THE SMILING STREET SWEEPER

THE SMILING STREET SWEEPER

“Especially after a sunny weekend the streets are really dirty. People went out to bars, or spend time outside. It can get really bad.” Marlies Romeike

"I know that BSR wants to employ more women. For me however, it's easier to work with men." Marlies Romeike

About three and a half million people live in the city of Berlin – you can imagine how much garbage these people produce altogether. Although a lot of this waste ends up in containers and bins, much is also thrown on the streets. Luckily for everyone in Berlin, there are motivated street cleaners who wake up every morning before dawn to conquer all the waste they find on the streets. Marlies Romeike is one of them.

The Berliner Stadtreinigung (Berlin City Cleaning – BSR) is proud of its bright orange garbage trucks and orange outfits. People who work here are not ashamed to clean up the streets. Marlies (37) is quite down-to-earth about it too: “I am quite used to dirt. Before I started working here I used to be an indoor cleaning lady.” She has been working for the BSR for the last 6,5 years and this job actually has a great benefit to her: “I love being outside. With this job I can be outside the entire day!”

Tough dirt
Marlies is a real Berliner – she grew up in the district of Wilmersdorf and lives in the northern suburb Tegel now. But during the week it is Neukölln where she spends most of her time, as this is the district she needs to keep clean everyday. With a trolley, some garbage bags and a broom in her hands, she furbishes the area. Her orange outfit didn’t stay unnoticed in the area. Some people even started recognizing her: “Especially older people come and say hi to me sometimes. We just chitchat a little bit about everything.”

Nevertheless, her job can be quite tough too. She starts at six everyday. And the Mondays are tough. Marlies: “Especially after a sunny weekend the streets are really dirty. People went out to bars, or spend time outside. It can get really bad.” She concludes quite practical: “When it has been raining, people stay at home and so does the dirt.” Food rests, in particular barbecue leftovers, is what Marlies finds the most disgusting.

Man’s world
In winter the job gets even harder, as the employees of BSR also have to free the streets from snow and ice. “Therefore, I am more of a summer person,” Marlies laughs. But when it gets tougher, she doesn’t expect her male colleagues to help her out once in a while: “we get paid the same salaries, so we do the same work.”

In 2010, BSR started a campaign to employ more women. In their plans, half of their new recruitment for street cleaners should be women. It was a surprising decision, given that back then about 15% of BSR was female. Higher up in the hierarchy of the company, the percentage of women grew up to 35% – the head of BSR since 2007 for example is a woman, called Vera Gäde-Butzlaff. But Marlies does not care very much about the number of women in her daily work. She just likes the men’s world she is working in. “They were all really nice when I came here 6,5 years ago.”

She continues: “I know that BSR wants to have more women. I think there are about 140 women in the whole street cleaning section of BSR like me. That’s not that many, but I think it’s ok. For me it’s easier working together with men,” Marlies says.

Image
Over the years BSR did a lot to change the image of street cleaners. The bright orange colour that returns everywhere on the wastebaskets, garbage vans and employee outfits, the videos and the catchy slogans on posters and bins highlighted the hard job on the streets. Marlies thinks it worked: “It’s cool to work for BSR now.”

But most important to Marlies are her colleagues. “It’s like a family here. They will always help you when there is a problem.” Marlies can see herself cleaning the streets until retirement. She laughs: “As long as I can physically do it, I will.” Does she never get discouraged from all the trash on the streets? “No, it’s fine for me. As long as you keep smiling.”

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