The Professional Dumpster Diver


Dumpster Diving & Table Diving

The next morning, I was awakened by the noise of construction downstairs at 7 AM in the living room.

We went for dumpster diving at noon. When we arrived in the first site, there were already another person rummaging through the garbage container. The garbage container, or dumpster was at the back of a big supermarket, as most dumpsters were. Some employees of the supermarket were taking a break and smoking cigarettes outside. They did not mind us rummaging through the container. From their calmness I felt that they were used to it already.

The moment we put down our bicycles, P shouted to me: ‘Somebody is already here! Let’s hurry! Quick!’

We ran to the huge dumpster and P simply dived into it, with his hands fast rummaging through. He was handing me vegetables and packed food at a lightening speed: ‘Quick! Get this! Put it there and we will sort them out later! Soon the food delivery truck will come and then we have to leave!’

10 minutes 23 seconds later.

P: How much do we have now?
I: 11 carrots, 7 tomatoes, 6 cucumbers, 5 bananas, 2 bags of bread and some flowers.
P: Discard the tomatoes. Trust me, they do not last long.
I: What? But they look good.
P: Trust me, this afternoon they will go bad. Then you will have to throw them away. That will be a waste again. And find a carton box and put them inside! You stay there! Guard our harvest, otherwise some homeless people will take them. I will continue the search!

Even in the field of dumpster diving, there is competition. I reluctantly discarded the tomatoes.

The food delivery truck came and the employees told us that we had to go.

Then we went to another dumpster and found grapes enough to feed 10 people. There was another dumpster where we did not find anything. Obvioulsy somebody was there before us that day. There were several dumpsters tightly locked. That was a new development as a couple of weeks ago they were still accessible. There were even some dumpster divers who picked locks. They usually got out at night when there was nobody, picked the locks, dived the dumpsters and then locked everything up again. No, they were not going to steal things from any shops although they could pick locks. They just wanted to find useful things in the garbage so less things were wasted.




P: Now, we have found enough for us to carry. Do you want to do something more exciting?
I: Sure! What?
P: Table diving!

What is ‘table diving’? It might be shocking for those not familiar with the concept. I did it only once when I was in Thailand. P was a regular table diver. Basically, table diving is to find leftover food in restaurants and eat them.

I know how your face looks like now. Your eyes are now as big as the tomatoes I just threw away.

Stay calm and keep an open mind! 🙂

When you think about it, table diving is based on the same ideology as dumpster diving — recycling! Then it is not that strange actually. I would actually ask why people would waste food in the first place.

We entered a big shopping mall where P said there was a good place for table diving.

P: Keep it in low profile. You are Chinese and there are not many Asians around, so you will get more attention. Be careful! Once the employees find out, they will kick us out!
I: They will keep an eye on potential table divers?
P: Yes! Obviously in Berlin there are many people table diving, so they have learned to watch over.

It was an Asian fast food restaurant in the open space on the second floor.

P: Shit! There are more employees watching over now. Last time there was only one employee standing there.

My adrenaline level was running up and while I was watching the employees, P went to the place where clients brought their leftovers and cutlery.

2 minutes of tension later, P came back with a box of noodles: ‘Here you are! Have some noodles as a starter!’

I: Come on man, let’s share!
P: No! You eat, for me the fun is to get the food, not to eat.

We went to Alexander Square, named after the Russian Tsar Alexander who defeated Napoleon in 1812. There was a fair in full swing and several food stalls busy with clients. I could smell curry and pepper in the air. After going through several stalls and visiting 2 McDonald’s and 1 KFC, we gathered a big lunch consisting of french fries, chicken wings, Turkish bread and 4 Nepalese momos. I loved momos and had many of them when I was traveling in Nepal.


the Gypsies in Europe

The sun was shinning and we decided to eat the lunch right there. During the 20 min when we were eating on the bench, 4 gypsy women came to beg. I don’t know how much you know about the gypsies, but they do not have a good reputation in Europe, or anywhere actually. Many of my traveler friends have things stolen by gypsies. They roam around EU because there is no internal border anymore. There is even a documentary about gypsy beggars in Sweden. They get so rich that they send money back to Romania to build palaces. You might think they are all just poor individuals. Wrong! There is a clear hierarchy among them. They are organized and those on top of the hierarchy get very rich. I have heard of gypsies who decided to settle down and have an honest job instead of roaming around and scamming people. However, they are in general a tiny minority.

Romania has the largest gypsy population and in many places they run like a mafia, helping each other even breaking the law. Bulgaria also has a large gypsy population. During the communist time, as the principle of equality dictated, the government built houses for them and started distributing regular jobs to them. However, they did not want that. They tore down the houses built for them, sold the steel in it and continued living on the street, among garbage and dust. In the whole Bulgaria, during the communist time, perhaps only 10 gypsies would make it to universities every year, despite the fact that they needed much lower grades to be admitted than regular Bulgarians. They are indeed very stubborn with their tradition. In history, there are two peoples who are very persistent with their tradition through thousands of years, one is the gypsies and the other Jews.

Since we got annoyed by them, we decided to pretend we did not understand English or German. When the 4th gypsy woman came, I started speaking Chinese and P Russian. As his grandmother was Russian, he was brought up in both German and Russian. Soon they left us alone.

During my stay in Berlin this time, the highlight was dumpster diving every day with P. Every time when we passed a supermarket or a restaurant, we would think ‘let’s dumpster/table dive here!’


The Battles against Food

Later another couchsurfer, a young student from Boston named James also came to stay. He was doing some courses and backpacking in Europe. The 3 of us would go dumpster diving together.

You see, there is a big problem with dumpster diving — one finds too much food! enormous amount! enough to feed a family of 7 for two weeks can easily be found in 3 days. As the ideology goes, it will be a sin to let them just go bad. Therefore, we ate, ate and ate. P accepted couchsurfers so that they can help eating the food. 🙂

Everyday we would initiate a new battle. Yesterday was the battle against grapes and today would be the battle against cranberries. One day P found packages of expensive sushi and two bottles of French wine. Mind you, much of the food we found had not expired yet. For example, the sushi would expire in two days but the shops already threw them away, simply because the new stocks had arrived. That day we had delicious sushi and French wines for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The other day, we found boxes of Mozart chocolates from Austria. One package would cost 15 Euro and there we were, finding 200 Euro worth of them in a garbage bin. Another evening P went to a date with the Belgian girl at the back of a supermarket and they found 3 boxes, altogether 15 kilos of dates there! totally clean and intact! So it became a date with dates. Right! He was so passionate about dumpster diving that he even have dates at dumpsters. 🙂

In Nomads group there was once a photo posted by an avid dumpster diver. In one night he found so much packed food that it covered the whole floor of his big room. It was shocking how much food was being wasted every minute!


As James, P and I were all into politics, not only did we have avid discussion, we even assigned political inclination to everything.

I: Gentlemen, is a construction machine right wing or left wing?
P: Left wing! Construction workers are definitely among the working class.
James: Gentlemen, how about security cameras?
P: Clearly a sign of invasion of privacy, right wing.
I: Then, is sushi right wing or left wing in US?
James: I would say right wing, as in US they are pretty exotic and expensive, only the rich can afford them and they are mostly republicans.
P: Well, in some places, especially the west coast such as California, it can also be left wing. You know those young middle class who are more open-minded and thus more open to foreign cuisine.
We all nodded.

There was a statue of Ernest Thalmann, the leader of the Communist Party of Germany during much of the Weimar Republic, which most people mistook as Lenin. Right, he indeed looked much like Lenin, but nope. He was not Lenin. You saw the movie Good Bye, Lenin! The Germans already said goodbye to Lenin, but Ernest Thalmann was still there. We took photos in front of the statue with communist poses, on our way to dumpster diving of course. 🙂

On the last couple of days of my stay in Berlin, since I had previously visited all the major attractions in Berlin, I started visiting cemeteries and other obscure sites.

The German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Johann Gottlieb Fichte and playwright Bertolt Brecht were all buried in Dorotheenstadt cemetery in the city center, next to Brecht’s old residence. In front of Brecht’s tombstone, each visitor stuck a pen in the soil and when I got there, there were already dozens of pens standing there. The Grimm brothers who wrote so many wonderful fairy tales were also buried in Berlin, in St.-Matthäus-Kirchhof, a bit outside the center.

Hitler’s bunker, where he spent his last days and died, was now totally filled and blocks of modern apartment buildings were built on it. The only sign telling you about ‘the last moment of the Third Reich was a plaque.

I felt I could live in Berlin, dumpster diving and couchsurfing for days, months and years. I felt I was gradually eaten up by this wonder city. I felt that I had to leave, otherwise I would never leave anymore.

To be continued

This is NOT Lenin, but Ernest Thalmann



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