Habte Hadgu (61), a travel agent, is the proprietor of Red Sea Travel & Tours, Heidelberg.
“I came to Germany in 1978 to study. Previously, I was studying at Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia. One of my fellow students who later became very famous was Meles Zenawi (the late Prime Minister of Ethiopia). He was in his second year while I was in my first year. I knew him personally. I was studying pharmacy but had to leave the country become of the war of liberation that was being waged by the Eritrean people. I am an Eritrean.
“I had a very negative image of Germany before I came here because of the Second World War. However, when I arrived my experience was totally contrary to my expectations. The people were very friendly. Of course, one experienced incidents of rejection here and there, but generally society was open and very free.
“Living in Germany is not easy because you have to work very hard and adhere to rules and regulations. Because we Africans have another culture, it can be difficult to cope with the discipline of daily life in Germany. I graduated in Mathematics and Economics at the University of Heidelberg and now run my own travel agency Red Sea Tours & Travel Touristik GmbH, Heidelberg.
“One lesson that I have learnt is how to deal with situations where you experience rejection. These can be very painful and can sometimes be a turning point in our lives because we have no experience of such situations. My advice is not to take it personally but to protect yourself mentally to carry on. You have to find ways to get on in society.
“Germany has changed in many ways since I have lived here. Take Mannheim, for example. Compared with today, the city centre was nearly empty in 1978. I have witnessed many changes in the country in terms of development. Germany has made much progress. The people have also become more open to foreigners. Germany is a very fair society and if you are law-abiding, work very hard and adhere to the orderliness of society, you will live well here.
“When I first came there were African associations in Mannheim and Heidelberg. But today, we are more organised in our national organisations such as our Nigerian association, Eritrean association, etc. I miss the African associations a lot. We need to come together as Africans, too. This will enable us to challenge our problems together here and in Africa.”