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Arno Auer
Founder, Wood Grouse Coffee Roasters
Co-owner, V17 — Hanover, Germany

I grew up in a left-wing, socially determined family. My dad worked in a theater as a stage designer, my mom was a child psychologist and one of the founders of the first anti-authoritarian kindergarten in Stuttgart, Germany. Both my parents were true hippies. Maybe that’s the main reason for my strong sense of equity. I have always thought a lot about the problems in this world and tried to find solutions for change or at least improvement. The unequal distribution of wealth has always bothered me the most. Working as an artist, I meet so many rich art collectors, who spend thousands of dollars on cars, luxury goods and a lifestyle that seems completely absurd to me–while children in third-world-countries die from hunger. From my point of view, greed is the main problem in this world. At Wood Grouse Coffee, we want to make the widening gap between rich and poor a little smaller. On a very small scale of course. We want to enable coffee farmers from poor countries, in our case especially from Africa, to partake in the wealth of western countries. We do that by paying them significantly more than most of the other buyers.

When I started skateboarding, it wasn’t as trendy as it is today. It was its own subculture, a small community, whose members often wore Vans as a clear indicator of their fellowship. You could not buy boards or clothing in a normal store; everything was shipped from America. My older brother was part of the skater community in our town and I considered him and his friends the coolest people on the planet. I was 11 or 12 years old when I went to the skatepark for the first time. Despite a few injuries, I’ve never really stopped skateboarding since then. If I could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, I would like to be able to skate like Eric Koston, one of the best street skaters in the world.

You can follow in the footsteps of your parents, or you can do the exact opposite.

The saddest moment of my life was the early death of my dad. He was an alcoholic and drank himself to death. I was just 11 years old then. As a kid, you basically have two options when something like this happens to you: You follow in the footsteps of your parents, or you do the exact opposite. It took my older brother 20 years to even consider drinking alcohol. I had my first drink when I was 13 and started taking drugs shortly thereafter. I never did it for pleasure, I wanted to numb myself, not feel anything. I moved out of my parents house at the age of 17 and started working in nightclubs at the bar. I was constantly high. My life was only about partying, women, booze and cocaine. At some point, my mom practically begged me to undergo an apprenticeship as a carpenter–so I did. I must have been a horrible trainee, but my boss liked me for some reason. He did not kick me out, although I sometimes could not go to work for weeks, because I had injured myself in drunken fights. I managed to finish the apprenticeship but lost all control afterwards. I had no structure in my days, no reason to get up in the morning. My mom never forced herself on me, but always said, that I could come to her if I needed help. One morning I woke up in my apartment, fully clothed with no recollection of the past three days. That was when I decided to change my life. My mom and my stepdad got me a spot in a psychotherapy clinic in southern Germany. After 3 1/2 months I was clean. This was 16 years ago. I haven‘t touched alcohol or any kind of drugs since.

Life is much too precious to work yourself up just because you missed the tram.

I started to show interest in Buddhism when I was a teenager. I read books like ‘Siddhartha’ and I remember a little Buddha figure sitting on my shelf. My approach to the whole concept was very innocent though; I never really dove deep. When I was in the clinic, I had two therapists who were Buddhists. They were different from all the others, always surrounded by an aura of stillness and calm. After I got released, I needed a place to rest, a place with set daily routines, far away from my old environment. Luckily, a Buddhist centre in Hamburg in northern Germany had a free spot. I lived there for a year–together with two monks and a nun. I had a part time job, but spent most of my time in the centre, meditating and helping with the daily chores. These structured days were exactly what I needed back then. The most important thing I learned there? Calmness. Life is much too precious to work yourself up just because you missed the tram.