It is the 10th of September, 1964, Cologne-Deutz railway station. Reporters, flashing cameras, a festivities committee, flowers, music and dance greet the millionth guest worker to Germany, 38-year-old Armando Rodrigues de Sá from Portugal. The gleaming Zündapp Mokick is to be his welcome gift. Reception and gift were meant to sell Germany as a prime destination for jobseekers and encourage further applications.
Cologne-Deutz, however, was only a stopover for de Sá on his way to his future employment in Baden-Württemberg. He hardly used the moped in Germany, instead taking it to his family in Portugal. On a visit home in the early 1970s, de Sá fell ill and was diagnosed with cancer. He spent his savings on treatments and medication, knowing nothing of his option to claim sickness benefits. With no flashing cameras or condolences from his host country, Germany’s millionth “guest worker” died in his hometown in 1979.
The photo of de Sá had a lasting influence on the image of the male “guest worker” from southern Europe. School books and media used it time and again to recount the history of labour migration. But the picture is only a snapshot and tells but a small part of the story. The situation of many hardworking people remained untold for a long time: a lonely life, far away from family and friends. Many young women also came to Germany to work, and many “guests” ended up staying permanently. They started families, put down roots and helped shape our society.