From Guesthouse to Refugee Home: The New Life of the Wonderful Mister H.
I found three transsexual women who weren’t safe anywhere, and a man from the Berlin gay and lesbian association took them to Mister H.
The young Iraqi family had been turned away from emergency accommodation because of overcrowding and were homeless when I met them on the street outside the LaGeSo, the Regional Office for Health and Social Affairs in Berlin. The mother was pregnant, their son two years old. All the hostels I called turned them down: “No, we don’t take refugees. We’ve had enough of the LaGeSo, they still haven’t paid what they owe us.”
So I found a place for the family to stay with friends for the night and spoke to a woman I know who lives in a rich area. My idea was that hotels wouldn’t be fed up with the LaGeSo there yet, and as it turned out we did find a guesthouse that agreed to take the family right away.
When Esra, Radwan, little Anas and I turned onto the street where the guesthouse is we exchanged silent glances. After all the hostels and emergency accommodation we’d seen, this place was hard to believe. The house where they were to live for a few months was a small villa with blue-painted shutters, complete with a garden and apple trees. Outside the door stood an older gentleman with a cigar, who extended a welcome just as friendly as any other guest would get, or perhaps a little more friendly.
The family were given an apartment with a kitchen, a view of the apple trees and wifi, and Mister H. invited us to the café next door, to get settled in, as he put it. He insisted on treating us to cheesecake on the terrace, smoking one cigar after another. Radwan, the young father, could hardly keep up with his lighter.
“I do have one serious question, though,” Mister H. said to Radwan: “Are you a smoker?” Radwan nodded.
“He’s a smoker!” exclaimed Mister H. “Fantastic! A smoker!” Then he went to the counter, bought a pack of cigarettes, put it down in front of Radwan and said, “Here you go then, my friend!”
The following weekend, Mister H. called me and said, “It’s such lovely weather today. What do you think? Would they mind if I took them on a day trip to Potsdam?”
Potsdam wasn’t the end of it; Mister H., Radwan and Esra climbed up the Teufelsberg hill, visited the Museum Island and his son’s music school, celebrated Eid in an Italian restaurant and chose bed linen together at Ikea. Esra regularly cooked her delicious Iraqi dishes for Mister H. and Mister H., who lives on the top floor of the villa, spent a great deal of time with the three of them. After only a week he was already talking about little Anas like a grandfather: how very clever he was, how cute and how good he was at throwing balls.
“They’ve become my friends, you see.” said Mister H. when we spoke on the phone two weeks later, and promptly took in two of Esra and Radwan’s Iraqi friends.
“Now don’t get the wrong idea – I make good money out of them too,” Mister H. says every time I want to thank him. And it’s true, but it’s not the whole truth. Because at some point, when the LaGeSo refused to issue a voucher for the two Iraqi men’s accommodation costs, Mister H. let them stay in his villa free of charge.
One day Mister H. called me and said, “I’ve thought of something: I’m going to close my guesthouse and give all the rooms to refugees. So bring me four people who need it most.”
I found three transsexual women who weren’t safe anywhere, and a man from the Berlin gay and lesbian association took them to Mister H. “Pretty odd types,” said Mister H. with a laugh. “But what can I say? One of them’s as pretty as a picture and the others are highly intelligent. And you should hear their sense of humour!”
All this was a few months ago. Mister H. is still at it. He shares his villa with people from all over the world. The transsexual Syrians cook with the young Iraqi men and invite Mister H. to dinner. The only time Mister H. loses his temper is when one of the neighbours complains. His life has changed, he says, he’s got new friends and he’s thinking much more than he used to, remembering his childhood when he was so poor that he slept on a straw mattress and went hungry.