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The welfare recipient

Uwe Mayer has been selling street newspapers in Stuttgart for 10 years. Now he's concentrating on finding his way back into a normal life with a new job, a new place to live and a new love.

Uwe Mayer
Uwe Mayer has lived on the streets

Uwe Mayer gets on the bus every day with a stack of Trott-war street paper under his arm. It's a short ride to Bad Cannstatt, a town outside Stuttgart where he's permitted to sell the papers.

Just as the market's shops unlock their doors, he pulls on a red apron emblazoned with the newspaper's name "Trott-war" (based on the French word for sidewalk: "trottoir"). Uwe balances the papers on his arm and starts advertising for the paper that describes life on the streets of Stuttgart.

"Get your Trott-war, get your Trott-war."

It's a call he repeats over a hundred times to sell about a dozen of the papers, which he buys for .85 euros each and sells for twice as much. With any luck, tips and donations will put a little more in his pocket when he ends the day in the early evening.

Mayer standing on the Konigstrasse, Stuttgart's main pedestrian shopping street
Mayer knows he can't afford anything on Stuttgart's main shopping street.Image: Sean Sinico

"I only buy what I need, the rest is a luxury," he said, adding that he needs about 2 euros a day for food. When there's a little left in his pocket it seldom lands in a bank account. "I look to see what I have and what I can still afford to buy."

Modest wishes

There are only two things that really keep Mayer's interest: finding a new job and finding a new apartment.

Selling the paper, which bring in about 100 euros a month supplementing the 356 euros he receives in welfare, and a furnished room paid for by the social welfare office aren't enough for the 39-year-old.

"I live in the tightest of spaces," he said of the 11-square-meter (118-square-foot) room. "I'd like something bigger - and a job that pays between 7.50 and 8 euros an hour. In a warehouse would be great."

Down, out and back up

While Mayer says he knows finding a job that will allow him to pay the nearly 1,000 euros in loans he's racked up as well as his monthly expenses, which include two mobile phones and broadband Internet access, during a recession will be difficult, he still remains optimistic.

"There have been so many times when I've been down and got back up," Mayer said. "When things start looking up again I won't let myself fall again."

Mayer hasn't always had such a positive outlook. He spent five years living on the streets of Munich, Hamburg and a handful of other European cities. Since 1987 he's served over three years in prison, convicted of auto theft, a drug offense, obstructing an officer of the law - he held a 40-centimeter (nearly 16-inch) knife to a police officer's throat.

"Ten years ago I went off at the drop of a hat," he said. "I didn't put up with anything from anybody. But eventually you get tired and you calm down."

Passions new and old

Mayer writing a text message on one of his mobile phones
''Hi sweetie, my computer is broken. I'll call you tomorrow. Kisses.'' At the moment, Mayer can't do more than write a text messageImage: Sean Sinico

A recovering alcoholic who meets most of his friends - as well as his mother, also a Trott-war salesperson - at the sports betting offices around Stuttgart, sees the beginnings of a relationship with a Kenyan woman who plans to come to Germany keep him optimistic.

"We've only met on the Internet, but she's great," Even though the two are engaged according to Facebook, Mayer hasn't told her about his job or apartment. "We'll have to see how things go when she gets here."

If the new relationship doesn't work out, Mayer said he'd have more time for his other passion: soccer. A life-long Borrussia Dortmund fan, Mayer, who scored a hat trick in the Street Newspaper World Cup, said he would like to become a licensed coach.

The dream of a coaching license, a budding relationship and prospects for a new job and place to live are Mayer's way of showing he's not willing to give up on himself.

"There are a lot of people who don't want to do anything - they've written off their lives," he said. "But not me. I want to get back up. I want to be a normal part of society again."

Author: Sean Sinico
Editor: Rina Goldenberg