We don’t steal cars here
Berat (Albania), November 1st 2011 

After almost a day of driving in our Landcruiser through the remote mountainous areas around the Albanian town of Berat, we park our jeep just outside the hotel. We go for a moment inside to refresh ourselves, before leaving the hotel again in search of a little café for a tremendous cappuccino. When we walk down the steps of the hotel, the manager comes to us and asks: “What is the orange thing that you mounted on the steering wheel of your car”. It takes a second before we realize that he means the anti-theft car lock that we mounted between the clutch pedal of the car and indeed the steering wheel. “It is an anti-theft lock, to prevent that somebody steels the car”, is what we answer him.

He is visibly irritated, undoubtedly because we judged the parking spot outside his hotel as a potential place where cars can be stolen. “We don’t steal cars here”, is what he says brusquely. “Of course” is what we respond to keep the atmosphere right. “We do this as a standard procedure and also because we have to do it from the insurance company” is what we tell him. Not really the truth, but it makes him understand our motives. We chat a little bit about all kinds of things, and also about the prices of second hand cars in Europe, before we proceed to our well-earned cappuccinos.

Expensive cars are everywhere in poor Albania

It surprised us already for days that we see so many expensive Mercedeses and BMW’s in Albania. It doesn’t matter where you are in the country, the big city or the small village, huge and expensive cars are everywhere. That doesn’t have to be odd. Albania could be a very successful country, with a lot of economic activity, where a huge part of the people have well-paid jobs, making it possible to buy car of over a hundred thousand Euro’s each. In that case you expect well-dressed business men, with Italian made suits and silk ties behind the steering wheel. But the reality is so different. Albania is poor, the roads are generally in bad condition, there are almost no investors and it is difficult to find any significant economic activity in the country. For that reason you will also see no business men behind the steering wheels of the fancy cars. “But who are the drivers of these cars?”, is what I hear you say. Well, how can we describe these guys best? Mysterious mafia guys, with unshaven faces, wearing black leather jackets, jeans and shoestring-less leather shoes is what describes them best. The type of guy that you don’t want to encounter on the street at night. But here in Albania, there are lots of them. You see them on every corner of the street, often in groups, leaning against there shiny cars and with a “fuck you”-look in their eyes as acted in a bad Hollywood mafia movie.

Guys with nothing to do hang around the streets

Later that day, we Google the internet for the words “Albania”, “stolen” and “cars”, just because we want to know what the story is behind all these expensive cars here. The outcome is as expected. Albanian mafia gangs roam Europe in search for expensive cars, which they often deliver on demand. It is expected that 90% of all the luxury cars in Albania are stolen in Europe. Also the stolen cars of Soccer legends Beckham and Gatusso are found again with the borders of this small Balkan country. But retrieving stolen cars is an exception. The authorities of Albania are not really interested in finding car thieves. That is the only reason why it is so simple to import stolen cars into Albania. It seems that everybody is earning money in this very lucrative ‘business model’. But it is still a riddle for us why the manager of the hotel told us so surely that they don’t steal cars here. He probably tried to tell us that Albanians only steal cars outside of Albania, and not within their own borders. Whatever the reason is, we still keep our Landcruiser locked, despite the fact that or old 1984 Spartan jeep is probably not on the wish list of many Albanian mafia guys.

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