Roofworld Comes True
Way back in 1988 I wrote my first novel, Roofworld, about disaffected youths living in rooftop communities. It’s taken 22 years, but it looks like that future has finally arrived. This is Dmitri Yermakov, 18. He’s part of a youth subculture that has taken shape in Moscow. Its adherents are called Roofers, and they gain access to Moscow’s buildings not for criminal intent, but to climb the roofs.
They are secretive about their methods. The first challenge a roofer faces is how to get into a building and then on the roof. One can guess an entry key or talk the residents into letting a “postman” in. A saw, lockpick or even chisel can do the trick, but breaking a lock is considered disorderly conduct, and the penalty is either a 1000 rouble fine or 15 days in jail. In a pinch, a roofer might open a lock with a hairpin or penknife, or try to squeeze through the grille, which is easier for slim and fit roofers, especially girls. Most of the front doors in Moscow have electronic locks or numeric pads. Roofers crack the codes by trying the most worn buttons.
“Roofing really gets under your skin, and helps you to break out of the daily routine,” Yermakov says, explaining that he appreciates the solitude of the roofs, far from the hectic streets of Moscow, which has more than 10 million people.
Another Roofer, Oleg Muravlyov, 17, said the atmosphere on the roofs was almost spiritual. “It’s too bad that people are mixing us up with vandals. We aren’t doing any harm to buildings. Our goal is not destruction. We are driven by a wish to think about what’s really important in our lives, outside of the hustle of business. It’s a delusion that today’s youth are cynical. We have the same spiritual values as previous generations.”
Because Roofing is an individual, illegal diversion, there are no precise numbers on the size of the phenomenon. Most of it happens in intimate groups of two or three. But there are several popular online communities, the best known of which has nearly 3,800 members, about half of whom profess to be Roofers.
Many European cities have established Roofer communities, but in Russia, Roofing is just gathering pace. The word “roofers” has acquired a new meaning with the emergence of people who climb rooftops as a leisure activity.
Being a Roofer means following a special life philosophy. Individual roofers latch on to it for a variety of reasons. Some climb rooftops out of sheer curiosity, some do it to take beautiful pictures, others are looking for adventure, or else overcoming fear.
“Sitting on a rooftop a person is between the skies and the earth”, says roofer Oleg. “He is looking at the world from a height and so becomes whole with it. You can paint there, write poems or just tan. It is the same as a cemetery for goths or nature for hippies”.
“We keep the addresses of our favuorite roofs a secret,” Ekaterina Maksimova says. “Moscow doesn’t have many roofs with unique views, so we try not to reveal them and we don’t even show the pictures taken from there, because if more people discover those roofs, access will be blocked.”