By Annette Woywode, Hinz&Kunzt
“I am not a saint,” Gerald says, shrugging his shoulders.
One can’t believe it, as his curd dumplings taste divine! His creamy curd balls – served with vanilla custard and strawberry compote – are a calorie bomb that the 50-year-old has prepared for his 200 Hinz&Kunzt colleagues to celebrate the launch of another edition of the magazine.
Someone who is able to prepare such a paradisiac dessert can surely not have skeletons in his closet, can he? Gerald laughs. “I’ve calmed down,” the Vienna-born Gerald says. Formerly, he wouldn’t listen to reason – and made a mess of things.
Gerald, who is called “Ösi” by many people at Hinz & Kunzt, was in prison for eleven years. He only wanted to serve a sentence instead of paying a fine but then he had a pass and got on bad terms with a “friend” who stayed in his apartment for the weeks he was in prison. Actual bodily harm, illegal possession of firearms and deprivation of liberty were involved – as a result, Gerald was sentenced to prison for years. “I think they were happy to finally convict me,” he admits. Gerald speaks almost casually about his time in prison; he had been lucky when involved with other illegal activities before.
And Gerald really needed luck. At the age of two, he moved into a foster home; at ten, he moved into a shelter. When he turned 16, the housemaster kicked him out. “Ever since, I have been standing on my own feet,” Gerald says. At that point, Gerald looked for an apprenticeship so that he could become a chef. “I have always been interested in cooking,” Gerald tells me. “I can do à la carte; I can do canteen kitchen.”
After his apprenticeship, Gerald opened his own restaurant in Linz and the illegal business started – the handling of stolen goods, mainly jewellery. “Otherwise you can’t make a living in the chef business,” Gerald tells me, in nicest Viennese dialect.
When the building in which Gerald’s restaurant was located was demolished, he opened a bar with hostesses elsewhere. The business flourished until the early 1990s, but Gerald sold the bar when the iron curtain fell and the competition from Eastern Europe became too strong. However, his “second business” continued. The police had their eyes on him, “but failed to convict me of something.” That is, until the day Gerald was supposed to pay a fine for defamation of a civil servant on duty – and preferred to go to prison out of stubbornness. He stayed there for many years.
Gerald would have probably have coped with imprisonment since he could work as a cook and didn’t suffer. However, then his long-term girlfriend died of a stroke. “That left marks,” Gerald admits, “but I was allowed to bury her.” Gerald spent a lot of money on her funeral and continued to pay the rent for the apartment for far too long. Additionally, he also had to pay high attorneys’ fees. When he was released from prison at the age of 46, his savings had been used up.
On his release, there was nothing left to keep Gerald in Austria. In January 2013, he travelled to Hamburg and was accepted for the winter emergency program. An acquaintance introduced him to Hinz&Kunzt.
“I was high up and deep down,” Gerald reflects, as cool as a cucumber as he contemplates this period of his life. He looks like someone who has made peace with himself. In Hamburg, Gerald is sleeping rough under a bridge. “One can stand it,” he thinks. “But let’s see. Maybe I can find work in a canteen kitchen by the end of the year.”
His heavenly tasting curd dumplings prove that Gerald has the talent to realise his hopes.
Translated from German by Jessica Michaels