By Jonas Füllner, Hinz&Kunzt
“I don’t want it to be a normal, boring photo”, says Raitis, with a note of pride in his voice. Hence the dog hat, which he brought specially for the shoot. “It’s good, don’t you think?” Just like every day, Latvian-born Raitis appears early in the morning in the Hinz&Kunzt shopping area. He collects new papers, drinks his coffee and chats with fellow sellers. Then he continues on to his selling site.
It’s very important to him to have a regular routine for the day. “I have a serious disease,” explains 60-year-old Raitis. “It’s called alcoholism.” Even when he was just a child, the adults around him were always drinking. Alcohol was the norm in his family. “Some of the family were able to control their drinking,” says Raitis. “But not me.”
When he was still a young man, he began drinking. To unconsciousness. Regularly. There were consequences. “Brain doesn’t work right,” says Raitis, smiling self-consciously. He doesn’t like looking back on that time. Two marriages broke down. He dropped out of his studies.
For 16 years, he was dependent on the bottle, Raitis tells us. In 1991, he finally sought help in Riga through Alcoholics Anonymous. “I was so happy, because I found people who understood me,” he says.
His health gradually improved. But his financial worries remained. “If a person has no job, it’s hard to earn money.” He did casual jobs in warehouses, and did forestry work. However, he struggled to concentrate and was barely coping.
It was more out of despair than a sense of adventure that he decided to hitchhike out of his country in 2001. His goal? To get to Germany. He learnt the language at school, Raitis explains. The journey took 17 hours. “At the German border, I was really struggling. I cried a lot.”
The fact that his final destination was Hamburg was by chance. For the first few nights, he slept at the headquarters of the Bahnhofsmission, a charity helping those arriving at the railway station. Then he searched for a bench in a park. Suddenly, it began to rain. “That’s when it became clear to me that I had a problem,” Raitis says, who is a short, sturdy-looking man. Once again, it was Alcoholics Anonymous who came to his aid. This time, they helped him to find a place to spend the night. That was also how he found out about Hinz&Kunzt. It was very lucky for him that he did. “I didn’t want to beg any more,” says Raitis. But at the same time, he still hadn’t found any work.
Now, Raitis has his own flat. He’s back in contact with his kids. And he is standing firm, despite the end of a new relationship he had formed here in Germany. “The dry years have been my best times,” says Raitis, who speaks with real conviction. But is he happy? “Of course, for many years the grass was greener in my home country. And the sky wasn’t as blue as in Latvia,” he remembers. “But I love Hamburg. I’ve been to Berlin a few times. But to me, Hamburg is the real Germany. “There’s nowhere else I’d rather be now.”
Translated from German by Melanie Vogt