Fellmer with Alma Lucia, left, and Nieves Palmer. Photo courtesy of Raphael Fellmer.A Berlin family of three has been living on practically nothing but love and the goodwill of others for more than two years and counting—not as a victims of the rough economy, but as activists who are on a money strike to protest what they call our “excess-consumption society.”
“As consumers, we support the system, and we are all responsible for making a wasteful society,” Raphael Fellmer, 29, told Yahoo! Shine. “This strike is to inspire other people to reflect about our other possibilities.”
Fellmer, who said he’d held jobs since he was 12 years old, began his protest after years of working in hotels, bars, restaurants and various offices. In 2010, after graduating from college in the Hague as a European Studies major, he and two friends embarked upon a 15-month “journey of humanity” to raise awareness of environmental destruction and of society’s many wastes, including estimates that about one-third of all food produced worldwide (valued at about $1 trillion a year) gets wasted.
That trip involved hitchhiking from Europe to Mexico without cash, simply depending on the goodwill and excess resources of others. It carried them over more than 19,000 miles on more than 500 vehicles—including a sailboat that took the trio from the Canary Islands to Brazil in exchange for crew duties—and soon led Fellmer to meet his wife, Nieves Palmer, who became pregnant along the way.
Now the couple, along with their 18-month-old daughter Alma Lucia, are continuing to live nearly money-free in Berlin, where they do odd jobs and organizing work in exchange for living space, with roommates, in the Peace House Martin Niemöller, which contains various non-profits. (Though Fellmer uses no money, he said Palmer does use a little, mainly in the form of child support she receives from the government, which is granted to all children.)
Fellmer has become a full-time activist in the name of bringing attention to problem of waste and overconsumption, running organizations and websites including The (R)evolution: In Harmony with the Earth. There is a network of others, too, beyond the two pals he traveled with. A 2010 documentary called “Living Without Money,” for example, profiles a 68-year-old German woman named Heidemarie Schwermer who gave up money 14 years ago. She says she’s never felt freer.
But Fellmer admits his lifestyle is radical, explaining that it’s to get his message across. “Not everybody needs to do this to such an extreme. This is for protest. We want to inspire people to think about changes they can make. There are so many tools out there, so many ways to reduce one’s carbon footprint.”
One is through the fast-growing German movement of “foodsharing,” in which adherents use the Internet to share edible food that’s been foraged from grocery-store dumpsters. Fellmer founded an organization in which he partnered with a leading German organic-food chain to create an efficient way of “rescuing” food for distribution just before it is thrown away. He’s also part of a website,foodsharing.de, which has registered more than 12,000 people across the country in just two months of its existence, he said, and has drawn interest from around the world in more than 20 languages (6 of which Fellmer speaks). In the U.S., where about 40 percent of food—or about $165 billion worth—gets wasted annually, there exists a similar fringe movement of vegan dumpster divers called “freegans.”
Other ways to take part in what Fellmer calls “collaborative consumption” include using popular couchsurfing sites, or finding people with empty homes who need long-term house-sitters. “We have not only a surplus of food but of housing,” he said. “Everything we need is already there. We just need to make the connections.”
Even as a new parent, Fellmer said he’s been able to stave off money-related anxieties. “Children need from parents love, attention, time. All these materialistic things are really ridiculous,” he said, adding that used baby clothes are as easily had as thrown-away food. Germany offers universal medical care, although Fellmer and his family have managed to find a dentist to give them free services, and did gardening and repair work for a gynecologist when Palmer was pregnant. (They did spend their one bit of money on the overseas journey, however, when Palmer, a former psychologist, used funds she had saved in order to pay a midwife.)
Though Fellmer’s parents are supportive of his lifestyle and “pretty open,” he admitted to having plenty of critics. “People are very creative with their negative comments. They say I’m lazy, abusing other people,” he said. “But when they talk to me, they learn I’m working 40 to 50 hours a week on projects for the good of society.”
Mostly, Fellmer hopes his money strike can help change others’ lives. “Money is hampering our dreams. Most people have forgotten it, or are completely afraid of living without money, so they are enslaved by the monetary system,” he said. “I hope to motivate people to believe a little more in their dreams.”