Raphael Fellmer won’t touch money. When he finds a bill on the street, he leaves it there. When he needs food, clothes or other material goods, he scavenges through the trash.
For more than two years, 29-year-old Fellmer has been on what he calls a “complete money strike” to show the world how misguided we've become about our material possessions and excess consumption, especially of food.
“We have more goods and more luxury than ever,” Fellmer, who lives with his wife and 17-month-old daughter in Berlin, Germany, recently told The Huffington Post over the phone. “But we are lacking human love and appreciation and contact.”
While Fellmer himself lives exclusively with no money, his wife uses the equivalent of around $280 per month (made up from savings and a government child subsidy) to pay for transportation, health care and food for their child.
Fellmer, who is German and graduated from a university in The Hague, Netherlands, is not the first person to purposefully shun currency. In recent years a number of individuals have made headlines for their self-inflicted poverty. Some, like Fellmer, have a similar motivation to draw attention to non-material values.
What distinguishes Fellmer is that he's created his own alternate market -- a sort of hacked version of a barter economy within one of the most evolved captialist countries in the world. For housing, the couple does fix-it jobs for a nonprofit center in Berlin called Peace House that allows them to live in the building for free. For food, Fellmer asks for leftovers from grocery stores. For clothes, he and his wife use donations. For health care, he asks doctors and dentists to give him a free check-up. Sometimes, he will do odd jobs to pay off a doctor's bill, like carpentry for his wife’s gynecologist.
Fellmer sometimes works as a guest speaker to talk about living without money, but he turns down all pay. Last year, he created a large-scale organization that helps others who may want to live money-free.
Fellmer oversees 80 people who collect food from 10 stores in Berlin, including Bio Company, the largest organic grocery chain in the city. They call themselves "LebensmittelretterInnen" -- German for "food rescuer" -- and in addition to eating the rescued food themselves also provide it to others. Each member has an official, store-approved ID for security clearance and has signed disclaimers that they won't sue the grocery store if they get sick from eating the expired food. The agreement is now expanding to other supermarkets, Fellmer said.
In the middle of his interview with HuffPost, Fellmer took a call from a local bakery to let him know he could pick up the business's leftovers. It's just one of the venues participating in his food-collection project.
Fellmer's money strike started in 2010 when he and a group of like-minded activists decided to hitchhike from Europe on a boat and across Latin America to Mexico City to attend a friend’s wedding, then across the United States and back to Europe. The journey was part Kerouac and part activism: They used nearly 500 modes of transportation, and while on the road asked for leftovers from the fast food joints that dot the American landscape.
Americans, Fellmer said, exemplified the extremes of both kindness and excess. “We never encountered any danger, only people who were afraid,” he recalled. But once strangers overcame their fears, he said Americans were some of the most generous people he found on the road. In one extreme random act of kindness, an American man working for an airline used his friends-fly-free perk to help Fellmer and his then-pregnant wife fly back to Europe.
When contacted by the Huffington Post, the flight donor asked to remain anonymous but described himself as an "average American who punches the clock." He said the experience with Fellmer changed his own view of consumption, though he's not ready to live without pay himself. "It has opened my eyes about what you can do without money when you don’t care," he said.
Does Fellmer ever miss money? He says no.
“I feel more fulfilled because I don’t have to think about it and think about a decision,” he said. “Free choice can be a hassle of choice. Taking this out gives you more appreciation for what you get.”
[Hat tip: Yahoo]