There's a good German word for people like Reinhard Treder: "Aussteiger." In English, this would be a kind of social dropout, although it's also tempting to call Treder a voluntary caveman.
When Treder, 66, first arrived in Corsica in November 1982, he slept under the stars until he met a farmer named Simon, who took him to his home near Pianottoli-Caldarello, in the south of the island and showed him a number of caves on his property. "You can live here till you die," Simon is said to have promised Treder.
As fate would have it, Simon died first and now the property belongs to his daughter, who wants to evict Treder and his partner Michaela.
Treder claims that when he moved in, 25 years ago, "there was nothing but scrub. I tore it all up with my hands." Now he inhabits two caves and the little enclave between is home to dogs, horses, sheep, goats and geese. At the entrance to one cave, Treder has built a hut where he sleeps together with Michaela, who he met in 2001 when the interior designer was holidaying on the Mediterranean island. The two of them enjoy life without creature comforts such as television, refridgeration and electricity. They grow their own food and barter with locals for any other material needs. Running water and a battery-powered radio are their only concessions to modern life.
Although isolated, the pair is by no means alone. Ever since Treder was mentioned in an alternative travel guide, he has become something of an attraction for tourists, who can stay at his place for free. A couple came to give birth to their baby. Another birth took place there unexpectedly, to the delight of the mayor of Pianottoli-Caldarello, who called it "our first bio-baby."
"Everything was fine when Simon was the owner," says Treder. "I paid him rent, he was a friend."
Problems began when Simon died. "At first, his family agreed we could stay," says Treder. But then one of the daughters decided she wanted the "squatters" out. She filed charges against Treder. He appealed the verdict against him. She tried again. He lost.
According to the judge at the Court of Appeals in Bastia, the verbal committment "until you die" is not legally binding. Nor do Treder's regular rental payments entitle him to residency rights under French law. November 28 is dispossession date; for every day that Treder stays beyond that, he'll be charged a €100 penalty.
"Where should they go?" asks a lawyer friend, appalled. "They live in another world. Put them in an apartment, they'll die."
While Reinhard und Michaela enjoy the support of most of the local villagers, it seems unlikely that things will turn out in their favour. "We're in God's hands," they say.