On August 19, 1988 I crossed the border in Świnoujście on the ferry to FRG. The rising tide of emigration in those years made me take advantage of that opportunity. Gdynia is not a podunk, we saw the Western goods, good cars, etc. As a 25-year-old boy then, I also wanted to have such gadgets.
My emigration was an escape for economic reasons. Here’s my story in a nutshell: I worked as a driver in the city’s emergency ambulance service. We decided with my fiancée to leave for the West. In those days it was very difficult to get a passport, so the only way to get them was Gromada travel agency located in Świętojańska Street behind the City Hall. There we found an offer of a three-day trip to Hamburg.
The date was so distant that we were able to apply for passports. But it was also the period when you had to have permission from the employer to submit such documents. I had certain problems with it because my boss was a “commie”, but I convinced him, promising him a gift from Germany. And somehow he signed the paper.
Shortly before the departure I got a message from Gromada that the tour was postponed by a few weeks. Not wanting to risk that at a later date my „commie” manager might change his mind, I decided to go into hiding at home for three days. I lived in the center of Gdynia, and I knew many people who worked in the emergency ambulance, so I preferred not to risk a meeting.
After three days I went to work as if nothing had happened. At work I was telling cock-and-bull stories about the stay in Hamburg. I gave the manager, of course, a bottle of whiskey (bought especially for this purpose in Peweks). Of course, I was waiting further for the new date of the trip. I’m not sure, but the management probably had to give permission for leave every time, so one bottle of whiskey was kind of wind-up for the manager. After a while, I got a message that the trip would come off, so again I went to the manager with the cock-and-bull story that once again I would bring something for him from Germany.
Leaving the port
An Autosan bus, a bit rickety one, left in the evening from Partyzantów Street. Was jerking to Świnoujście. It broke on the way, and the ferry to Trawemünde didn’t wait for latecomers – it was really nervous. The customs officers checked everybody quite thorougly. Before me there was a man who, like me, had the papers sewn in the trouser cuffs. It was my luck. He was stopped, and in that mess I was inspected quite cursorily. And so we got on the Silesia ferry. All the passengers apart from the guide and the driver stayed in Germany.
From Hamburg we went to Cologne because my cousin lived around and we were hoping for her help – to guide us, tell us what to do, because we were just off the boat, for the first time abroad and in addition didn’t speak the language. We got visas for only three days (as long as the trip was supposed to last), so we had to check in as soon as possible in any transit camp so that we wouldn’t be expelled by the German. My cousin lent us her car (Daihatsu Cuore – of the size of Fiat 126p) and sent us to Friedland.
There was a mass of people, mostly Russians from Kazakhstan. Unfortunately, we didn’t get either a place to sleep or food stamps because of overpopulation at the camp. The alternative was to eat and sleep at our own expense, possibly arrival in a month. We decided to stay and sleep in the car.
Although I had more or less 300 marks, I didn’t know what our future would be. I was stealing bread from the canteen, where other campers had their meals, and we ate the bread with wild plums picked from a tree several kilometers from Friedland.
A day in the camp was mainly about standing in queues to officials who signed circular letters, three weeks like that. Finally, at the end of the stay I got the first allowance in the amount of 200 marks and we were sent to the next transit camp – Unna-Massen.