WHERE ARE YOU GOING…
documentary about emigrants
Let me tell you a few stories about that shining path that starts from Bulgaria and leads to a distant sky that generously pours out the ambrosia of modern life. My word will be for those of us who crossed out Bulgaria indefinitely and obviously or secretly went to seek fortune overseas.
Alas, my story has nothing made up… I’ll tell you in good faith and it will be interesting without spurring my imagination. Because I was there…
THE BEGINNING OF THE TUNNEL
(Instead of introduction)
We were three friends. We stayed at the airport and counted the airplanes. The well-dressed bastards who poured out of them smelled of money. They were having fun by walking with green notes in their hands, proceeding ahead in the queue of Bulgarians that were lining up for a cab. The mercenary drivers obsequiously waited for the exciting smell of their new clients to slip out from the waiting room and fit comfortably in their back seat. Then the taxi would take to the city and deliver the big shots to the luxurious lobby of Sheraton, where the smell of big shots could no longer be felt because the whole place just smelled like that.
We were watching and getting mad. I think it’s understandable – it was the fall of 1990, Bulgaria had not yet won over France (in football) in the middle of Paris, there were no taxis, there was nothing in the shops and only seeds and candy were jingling in our pocket (a quote from a popular Bulgarian children’s song).
A week later, we were at the airport again. This time we had bags, razors, umbrellas and three four-hundred lev tickets for second class flight to East Berlin. There was nothing to wonder about: we were tired of watching things from aside and just like flies, we chased the scent with the hope that it would lead us to the source.
I do not know how the American pioneers felt back then, but in the plane we felt something from that adventurous spirit of past emigrant times that was flowing in the ships with settlers. The spirit of the distant horizons… Over time, it has slowly rised into the atmosphere to be sensed today only high above the clouds, and only if you fly on a clearly defined path: East – West.
Well, times have changed: I know an immigrant who has traveled from Europe to America in the hold of a cargo ship and boldly invested half of his twenty-dollar capital to bribe the sailor who was guarding the fresh water tap, to wash himself. I think his name was Onassis. Today, emigration is a real voyage: you put on your jeans and sunglasses, sit in the airplane, mess around with the flight attendant and before you know it, hop – you tighten your seat belt and you arrive.
East Berlin smelled of neither money nor a better life. It smelled like Sofia: the streets had holes in them, the air was dirty, and the people – anxious.
You could buy a „Duma“ newspaper at the airport for thirty German pennies. A cheap newspaper in the homeland of Goebbels.
We took our bags and deftly started to slink between the Trabants and Vartburgs. As soon as we left the parking lot, we ended up at the station. There was a real melee at the station and a Russian soldier in uniform in the subway. A front post of the Soviet democracy. We were dismissed of military service six years ago, but we envied him for the office: all day you are checking out the Berlin girls and don’t care about the tank brigade in Elhovo, or God forbid, for the rocket launcher in Central Siberia…
The ride to the center was not that long, but when we got off at the S-Ban, it was dark already.
Alexanderplatz. We walked a little while without aim and direction to clear out our laden by the journey heads. Youngster Bulgarians – emigrants! Moreover, young and unripe. We went around proud and perky but people didn’t pay attention at all. We had to get used to it. It was going not be like that until the end. We were foreigners and foreigners are not interesting at all abroad.
Suddenly we came to a huge tower. It struck me that this should be the East Berlin television tower depicted on all postcards.
We used this opportunity to look around. We paid the entrance fee and climbed on top of the tower. I will not describe the view from above – the readers could get the idea from guidebooks or writers who have visited this location. I will only say that it was incredibly high one could two cities: one was dark and the other was so brightly lit that it hurts the papilla of the optic nerve. There was something else – the smell. I had not thought until then the light could have a smell, but all three of us are ready to swear three times that the lights of West Berlin smelled the same way as the fledgling big shots from the airport in Sofia. The smell of money. The smell of modern civilization. Well, and of all the rest.
At the center of this sea of lights we could clearly distinguish the triangular star of „Mercedes“, lost in a soft blue glow. The ad was placed on the roof of a high building and was staying with dignity like tranquil island in the stormy ocean of lights, combining the softness of the street lamps and the modest glimmer of a Turkish pavilion with the mad power of aggressive advertising and the piercing red luminosity of the thousands traffic lights and car taillights.
We decided to go right there – in the middle of this maddening space located under the „Mercedes“ star.
We rushed to the elevators in high spirits: after complete disappointment from East Berlin, this time we found the Right place for sure. We didn’t fear any surprises – even if hell would unleash upon us, one was certain like the vault at Fort Knox – there they were paying in Western marks!
INTO THE TUNNEL
We hastily descended from the TV tower in East Berlin and forcefully headed towards the place where the triangular star of the German industry’s symbol – the „Mercedes“ Concern, was still flickering bathed in a soft blue glow.
All the way we were trying not to lose sight of it even for a moment. When finally the S-Ban hit the brakes at the very foot of the huge advertising display, the three of us – emigrants since this afternoon, enthusiastically stepped on the navel of Germany: at the Zoo platform – the main train station in the center of West Berlin. Our bags were light like a feather and without any problems we started to go through the smiling grannies with fine silk clothes and fair-haired beauties with mischievous eyes. There were also groups of tatty hippies, and hearted drunks with legs stretched forward were laying on the corridors of the station. I was surprised that they didn’t impress anybody – people were just striding over them and that’s it. The same was true of the policemen with neat green caps, which otherwise had very intelligent appearance.
There was a bus station in front of the station. There I saw double-decker buses for the first time. They were yellow, with lots of windows… The two winding staircases made them look like a luxury penthouse on wheels. I felt I was staring like an Aboriginal would stare at the wheel of a river steamer, and I hurried to catch up with my friends.
We crossed some street and suddenly found ourselves in a huge square with streams of shiny cars circling around it. The sight of the luxuriously stacked arcades and large buildings with a festive look on the other side of the street made us so happy; like an old man with two heart attacks, who has just won the lottery. Our euphoria was slow and cautious because we had a bunch of reasons that made us restrain yet. Well, we met the first part of the plan. Sofia and Plovdiv stayed back in Bulgaria – a snarling world that we didn’t want to remember. And besides, the rather distant THERE had already become a brilliant and real HERE – fiction at your fingertips.
We were holding in our hands the main trump card and if we managed to play our cards well, the story might never end! Not that we had a particularly large basket. Our goal was to breathe this air, to go shopping in these stores and to drive one of those aircrafts that continued to circle around the square. Someone will exclaim, „Youngster emigrant – consumer“. Well yes, but when you’ve spent a lifetime in an ascetic community?! As my grandmother used to say, it is easy to get used to the good things. Do not think that our blockheads with new Mercedes are not feeling OK? Youngster Member of the Parliament – consumer… They fit in like a glove! Furthermore, we had a honorable intent to work , and to work hard to achieve what we had come for…
There was a beautiful cathedral in the center of the square. Its bell tower was half destroyed by a bomb during World War II. Apparently Germans had left it unrenovated on purpose – something like a memory of the Fuhrer. There was a great crowd outside the cathedral. We went there – we thought that there must be at least one Bulgarian among them. The evening had come, but we still had no idea where we were going to spend the night, so we needed information. We still had not heard about the camps at that time.
When we approached, it appeared that the crowd consisted of several concentric circles: the people were crowding around two fantastic riders of BMX bicycles, which apparently had returned from the future to earn some money. The next circle was the audience of a Mexican orchestra that was washing out the rigid urban brains with songs for distant lands, white moon-lit beaches and soft lapping of the lagoon that gently shakes the leaves of a tired coconut palm. Exotic sounds were flowing out of a mouth gifted with Southern sensuality and fresh breath of tequila. The third circle was formed around a queer fish wearing a tuxedo on a pedestal. He was covered in bronze paint; he hadn’t spared even his ears and shoes. He was standing absolutely motionless and apparently was imitating a statue. When someone dropped a coin in the box in front of it, they would get a respectable bronze bow, and then the statue would again stand in motionless posture. Spectacular! We were just about to pass over when we heard swift Romanian speach behind us, the next moment we heard the playful sound of a skobarka (a kind of a sling) and the statue suddenly came to life with the roar of a wounded leopard. It was so unexpected that many people startled, ready to rush. Others /including the three of us/ hold on to their bellies and barely resisted the urge to burst out laughing. It was funny, but it was not at the right place, because the „statue“ slowly gathered its tools /pedestal and box for coins/ and sadly put an end to its artistic performance for the evening.
The beer vendors’ territory started within fifty meters from that site. Huge skyscrapers made of beer cans remind passers-by that after all Germans are one of the staunchest drinkers in the world. You could make a great deal there: the signs saying „KALTERS BIER – NUR 1. – DM“ attracted a truly great clientele.
If there was someone from Bulgaria, they would definitely be here! We went on with hope and really found him. We were wrong only about one thing – he was not alone – we met a whole crowd. When they saw us as we were – with suitcases and native clothing, they made such a howl that we felt our hearts warming.
It turned out that we had the same blood groups with the boys – that is we were between 20 and 30 years of age. Most of them were from Plovdiv and only from the „Kyuchuk Paris“ district. This is the name of the southern part of the city, a poor district, tirelessly generating impressive teams of adventurers. The proof is the huge number of guerrillas, emigrants and public men who grew up under the eaves of poky houses hidden in poverty.
I forgot to tell you that the rest of the group was composed of the Danube gallant cavaliers that had left behind dozens of heartbroken women who bitterly wept about their loneliness in the night whorehouse of the proud Bulgarian city of Ruse. There were two or three girls from Sofia for good luck.
As I already mentioned, as worthy sons of one of the most practical people in Europe, they were all actively engaged in business, earning sixty-eight pfennigs for a sold beer can.
It turned out that there were dozens of camps for migrants in Berlin. But first of all, we had to go to the police to give in our Bulgarian passports.
IN THE DARKNESS OF THE TUNNEL
It was evening, we were at the navel of Berlin and surrounded by an impressive group of Bulgarian emigrants. For most of these guys that had arrived in Germany only a few days ago, the term „emigrant“ was a strong word because the smog, steeped in their Bulgarian clothes still was not completely dissolved in the local atmosphere. There was also scum – people in detention, some that had fled from justice in Bulgaria, a small group of pimps with slimy faces and bankrupted financial fakirs that blew what they had earned by exchanging money in the former GDR on gambling.
Like everywhere else in the world, the information here cost money. We bought it from a man from Ruse for the modest sum of ten marks per person. The next day the man earned his money conscientiously, showing us the Police force offices and the huge queues in front of them. The deal included a detailed briefing, also sleeping in an abandoned Trabant, located just in front of the emigrant camp. The Trabant was covered with tickets from the traffic police, but since the owner, a guy from Gabrovo, had long gone into the interior of the country, the vehicle was used as a hotel from people in need. However, it was convenient for our guide, because the next morning we would have been right there near him.
You stay in Berlin camps for migrants for about a month before they allocate you into the interior of West Germany. The drawing up of immigrant documents including depositing application for political asylum /there was no other way to stay/ was the proficiency test – that’s what they said, to which Germans subjected you before giving you the ausweis /ID/ and the so cherished social relief funds. All these procedures greatly shorten health, but going through the meat grinder was obviously part of the game.
German officials received only until noon. If your turn does not come until then, you have to wait all night. If you do not succeed the next day, you have to repeat the procedure. It’s unbelievable, but there were physically weaker people, that were waiting for a week without having any chance of success. Eventually, many of them were forced to march back to their homeland. Lucky them!
The influx of foreigners in front of the police was the highest. Imagine huge iron gates and a long and enormous queue in front of it. There were policemen on the right and left. They were piercing the two silent rows of people with glazed cold gray eyes. A colorful crowd in five rows was swinging in between, surrounded by a chest-high metal grille. It had a L-shape, so half of it was under their feet and the other half protected them from the outside world. An hour before dawn, you go into the box and the bullfighting begins. Romanians /about 80% of the people waiting there/ often shook the grille so hard that those who were leaning near could barely catch their breath. Never mind that there were several hours until the opening of the counter.
There was a feeble Lebanese who asked us to take him with us during the wait. The boy was from that category that had no chance at all. Anyway, we had mercy and put him in front of us. At noon the boy couldn’t take it anymore /who knows for how long he hadn’t eaten/ and fainted. I know a little German and immediately called out to the blond policeman who was watching from only a few meters. And you know what he said to us! „Emigrantische Scheisse!“ /Immigrant shit/. That’s it!
The Lebanese remained standing and unconscious, and since there was no way to fall to the pavement, he came round standing. The police intervened only once – when a Romanian decided to make his way in life with a harmless twenty-centimeter jack-knife. Romanians had another favorite trick – using modern perfumery for peaceful purposes. This usually took place a few minutes before the Germans would close the doors. In these critical moments, when the fate of a whole day of exhausting waiting was decided, the children of the lands north of the Danube would militantly twist mustaches and stare with red scary eyes and would… release the spray!
In fact, not all Romanians had the fighting spirit of the late Count Dracula. The majority were quite humble folks – just like you and me.
Of course, the leaders of the natural selection at the gates of emigration service were to blame for the endless humiliation, which we were subjected to the next day after arrival. The Policemen behavior broke all records for impudence. At such times, one involuntarily thinks that not everything has changed under the sun. Just snap a finger at these numb pigs, and who knows what kind of product you will turn into – it could be with „Bulmoliv“ aroma or a new model of bath gel…
Later I met smart and good people. Intelligent, tolerant. They thought me to love and appreciate the Germans. But we were destined to confront the slop of this otherwise great nation from the beginning.
We will describe the further destiny of our hero in a form that, if it was written by a real writer, would be called „literary narrative.“
We ask to be forgiven for our illiteracy but we believe that, apart from it, the authenticity of the story will compile the idea of what actually happened.