Our vendors: Aleksas (Hinz&Kunzt, Ahrensburg, Germany)

By Frank Keil, Hinz&Kunzt

Hinz&Kunzt vendor Aleksas recently applied for a job in his hometown of Ahrensburg. On calling the employer, who was initially very interested in his CV, he was asked, “How old are you?” When Aleksas revealed his age, the employer replied with a “No thanks.”

Aleksas shakes his head in confusion. What can he do? He is 58 years old.

“I come from a small country, from Lithuania,” says Aleksas. After finishing school, he trained as ship mechanic and began working shortly after. He worked in the Baltic Sea harbour city Klaipeda, where products were loaded onto lorries and transported across Europe.

Hinz&Kunzt vendor Aleksas. Credit: Mauricio Bustamante

One day, Aleksas made the change from water to asphalt. “There’s more money in truck-driving.” His switch in jobs gave him the chance to see something of the world. “I often drove to Russia, very long routes. And to Poland, too,” he explains.

And the world got bigger when Lithuania became independent in 1990. “I had routes to Finland, far up north. And as far as the Netherlands in the other direction,” says Aleksas. It was a time of change, practically as well as politically. “The Russian trucks were wrecks, really uncomfortable. But the new Swedish and German lorries – their cabins are like living rooms.”

Ten years on, Lithuania suffered a severe economic crisis. “There was hardly any work to be had and many people looking for work,” says Aleksas. “Young people left the country in droves. My son went to England in 2002. Now he works and lives there, like everybody else.”

His daughter took the same path. “She learned English in Lithuania and then went to join her brother,” he says.

When Lithuania joined the European Union in 2004, Aleksas left for Germany. First to Berlin, and then Hamburg, a city he prefers. The work he did then he also prefers to keep to himself. “Black market labour is not good,” he says. “No rights, no security – you always start all over again.”

“Young people left the country in droves. My son went to England in 2002. Now he works and lives there, like everybody else”

His situation improved slightly in 2011, when Lithuanians were allowed to work in EU countries. He found a job with a company called Tom Taylor. “That was nice work. We sorted clothing and packaged it. Good clothing, only new things.” The work proved only temporary, and when he and his Lithuanian friend lost their apartment, Aleksas found himself on the streets.

This winter he has one of the emergency programme container spaces in Niendorf, 10km north of Hamburg. His monthly ticket for travelling from Niendorf to Ahrensberg is financed by (German railway company) Deutsche Bahn donations to Hinz&Kunzt. There’s a social worker in Niendorf helping Aleksas to get his papers in order.

Recently he discovered his trucking license expired a year ago. To extend it, he has to go back to Lithuania. Should he? Aleksas is torn. “I haven’t been there for 10 years,” he says. Aside from the fact that he doesn’t know how to pay for the trip – what would it be like to be back in Lithuania?

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