… you were born in Jordan.
I was a hippie, had long hair – that was not wanted in Jordan. Europe impressed me
… so about the former GDR…
… I entered West Berlin. In 1981 I married my first girlfriend from Mainz. But the marriage didn’t last because she didn’t want to stay in Berlin. I had already started working at Bolle in Potsdamer Strasse and felt very comfortable there.
How did you end up in the business?
Through the employment office. There was an advertisement for a warehouse clerk. Actually, I only wanted to work for three months and then continue my studies in business administration. But the relationships with my colleagues in the store were very close, almost like family. After work, we went straight to the pub and partied. Every day. Almost everyone from the staff was there. I soon forgot that I actually wanted to study. We really drank a lot back then.
The store hours were much shorter than they are today.
On Saturdays we were open until 12 noon and on weekdays until 6 pm. Today, you can hardly imagine that.
Do you regret not continuing your studies?
Oh, I had a great time. We enjoyed life!
Then in February 1981 we came and occupied the house in Bolle’s backyard. What do you remember about that?
The house belonged to Neue Heimat. It had stood empty for a long time and was actually uninhabitable.
It wasn’t quite that bad. The biggest problem was that the pipes were broken and there was no water or electricity.
In any case, you immediately started working in the house. From Bolle, you could see how hard you were working. You really made the house beautiful. What I still remember is that on Potsdamer Strasse, not far from our store, this boy was run over during a demonstration.
Klaus-Jurgen Rattay, after the eviction of eight squatted houses, that happened. Did you see that?
No. But I know that there were big riots afterwards.
As one of the first from Bolle, you sought contact with us squatters at that time.
We had water fights together in the courtyard. Everyone, including the store manager, joined in. The prostitutes who were behind the wall also got some.
Yes (laughs). We played volleyball together in the yard and had water fights. We fetched the water in buckets from the store. We had a lot of fun. The prostitutes who were behind the wall got some, too.
Do you remember Roberta – the transvestite? In the evenings she always stood in front of the entrance in a dressing gown and waited for customers.
A very nice one!
We squatters set up a wooden booth for Roberta in the courtyard, where she could serve her customers. Unfortunately, one of the customers kicked the place to pieces.
I always saw her running back and forth. But nobody told me about the little house! And where is she now?
Roberta went back to Greece, but she still visited us sometimes. Do you still know many people from our house?
A lot of younger people have moved in, I don’t really notice anymore. But I know the old ones. You have also become really gray in the meantime, and your children are certainly already parents. I also have a customer who used to come with the stroller. And now her daughter comes with her child. Yes, 40 years is a long time.
The supermarket is located in the middle of the prostitution area. What do you notice about that?
It has become much quieter. The women used to wait outside the door in the morning. They came from work, got their breakfast from us and then went to sleep. We used to chat a bit. Now only individuals come. Before, the nationalities were much more mixed. Now there are mainly women from Bulgaria and Romania on Kurfurstenstrabe. They buy very little from us.
Is there a lot of stress in the store?
In the mornings it’s pretty relaxed. I’m only there until noon. It’s worse in the afternoons and evenings. There is a lot of theft, so we also have a security guard. He also makes sure that everyone wears a mask.
You can experience some strange scenes here. There was once a customer who belted out opera arias when you asked him to.
He was a salesman at Mobel Hubner. Yes, he could sing really well, he always practiced in the bathtub. He was a charmer (laughs). Since he retired, he unfortunately doesn’t come anymore.
I can’t stand it when there’s a gap in the shelf. Everything has to be filled immediately.
When people meet you, they get the impression you’re always in a good mood. Do you also have other moments?
If I’m honest: I’m not as cheerful and funny with my colleagues as I used to be. But with customers it’s almost always like that.
Why is it different with your colleagues?
A lot of new people have joined, and you don’t get to know each other the way you used to. Besides, I’m always hectic and stressed. The younger ones are more relaxed. With me, everything always has to happen quickly.
Are you a driver? That’s hard to imagine.
I don’t know. I can’t stand it when there’s a gap on the shelf. Everything has to be replenished immediately.
Your fruit and vegetables have a good reputation in the neighborhood. What is the secret?
We have good quality, the produce is always fresh. We take proper care of our fruits and vegetables and sort them out regularly – a lot of time goes into that. We also have a large selection of herbs, even cilantro and chives, you don’t find that everywhere. Once a week, the food bank comes and picks up sorted things.
The store is owned by the two brothers Soran and Sulaf Ahmed. They also have a store on Bautzener Strabe. What are they like as bosses?
Very nice and very fair. They gave us old people from the workforce two weeks’ vacation as a reward for the exertions during the Corona period in the spring. In addition, all employees received a shopping voucher worth 350 euros.
What were you thinking during the hoarding?
Oh, we didn’t understand it at all. We couldn’t even unpack the goods, people jumped on the trolley in the aisle and cleared it completely. Toilet paper, kitchen roll, fruit, vegetables – all the shelves were empty. We kept saying, "There’s plenty of product!" But people were firing each other up. That was worse than Christmas and New Year.
From today’s point of view, such a rush would be an outrage, and then also without a mouth guard.
People still knew too little and were not enlightened. Now we all work with masks when we are in the store. When talking to customers, I also try not to stand too close together.
What does Ahmed Senior actually do, he is already well over 80? Does he still come to the store sometimes?
I don’t know how he is doing after his fall. He got a new hip and then went to rehab.
You speak Arabic with him too, right?
Yes, we have a special connection. We talk about everything, especially politics.
The senior is a Kurd. He was cultural attache at the Iraqi embassy in East Berlin under Saddam Hussein during the GDR era. When he could no longer justify that, he fled to the West with his German wife and sons.
Yes, he has experienced a lot and speaks many languages. We are always of the same opinion, we are for democracy!
I think the street has warmth because it is so lively. It is international, but still familiar.
And then there’s Helmut, the mini-jobber in the store. An older gentleman with gray hair who has lost his voice and can only whisper.
Yes, Helmut is good! I always have a lot of fun with him. We both want to move to Thailand one day (laughs). He still dreams of becoming a millionaire. Helmut cleans the backyard and the whole street. He’s an incredibly hardworking, important man, he picks up every scrap, really!
Some people love Potsdamer Strasse, others hate it. Which camp do you belong to?
I think the street has warmth because it’s so lively. It’s international, but still familiar. Even if that may sound strange now: I’ve never heard of a grandmother being mugged or robbed on the corner of Potsdamerstrasse and Kurfurstenstrasse. That’s because there’s always so much going on here.
Are you sure that you would have heard about such a robbery?
Actually, I’ve always heard everything. The clientele tells me everything. Most of the people who live here feel comfortable here. I also like to come by in my spare time and meet clientele for coffee at one of the bakeries.
Many of your old customers are probably dead. Have you been to any of the funerals?
No, I don’t like goodbyes.
But here comes a goodbye. Friday, October 30, at 12 o’clock is the end. Will you go home then as usual or will there be a party?
That’s not possible, if only because of Corona. Besides, I would actually have to work until the end of January, but I still have vacation and the boss has given me a month as a token of appreciation and thanks.
I would also like to thank you on behalf of our house community: for the countless bouquets of flowers, pots of herbs and also the planting material that you have been leaving on our doorstep every morning for years.
These are goods that can no longer be sold, but are much too good to throw away. It makes me happy to see how the plants awaken to new life under your care. Your garden in the backyard of Potsdamer Strabe is a little paradise. One of you has already said to me, "Make sure you teach your successor well, so that the flowers will continue." (laughs)