Talkin’ about a revolution / whispers

“Don’t you know, they’re talkin ’bout a revolution.
It sounds like a whisper.
Don’t you know, they’re talkin ’bout a revolution.
It sounds like a whisper.

While they’re standing in the welfare lines
Crying at the doorsteps of those armies of salvation
Wasting time, in the unemployment lines
Sitting around, waiting for a promotion

‘Cause finally the tables are starting to turn,
Talkin ’bout a revolution
‘Cause finally the tables are starting to turn,
Talkin ’bout a revolution, oh no
Talkin ’bout a revolution, oh.”

(Tracy Chapman, “Talkin’ ’bout a Revolution”)

Gandhi once wrote that you can tell a lot about a people by the way they treat their animals.

I think that this analogy could be extended to:

You can tell a lot about a place by the way they treat their powerless.

As part of my Swiss explorations, I don’t only try and see the Baedeker / Lonely Planet tourist attractions in a place but as well I try to delve into a place`s shadows to see what can be seen.

Change starts from where the world is, as it is, not as we would like it to be.

It is necessary to begin where the world is, if we are going to change it to what we think it should be.

I don’t only want to talk to the waiters, bellhops, tour guides and bus drivers.

I want to talk to the person in the street, the escort, the unemployed, the homeless, the folks on the other side of the tracks.

I don’t necessarily want to embrace the shadows, but rather I want to understand a place from both sides of the equation.

Schaffhausen hides its flaws well.

There are no panhandlers or beggars on the streets, no drunks or druggies in the parks.

Its problems seem to well secreted behind closed doors.

Walk away from the shopping zones, the hotels, the waterfront cruise ships, the Rhine Falls.

To see another side of Schaffhausen one needs to begin with its dead.

Take a bus from the Bahnhof to the Waldfriedhof (forest cemetery) and note who isn’t buried there.

We tend to forget the marginalised population of a place:

Paupers, beggars, prostitutes, criminals…

And if one looks deeper into the past…

Sanitation workers, gravediggers, hangmen, lepers, the diseased, the disabled, persons stigmatised and persecuted as witches and wizards, actors and actresses, and those of other faiths.

Today, if you can afford a plot, you can rest in peace in a hole in the ground with a stone marker identifying your remains.

The penniless don’t have perks.

There is no evidence in stone of their existence.

Until the 20th century, more people were poor rather than prosperous.

In the Middle Ages, 90% of the population eked out a poverty-striken existence in agriculture, mostly as unfree peasants.

After visiting the mass grave of the victims of the April Fools’ Bombing of 1944 (more about this in my next post), have a wander down the hill back towards town.

One quickly begins to notice a curious thing…

For a place without poverty, Schaffhausen has a surprising amount of “Brocki” (Swiss for “thrift shops”).

The Heilsarmee (Salvation Army) is one of the big three in town.

Imagine a thrift shop the size of a huge warehouse, filled with clothes, toys, books, movies, music, furniture and items and objects of every size, colour and description.

Ah, those armies of salvation…

In Schaffhausen, you can worship God at 0930 Sunday services. You can participate in group activities (women every 2 weeks; seniors once a month).


Arrange to meet on a Tuesday or Friday afternoon, where the good kindly Sally Ann folk will offer you gift certificates or groceries, depending upon your particular circumstances.


There is emergency overnight accommodation available for a maximum stay of two nights, which has a sink, table, two emergency beds, bathroom with shower and toilet, one entrance with a daily-changed entry code.

Still homeless two days later?

If you can collect welfare from the state, you can stay in a furnished 1 1/2 rooms apartment, with a small kitchen with fridge and stove, pots, pans and utensils, a bathroom with bath and WC, again same entrance system as above.

It costs CHF 800, but it is meant for only those whom the Sally Ann deems worthy.

For the rest, move on down the road, please.

Schaffhausen does have its counselling centres for drug and alcohol addiction, hospitals, police, fire and ambulance services.

Generally speaking, I have found Schaffhausen people are pretty basic friendly folk, but one gets the sense that pity does not have unlimited or unconditional patience here.

Continue down the hill to two more tiny Brockis…

The smallest of the two advertises itself as both a Brocki and a cafe.

Though one man’s trash is, more often than not, other men’s trash as well, I have to give credit where credit is due…

They make an extraordinarily good cup of coffee.

Follow the road all the way down to the tracks to find a large long complex of former railroad warehouses behind Swiss Customs.

There, two of these warehouses are Brockis as well.

Where does all this stuff come from?

Who is buying all this stuff?

I noticed the clientele and the service personnel seemed somewhat different than the folks shopping in the city centre.

Their clothes not as nice or trendy, their tattoos and scars more obvious, some foreign by accent or exotic by race.

Walk into town, wander the backstreets until you find the Tibet Shop, which brings to mind the adage:

“I used to complain about having no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.”

It is hard to imagine living in a land where you are unable to determine your own future and where your basic human rights go unrespected.

It is hard amongst the Schaffhausen cobblestone streets, passing shop window after shop window advertising movies, literature and music that freely express thoughts, which in Tibet would result in prison and torture.

It is hard to complain about unemployment and underemployment or working conditions, when so many persons are forced to work in brutal situations in Chinese labour camps.

A place like the Tibet Shop in a prosperous city like Schaffhausen really drives home the message of how not only must we act locally but we must also think globally, for the rest of humanity outside our neighbourhoods.

Tibetan food and drink, clothes – some normal and some political with “Free Tibet” printed across them, a young Tibetan man, simultaneously shy yet welcoming, greets the customers with a respect his loved ones may not be experiencing back in his homeland.

On both a local level as well as an international one, truly for many of us:

“Oh, think twice,
‘Cause it’s another day
For you and me
In Paradise.

Oh Lord, is there nothing more anybody can do?
Oh Lord, there must be something you can say.”
(Phil Collins, “Another Day in Paradise”)


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