Boundlessly broadcasting

by Emil Bergmann

Heroes (Issue II/2018)

As a youngster I dreamt of travelling around the world. However, I neither had the money nor the option of traveling to the West. I grew up in the Bulgarian provincial town of Byala Slatina. My mother worked for the post office and my father was a bus driver in Sofia. On the weekend I always waited for his bus to appear around the corner so I could play with him. Back then my family had everything we needed, even a car. But when I was seven years old, a letter arrived which changed my life. My father wrote to say he wanted to leave to us –of course, he was leaving my mother, but somehow also my sister and me.

At the age of 14 I discovered a new hobby which opened the world up to me: amateur radio. First I broadcast within Bulgaria, then Western Europe, including Spain, Italy and Germany. When I had the first contact with a radio amateur in Indonesia, I couldn't sleep with excitement. Amateur radio had no borders, no divisions between communism, socialism and capitalism. We were all fans of the same hobby. It was actually the only officially permissible way to communicate with "bad" capitalist countries. There is a code of conduct that states that amateur radio may not be used for political interests. In the end I made lot of new friends and we sent each other letters and photos.

In school, our teachers told us that Western Europeans were our enemies but I had to laugh at that. After all, I knew these people.

In 1989 the communist regime led by Todor Schiwkow was brought down in Bulgaria. A year later a general strike paralysed the country. The money that my mother had painstakingly put aside for us was suddenly worth nothing. At that time I studied radio and television technology in Sofia and by the end of my course my big dream came true: I travelled abroad for the first time, to a training period with the post office in Weiden in Bavaria. Germany for six weeks! I walked in the Alps and was fascinated by the feeling of the freedom. In Germany you could buy everything I had dreamed of back in Bulgaria – my own radio station, complete mountain climbing equipment. From then on I knew that I wanted to live in Germany. First I studied communications engineering in Dieburg, near Darmstadt. Then I got a job with Deutsche Telekom. I thought, I'd made it, but then, out of the blue, the German authorities refused me a working visa, meaning I had to go straight back to Bulgaria. In the summer of 2000 I first got a chance to return to Germany. The government back then brought in a new law to offset the shortage of professional IT workers. It gave specialists from abroad the opportunity to work for five years in Germany. Shortly afterwards I was happy at my new job in Dietzenbach in the German state of Hessen.

At the age of thirty, I undertook my first small radio expedition. I packed my radio station and flew to Tenerife on a climbing trip. With a view of the sparkling sea I sent messages from the most beautiful places of the island. Like many hobby radio guys, I dream of communicating at least once from every country in the world. But there is not an active amateur radio community everywhere. That's why I regularly organize expeditions to these countries. So in 2012 I travelled to Lesotho with an international amateur radio group. That was my first big expedition. Thousands of radio amateurs tried to contact us. We were busy day and night and hardly slept. In ten days we made 30,000 connections. And each of them was really special.

My wife Verginia and my daughter Laura share my passion for amateur radio. On vacation we always take an antenna and the radio with us. Laura took a big amateur radio exam in the fall of 2017. At the age of eleven, she is the youngest amateur radio operator in Germany today. Sharing my teenage dreams with my family makes me very happy.

Transcribed by Siri Gögelmann

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