide we might as we stay until Wednesday so we can go to the soli.
I get to Juzi early and offer to help cook – a good thing too as they are short on numbers and the people who are here aren’t too sure what they’re doing. As I’m chatting away to them I realise what a good way this is of meeting people. Why haven’t I offered to help at all of the voküs I’ve been to instead of sitting shyly in the corner wishing someone (nice) would come and talk to me?
One of the other people cooking is Tilman, who on hearing me bemoan the lack of water at the Wagenplatz immediately invites me round for a shower. Yay!
Pete and I have a nice time visiting Tilman the next day in his comfortably messy apartment right in the middle of town, using his shower and internet, making badges with his funky little machine, listening to Nine Inch Nails and David Rovics and watching Tilman shatter his coffee machine all over the floor. I’ll have a tea please.
Before leaving the Wagenplatz we give a bit of money for the wood we have used. We are moaning about how bad the area is for dumpstering and they give us a box of veg! Apparently the Wagenplatz gets regular food doantions. I imagine middle-class people with guilty consciences thinking about those poor people living in wagons. Little do they know how good we have it.