Gieri Cavelty, Editor-in-Chief of SonntagsBlick.
Gieri CavetyEditor-in-Chief of the SonntagsBlick
“Good morning, nice day”: For four years now, Bruno Niederhäuser has been greeting commuters five times a week at Bern train station. He is at his post between 6.30 a.m. and 9 a.m., in front of him a table with a Donald Duck figure, a glittering butterfly and a chain of lights – and then of course the bowl for the coins. His turnover remains a business secret, he estimates the number of greetings at 500 a day. For many people, the 56-year-old is their first contact in the morning. Anyway, he’s the first to have a few kind words for you.
In other words: The man has discovered a market gap, and even more so an emotional gap.
Niederhäuser was three years old when his parents separated. He only ended up in a home, at the age of six he was hired out to a farmer. At that time he was plagued – by the farmer, but actually by the whole village, as Niederhäuser says. He became a bricklayer and later a large-scale cocaine dealer. He was in prison for a total of 13 years. The drugs are long gone, he asserts. Today he works as an artist, creates wooden sculptures and paints. The reason he goes begging is because social security supposedly guarantees him a subsistence level. “But the word says it all: minimum. You can’t live a decent life with that.” For Niederhäuser, a decent life also includes a new apartment. He is looking for one or two rooms in or around Bern, it can cost a maximum of 1,200 francs. Pets must be allowed.
A few hundred meters away in the direction of Bärengraben, Ramadan Mohamed is selling “Surprise” magazines. At least that’s what he wants. He used to drop ten magazines on a good day. He earns three francs per issue; much more important, however, is the tip. “Today there are days when I don’t sell a single issue.” The 51-year-old notices that people need less cash on a daily basis and therefore no longer have any with them. However, the business isn’t just about that. “It is also due to the Ukraine war. Everything is getting more expensive, people have to watch their money and save more.”
Mohamed knows war. He was drafted at the age of 14 and was a soldier in the Eritrean army for 15 years. He has old photos of himself and other soldiers who died in the war against Ethiopia on his cell phone. In 2000, Mohamed ended up in prison after making a critical remark to a manager, where he was tortured. Since then he has suffered from severe back pain. In the December cold in downtown Bern, he feels it particularly. “It’s best if I walk up and down,” he says. He can’t stand still, only sitting hurts more.
Mohamed says he is an optimist. Although he is now plagued by the lack of money. He is entitled to 977 francs of social assistance per month. The subscription for public transport costs 79 francs, the mobile phone 40 francs. In addition, there is an electricity bill for 155 francs every three months. That leaves around 25 francs a day for food, clothing and medicine.
But Mohamed’s greatest fear is not his financial situation, but the possibility that the war will spread to Switzerland. “First the war was in Africa, it was in the Middle East, now it’s in Europe. Why shouldn’t he be here with us soon?” It is not his own fate that depresses him the most, but that of the Swiss people. ‘They don’t know what to expect. They have always lived in freedom and peace. You don’t know the war. If war comes, they will suffer especially.”
Bruno Niederhäuser and Ramadan Mohamed are two completely different characters with very different life stories and views. What they have in common is poverty. It is the experience that others have made life difficult for them.
And it is concern for the well-being of their fellow human beings.