Cries of ‘Viva Portugal! Viva España!’ rang out just before 10 a.m. on 10 September 1964 at Deutz station in Cologne. Sitting in two special trains from the Iberian peninsula were 1,106 future guest workers (‘Gastarbeiter’). Amongst the 173 Portuguese citizens was 38-year-old carpenter Armando Rodrigues de Sá from the small village of Vale de Madeiros in northern Portugal.

Rodrigues de Sá had a bad feeling when he heard his name on the loudspeakers following the 48-hour train journey. He initially hid in the crowd, as he was scared of being sent back home. But the others pushed him to the front.

‘We’ve got him!’ called out Werner Mühlbradt, Chief Press Officer of the Confederation of German Employers’ Associations (BDA). Little did Armando Rodrigues de Sá know that the BDA had already selected him as the millionth guest worker from the lists of names before the train had even pulled into the station. After a while, he got over the initial shock and understood the situation with the help of an interpreter. Everyone in the large station – which was filled with music, official speeches, flags blowing in the breeze and the clicking of cameras – was focused on him. As a welcome gift, the BDA handed him a bouquet of flowers, a certificate and a Zündapp Sport Combinette moped. The arrival of the millionth guest worker became a media sensation in West Germany in 1964. At the same time, this reception increased public awareness for the lives of many other foreign workers.

Just like millions of other guest workers, Armando Rodrigues de Sá was encouraged to come to Germany by the Federal Employment Agency in order to earn enough money for a better life in his home country. As a construction worker, his job took him from Stuttgart and Blaubeuren to Sindelfingen and Mainz. In 1964, a trained carpenter could earn about 620 escudos a month in Portugal. Thanks to his ability to save, he was soon able to send 550 Deutschmarks back home every month, which was worth about 4,000 escudos at the time.

Armando Rodrigues de Sá visited his family in Portugal three times a year. After just three months, he brought his moped back on his first Christmas holiday. It was his pride and joy during his stays in Portugal. He loved riding through the village on it and visiting family and friends. He used his savings to buy a house and some land in Portugal for his family. Rodrigues de Sá returned to Vale de Madeiros in 1970 following an accident at work. When a severe illness then ate into a large share of his savings, he didn’t know that he was entitled to benefits from the German health insurance system. He died in 1979 at the age of 53. All that his family had left of the guest worker dream were the little house and the moped.

The image of the millionth guest worker with his welcome gifts has appeared on countless occasions in newspapers, magazines, books and on TV, thus carving out a place in the collective consciousness of the German population. The moped is on display in Haus der Geschichte to remember the welcoming of the many people from other countries whose hard work has been contributing to the economic upswing of Germany since the mid 1950s.


Bettina Citron