Our vendors: Ewa (Hinz&Kunzt, Hamburg, Germany)

By Jonas Füllner, Hinz&Kunzt

No other Hinz&Kunzt seller spent as much time working in the KunztKüche (Kunzt Kitchen) this April as our seller Ewa. Despite this, the 51-year-old was never the centre of attention. She worked in the background, where she was still in command and where she went about her work with dedication: washing, chopping, serving, and making sure that the kitchen was clean and orderly. The in-house chef Aron Farkas, 21, was impressed. “Ewa really was my top worker. I could rely on her without question,” he says. “I never needed to worry that things would go wrong.” He tells me that Ewa was a huge help. “We didn’t need to discuss it much at all: she just knew what she needed to do next.”

And it was lucky for them that they could get by with so few words, because Ewa speaks barely any German. She has since started a German language course, but it’s slow going. Nine years ago, Ewa moved from her home country of Poland to Hamburg. She never talks in detail about why she left her home. She only mentions that she comes from near Warsaw and that her husband was a violent alcoholic. It was only when her children had grown up and left home that she decided to leave him. She headed for Germany as a way of escaping.

A new start: In Hamburg, Ewa finds love and gains a new perspective on life. Credit: Mauricio Bustamante

She ended up homeless. In February 2011, in the middle of winter, she arrived in Hamburg. Ewa didn’t have any money, she had no job, and, worst of all, she had no home. That was what first led her to get help with the winter emergency programme for the homeless (‘Winternotprogramm’). It’s also where she met Stefan. “I immediately had my eye on Ewa,” reveals the 46-year-old from Romania, blushing a little. Ewa giggles, too. “Yes, I liked the look of Stefan,” she says. They liked each other so much that the language barrier between the Romanian and Polish pair was no obstacle. In fact, Stefan now speaks fluent Polish, while Ewa is finding Romanian easier to learn than German.

The start of their relationship was difficult, though. They slept in shop doorways and then in a tent that was well-hidden in a park. As a trained electrician, Stefan always managed to find work. But it was only off the books and people often refused to pay him. Other people might have given up, but Ewa and Stefan continued to seek greener pastures. Their efforts paid off over time. Stefan got a permanent job two years ago. He found an apartment and Ewa did casual work as a cleaner at the Herz As (Ace of Hearts) facility for the homeless. She speaks enthusiastically about her great colleagues and the social workers who were always ready to listen to her.

In Autumn 2017, Ewa started selling Hinz&Kunzt. “It’s only meant to be a temporary solution,” explains Stefan, who interprets for Ewa. Ewa wants a regular job. She would love to work as a kitchen assistant or even as a cleaner. She enjoyed working for KunztKüche and would love to do something similar in the future.

Thanks to her commitment and her desire to improve her situation, Ewa won an award earlier this year. In May, she was the winner of the “Mit dir geht mehr” (You make our city better) campaign in Hamburg and the award was presented to her by neighbourhood artist and Hinz&Kunzt seller Erich Heeder. The social authority presents the award in recognition of people who volunteer to help out in Hamburg’s communities. This month, as the baton-bearer, she gets to decide who to pass the baton to next. We’re excited to hear who she picks to receive the honour.

Translated from German by Melanie Vogt