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To Hamburg for Love
by Karen Pecota

Interview with Christophe Berton

The Abaton Bistro is a wonderful art deco styled restaurant located in the heart of the university district of Hamburg. The bistro depends on a great deal of foot traffic to patronize their establishment and, due to its fine reputation, caters to a large regular clientele. I am part of a journalist team that makes the bistro our regular hangout for breakfast meetings. We can also be seen grabbing a quick meal at the bistro during the Hamburg film festival events or while attending press screenings. Christophe Berton, a very handsome Frenchman, is our official waiter. One day we asked him what is such a nice Frenchman doing way up here in northern Germany? He had a twinkle in his eye and quickly answered us, “Ah! It was and is still for love!” Those of us sitting around the table that day were speechless. Our hearts melted at the very sound of his German spoken with a slight French accent. I asked for an interview and was delighted that he said yes. It was then that I discovered that Christophe’s journey to Hamburg for love was well worth the sacrifice of leaving France behind.

KP: How long have you lived in Hamburg or Germany?
C: I come from France and I have been in Hamburg since 1988. On December 6 it will be 18 years.

KP: And why?
C: It is because of my wife. We have known each other now for 24 years. It is a very long story which began on my 19th birthday. I had a birthday party and my niece brought her friend Marie Pierre to my party. She was not yet 17. This is where we met and fell in love.

KP: So, how did you end up in Germany?
C: I lived in a small town in the country and needed to find work. There were few jobs in the area where I grew up, so I headed off to Paris. I was fortunate to find a good job and therefore moved to the big city. At the same time, Marie Pierre got a job as a nanny in Germany. When I look back now, if I would have clearly communicated to her my hopes or wishes that she come to Paris so we could be together, maybe we would be living in France now, but, that is not the way our story developed.

Through a series of circumstances, we were separated for three years. At first we saw each other on weekends and then there was a hiatus which opened the door for her to develop a relationship with a German boyfriend. Then, one day I received a postcard from her wanting to know how I was doing. She seemed curious and asked if she could have contact with me again. She visited me in Paris, stayed for two months before she was to begin her studies in Hamburg. It was clear to both of us that we wanted to be together. I was not planning to lose her a second time, so I followed her to Hamburg.

KP: Were you concerned about moving to a new country with no knowledge of the language?
C: It was difficult, but I had saved some money and when I arrived in Hamburg, I immediately enrolled in a language school and only worked on learning the language. Marie Pierre was a great help and had little notes labeling everything in our apartment in German. I was very lucky to be able to just study. I learned the language quickly which helped me secure my first job.

KP: What was your first job?
C: I arrived in December of 1988 and my first job was in June 1989 at Fiddlers Café in Mühlenkamp. My German was still in the intermediate stage, which made my job difficult because I didn’t always understand my guests.

KP: How did you end up at the Abaton Bistro?
C: I worked at the Café for a couple of months and heard from my friend about a job opening at a French restaurant, Chez Jacques. I worked there for two years. This was a great job but I worked at least 12 hours a day and sometimes longer. This schedule was not healthy. One of the people I worked with at Chez Jacque transferred to the Abaton Bistro as a cook. In July 28, 1991, our first child was born and November 15 of the same year, I followed my colleague to the Bistro as a waiter. I liked the university district. It was a very interesting place. It still is an interesting place with lots of different activity. But, the main reason why I was happy to make the change to the Abaton Bistro was because of my new schedule. It was perfect for a family man. I had a job where I worked Monday through Friday, 9 to 5. I was very happy to have this job so that I could participate in the lives of those whom I love the most—my wife, Marie Pierre, our son, David and later our daughter, Celine. On November 15, I will have been working at the Abaton Bistro for 15 years.

KP: What is difficult about your job?
C: It is physically and emotionally stressful. It is often extremely taxing on your body. Part of my job is to be emotionally fit so that I leave the impression that I know how to take care of my guests and serve them well.

KP: What brings you the most joy working at the Bistro?
C: It is mostly the regular clients like Adele, you and those in your film group who are so nice and enjoyable to serve. And, naturally the University area attracts a variety of interesting people. It is a special working environment that I like very much. I also have the privilege to make personal contacts through my regular clients. For example, I found out that Adele is an English teacher. I wanted to learn English and felt comfortable asking her about her job which led me to approach her for lessons.

Christophe and his wife Marie Pierre are true kindred spirits with our film group because both of their children, David and Celine are young performers. David is 15 and Celine is 8 years old but they are not newcomers to the stage. They have been performing since they were small children. They got their start in a special theater and dance club, where the director, Sibylle Leverenz, writes and directs fairy tales. This year the club will perform, The King of Thieves. Celine has an amazing voice and appears in musicals and makes special music CD’s with prominent musicians. She will be in The King of Thieves. David is presently acting in a feature film that is being shot in Montenegro and should come to the cinemas in 2007.

If it wasn’t for Marie Pierre, her spirit of adventure, her love for Christophe, or his determination to follow true love to Hamburg, the city of Hamburg would be a poorer place. Hurrah for adventure, true love and a life worth living in Hamburg.