The ubiquity of shopping trolleys – (shopping carts in the US, Einkaufswagen in German) – says much about the societies we live in. Invented in 1937 by Oklahoma supermarket owner Sylvan Goldman, they have evolved from humble wire hand-baskets into symbols of (relative) wealth, hyper-commerce, and a general dependence on supermarkets for our daily sustenance.
These days shopping trolleys can come with calculators, electronic store guides and even keep fit while you shop technology. In Berlin, abandoned trolleys are ubiquitous enough to rarely merit a second glance – but a closer look reveals an entire network of underground utilities and secondary meanings.
A trolley turned upside down in a hedge or placed on the roof of a public building generally says something about the leisure activities (and drinking habits) of urban youth, for example; while a trolley locked with a chain to a pole in the Mauerpark illustrates how they can be easily re-purposed for the needs of bottle-collectors.
Indeed, abandoned trolleys have become the mainstay of urban homeless people the world over, and Berlin is no exception. The fact they have wheels and are virtually indestructible means they can be used to move heavy loads over long distances with relative ease, whether it be discarded furniture, drunk, high or disabled friends, pets, or food collected from bins and dumpsters (the ultimate anti-capitalist subversion). Discarded trolleys can even be used to sleep in or for mobile gardens.
So next time you see one in the street, take a closer look. It might not be an abandoned piece of trash at all, but someone’s home, storage unit, livelihood or public transport…