What's going on in ... ? - German for beginners in 11 episodes

Robert – the ruined

In reality

Born on 21.1.1960 in Prague , Czechoslovakia
Grew up in Langenfeld, near Cologne , after 1968
Lives in Cologne
Marital status: single (girlfriend), no children
Education: studied Music, Theatre and Philosophy
Occupation and hobbies: journalist, pianist

In the series:

Born on 11.1.1957 in Prague , Czechoslovakia
Grew up in Prague
Has lived in Langenberg since 1990
Marital status: married, three children
Qualifications: none
Occupation: unemployed

Robert Tomasek is one of the many losers of the Nineties, with few opportunities available to him after the collapse of the socialism in Eastern Europe in and after 1989 . In socialist Prague he was able to support his family well by working on the illegal black market; in the West, with his talent for organisation, he might have been a good manager. Like many people in the East, he emigrated to Germany in 1990, along with his German wife and three children, hoping for happiness in the golden West, in the land of limitless opportunities.This hope soon proved to be a misapprehension: the family found themselves in so-called Temporary Accommodation for Easterners, and lived for two years in a single 20m2 room. In the cool German climate, enough living space is important to people’s sense of well-being, since so much of life takes place indoors.The cramp was a great strain on the family: they got on each other’s nerves, and felt as if they were living in a ghetto. Contact with local Germans was not possible.The temporary accommodation of the migrants was looked on in a bad light, and as a rule the locals avoided the area. For two years the Tomaseks sought an affordable house of appropriate size.They had almost no chance of finding a reasonably-priced place to live, however, as a family with three children in an economically successful region, and children being unpopular with landlords.The housing shortage in areas where work could be found was always increasing, and in 1992 the Tomaseks moved into a house which, at 40 square metres, was much too small for a family of 5. On average, a West German family with three children has some 21 metres per person available, or 105 metres overall. A still longer residence in the temporary accommodation would have been unbearable for the Tomaseks, however.  The marriage was already wrecked; conversation consisted of nothing but mutual accusations.

The family lives on social security, which ensures their existence. Robert, who had been popular in Prague and had been able to successfully develop his business, has only slim chances on the German labour market. He has no business contacts here, no capital for starting his own business, and no training to speak of. He has visited job centres numerous times, only to be told that there was nothing for him. He has become familiar with the words and gestures which the employees at the job centre use to tell him this, and for that reason, in the first episode, he didn’t even wait for the end of the interview before leaving. The only work he can find in order to feed his family is hard physical labour. Not being used to the demands of such heavy labour and not having a strong constitution, he is unsuited to such work. He considers his situation to be hopeless. His energy has been spent a long time ago: too great were the expectations, and too great the disappointment. A ‘capitalist’ who had always been able to get by splendidly in socialism, he now lingers on the fringes of an affluent society, in the army of unemployed, with no prospect of change. On top of which he suffers under the constant reproaches of his wife, the cramped living conditions and the social isolation. He consoles himself with alcohol and the diversions of television.When Mrs Hinz offers him the job in the scaffolding company he jumps at the chance, although he knows that the heavy labour is too much for him and is afraid of heights. It is piecework, and he has to lift 25 kilos (that means, he will be paid for performance).The hostile attitude of his colleague Toni makes matters worse. No-one seems to consider him to be a man with qualities anymore. The fall from the scaffolding merely physically mirrors what has already happened to his spirit.Yet sometimes such a low point may be accompanied by an unexpected opportunity…


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