Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Munich's Street Magazine

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Munich's Street Magazine

Article excerpt

Germany's leading street monthly has become an established institution

Heinz Bonni (above) is a bit of a loudmouth. "I don't suffer fools gladly," he declares, "and I always say what I think." Sometimes he goes even further and uses his fists. A few months ago, he was up in court for assault. He got a two-year suspended prison sentence and a $240 fine. That's when he realized he could "count on Biss" - the paper paid his fine.

Biss is short for "Burger in sozialen Schwierigkeiten" ("Citizens in Difficulty"). It's also the name of Munich's monthly street magazine. The first publication of its kind in Germany, Biss was launched in 1993 by a group of radical journalists and militant evangelicals. Today, 460 homeless or once-homeless people have permits to sell the paper, which covers the social crisis and the problems of marginalized people. They can sell up to 600 papers a month without losing their social security payments.

Bonni, aged 60, is one of 110 vendors considered "regulars". After a string of mishaps and occupational difficulties, he lost his apartment, his job and finally his emotional stability. He is not your ideal homeless person, carefully saving money so as to get back into society. He smells of drink as he complains about the other vendors. But he's proud to be working for an "established" magazine, as he calls it. "Everyone's heard of Biss," he says.

It wasn't easy for Biss to get this far. At first, the team of volunteers was overwhelmed. Some people had their hand in the till, which was pretty empty anyway. The magazine was sinking when 50-year-old Hildegard Denninger, an accountant by training, took over in May 1994, reorganizing it and making better use of the sales revenue. Now Biss prints 40,000 copies of each issue, has about $150,000 in the kitty and gets subsidies from the city council and donations from elsewhere. …

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