Everyday, around 4 p.m., when people start returning from their workplace, he places himself by the entrance of one of the underground stations in the centre of the city – always the same one. He greets the hasty passers-by, he smiles at them. Many people stop, chat with him, and buy the magazine whose name has become his nickname: Mr. Biss, the most famous homeless in Munich, one of those 100 homeless people who sell the ‘Biss’ magazine. In German the word ‘Biss’ stands for ‘bite’... but Mr. Biss explains to me that:

BISS is an abbreviation for Buerger in Sozialen Schwierigkeiten (Citizens with social problems) In other words, one need not be homeless to be helped by BISS. 90 per cent of us were without a home, but in the meantime almost all have found a shelter through the BISS project.

There are 45 newspapers and magazines dedicated to the cause of the homeless in Germany. In Munich, they are published monthly in a run of 50 thousand – larger than in other cities. One BISS issue is priced at 1 Euro and 50 cents – 80 cents of which are kept by the seller. The publishing house covers its costs especially through donations, but also by getting a percentage of the fines for irregular parking cashed by the city’s police. Not only the homeless are licenced to sell the newspapers, but also those who can prove they are poor – the unemployed or the old people who cannot manage to live on their small pensions. The authorities keep a regular check on the magazine sellers lest they should be under the influence or drugged while vending. The income of those selling publications for the homeless are supplemented yearly through the good will of well-to-do people and some of the millionaires in Munich.

At present there are nearly 4 thousand homeless people in Munich, 85% of whom are men and 15% women. Some of them have become hoboes because of drugs and alcohol, others are homeless of their own free will, being fed up with working hard for a salary that only covered rent, heating and electricity; they preferred the freedom of living from hand to mouth, but trouble-free, without responsibilities, without schedules and without bills.

But let’s go back to Mr. Biss’ story...:

I used to work in Munich. I also had a home. My employer, however, went bankrupt and I lost my job. I couldn’t afford to pay the rent, my wife left me, then I had lots of health problems and I couldn’t work anymore. I had to do something for a living so what was I to do? Turn into a pickpocket? I don’t want to beg either. So I am selling this paper... I don’t earn much but enough to make both ends meet.

Mr.Biss encouraged me to pay a visit to an exhibition, which had just opened at the Museum of Modern Art on the 10th anniversary of the BISS magazine. Hundreds of photos – most of them grey scale – of homeless people from Ukraine, Japan (a homeless man and his makeshift bed in one of the elegant arcades of a skyscraper), Cambodia (an old man in rugs pauses under a cactus where he hangs all his wealth – a plastic bucket with some empty bottles in it), London (a woman is pushing a rusty trolley full of old clothes), Cambodia again (a photo entitled The Victims of War and Corruption – a group of men and women improvising their tent on a mined field), India (in a crowded street the eunuch Mona Ahmed lies on a sewage opening, ignored by everyone) and Romania: in a cemetery, amid empty cardboard boxes, a homeless man, with dizzy eyes, holding a greenish bottle, surrounded by ducks.

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