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Ferenc packed the bare minimum in Hungary. Things can only get better elsewhere. So on an autumn day in September 2012, he entered Hamburg’s main train station for the first time. Back then, he was one of up to 450,000 people who got off and changed trains here every day, rushing on or waiting for better times to come at some point. But in Hamburg, no one waits for a 33-year-old with a secondary school diploma who barely speaks German. They can use his strong arms on construction sites, after all. But the wages are not enough for a room.
At night, on the sidewalk, he holds on to hope for a better life. “I slept with my eyes half open because I was afraid someone would kick me or set me on fire,” he says.
He hears about Hinz&Kunzt at the station mission. “I had never sold newspapers before, so it wasn’t easy at first,” he says. “If you just stand there, people don’t buy.” He learns to approach passersby, always in a friendly way. Sometimes that doesn’t work. Ferenc is often alone. Too often. He becomes depressed and starts drinking.
It was thanks to Rickie that I stopped drinking,” says Ferenc. For the brown spitz mongrel, he has to get up every day, get food – just be there. Once at night someone reached into his sleeping bag and wanted to steal the dog, “but Rickie sounded the alarm,” says Ferenc. Spitz watches out! Another time, a father offered him 2,000 euros because his children wanted the cute dog so much. Ferenc shook his head: would you sell a family member? He’d rather clean toilets, and kindergartens, take odd jobs, and find a part-time job in a dry cleaner.
Now he sleeps in emergency shelters and containers at night and, finally, in his old bus. He has saved the money for this, ironically, so that Rickie no longer has to sleep on the streets. While selling newspapers one day, he met an elderly man who had a spare room. Ferenc does his shopping and helps around the house and garden. ” But unfortunately, the man died a short time later – alcohol,” he says.
Once again he goes from one emergency shelter to the next. Ferenc is stressed, and his psychological problems return with a vengeance. He breaks off therapy for his depression after two days, overwhelmed.
What holds Ferenc together: Rickie, selling newspapers, and his hope. “In Hamburg, there are many nice people who give me a coffee and talk to me,” he says. With the help of social workers, Ferenc finally finds the first apartment of his own seven years after arriving in Hamburg: small but nice and, above all, dog-friendly. Is there anything else he would like? A part-time job would be nice, he says. Preferably something in nature, perhaps as a gardener’s assistant. Ferenc is good with his hands.
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Text: Simone Deckner
Foto: Mauricio Bustamante