One day artist Marina Lindemann noticed her neighbor Sunny O.’s mailbox was overflowing with bills, advertising brochures, and personal mail. As far as she knew, the man who was about 40 years old had left his apartment in the Hamburg suburb of Wilhelmsburg without saying goodbye to anyone. She took the contents of the mailbox to keep them for later.

Where had he gone? Did he decide to start a new life somewhere else? Or did something serious happen to him? After half a year the apartment was finally evacuated. The car that had been parked in front of the house was taken away. Marina decided to gather everything that had belonged to her missing neighbor. So she put on a wig and went in disguise to the auction of Sunny’s boxes, buying them for a few euros without having any notion of the contents. Out of practical considerations, she didn’t take the refrigerator and bed. She took the four big boxes home, inventoried the items, measured and weighed them, and prepared them for an exhibition. “I was hoping to come closer to the disappeared person, and to examine the relationship between things and personality,” Marina told me. “How much of a person is there in a thing?,” she asked herself.

More… “Losing Ourselves”

Bernd Brunner writes books and essays. His latest book (in German) is When Winters Were Still Winters: The History of a Season. His book Birdmania: Remarkable Lives with Birds will be published by Greystone Books in 2017. He is a fellow and nonfiction resident of the Carey Institute for Global Good in Rensselaerville, New York. His writing has appeared in Lapham’s Quarterly, The Paris Review Daily, AEON, TLS, Wall Street Journal Speakeasy, Cabinet, Huffington Post, Best American Travel Writing, and various German-language newspapers. Follow him on twitter at @BrunnerBernd.