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

By Jonas Füllner, Hinz&Kunzt

Since the middle of December, Ion has been the proud owner of a forklift license. He applied for the
training at the job centre.

However, the native Romanian has yet to find a permanent position. “I’m in good health and more than well qualified,” Ion says. He turned 50 last year.

Ion sells Hinz&Kunzt in Hamburg, Germany. Photo: Mauricio Bustamante

Ion’s dreams are not behind the wheel of a forklift, however. “I want to get back on the water,” the skilled machinist says, “ships are my second home.”

For many years Ion worked in inland navigation, living on boats. “I know all the rivers like the back of my hand, the Rhine, Mosel, Danube, Oder and many more,” he says, with a huge smile lighting up his face.

Those were good years for him. He loved his work and was happily in love. In 1992, his son was born. Everything would have been perfect, if it wasn’t for the difficulties at work.

When the Eastern bloc fell apart, ships were constantly changing hands, and not all the shipping companies that Ion worked for were legal.

“My profession was riddled with the Mafia in those days, and they didn’t hesitate to threaten me.”

At one point Ion had to deliver fuel, primarily gas, to the Slobodan Miloševic Serbian regime. Speaking to Ion, it is clear his participation in these journeys was far from willing.

“My profession was riddled with the Mafia in those days, and they didn’t hesitate to threaten me,” he adds.

Ion’s ship was detained during the crisis in Ukraine in 1997 “for political reasons”. The rest of the crew cut and run. Ion was alone on the ship for one year and three months. “I couldn’t leave the ship,” he explains.

Was he afraid? Ion shakes his head in resignation. There was a bigger shock waiting for the powerfully-built man we he arrived home: his wife had met another man during his absence. Ion got a divorce.

On his return Ion looked for work with German shipping companies. He began to learn the language and made only rare visits to his homeland.

For the sake of his son, he reunited with his wife. That was a mistake, Ion claims, he is absolutely sure of that now. Three years ago, the relationship deteriorated completely. “I just couldn’t take it anymore,” Ion says quietly, with eyes on the floor.

And to make matters worse, he was suddenly penniless. Ion took all his earnings back to Romania when he visited his family. Without a marriage contract he had no legal leverage.

In 2012, Ion turned his back on Romania forever. With the help one of his former captains, he found a tiny apartment in Hamburg.

He began selling Hinz&Kunzt to keep his head above water.

“Selling the paper gave me an anchor,” Ion says. He’d like to go back on the water, but above all, he wants to work. He hopes his new forklift license will help him on his way.

Translated from German to English by Ramey Rieger / Translators Without Borders

We publish a profile of one of our vendors from across our network every Wednesday. Read more of their stories here.