First time I harshly experienced what it means to have a ‚right’ passport, or rather papers how we, refugees from former Yugoslavia, called valid German status and travel documents was when I turned 14 years old. My class was preparing to go to England for a school trip and I was the only one who was not allowed to go, as being a refugee I didn’t have ‘the right’ to leave the country. After many tears and feelings of humiliation, I became obsessed with the idea of travel. The harder it seemed the more I wanted to travel. When my family finally was able to receive the second worst German visa – which at least enabled a ‘legal’ movement and seemed as a jackpot at the time – my traveller’s quest started. The visas for the countries of destination cost me more tears and feelings of humiliation but they also provided the experience of fighting for my goals no matter how desperate it looked at first. Even before I turned 18 I knew everything about it. The circle of, how I sometimes thought, never ending struggles seemed to close when I later on finally managed to obtain a student visa for England where I stayed for one year. That was shortly before I became German citizen.
My new passport seemed to have left a track on my appearance, as the first impression I made on Afro Hesse was that I was so ‘German’. One day he stopped by at my apartment together with a mutual friend. When he saw my middle sized bathroom he commented in a funny way that five asylum seekers could live there comfortably and was surprised when I mentioned that I, together with my family, once lived in a room that size for a while. He didn’t expect to hear that. I, on the other hand, couldn’t stop wondering how openly he was talking about living a life without any legal documents. Eventually, it turned out that we had more in common than we initially thought: We both fled to Germany because of the civil wars in our home countries, we were both living as refugees during the nineties and we both spent more than half of our lives growing up in Germany as the so called ‘Ausländer’. Whereas I was forming my path through the visa applications and the hierarchical school system struggles, Afro was fighting through music.
Afro Hesse almost always wears a baseball cap, sweatpants and a pair of sneakers. After all he has to feel comfortable as he is always on the move. What he can do today, he never leaves for tomorrow. He is charismatic and comes into contact with people easily. People love him, because they cannot explain him. Some also hate him for the same reason. Every time you meet with him, you never know how and where it is going to end. Last summer we were filming on the streets about the streets – Afro’s favourite subject. We met kids, immigrants, nazi-communists, actors, rappers like Sido and B-Tight… When you are with Afro you can be sure that you are crossing the limits of your own censorship on the social order of everyday life. It is always surprising how Afro – which is considering his status quite ironic – day after day turns into an immediate connecting joint of the society or rather societies he lives in. He brings together young and old, black and white, rich and poor, famous and infamous, ‘right passports’, ‘wrong passports’, no passports whatsoever and much, much more that lies in between and beyond any firm categories.
JUSQU’ICI TOUT VA BIEN, JUSQU’ICI TOUT VA BIEN…
What does ‘passport’ mean to you?
Passport means freedom, comfort and many possibilities.
What kind of passport do you have?
I used to have one but the German foreigners’ office took it away from me. They tricked me. I was very young and naive then. I had to give it away they said… They said, they wanted to prolong my visa for seven or eight months and so I never got it back. Instead they told me I had four weeks time to get out of the country.
When did you come to Germany?
In 1991, together with my family. We came as asylum seekers because of the civil war in Algeria. In the beginning we always had some kind of problems with the documents. When I was 17 I started to realise what it really means…. Together with my school friends I wanted to travel to Holland and I couldn’t – So that was when I felt it on my own skin. Six years later I had nothing and should leave the country.
Why was that?
They told me that Algeria was stable again; that there is no reason for me to stay in Germany any longer…
What happened when you had to leave Germany?
As I said, I had an ultimatum of four weeks time to leave the country on my own. So I was thinking what to do… I was very young and so on…Very confused, I couldn’t imagine what was going to happen. Until then everything was o.k., “jusqu’ici tout va bien…” as they say in the French film ‘La Haine’. I didn’t want to go back to Algeria. I grew up in Germany and already had a different mentality than the Algerians I used to know. So I decided to go to France. I bought a train ticket for 40 Euros, and got on the train called ‘Euroliner’. I went to Paris where I was hustling for one and a half years. I had one small bag with me. And I’ve been living like that for five years now… ‘Sans papier’ – without papers.
And that’s also the name of your song. Can you tell a bit about the song?
I am reflecting my story in it. I am describing how you feel when you are without a passport. For me, however, life is fun: I am a person who loves to have a laugh, who loves the life, I am a fighter, I am an artist… That’s why I am a bit crazy. I haven’t had any serious problems yet, which means I am repressing them. (Laughter) However, I realised that I can cope with my situation better than someone who doesn’t speak the language and has no experience with the European society. Someone like that would go completely mad here. This song is about me and also about other 1,5 million people like me, alone in Germany.
Although I was never involved in crime, I am being perceived as a criminal by the German society, as I don’t have any valid papers. Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, was recently talking about terrorism and illegal immigration putting them into one pot. I am seriously wondering how this can be the same? I don’t see any connection. This is just an indicator that the society here is so frustrated with its own lives, that people with no papers who just want to live are being perceived as terrorists. So when you don’t have any passport, even if you are a good person with no criminal intentions, you will be perceived as a criminal anyway.
Do you think that the situation in Germany is going to improve?
I don’t think so. Even the foreigners who have a legal status are experiencing many difficulties in Germany and you can imagine how it is for people like me. So I don’t think that anything will change for the better. However, I still have hope… You know how they say: “hope dies last”.
You are currently organizing a concert, what is it about?
‘Kein Mensch ist illegal – Sans papier’. It’s a solidarity concert and should help me to earn money for living. I invited my musician friends and some other bands that will play there. I also got a big venue, so there is going to be entrance fee and we will be selling drinks. That’s how I earn my living. No drug dealing, no killing, just through music.