Postcard from... Aachen


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The Independent Online


The call themselves “dump divers” and last January they were caught raiding a rubbish container outside a branch of Germany’s Rewe supermarket chain in the town of Aachen.

Rowena, aged 21, and Raoul, 28, were scavenging for food items that had been ditched by the supermarket because they had passed their sell-by date.  It was part of a growing  political protest against the “throw-away” society. But a neighbour spotted them, the police were alerted and Rewe brought charges of theft against the pair.

Judges found them guilty and fined them €1,000 with the option of 100 days in jail if they couldn’t find the cash. It was the toughest sentence imposed on rubbish scavengers in post-war German history.

Raoul and Rowena suddenly found themselves basking in the kind of publicity that they had previously only dreamt of. They lodged an appeal against the sentence and arranged for an agitprop stand to be set up outside the appeal court displaying still-eatable items consigned to the dustbin by consumer society. Even the judge came by to inform  himself. But the rowdy crowd of dump-diver sympathisers  at the hearing were so noisy that they stopped the case going ahead.

All was set for a dramatic showdown. That was until the supermarket dropped the charges, prompting the judge to throw the case out of court.

The court insisted that the judge was not setting a legal precedent. But not many more German courts will be fining people €1,000 for scavenging for thrown-away food.