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The Business Of Destruction At Germany's Anger Room

Two entrepreneurs have seized on a business idea first founded in Dallas, a place where people who want to dispense with their aggression can destroy set rooms with castoff furniture. But does it work?

Feel better yet?
Feel better yet?
Clemens Haug

HALLE — I destroyed the dishes swiftly and easily with a swing of the wooden baseball bat across the set table. Glasses and plates flew against the wall and broke into tiny pieces. Loud punk rock was emanating from the loudspeakers on the wall.

I turned next to the electrical appliances. A printer and a scanner were sitting on some drawers awaiting my wrath. All I had to do was think of the last time my computer crashed to feel a rush of rage. I lifted the bat above my head and brought it down with all my strength. Glass and plastic splintered before the innards fell out of the machines. All together, I had 30 minutes to destroy the contents of this room. I am in Halle an der Saale, Germany, and this is the country's first so-called Wutraum (Anger Room.)

Marcel Braun and Ronny Rühmland opened the Anger Room at the end of August in an empty building near the train station. "Hit your Way to Fitness," reads a sign by the entrance door. Inside are two spaces that visitors can destroy. They're equipped with furniture from the garbage dump, discarded TVs and computers. Old picture frames, vases and dishes round out the decor. For 89 euros, clients over 18 years of age can pulverize the lot. To do so, baseball bats and metal tools such as sledgehammers of different weights hang from the walls. Power tools like chainsaws are forbidden because the risk of injury is too high, Braun explains.

A half-hour in the Anger Room is supposed to help visitors rid themselves of their aggressive drives. During its first five months of existence, it has appealed mainly to people who need to keep a cool head at work — management consultants, an independent gastronome and a couple of doctoral candidates. One stressed-out doctor received a gift certificate to the Anger Room from her husband. "She told us that it had been a long time since she left for work feeling so relaxed as the day she visited us," says a satisfied Rühmland.

Aggression for "wellness"

Besides me, there are two day care workers here today, Martin and his girlfriend Colette. They had been looking for something special to celebrate Colette's 27th birthday. Martin has long been looking forward to this day, which he considers a "wellness" day. "I can finally work off all the aggression I've built up," he says grinning. But he doesn't appear to be particularly worked up. On the contrary, he's beaming like a kid who's been given permission to throw his toys around.

The couple dons overalls, helmets and protective glasses. They are soon laughing loudly as they destroy the contents of the space. "Cool! Solid wood!" Martin can be heard saying as he tackles a table with a sledgehammer. It requires several major blows before it finally collapses into pieces.

Braun ended up being an Anger Room supplier more by chance than design. The 32-year-old manager at DHL was surfing the Internet out of boredom, looking for new business ideas. "I was looking for models that didn't require a lot of starting capital," he says. That's when he stumbled upon the Anger Room in Dallas that had opened three years earlier. The concept was easy to implement. "We needed cheap space where making a lot of noise didn't pose a problem. We found it very quickly."

They also needed a regular supply of old furniture, which is Ronny Rühmland's domain. As an independent manual worker, he has contacts with several home clearance companies. Until now, they drove furniture nobody needed anymore to the garbage dump. Now they deliver it to the Anger Room. Rühmland and Braun don't have to pay for this service — only for the disposal of the furniture once it's been destroyed.

Orgy of destruction

In my space all that's left intact now are the big pieces of furniture. I set the baseball bat aside and pick up a sledgehammer. It's very heavy. To muster the necessary tension, I think of situations in daily life that make me angry. I think of drivers who park their cars in spaces meant for bicycles. Two hits of the sledgehammer and I've destroyed a chair.

Since it opened, the Anger Room has been booked two or three times a week, often by couples or groups who want to let off steam together. The Christmas season yielded sales of some 30 gift certificates, so visits are expected to increase in the first part of this year, Braun says.

So far, the pair hasn't had to advertise because the media have shown a lot of interest in the new enterprise. It's a good story: real people expressing strong emotion in a controlled environment. Anger and destruction calm people down. Can that be wrong?

Aristotle believed in the concept of catharsis. Insofar as the audience of an ancient tragedy felt sadness and empathy for the actors on stage, their souls were cleansed of negative feelings. Freud also believed that letting out negative feelings reduced aggression.

Anger breeds anger

But empirical research results introduce an element of doubt about this, says University of Potsdam social psychologist Barbara Krahé. "A whole series of experiments show that living aggression symbolically doesn't reduce feelings of anger, but in fact increases them," she says, citing U.S. research.

"When people get a good feeling from acting aggressively, they're going to want to behave that way again," she says. So she claims the Anger Room achieves the opposite of its declared goal. "If somebody wants to decrease their level of aggression, it's much more helpful to focus on positive feelings than on anger and resentment," Krahé says. She suggests thinking about something funny or petting a baby animal. That weakens feelings of anger and suppresses aggressive behavioral impulses.

By the time I get to the night table, I notice I don't have much anger left. I can hardly hold the hammer anymore. My shoulders and arms are that tired. The table just isn't reacting to my blows, and I start to feel admiration for the craft that went into making the piece, which makes me not want to destroy it. I've had enough destruction for one day.

In the adjacent space, Colette and Martin have been so thorough that everything is in pieces and a cloud of dust has settled. Laughing, the pair throw the remaining bits and pieces against the wall and smash them with the baseball bat. "That was a lot of fun," Martin says.

Obviously, entrepreneurs Braun and Rühmland don't want their visitors to start destroying things in their own homes. "That's what our Anger Room is for," Braun says. His business partner Rühmland knows that the effect doesn't last long. "If people want to maintain the feeling they have when they leave here, they have to come back after a few weeks."

When the orgy of destruction has ended, I'm given a bottle of water. I'm dead tired. Braun and Rühmland start throwing the detritus into the big container by the door. The container can hold the contents of 10 to 20 rooms before it's taken to the garbage dump. Marcel Braun says that, having tried it himself, he finds destroying things is difficult.

"I'm a fairly well-balanced guy," he says. "When you go to town on a piece of furniture with a sledgehammer, you really have to let yourself go. It's not easy."

To clean up, he turns the punk music off and puts on some love songs.

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In Northern Kenya, Where Climate Change Is Measured In Starving Children

The worst drought in 40 years, which has deepened from the effects of climate change, is hitting the young the hardest around the Horn of Africa. A close-up look at the victims, and attempts to save lives and limit lasting effects on an already fragile region in Kenya.

Photo of five mothers holding their malnourished children

At feeding time, nurses and aides encourage mothers to socialize their children and stimulate them to eat.

Georgina Gustin

KAKUMA — The words "Stabilization Ward" are painted in uneven black letters above the entrance, but everyone in this massive refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, calls it ya maziwa: The place of milk.

Rescue workers and doctors, mothers and fathers, have carried hundreds of starving children through the doors of this one-room hospital wing, which is sometimes so crowded that babies and toddlers have to share beds. A pediatric unit is only a few steps away, but malnourished children don’t go there. They need special care, and even that doesn’t always save them.

In an office of the International Rescue Committee nearby, Vincent Opinya sits behind a desk with figures on dry-erase boards and a map of the camp on the walls around him. “We’ve lost 45 children this year due to malnutrition,” he says, juggling emergencies, phone calls, and texts. “We’re seeing a significant increase in malnutrition cases as a result of the drought — the worst we’ve faced in 40 years.”

From January to June, the ward experienced an 800 percent rise in admissions of children under 5 who needed treatment for malnourishment — a surge that aid groups blame mostly on a climate change-fueled drought that has turned the region into a parched barren.

Opinya, the nutrition manager for the IRC here, has had to rattle off these statistics many times, but the reality of the numbers is starting to crack his professional armor. “It’s a very sad situation,” he says, wearily. And he believes it will only get worse. A third year of drought is likely on the way.

More children may die. But millions will survive malnutrition and hunger only to live through a compromised future, researchers say. The longer-term health effects of this drought — weakened immune systems, developmental problems — will persist for a generation or more, with consequences that will cascade into communities and societies for decades.

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