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Silent footsteps

 Megaphon (Austria) 17 May 2019

(Originally published: 03/2010) Newspaper delivery staff: In any weather, seven nights a week, they're on the go - running upstairs and downstairs, mostly on bikes through backyards, alleys and streets. Austrian street paper Megaphon accompanied them on their rounds in Graz, tackling high-rise buildings and 2:30am starts.  - By Birgit Schweiger

Newspaper delivery staff: In any weather, seven nights a week, they're on the go - running upstairs and downstairs, mostly on bikes through backyards, alleys and streets. Austrian street paper Megaphon accompanied them on their rounds in Graz.

The cold wind blows dead leaves across the empty street; blinds rattle behind dark windows as the newspaper deliverer start work at 2.30.  He has already cycled through half of the town from his house to get to work.  At one of the tens of dispensaries in Graz, Austria, he loads the big basket on to the rack with a huge bundle of various newspapers and sets off again. At a rapid pace he goes onto the pavement on the other side of the street, parks a few blocks further along. There is no time to get blockaded.

He reaches into the basket as he counts silently, back to the first house on the street.  He pulls out a huge key ring with colourful pendants from his left pocket, a quick glance is enough, the right key is found, the front door buzzes.

Always two steps with one footstep at a time, taking a step up to the second floor, up to the third floor. A small-format newspaper here, a pink there, they land with a gentle slap exactly onto the doormats. Without stopping for a breath, he goes down again, on to the next door. On to the next key; on to the next stairwell. The pace stays the same.  At this moment, I am already sure that the winter jacket I am wearing, despite the freezing temperatures, was a mistake. By the third run down, I've received a few dirty looks from Mr X*, who sprints on soft sneaker soles from stair to stair. Later I know that warm shoes are not only too clumsy for this round, but are also too loud.

Daily morning exercise


X is one of hundreds of newspaper deliverers in Graz. For three years he worked on his round, every night, in any weather. By six o'clock in the morning at the latest, all the newspapers must be delivered; the round lasts approximately three hours for the African.

"It's mostly like sport," he says, crooked smile, as we get into a lift. I am happy about the short break and pull a warm sweater out quickly from under the jacket. Depending on the day of the week, many different newspapers in varying sizes are to be delivered; they must hurry: "If I'm not there by 6.01, the phone will start ringing."

Time must also be observed - for the special wishes of the subscribers. The printouts don't just land on doormats; they also end up in window grilles, vases, laundry baskets, or through an open window directly into the toilet.

After half an hour, we reach a silent agreement. Although full of energy and in a relatively good condition, I start to wait on the first or second floor in buildings without a lift while X. goes upstairs.  He hasn't got any time to lose. For him, as an asylum seeker, it is one of the few ways to earn money legally.

There's no security here, X. - like virtually all of the newspaper deliverers- doesn't have a work contract. That is, he himself must take care of insurance and taxes; he has no entitlement to leave and no right to paid sick leave. "If I get ill, someone else will do my job, but I don't earn a thing during the time and I also fear I'll lose my job."

Always pinched for time

Ms Y.* doesn't see herself as representative of research that has been carried out.

"There's 80 percent of foreigners who do this job. They should accompany one of us." She is one of the last newspaper deliverers with a position.

"I've been working for 36 years on the same round, they can never throw me out," said the Austrian, as she loads her heavy scooter. The delivery area used to be much larger; time was not in such short supply. "Now the paper is finished late and we have many brochures and free papers with us."

To warm up, they go into a couple of high rise buildings - up in the elevator, walk down, throwing newspapers right and left on the ground, straight on to the door mats or over the railings. Loose pages never fall out.

Large buildings are popular because the deliverymen get paid according to how many units are paid for, not according to time. Once again I can - in between writing in my notebook - hardly keep up and again I trample too loud through the stairwell, and get admonished.

"The shoes must not have a tread pattern! Look, mine are completely silent".

Consideration is being capitalised on in the delivery circuits. When we get down, Mrs. Y calls the lift again, "So that the next delivery person won't have to wait." She then comes through the door, a few friendly words in a mixture of language and newspapers are exchanged, now and again a building will be finished for the others. On the scooter they go a few metres to the next village, down through a dark courtyard, up an outdoor stairway, down a lift, to a different front door again. A whole pile of newspapers will be distributed in a student hostel with its narrow corners, Mrs. Y. studies her list well, and here the subscription changes a lot daily. If time is very scarce, the building is concluded. "I know exactly when and who needs to go to work in the morning. I work my way around it"

Tired in the morning

Ingrid Grach also knows the way like the back of her hand; she was the second person to be contacted for research. She has been on the move through the lively university quarter every night for 23 years.  She is already a pensioner but she's kept a small round.

Shortly before 4 o'clock she starts, almost two hours later she's done.  As colleagues of the 60-year-old, who tackle their rounds by car, will notice, she is not alone when she criticises.

"If you really want to experience how hard the work is, you have to go with someone who is unemployed."   He worked for six years, almost every day by bicycle as a mail carrier, told with a darker complexion, broken and battered hips and knees he sustained.

He couldn't quit the job. "I have a wife and child at home".

He starts early at about five o'clock, the stairwells smells of coffee, on a round with Mr. X. I feel my limbs aching with fatigue. Finally, I am waiting at the bikes - which are also of some worth: right in the vicinity of the premises the danger is that the essential wheels will be stolen.

He had three spare wheels available in the area, says X. "But people also steal newspapers, my light, or the basket."

No later than six o' clock in the morning all the newspapers are distributed. Then the night is over, the streets are alive and lights flicker behind many windows. Ingrid Grach goes to bed very early in the evening, stays on the same; Mrs. Y. snuggles back into the blankets after work. Mr. X. doesn't need sleep to think, he cycles home and takes a bath, so that he arrives punctually at eight o'clock for his second job. Like every day.

*These people would like to remain anonymous.

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