March 2005: ARTICLES
Experiences on a parking lot It is one of those grey days in Velbert, a small industrial town at the edge of the Ruhrgebiet in Western Germany. The small parking lot next to a lonely tennis court seems quite deserted as a red and white market van pulls up. "Delicious Polish Sausages" promises the loud coloured lettering on the rear side of the vehicle. It is Michał’s last stop for the day. Since six o’clock in the morning he has been on his mission: to sell Krakowska, Kabanos and Krupnioki. The early morning hours left deep rings under his eyes and yet he seems to be in a good mood while leaning at the back of the truck and waiting for customers to show up. Michał was about eighteen when he and his family left his home town Katowice in the South of Poland: "I just needed to get out", he remembers, "no decent wages to work for, nothing to buy in the stores. Somehow I was sick of all that." For three years he has been working for a factory in Remscheid that makes Polish sausages. In his red and white van van he drives all over the region and stops at selected ‘Polish Points’, as he calls them. The minutes tick by. The 26-year old is still the only one in the parking lot, but Michał knows that it is just the calm before the storm. "You can count on Polish people", he smiles and all of the sudden a silver van pulls up from nowhere and a five-strong family gets out. Showtime. "Czesz Michu!" shouts a blond-haired woman at Michal and immediately starts to order masses of sausages. Photo by Nadine Wojcik, Berlin As if the silver van was somehow a secret sign, more and more cars start pulling up. In no time at all the deserted parking lot turns into a loud market place full of people that have one thing in common: they are all Polish. Next to Michał other salesmen show up: Gregor and Agata with a van full of Polish cakes and biscuits, forwarding agents who collect packages to drive them to Poland and even another sausage seller. "Don’t go to Germany! They only have chips and pretzel sticks there!" Gregor always thought that this was somewhat of a stupid myth which Polish people tell. But when he visited a German whom he worked with, it turned out to be true: "First there were chips to eat. And as soon they were gone we got pretzel sticks!" Gregor shakes his head and laughs. "That would have never happened if you visited a Pole. He would serve different sausages, salads, cakes…" For three years Gregor has been driving around together with his wife Agata and tons of Polish cakes. "This job makes good money. Poles don’t just buy one or two pieces of cake like the Germans, they buy the whole THING!" But soon, as you observe him serving his customers with a deep and satisfied smile, you realize that it is not only about the money. "Polish language is the main criteria. I wouldn’t sell a thing if I would talk German. Somehow it is all tactics, so that people buy more." But also a tactic that works out for himself: the customers make him feel at home. It is five o’clock and the parking lot is almost empty again. Michał is done for the day. He leans on the back of his van and relaxes for a while before getting ready to drive home. "On days like today I sometimes forget for a second where I really am." Even though the 26-year old hasn’t been back for six years the Polish mentality and culture keeps him going. Why wouldn’t he go back? "I live in two worlds. And yet nowhere am I really at home. In Germany I am Polish and in Poland I am a German. I guess it will always stay that way…"