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  • Writer's pictureruth kinet

the man behind the facade

Updated: May 10, 2021

my passion for the story of people goes back many, many years. when i was still a student at the school of journalism and at the free university of berlin 24 years ago I was asked to write a reportage about something. i was free to choose my topic. at the time i moved to the centre of hamburg for a short period of time. just across a huge office building. every morning when i opened my curtains around 7 am i saw a man on the third floor of that office building already being at work. as days passed by seeing him became part of the landscape of my private life. as i started to know his habits and the rhythm of his work day i felt an urge to meet the man.

i decided not to write a reportage about social workers supporting kids from difficult backgrounds nor would i accompany a captain on his container vessel for a day but i would rather cross the street and try to get to know the man behind the facade of the office building right across my street.

the next day i crossed the street, entered the building and introduced myself to the concierge. i tried to find out how i could get in touch with that man on the third floor working at the desk right in front of the window. with the help of the concierge who probably wondered what kind of nerd i was i succeeded to send the man a personal message and ask him to grant me an interview. i crossed the street again, returned to my room and waited.

half an hour later my phone rang. it was the man from the third floor of the office building across my street. he sounded somewhat reserved but he agreed to meet me. as we got together i felt grateful to get the chance to hear who that man was. i could see that my attention helped him to open up his story of hard work, ambition, thwarted plans and many endeavors.

i wrote the mans story down and showed it to my reportage-teacher at the school of journalism. he was moved by its pureness and suggested that i would approach the famous weekly newspaper "die zeit" to ask whether they would be interested in printing it in their rubric "modern life". i plucked up courage, sent my text to the editor and was overjoyed on the day it covered a whole page on the weekly "die zeit" in the year 1996. the title of the story was "the man behind the facade. one out of eighty million people".

just a few days ago i realized that already back at journalism school i was driven by the same passion that made me start "".

You're invited to read the story of the man behind the facade on "zeit online":

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