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Navigating Free Your Stuff Berlin: Lessons Learned

I relocated to Berlin a month ago and have immediately found Facebook to be of much use. Before I even moved in, my roommate was able to find for me a large IKEA bed in great shape for free from the group Free Your Stuff Berlin. Through the group I was also able to find two blankets, a pillow, and a pillowcase to help complete the bed. You can get almost anything in this group, and there are hundreds of posts each day to look through. Most of the time there are posts from people moving out and getting rid of furniture or other things they want off their hands, or people who need to give away things that are starting to stack up, like old clothes, electronics, or houseplants.

People can also provide services for free through Free Your Stuff. Over the weekend I saw a post from the wonderful Terka Vondráčková offering free “stick and poke” tattoos. In her post she warned that she is a beginner tattoo artist and is looking for people to practice on. Out of curiosity I contacted Terka to find out more and see if I could meet her. The stick and poke method of tattooing has started to gain popularity; a DIY trend that harkens back to a time before the mechanized needle which speeds up the process by puncturing the skin 50 to 3,000 times per minute. My only impression of stick and poke tattooing comes from watching Christiane F. stab herself in the hand with a needle dipped in pen ink to give herself a tattoo that would make her identifiable as part of her group of junkie friends in the film Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo.

Terka replied fairly quickly to my message and a couple days later I found myself in her apartment near Schlesisches Tor. As Terka flipped through her notebook to show me different drawings she had sketched out, she told me how she had been drawing since she was very young and even took classes. Her drawings were appealing with a nice, minimal touch and straight lines. She showed me her needles, which were new and in sealed, sterile packaging, and her black, vegan ink, which she said left a nice pigment and was best for the skin.

Before her potential  client came over to her apartment, I was able to talk to her about her motivation for tattooing. I learned that she’d only started to do stick and poke tattoos a week ago when a friend introduced her to it. Since then she has given herself three tattoos, and had gone on to ink four other people before I met with her. She has no plans to become a professional tattoo artist, and is doing this for the fun and because she like to make people happy, especially those who have always wanted a tattoo but would not have gotten one because of the price.

When the client, Nicolas, arrived, we moved to the bedroom and sat ourselves on Terka’s mattresses, and she started playing Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars on her Laptop. Nicolas agreed to let her tattoo him and signed a waiver that Terka had drawn up in case anything went wrong. He wanted to get Roman numerals tattooed on his right wrist to signify the passing of his mother. Terka was rather touched by the sentiment. She was honored by the opportunity to share this special moment with Nicolas, and I’m sure she felt tremendous pressure to make it a good tattoo. She drew out with a pen the tattoo on Nicolas’ wrist, correcting it multiple times until she got it just right.  Terka took the tattooing needle out of its package and secured it with a string to the unsharpened end of a pencil. In a small lid she added a few drops of her ink and filled the tip of the needle with it. Then she began poking the needle into Nicolas’ skin. The whole process took about two hours, requiring two to three pass-throughs to ensure that there was enough ink deposited in the skin so the tattoo would be bold and not fade. Nicolas was pleased with the tattoo and I felt like a sadist for watching the whole thing.

Care should, however, be taken when using Free Your Stuff, tattoos or otherwise. While the listings are all offered for free, you want to make sure you are actually getting what you want and not wasting your time. A few weeks ago I had arranged to pick up a closet that somebody had left when they moved out of their apartment. When I arrived with my roommate to pick it up, the closet was in a worse condition than we imagined. It had a flimsy frame made of cheap wood, and was covered in plastic lining that had been scratched up and punctured in a couple places. Worse, there was no way to disassemble it, forcing us to pick it up and carry it as is. For the last month I have been living out of my suitcase, but as we walked away with the closet I decided I’d rather continue doing so than putting all my clothes in this thing. I also could picture the hassle of trying to get the monstrosity on the bus…. To get the piece of junk off our hands, my roommate and I walked out of sight of the apartment and left it under an overpass so that maybe somebody would find it and take it, or let it get picked up and thrown away.

I’m still on the lookout for a good closet and I check Free Your Stuff everyday for things people are offering – you never know when somebody might be offering up a train ticket, or giving away food they don’t plan to use. It’s not only a great way to give or receive things, but it’s a great way for people in Berlin to connect, help each other out, and keep a sense of community.

By Jacob Houvener 

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