I had just settled in to Jonny-the-Hippy's kitchen when, suddenly, Hansi let out a blood curdling cry. Hansi was dying. He gasped frantically for breath between his short, piercing screams. Jonny and I were drinking organic wine. Meanwhile Hansi -- the pet bird that lives in the coop apartment -- crouched on the floor of his cage.
I'd never met Jonny before he opened the front door. Every evening for over 30 days now, I've stood in front of a different apartment, belonging to a stranger I've never seen before except for photos on their Facebook or CouchSurfing profile. Ninety days, 90 nights, 90 new friends -- that's my plan.
I want to explore who is hiding behind the Internet profile. I want to get to know people in their private spheres, compare their profiles with their real lives and have experiences that would never be possible if you were just making contact online.
To do that, I'm completely giving up my own private sphere. I'm homeless, a constant guest without anywhere I can retreat to. I live out of a suitcase and spend every moment of my life with strangers who have the potential to become friends. It's an experience that has definitely pushed me to my personal limits.
Jonny lives in a hippy coop in Berlin's Schönefeld neighborhood. He's about 55, with shoulder-length, black and silver hair and a small tummy, which he hides under a loose cotton shirt. His CouchSurfing profile says he is relaxed, open-minded and easy going. It's all true. When I got to his place I found a barefoot hippy who only eats organic food and was the owner of a zebra finch whose future hung in the balance.
Filthy Student Digs and Original Walt Disney Sketches
I find that CouchSurfing is definitely the best way to get in touch with the widest range of people, but many have heard about my experiment and invite me to come and stay via Facebook.
After the first night, I thought I would have to cancel the whole thing because of physical exhaustion. It had ended in a bout of binge drinking. But Alex, my second host, nursed me back to health the next evening with some spinach pasta.
In fact, I'm surprised at how luxuriously some people live: I spent one night in a dream apartment in Berlin's Mitte district. There were two balconies with white and brown rattan furniture, a spacious kitchen and living room, a wood-burning fireplace, a free-standing marble bath in the bathroom, half a library on the bookshelves, original Walt Disney drawings of Peter Pan on the walls and two beautiful pet cats.
I had prepared myself for filthy, rundown student apartments with mould in the bathroom and dirt-encrusted stoves, not a fairy tale castle. Still not every place I have stayed has been as beautiful -- and things don't always run so smoothly.
Christmas in August
One evening I had to endure suggestive come-ons from some French guys, who kept on telling me how pretty I was. My response: I retreated to bed by 9 p.m. I found one CouchSurfer who told me he puts up around 150 guests a year in his homemade bunk beds in the corridor and little sleep cubby holes in the kitchen walls. Another with experience CouchSurfing doesn't like being alone in the evening and likes showing others the best kebab stand in Berlin and the shops where you can find the cheapest beer.
At one place I had a really Christmassy evening making an advent calendar for the boyfriend of my host Annette in Prenzlauer Berg. She met her boyfriend online playing the strategy game "World of Warcraft." Out of violence, love was born. They've been together for three months and Annette is already thinking about their first Christmas season together. I helped her wrap up 24 little boxes -- I'd never been in such a festive mood in late August. Only the German carol "Oh, Tannenbaum" was missing in the background -- that and Christmas cookies.
The great thing about this experiment is that I never know what the day will bring me. Will my host be an art student or a project manager? What part of the city will my host live? Will it be a old building or a modern high-rise flat? Will the person be middle of the road or wild? And will the pad be filthing or upscale, with expensive hardwood floors?
It's always exciting -- something new every day. I hope that I finally get to go and visit Ingrid, 57, in the Mahlsdorf neighborhood in the east. The first time I was supposed to go there she forgot I was coming. I was lucky, though, and managed to get a place at the last minute with another couch surfer in Kreuzberg. I'm already on Meik's guest list and will probably stay with him in his van. And one host will have a radio show recorded at their place. Who knows who that will be.