up in the air

December 3, 2012

Boy, it has been a long time since I last posted on this blog. I didn’t have much time to spare in the two months since my last entry. I’ve shot a ton for the Süddeutsche Zeitung, had two weekend-long board meetings with FREELENS, the German freelance photographers’ professional organization, and worked as a photographer and digital assistant for an online fashion store on my remaining days. This past weekend was the first time in four weeks that I had a day off and man did it feel good to do nothing at all…

A lot of photography has piled up from my assignments at the paper that I would like to share here, and at the same time I shoot new stuff three days a week. In order to maintain a fairly complete record on this blog, I need to start catching up somwhow. So, on top of vowing to become better about posting regularly, I’ll start a series of posts with stuff that I did between September and now.

I’d like to start with something that I did very recently (consider this my post from current assignments – I’ll do one with archive stuff later). Two weeks ago on Tuesday, I got a call from the newsroom to photograph a Greek family that lived in Terminal 1 of Franz-Josef-Strauß airport just outside of Munich. They weren’t able to tell me more about it at the time, but nevertheless I was intrigued by the story. It brought the whole abstract issue of the European debt crisis down to a human level. I asked the photo editor if they would let me do some form of long-term project – possibly even multimedia – on this and they were immediately fired up for the idea.

So I called Laura Meschede, the author who first researched and pitched the story to the Süddeutsche, and together we went to the airport that same day to do a video interview with the family.

After the initial interview, I kept going back to shoot more video and stills, and also to record ambient sound for the multimedia piece. The story was published on Wednesday, November 28, almost exactly one week after I first met Sakis, Albena and Nikola. It got an entire page in the print edition and ran with a multimedia special on the website and the iPad edition. To get the video up in time, I had to pull an all-nighter on Monday, since I had a job in Nuremberg the next day and couldn’t do any editing on Tuesday.

It was worth the effort though. Less than twelve hours after the paper hit the stands, a man had driven out to the airport from a town 80 miles away to give each of the family members 100 Euros to buy food and cloths, loaded them into his car and dropped them off at a woman’s place in Munich, who had offered to let them stay in her spare room until they find something of their own. A third man, a professional employment counselor, offered to pay for German classes for the whole family and then work out a long-term strategy out of poverty with them pro bono.

Offers for help continue to pour in, and it looks like the whole thing is going to turn into some sort of Christmas story. But enough talk now. Here’s a quick intro, and the pictures will tell the rest:

40-year-old Athanasios “Sakis” Tsitiridis, of Thessaloniki, left his home in 2008 when the global financial crisis first hit Greece. Together with his 37-year-old Bulgarian girlfriend Albena Haralampieva, he came to Germany in search of a better life. Her son Nikola Rumenov Iliev, then ten years old, went to Bulgaria to live with his grandmother.

Since their arrival in Germany, Sakis and Albena have been getting by with odd jobs lasting from a few days to a couple of weeks. They have not been able to find permanent employment or even accomodation. Between jobs, they keep returning to Munich airport where they collect bottles and return them for deposit money to make a living.

On October 18, 2012, now 15-year-old Nikola joined them in Munich because his grandmother could not afford to feed him any longer. For more than six weeks now, the three have been living in the check-in area of Terminal 1, section A. After appealing for help in vain to every government agency and exhausting all their options, they are left with nothing but the hope for a miracle to happen.

Sakis, Albena und Nikola live in section A of Terminal 1 where they set up camp in a less frequented area behind the escalators. One floor down is a restaurant where they also spend a lot of their time at the airport. Wednesday, November 21, 2012.

Sakis, Albena und Nikola live in section A of Terminal 1 where they set up camp in a less frequented area behind the escalators. One floor down is a restaurant where they also spend a lot of their time at the airport. Wednesday, November 21, 2012.

Exhausted from headache and fever, Albena holds her head in her hands outside the airport restaurant. She's been sick for several days, but having no health insurance, she doesn't know where to go for treatment. The last time she went to see a doctor, she had to leave her passport until she was able to pick enough bottles to raise the money for the bill. Wednesday, November 21, 2012.

Exhausted from headache and fever, Albena holds her head in her hands outside the airport restaurant. She's been sick for several days, but having no health insurance, she doesn't know where to go for treatment. The last time she went to see a doctor, she had to leave her passport until she was able to pick enough bottles to raise the money for the bill. Wednesday, November 21, 2012.

Despite the ubiquitous noise and the permanent brightness of the fluorescent lights, Nikola tries to catch some sleep while Sakis and Albena are collecting bottles. Wednesday, November 21, 2012.

Despite the ubiquitous noise and the permanent brightness of the fluorescent lights, Nikola tries to catch some sleep while Sakis and Albena are collecting bottles. Wednesday, November 21, 2012.

Sakis and Albena sit outside in the smoking area of the restaurant lighting one cigarette after another and drinking instant coffee. The boredom of life at the airport and the resulting depression and low morale takes a heavy toll on them. The ritual of rolling cigarettes and brewing instant coffee is a welcome distraction. Wednesday, November 21, 2012.

Sakis and Albena sit outside in the smoking area of the restaurant lighting one cigarette after another and drinking instant coffee. The boredom of life at the airport and the resulting depression and low morale takes a heavy toll on them. The ritual of rolling cigarettes and brewing instant coffee is a welcome distraction. Wednesday, November 21, 2012.

Sakis and Albena took a bus from the airport to the railway station in Freising to open a bank account at the local Postbank branch. They applied online before coming to secure a € 100 bonus. Thursday, November 22, 2012.

Sakis and Albena took a bus from the airport to the railway station in Freising to open a bank account at the local Postbank branch. They applied online before coming to secure a € 100 bonus. Thursday, November 22, 2012.

After opening a bank account with the local Postbank branch in Freising, Sakis and Albena head back to the station to take the bus back to the airport. Each time they need to visit government offices or run other administrative errands, they have to pick bottles for hours to be able to afford public transport. Thursday, November 22, 2012.

After opening a bank account with the local Postbank branch in Freising, Sakis and Albena head back to the station to take the bus back to the airport. Each time they need to visit government offices or run other administrative errands, they have to pick bottles for hours to be able to afford public transport. Thursday, November 22, 2012.

Sakis and Albena ride the bus back to the airport from Freising. The two have visited and appealed for help to virtually every government agency in both Freising and Munich - to no avail. According to German law, EU citizens who are in Germany only to secure employment are not eligible to receive welfare bonuses - instead, they are referred to the authorities of their home countries. Thursday, November 22, 2012.

Sakis and Albena ride the bus back to the airport from Freising. The two have visited and appealed for help to virtually every government agency in both Freising and Munich - to no avail. According to German law, EU citizens who are in Germany only to secure employment are not eligible to receive welfare bonuses - instead, they are referred to the authorities of their home countries. Thursday, November 22, 2012.

Albena is looking for bottles in the trash cans in front of the terminal building. The deposit money that they receive when they return the bottles to the super market is the family's only source of income. "If I don't pick bottles, I'm starving," Sakis says. "I can do nothing else here." Wednesday, November 21, 2012.

Albena is looking for bottles in the trash cans in front of the terminal building. The deposit money that they receive when they return the bottles to the super market is the family's only source of income. "If I don't pick bottles, I'm starving," Sakis says. "I can do nothing else here." Wednesday, November 21, 2012.

Albena has collected some bottles which she will later return for deposit money at the super market. Some bottles bring as much as € 0.25 a bottle, but most of the bottles yield € 0.15 or even only € 0.08. It takes hours to collect enough to afford some food, let alone for three people. Wednesday, November 21, 2012.

Albena has collected some bottles which she will later return for deposit money at the super market. Some bottles bring as much as € 0.25 a bottle, but most of the bottles yield € 0.15 or even only € 0.08. It takes hours to collect enough to afford some food, let alone for three people. Wednesday, November 21, 2012.

A € 2.00 voucher is the return of several hours worth of picking bottles at the airport. Saturday, November 24, 2012.

A € 2.00 voucher is the return of several hours worth of picking bottles at the airport. Saturday, November 24, 2012.

With the money he got for a bag full of bottles they collected earlier that day, Nikola bought food for the family at an airport super market. "We eat always salami and cheese. Nothing else," said Sakis. "We can't buy nothing else. It's expensive." Saturday, November 24, 2012.

With the money he got for a bag full of bottles they collected earlier that day, Nikola bought food for the family at an airport super market. "We eat always salami and cheese. Nothing else," said Sakis. "We can't buy nothing else. It's expensive." Saturday, November 24, 2012.

Sakis and Albena head to a public bathroom to take a shower. With 38 million passengers passing through annually, the airport offers little privacy to the family. Thursday, November 22, 2012.

Sakis and Albena head to a public bathroom to take a shower. With 38 million passengers passing through annually, the airport offers little privacy to the family. Thursday, November 22, 2012.

Albena washes herself in a public bathroom. "We live like dogs," Sakis said about their life at the airport. "It's very heavy. Very heavy." Thursday, November 22, 2012.

Albena washes herself in a public bathroom. "We live like dogs," Sakis said about their life at the airport. "It's very heavy. Very heavy." Thursday, November 22, 2012.

The family sits in their "living room," the restaurant on the ground floor of section A at Terminal 1. "One room for three," Sakis said about what they needed most at this point. "Twenty (square) meters, ... only the walls. Nothing else." Saturday, November 24, 2012.

The family sits in their "living room," the restaurant on the ground floor of section A at Terminal 1. "One room for three," Sakis said about what they needed most at this point. "Twenty (square) meters, ... only the walls. Nothing else." Saturday, November 24, 2012.

Exhausted from lack of sleep, Albena rests her head on the table in the restaurant downstairs. "My biggest fear is that we'll stay here, in the airport," Sakis said. "I'm afraid now, because all the doors is closed." Wednesday, November 21, 2012.

Exhausted from lack of sleep, Albena rests her head on the table in the restaurant downstairs. "My biggest fear is that we'll stay here, in the airport," Sakis said. "I'm afraid now, because all the doors is closed." Wednesday, November 21, 2012.

Filed under: Germany

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1 Comment

  • 1. Blog | Jakob Berr Photogr&hellip  |  28. 12. 2012 at 21.04

    […] back in Munich and shooting again, and it’s time for another blog post. As I mentioned previously, I’m going to post some older stuff along with new work to catch up on the two months that […]


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