How Two Homeless Men Found a Home on eBay
"We didn’t do this to become celebrities. We just wanted to find somewhere to live."
Dirk. All photos by Rebecca Baden.
This article originally appeared on VICE Germany.
In November of 2017, Dirk and Stephan, two homeless friends from Berlin, placed an advertisement on eBay in search of a "landlord with a heart" to help them get off the streets. "We are two nice, sensible, homeless men, looking to get our lives back on track," their advertisement read. "We’re both in our early fifties, drug-free, and we're not alcoholics."
Paying rent wasn't an issue for them. They have several part-time jobs between them—delivering beer kegs, helping people with their shopping, and taking pets to the vet. "Every month, we make between $2,100 and $2,300," Dirk said. "That’s enough to afford an apartment."
But landlords in Berlin still wouldn’t rent to them because they didn't have a credit score, they couldn’t submit several months of pay stubs, or prove that they had no outstanding debts. Also, the pair couldn’t come up with the large deposit most landlords in the city demand from tenants.
After their search for a flat became public, Dirk spent hours taking calls from TV networks offering a chance to appear on German television, but Dirk and Stephan turned them all down. They didn’t want that kind of attention—they just wanted an apartment.
Finally, a month after their ad went up, they were offered an apartment. I spoke to Dirk about their search, their new home, and why they turned down the chance to be famous.
VICE: Hi Dirk, so how did you end up getting an apartment?
Dirk: An Italian businessman got in touch with us. He had seen our listing, and had an apartment that was available to rent. I didn’t believe it until we actually signed the contract last week. Incredibly, it’s an unlimited lease, too.
The apartment is in an old building and it has two rooms, a kitchen, and a bathroom—I pay $740 for everything. It’s in Moabit in central Berlin, which is a great location.
Do you know why he decided to rent to you?
He told us that when he first put up ads for the apartment, he received hundreds of inquiries. But he’s deeply religious and said that his inner voice—or God—instructed him to wait a bit longer before deciding who to rent it to.
He saw our ad a few days later and contacted me right away. I explained to him that we had no credit or proof of income, but he said it was fine and that he would give us a chance. We eventually found out that 20 years ago, he was kicked out of his home by an ex-girlfriend and spent a week homeless. He could empathize with our situation.
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Did a lot of people approach you after your ad was so widely shared and reported on?
There were so many inquiries from journalists, and an unbelievable number of people on Facebook offered us stuff—like furniture. Beyond that, we collected almost $2,300 through a crowd-funding campaign to go toward a deposit.
We still need a top-load washing machine, though. Could you put that in your article? We need a Top-load, not front-load.
Some people offered you jobs to do, right?
Just dealing with the all the inquiries alone has taken up most of the last two weeks, but we both carried on working our part-time jobs. In the future, I want to start my own online business.
Did people recognize you?
My friends knew that our story was in the media, but, thankfully, strangers haven’t spoken to me about it—nobody recognized us from the photo in the ad either. I wouldn’t like to be famous, which was one of the reasons why we didn’t want to go on TV. Even when they offered us money—up to $590 per program—we said no because we didn’t do this to become celebrities. We just wanted to find somewhere to live. I couldn’t really go on TV on Saturday morning, and then come and sleep on the streets the next day. Everyone would see and laugh at me.