11 January 2007
BERLIN – Mischa is 18. You find him most days at the entrance to the Frankfurter Allee suburban railway (S Bahn) station in Berlin strumming his guitar.
Only an eight-year-old when his parents divorced, he remained with his mother in Rostock, but when she died of cancer three years ago, he found himself alone in the world.
Unable to find a job and soon kicked out of his small city apartment he gravitated to Berlin, where he ganged up with a group of punks he met on the city’s Alexander Platz, and drifted into the drug-culture scene.
Mischa earns a few euros a day plucking tunes out of his guitar for passers-by, but it is not enough for him to pay for nightly lodging. “Most nights I sleep ’rough’ on park benches when my pals have no room for me,” he says glumly.
One of the more than 2,000 homeless street kids found in Berlin in 2007, Mischa is pessimistic about ever finding a job in the German capital. “Without a school leaving certificate, I am without qualifications,” he says.
According to the Osnabruck-based “Terre des Hommes” aid organization there are approximately 7,000 youngsters living on the streets in Germany and more than a third of them can be found in the German capital.
Peter Mucke, the director of the 1967-founded help organisation says poverty, troubled family backgrounds, violence, drugs and alcohol, are just some of the factors behind the growing German street kid scene in recent years.
Youth administration department officials say after the fall of the Berlin Wall, large numbers of young people from small towns and rural areas in east and west Germany began heading to Germany’s bigger cities.
To cope with the rise in Street Kid numbers, youth aid networks have been restructured in Berlin and placed under the control of the Kreuzberg-Friedrichshain district authorities. Three aid organisations now pledge help for homeless youngsters.
Local punks get offered “one euro jobs” painting porcelain plates and other tasks. Later, those without final school leaving certificates are encouraged to sit them again and are aided in their hunt for apprenticeships.
The most prominent aid organisation in Berlin is the “Karuna Verein” (Karuna Association), which in the past decade has helped up to 800 homeless teenagers annually find work and shelter.
Other organisations include “Off Road Kids,” which is active in Berlin, Hamburg, Dortmund and Cologne, and “Klik” near the Rosenthal Platz (Square) in Berlin, which proffers advice and guidance for Street Kids.
Peter Knauft, the chairman of Terre des Hommes in Stuttgart, says life gets tougher for youngsters in Germany. “You have increasing violence and more children than ever living on the streets,” he says.
Terre des Hommes claims that 217 million children in the developing world are wrongfully forced to work, 120 million of them under the most appalling conditions.
Germany’s street kids mostly come from broken or poverty-stricken family backgrounds. “Those arriving in Berlin mostly have no idea where they should go in seeking help,” says Joerg Richert, Karuna’s business manager.
Seven years ago, the average age of Berlin’s street kids was almost to 18. Now, it’s down to 16.3 years – “with some among them only 14,” he says.
Twenty to 30 per cent of Germany’s homeless youngsters stem from neighbouring federal states. Stripped of family links, some street kids end up stranded in the city’s twilight drug-culture scene.
Forty years ago on January 4 1967, 41 men and women founded the German section of Terre des Hommes in Stuttgart. By 1968, it boasted 29 working groups across the country.
Today, in addition to 80 full-time workers in Germany and 70 in ”project countries” abroad, it has more than 3,000 worldwide voluntary workers.