Looking Deep into the Mind of Berliner "Ascetic"

We are all just people. We might be a lawyer, an architect, a teacher, a Mum or a Dad.

We might be unemployed in a tough situation or ‘high,’ on the toxic fumes of our new 72-inch plasma TV with built-in 3D functionality and blue tooth seat vibrators.

Aside from the numbing effect of the seat vibrators, we still feel pain, happiness, sadness, and loneliness, we all crave attention and human tenderness.

As illogical creatures are driven by emotion, capable of manipulating our environment, creating order and even making decisions based on logical reasoning….  We often question ourselves, have doubts and think about change or self-improvement. If something like this has ever crossed your mind then you may have wondered what would it be like to live a life other than your own. You might have seen someone and thought, “they must have it all figured out,” or alternatively seen someone and been grateful for what you have.  You might have seen a beggar outside REWE and you couldn’t stop wondering how they ended up there.

The intrigue is in whats not said, if a blank stare and silence can make someone mysterious then meeting a committed ascetic must leave you with a spinning head.

Traditional Asceticism with its roots in Buddhism is about exercising restraint in body, mind, speech, and possessions in order to free oneself from temptations and desires to gain greater clarity in the mind.

Sometimes we can see traces of this lifestyle, outside a supermarket, in a train station or sleep under a bridge.

If clean clothes, deodorant, a home and a reliable source of income is all forsaken for an indifferent smile, and an empty stare, then maybe some people are making a stand against the idea that success can only be measured by perpetual growth or perhaps they don’t like the idea of possessions or maybe they just like to watch life pass them by. You will never know until you sit down and ask.

I approached people on the street and in the park to talk to them about how they see beggars and deal with them in everyday life. I also questioned them if they thought they could live a life free from possessions.


Ulrika, a social worker with extensive experience in drug rehabilitation and therapy has had experience dealing with people in tough situations.

Words associated with beggars. no-home, no-support, alone, dirty, mysterious.

Do you give? “Depends how much money I have…normally a little but it does depend on who.” People I would give more to are women, young people, a lifestyle choice or someone suffering from an accident.

Sometimes you can see that it is organized, but that doesn’t normally affect if I give or not.

Is it possible to be happy without possessions? “Not for me but yes a believe that.”


Gerd, a teacher who works in a prison teaching woodwork, steal work and bike repairs is visiting friends in Berlin.

Words associated with beggars. respect, give, take, alone.

Do you give? “Most of the time I give just a bit, but not only money.”   Gerd finds that if he can connect with someone he is more likely to give.  Although it’s not all about money, giving objects, food, clothing or even having a conversation is often better received than a euro thrown into a cup.

Is it possible to be happy without possessions? “Not all of the time, but sometimes maybe.”


Steve, a student from Berlin, enjoying last bit of summer sun while playing Mau in Volkspark with his girlfriend.

Words associated with beggars. no-money no-home, poor.

Do you give? “Depends who, sometimes I give.”  Steve objects to pushy beggars. once he was asked to pay two euro for having is bike lamp cleaned in Kottbusser Tor, that just wasn’t necessary…   If people put a genuine effort into it then he will give, like the people with the papers on the trains.

Is it possible to be happy without possessions? “Yes.” as a student Steve has lived with very little which allowed seeing that with less you feel, “no attachment, a lot of freedom and unrestricted.”


Sebastian, a uni student studying Japanese and working in theatre has lived in Berlin for the last year.

Words associated with beggars. refugees, organized, subways, mysterious, romantic

Do you give? Sebastian gives when he is touched by a situation or a person, he doesn’t have a method or a reason it’s more of a feeling.

Is it possible to be happy without possessions? “That would be hard for me.”

Monica and Raquel

Monica and Raquel,  two architecture students from Spain at the start of their year-long Erasmus in Berlin.

Words associated with beggars. Money, street, loneliness, hopeless,

Do you give? “No, except sometimes when they are playing music or doing something.”

Monica and Raquel both like to know if they are giving to someone who is in real need of money, as in not a drug addict or alcoholic.

Is it possible to be happy without possessions? Monica - “Could be depending on where you lived and other people around.”

Whether Lying in a park catching the last bit of sun before winter, flipping through a magazine in a bored impatience or sitting in a subway with everything you own, holding a dirty coffee cup staring into nothing…  It's never easy to let yourself go completely and just let life take you.

By George Hunn
ABOUT GEORGE: At the start of a long-term relationship with Berlin, George is contributing articles and pictures of the people, places, and experiences from his explorations of Berlin. more soon….

Powered by Blogger.