That time – 1996 – there was a conflict between the socialist party and it’s opposition in Yugoslavia. In the opposition were too many right-wing radicals. I was working for the radio, but the whole media was controlled Milošević. I had a job in Paraćin, which was ok, but it was also difficult, because I was confronted with the right-wing guys. In 1991, I was in the last generation of the army, which was really together: The Croats, Serbs, Macedonians, even one from Slovenia.
The people in the army believed that we have to defend the idea of the free, united Yugoslavia. Together we were watching the news and saw the shootings in Split, which were the beginning of the war. I strongly identify myself as Yugoslavian. Since the 4th class in elementary school I had played in theatre, with performances in the whole of Yugoslavia.
But suddenly people in my home town told me that I cannot pass, I should go away or they wanted to beat me. Slowly I ran out of patience.
The opposition organised a demonstration: They came to our radio station and installed a video in front of the building. The editors were watching from the office what was happening outside. They started to put candles in front of the building and throw eggs.
The situation started to become dangerous for me because of my political view: I was neither in the socialist party nor with the opposition. At this day of the demonstration they said: Come out we will fight you – but give us the Gypsy first, he has to come first.
While the chief editor said it was shit, I was used to it. Also in the military I had been different. You have to accept the jokes and provocations, then you are accepted. But at the same time you loose your community.
Yet, even as a child, when we were playing Germans and partisan, I had to play the German. When we played western, I had to be the Indian. So I sad this is nothing new. But the chief editor, who had an Italian background and was also considered as outsider, organized me a visa for Denmark, to work from there as a reporter. He told me: If you can stay there, stay.
For 6 months I was legally living in Denmark. Three months I was working as a journalist, paid by Serbia so I could survive, but I could stay for three more months. I visited Copenhagen, which was interesting, but I was lost and didn’t know what to do. I applied for asylum, so they checked why I’m there. They were cooperating with the Serbian embassy, which wanted me to come home, so I had them and the Danish police behind me.
For the next 6 months I was in another town – completely illegal. I got help from a family and the Red Cross. We made a deal: I could stay at a refugee camp and get food, if I gave computer courses for refugees from Somalia. I was working like this for three months. But I couldn’t stay there, because the police was looking for me. A colleague called me one day and told me that the police was there and I shouldn’t come back.
First I was in a forest, waiting for my cousin, then we were in Copenhagen, but it was extremely dangerous, because they would send me back immediately if we got into a police control.
Then we met some people who offered to take us to the other side of the border. They offered me Oslo or Germany and I chose Oslo, because I was interested in the north. But people told me that Oslo is too small and controlled by the Yugoslavian mafia, that situation there is poisoned, so my cousin and me each paid 1200 DM to get to Germany.
The guy who was going to drive was supposed to bring us to a small town near the border with his Ford Sierra – I didn’t like this car. He told us it will take 45 minutes. We shared the back with another guy, in the front were the driver and a friend a friend of him. They were listening to a very aggressive rap from Sandžak, a region close to Kosovo, where the people are Bosnian (Muslims), often in conflict with the Serbs. The driver was very frustrated – and on drugs. The car’s damper was destroyed, I didn’t like it. Once, the driver asked me something not important, about the time or so, and I replied. Yet, when the driver heard our accent (he was just the driver, not the guy we made the deal with), he asked me to say it again. Then he asked where I’m from and started to speak bad about Serbian orthodox to provoke us. He wanted to fuck us, but he couldn’t because of his boss. So he started to drive a chicken drive against other cars, avoiding them in the last second. However, the car wasn’t stable because of the broken damper. When he was trying to avoid a truck in the last moment, the car overturned several times. At this moment I was thinking “Why am I doing this?”
But we were lucky and the car landed on its wheels again.
Only the guy next to the driver was injured badly, we Serbs were safe. But I was sure the driver would kill us so I pretend to be badly injured. I screamed out loud in order to gain time and he was confused. Our luck was that his boss called; he forced the driver to bring us to a Denmark refugee camp on foot.
There we got another car, a Citroen Xantia – I liked it. It was another driver, perfect. I didn’t speak.
At the border control he was very good. He knew the place, went without light and knew there was a big hole where he had hidden the car. Then he stopped and told us to walk for one hour. We should just go straight and then go left at the rail road. It was in Flensburg. We shouldn’t go to the railway people to buy a ticket, but wait on the other side of the station and jump on the train when it starts, so that we wouldn’t be seen.
We walked for two hours. I forgot to bring water. There was a fence, if you cross it, there is a signal, so you have to be very fast and reach the 2th fence before the police arrives. There were canals for watering the fields, some were 1 meter, and some were 2 meters wide. I felt the water and there was shit for fertilising the fields. I had to leave my bag behind, because it was too heavy. I only took some pictures.
In Flensburg we smelled the shit from the fields on our shoes while waiting for the train. We had to throw away everything from Denmark so the police couldn’t see that this is where we came from.
I was afraid, thinking of the people who died by trying to get on a train. But I told to myself: Just do it, don’t think. I was screaming and almost felt down, but my cousin saved me and pulled me on the train. He was stronger than me.
On the train, we went to the toilet to clean ourselves, but it was not possible. So I covered my legs with my jacket. When the conductor came I asked for two tickets to Hamburg. I’ve had German at school so I thought that I can speak German. But the conductor said, that the train was not going to Hamburg, but some small town. So I bought two tickets to this small town and he told us that we were going to arrive there at 3 o’clock in the morning and there wouldn’t be another train, so we should take a taxi.
I had about 200 German Mark, my cousin about 30. The control from the German Railways didn’t see us when we got to the station. We went out and I started to play a tourist, but tourist in this village at night…
We understood only afterwards, how dangerous our journey from Denmark to Germany had been. I wouldn’t do it again if I knew what it means. It was also another time, when there still were borders within Europe.
We asked the first taxi driver to take us to Hamburg, but he wanted 400 DM. Then I saw another taxi, an Audi A8, with Rolling Stones playing in the car. The driver also told as 400DM at first, but when I told him that I don’t have that much, he asked about how much we have and I said 170 DM. He agreed.
It was nice in the car like a ship. The problem was with the shit on our shoes… The A8 had a very good air conditioning, which blew the smell of my shoes directly to my face and everywhere else. The taxi driver had to open the window. It was a very unpleasant situation. This way we got to Hamburg.
Was stayed in Hamburg for one day. This is another crazy thing. We are in Hamburg. My cousins cousin should be there. We called him from a phone cell and he told us the street where he lived. The taxi driver didn’t know it and couldn’t find it on the map. So we went out of the taxi and called the cousin again; he said it’s in Moabit. We asked him where he is: In Berlin! Shit.
A drug dealer approached to us at the station. Not from Kosovo, from Montenegro. It was very dangerous. He wanted to take us with him, asked where we want to go. My cousin was lying: “We look for an uncle Radivoj”. The dealer was also lying: “I know him; of course, come with me!” It was not good. But we were lucky – the police came and we ran away.
The cousin organised somebody to pick us up in bring us to Berlin. I didn’t apply for asylum, because they would send me back. I had only a “Duldung”, an exceptional leave to remain, which is a different process.
At the beginning I was in a refugee camp in Zehlendorf. It was a small one. Zehlendorf is interesting, because there are lots of villas and reach people. And the camp was small, between some car shops.
I searched for the Romani Union, somebody from the refugee camp had told me about it. Because I didn’t have an idea and there was no internet I asked people about it. Eventually I found it. There was an exhibition in Rathaus Schöneberg (I didn’t know at that time, it was just a big nice house for me), where I met an exotic woman with strange Moroccan hut, but she was German. She smelled like this smelling sticks. She approached me and I was very happy, because I had the feeling my new life in Berlin is starting. We drank wine and she asked me where I life. I told her “in Zehlendorf”. – “Oh, really? And what you do?”. I didn’t tell her that I’m a refugee, I told her that I was a journalist. She said she would give me a ride. Cool!
We went with the Golf 2, it was not perfect, but very nice. And Golf… And she with this… It was ridiculous. But ok, I was excited to meet somebody in Berlin and this was interesting for me. When we arrived I forgot the number, I had never been in this area with a car, so we were looking for my place. She asked if it was here – some villas… No, no, no. And then we came to the refugee camp. And this was the first time I saw it from this perspective – it looked like a prison.
She asked me: “What is this?” And I told her: “I live there for the moment.”
“Is this a prison?”
“No, no, it’s a refugee camp.”
“Ah, OK, we see us in dreams.”
There was the gatekeeper, he told me that I have to be back before 10 pm, otherwise I’ll get in trouble.
And this was the beginning of my Berlin career.