Revisited – A new life in Germany

October 30, 2013

By Marcelo del Pozo

Over a year ago now, I was looking for a way to put a human face to the story of Spain’s unemployment crisis – a crisis that is still affecting the country today, with around one in four workers without a job.

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I sent messages to lots of my friends, asking them if they knew any Spaniards thinking of emigrating to find employment. At last, I met Jose Manuel Abel, a former salesman from southern Spain, who, after being unemployed for two years, decided to learn some German and move to Munich for a job to help support his family.

Jose Manuel Abel (C), 46, has lunch with his wife Oliva Santos (L), 45, daughter Claudia (2nd L), 13, son Jose Manuel (R), 16 and mother Carmen Herrera, 71, in Chipiona in this June 28, 2012 file photograph. REUTERS/Marcelo del Pozo/Files

Jose Manuel Abel, 46, walks to his flight at San Pablo airport in Seville in this June 29, 2012 file photograph. REUTERS/Marcelo del Pozo/Files

I took pictures as Jose Manuel said goodbye to his wife and children, got on the plane and started work in a restaurant owned by a friend of his.

One year later, I decided to go back and see what had become of him.

In many ways, I found good news. Jose Manuel’s situation has really improved over the last year. He stopped working in the restaurant kitchen, but he managed to get a job with a company that runs a fruit and vegetable warehouse in the city.

Jose Manuel Abel (L), 47, and his colleague Omar arrange boxes as they work in a fruit and vegetable warehouse in Munich October 10, 2013. REUTERS/Marcelo del Pozo

He now has a good position there with a permanent contract, he earns more money than he used to, and he speaks much better German.

He told me that there are still things he finds difficult though.

Jose Manuel Abel, 47, reacts as he sits on a tram in Munich October 9, 2013. REUTERS/Marcelo del Pozo

“The hardest part, perhaps, of arriving here isn’t just the language, the different mindset and the culture,” he told me. “It’s finding yourself completely alone, breaking your connection a bit with routine, with your life, with the things that you would do day to day.”

Jose Manuel has also faced practical challenges. Finding a house is difficult in Germany, and the contract on the place where he’s staying now will expire quite soon. He’s not sure yet where he’ll live when he has to leave.

Jose Manuel Abel, 47, lies down in bed at home in Munich October 10, 2013. REUTERS/Marcelo del Pozo

The question of housing is important because, ideally, Jose Manuel would like to bring his wife and kids to live over in Germany too. His wife Oliva came to visit him while I was there, and it was something touching to see them meet in the airport. You can see from their faces that they are in love.

Jose Manuel Abel (L), 47, and his wife Oliva, 47, laugh as they sit on a train after she arrived from Spain to spend a week in Munich October 11, 2013. REUTERS/Marcelo del Pozo

I stayed on the sidelines for a few minutes until the intensity of the moment had subsided a little, and then I went up and said hello to her.

Normally, Jose Manuel and Oliva talk every evening on Skype before he goes off to work nights at the vegetable warehouse. Since coming to Munich in June 2012, he has been back to see his family in Spain just twice.

Jose Manuel Abel, 47, chats with his wife Oliva via the internet, at home in Munich October 10, 2013. REUTERS/Marcelo del Pozo

Despite missing his family, Jose Manuel is adapting to life in Germany, making friends and building a social circle for himself. He says he doesn’t regret moving here, and that you can come a long way if you do things properly and get a good job with a good company, earning wages that are much higher than in Spain.

On some level, I feel proud to see the way Jose Manuel’s life has developed, and to witness with my own eyes that he’s continuing to progress, personally and professionally, in this country that has given him so many opportunities – Germany.

But, for all Germany’s advantages, Jose Manuel still misses Spain, and he thinks its sad that, at 47, he had to emigrate to find work – something which his father had to do in the 60s, and which Jose Manuel had always thought was a thing of the past.

He would like to believe that history will not carry on repeating itself.

“I hope in the not too distant future, my children will not have to go through this situation,” he said.

“I just hope that the economic situation in our country will allow me to return as soon as possible. The same things that I have here, I would like to have over there.”

Jose Manuel Abel (L), 47, and his wife Oliva, 47, walk down a street in the neighbourhood where he lives in Munich October 13, 2013. REUTERS/Marcelo del Pozo

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