Disposable Materials

30 Mai 2020



I called my mom on the phone. No, her mom did not make ‚goblen‘ with flowers, and no, her mom was not a housewife. During Nikola’s stay in Berlin, her mom had a variety of precarious jobs next to domestic labor. She had five children with Nikola, and ‚goblen‘ was produced by the third child. My mom was the oldest and felt as if she was already a mom.

In our talks, last October in Banja Luka, we have estimated that Nikola was ‘gastarbeiter’ for about six years. Before his final disappearance, he already has been missing for a few weeks. And so, his oldest son has traveled to Berlin. He spoke a bit of French. He managed to find Nikola in a hospital recovering from an accident. A large concrete ceiling has collapsed in front of him.


John Berger and Jean Mohr have finalized „A Seventh Man“ at the time of Nikola’s last days in Berlin. Browsing through this book has brought me closer to Nikola’s life as a migrant worker. The intention of the book was announced in „A Note to the Reader“:

To outline the experience of the migrant worker and to relate this to what surrounds him – both physically and historically – is to grasp more surely the political reality of the world.

In his preface, added in 2010, Berger writes that the first publication was neglected or not taken seriously in West Europe. On the other hand, it was intimately read in the Global South and the countries where the migrant subjects came from. He notes that the book resembles a family album in a way that consists of short sequences and puzzle pieces of life stories. However, later in the book, he is aware that migrant workers do not talk about the details of their life abroad. He also knows that the family albums contain pre-selected moments, a mix of staged portraits and spontaneous celebrations, smiles and toasts. I bet there is no photograph of the solitary life of a ‘gastarbeiter’ included in any family album. The montages of glimpses of every day serve to confirm the positive identity of a family.

Berger’s book is rough testimony of all stages of migrant existence. Exceptionally hard, I find the scenes of recruitment procedures. The bodies of the potential workers are measured, tested, and processed like cattle. There is a similarity to military recruitment. However, the soldiers are reshaped as patriots to proudly serve as disposable materials in times of war. Thus, family albums include photographs of happy soldiers. Berger’s record contains the scandal of degradation of nameless migrant’s lives.


At the end of 1974, the oldest son went for the second time to look for Nikola. Then, after the new year, he stayed a bit longer to regulate his father’s funeral in Berlin. Last time we talked about this, he smoothly switched to the anecdotes of travel with his friends to Paris. Many issues regarding Nikola in Berlin remain obscure. I am curious about the buildings on which he worked, in particular those consisting of large concrete ceilings. A lot of buildings in Berlin look massive to me. I took a sample at the entrance of a passage with the sign of Saturn. It belongs to a relatively recent shopping mall, not far from my hallucinations – noted on May 24 – around the former Ministry of Aviation.