The resilience of human nature fascinates me, as does the ability of migrants to set foot in a new land and make a life for themselves and their families in spite of all the odds. It doesn’t matter what country I choose to write on, because I will always find migrant families everywhere, all with their tales of woe, of triumph and defeat, mirroring society at its roots and in its rawest form. Berlin has become a migration hub in the last decade, much to the chagrin of many, not only because of work opportunities but also because of the controversial refugee issues. Given the colourful history of the city, it is really no surprise at all that every corner abounds with a migrant story, and so my personal project of interviewing the taxi drivers of Berlin continues.
The other day I met Wladimir, a chatty fellow who had no qualms about telling me his story and explaining many of Berlin’s, shall we call them underground societies. Born in what is now recognised as the Republic of Kazakhstan, Wladimir grew up in the former USSR speaking Russian and German. My eyebrows rose at this fact and he explained that the part of Kazakhstan where he spent most of his youth was inhabited by a large community of Volga Germans (Wolgadeutsche), a fact that sent me straight to wikipedia to learn more about them. Since the Volga Germans retained much of their original culture, it was easy for Wladimir to acquire the language in a natural surrounding, in addition to some of the schools being bilingual.
Wladimir was a certified driving instructor in Kazakhstan for all vehicles, a time he looks back upon with a smile and a frown. The job was secure, there were more than enough customers, but he wanted more for his family and for himself. He wanted out of the old Soviet Union and into the more flourishing Western Europe that he had grown up reading about. The decision to migrate to Germany 20 years ago came easy, since he already spoke the language, but it was inevitable that he felt like a fish out of water nevertheless. Here in Berlin he met more than his fair share of Russians in all walks of life, but hardly any Kazakhstanis.
Since driving was something he knew well, that is where he began, and landed a job as a long-distance truck driver almost immediately. What he thought would be a temporary solution to his grand dream turned out to be a 15-year long-haul that kept him on the road most of the time. This, he realised, was not what he had envisioned as the path to greater freedom and happiness. The struggle continued, and Wladimir was determined to make it in the nation’s capital, by hook or by crook – refusing return to Kazakhstan or be defeated by the rising unemployment of Berlin. So he took up the offer of a friend and decided to try his luck at taxi driving. This, he figured, would at least keep in Berlin and he could finally establish some roots here and get to know the Russian community at the very least.
Taxi driving turned out to be much more relaxed and entertaining for him, and it didn’t take long to convince him to become an independent contractor. So five years later, he now owns the taxi he drives, can dictate his hours, and has met the most outrageous celebrities and businessmen alike in the process. The secret? Entweder mann will oder sucht eine Ausrede (you either want it or find an excuse not to). Far too many newcomers to Berlin find too many excuses not to chase the dream and end up wallowing in misery and discontent. Ouch, that hit me like a ton of bricks.