Gunter Voelker, owner of "Deutscher Hof" Erbil, Irak

Gunter, the German Cook in Iraq

Gunter Voelker, owner of "Deutscher Hof" Erbil, Irak

This is Gunter, he owns a German restaurant in Iraq, in Erbil, the capital of the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan. Ordering a beer in his restaurant was a small home-coming for me. Because the beer was brewed 10km away from where I grew up. The food Gunter cooked was the same my grandma always prepared for me.

Gunter comes from a small town in Thuriniga, in the middle of Germany. Him owning a restaurant in Iraq was not a propect he could have fathomed some 25 years earlier. It was the fall of 1989 when he went for “a walk” and demanded freedom of movement, when he demonstrated against the government of the German Democratic Republic. In a childish move of vengeance this government enlisted him for military service. A couple of weeks later the Wall came down and the East-German forces were reunited with their West-German counterparts. Gunter stayed in the army and did what he had learned. He cooked. In Bosnia, in Kosovo, in Kabul. It was in the Afghan capital that he opened his first restaurant in 2003. Times were good at that time in Afghanistan. Everybody was optimistic, Gunter recalls. With every bomb attack this optimism vanished further, making him closing his restaurant in the process. 30.000 Euros were lost. He started again in Iraq. Same story here: many Internationals, optimism, no competition. This time it worked. Gunter wants to open his next restaurant on the island of Sri Lanka.

When I was asking Gunter what he thinks of Germany, if he would go back, he replied: “What could I possibly want there?”

Portrait of a Kurdish Peshmerga who fought 2003 in Operation "Enduring Freedom"

The Peshmerga in my Iraqi cab

Portrait of a Kurdish Peshmerga who fought 2003 in Operation "Enduring Freedom"

I met Halmat at a dusty bus station in the kurdish city of Koia. When the Americans started Operation “Enduring Freedom” to topple Saddam Hussein in 2003, he helped to liberate the city of Kirkuk. Today he works as a bodyguard of the deputy prime minister Kosrat Rasul, a former general, the “kurdish Che Guevara”, a living legend among the guerilla fighters of Kurdistan. Halmat is a Peshmerga, one of these guerillas.

Halmat speaks Kurd, Arabic and Fars. I do not speak any of his languages. Halmat showed me his duty pass on which all his credentials were printed in impeccable English – traces of the US-invasion. That’s why I know all this.

Route nach Sulaymaniyah, Irak auf einer größeren Karte anzeigen

Me and Halmat shared a cab from Koia to Sulaymania in the farther east of the Kurdistan Region. After we arrived, Halmat wanted to help me find a hotel but did not understand where I wanted to go. So, he handed me without saying a word his mobile phone. A man answered in German: “Hello? What’s up?” I heard a till ringing in the background. The voice on the other end of the phone gave us directions to the hotel. It belonged to Halmats brother who owns a shop in the German city of Aachen. The brother said finally: “Dude, I gotta run. The shop is full of customers. You know what Saturdays are like in Germany.” Oh yes, I know them.

But now, I too know what Saturdays are like in Kurdistan.