I was recently approached by an elderly man while waiting for a train. Initially, I expected him to be a homeless man seeking spare change. However, my assumption was quickly proven wrong when he began recounting an incident where he helped a woman with excessive luggage board the train. Impressed by his act of good citizenship, I applauded his kindness, unknowingly setting the stage for a three-hour conversation. As It turned out, he wasn't really interested in me at all. The old man's name was Victor Krakauski and proceeded to tell me his entire life story, and since I got to know him, now you must know him too.
Victor was born in 1958 in Kyrgyzstan, a part of the Soviet Union at the time. His family hailed from German heritage and operated a small vineyard in Kyrgyzstan. Fearing the oppression of communism as land and business owners, many of his family members and fellow townsfolk fled back to Germany. The mayor of their village as well as other civil servants were shot at the border due to their political ties. While some of his family reconnected with their German roots, Victor stayed behind, joining the Red Army and pursuing studies in agriculture. He finished 20th in his class, and was assigned a job in a small village that failed to bring him much joy. Nevertheless, he gradually accumulated a small farm, a car, and even generated extra income from winemaking. He also got married and promised his wife that one day they would move to Germany, where he had a significant number of relatives. Victor named his two sons Martin and Rudolf, deliberately giving them very German names to ensure they wouldn't be mistaken for Russians in Germany.
With the fall of communism in 1989, Victor and his family seized the opportunity to go to Germany. Thankfully, the presence of relatives made the process relatively smooth, as it was perceived as a homecoming rather than migration. He found work as a package inspector for a large shipping company, since Germany did not recognize his university degree. His two sons studied in Germany but struggled academically, frequently indulging in cannabis use that left them complacent and unproductive. Victor even attempted to join his son in smoking cannabis, but he found no pleasure in doing so. Instead, he advised his son that a shot of vodka would be a better way to unwind.
Despite being constantly labeled as a Russian in various social settings, Victor took solace in the fact that his sons embraced their heritage. However, life in Germany was not without its challenges. His Kyrgyzstani wife struggled to adjust, particularly due to their confined living arrangements in an apartment without any land or business to their name. Eventually, she returned to Kyrgyzstan with one of their sons, where she passed away in her late 50s. Victor chose to remain in Germany, purchasing the small apartment they had resided in, a decision he regards as 'the best one he ever made.'
As of 2023, Victor Krakauski finds himself in the midst of retirement, grappling with the challenges of adjusting to an abundance of free time. Estranged from his sons and without a wife, he laments the absence of companionship and someone to share his thoughts with. He also faced a recent health setback—a stroke caused by the removal of a severely clogged neck artery, leaving a prominent scar on his neck. Paralyzed on his right side, he encountered considerable difficulties with mobility. In Germany, his doctor delivered a disheartening prognosis, informing him that the chances of recovery were slim and that he should accept his condition. However, harboring doubts about German doctors, he reached out to an old comrade from the Red Army, who recommended a traditional healer in Siberia.
To his surprise, Victor's army friend had achieved great success in the aftermath of communism and graciously arranged and financed his trip to Siberia for a traditional treatment encompassing herbal teas, acupuncture, prayer, and meditation. Although initially skeptical, Victor, with nothing to lose, embarked on this unexpected journey. To his astonishment, the treatment proved effective, restoring his right side to its former functionality. Nonetheless, the ongoing need to visit the traditional healer poses a financial burden on his modest pension. Additionally, he must undertake annual travels across Germany to renew his visa, which is how I crossed paths with him. These voyages strain his finances, but Victor counts himself fortunate to have his loyal old Red Army buddy who continues to offer assistance and support.
Commenting on current political matters, Victor ardently expresses his belief that "all this democracy and human rights stuff is the same as the nonsense we endured in the Soviet Union." He dismisses the war in Ukraine as a sham and adamantly insists that he could never develop any romantic or sexual interest in another man.