The art of the story
„Cooking with Michael“
The story of
Norbert loves his regular spot. Right in front of the Haspa at the City Hall. “You don’t have to wait long for someone to come by. People come from all directions, from the underground, the “S-Bahn” and all over,” says the Slovakian with a thick accent. “And this way, I always find out what’s going on in the city.”
Not far away, between the church Nikolaikirche and Großer Burstah, is where the 38-year-old slept rough years ago. The Allianz building on Großer Burstah was supposed to be demolished, but it stood empty for ages. It was an ideal place for homeless people: around 30 people built themselves shacks there. They even slept at the entrance of the underground car park. When they were evicted, Norbert returned to his old spot by Dammtor.
At the moment, however, he has accommodation. Norbert lives with Michael, another Hinz&Kunzt seller, in a Hinz&Kunzt winter programme room. These are leased dorms for temporary workers with a bathroom and pantry. “I can always sleep through the night now. On the streets, you often won’t get a wink of sleep. You never know who’s going to come by.” “Here I know: the door is shut.”
The two cook almost every evening. They had potatoes and breaded cauliflower the other night. “It’s pretty different from those ready-made meals I make outside on my gas cooker,” he says. Micha’s birthday is in a few days. Norbert may serve goulash with dumplings then. Which sounds almost utopian. Especially if you know Norbert’s previous life.
He was born in 1980 in a small town in Slovakia. By the time he was three years old, his mother had disappeared, never to be seen again. Norbert does not know exactly what happened and why she left him. The little boy still had his father and his grandmother, but obviously, they were both overwhelmed. He lived in an orphanage from 1989 to 2001. After all, he did finish school there and completed an apprenticeship as a painter and varnisher.
Unemployment in his area was extremely high, he recalls. And he was not stable anyway. His grandmother died in 1999, followed by his father shortly afterwards. Both of their deaths took away his last support. He literally collapsed.
“I did a lot of stupid things”, Norbert admits. He tried his luck in Austria, Berlin and Hanover. “I wanted to start over,” he says. That was 15 years ago. But it didn’t work out. He was an alcoholic and a shopaholic. At that stage, he still had a flat and ordered more and more parcels online. “It was always great in the first few days,” says Norbert. The rub: he couldn’t pay. “I went in and out of prison and then back in again.”
At a certain point, he realised, “I’m too old for this kind of nonsense.” Once again, he went for a clean break. In 2011 he went to Hamburg – to the streets. “I used to beg; it gave me something to survive on,” he says. Meanwhile, he also sells Hinz&Kunzt. Though he is not stable yet. “But I haven’t done anything criminal since then.” And he has already achieved a lot: “I don’t drink so much anymore. Only beer and booze very rarely,” he says proudly.
Norbert sells in front of the Haspa by the City Hall.
More about Norbert:
Text: Birgit Müller
Foto: Mauricio Bustamante