From Hitler’s rise, to the fall of the Wall Riemer has seen it all. Image Credit: Robin Chatterjee/Gulf News

Berlin: Klaus Riemer has not lost his zest for life at the age of 83. Riemer is enjoying every opportunity that life brings his way and is cashing in on the benefits of being a free man.

Riemer has seen it all. The rise of Hitler. The formation of the Nazi Party and the crimes committed by them. World War 2. Germany’s humiliation at the hands of the allies. The separation of Germany and Berlin. The erection of the Wall and its subsequent fall.

Still working as an artist and a TV producer, a profession which got him no encouragement from the rigid state run machinery in the East, Riemer defected to the West in 1955. He revealed the intensity of his experiences during an interview with Gulf News.

Living in a penthouse in Potsdam, Riemer believes life throws up delicious ironies when one least expects it. His home is, after all, built on a former KGB prison headquarter and court complex. ‘’They used to conduct impromptu trials in that building. People convicted were either sent to Siberia, or to their death. Today I live there as a free man.’’

Riemer’s apartment on the fourth floor was once used as a laundry room by the Russian secret service. ‘’It was a big room, they dried their laundry in it,’’ he testified chuckling. ‘With the collapse of Communism and the departure of the Russians, the room was made into an apartment and I moved in with my wife Ingrid Richter.’

The view from the fourth floor is expansive giving Riemer daily glimpses of the world in front of him.

He knows only too well that it wasn’t always this way. “I am an optimist my friend,” he confessed. “You have to be if you wanted to survive what I went through. As the Russians say ‘hope will starve at last’. One must hope till the end.

“Freedom,” said Riemer, “is the ultimate aphrodisiac. To say, to think and to act. To tolerate other opinions. The future always reveals the decision.”

A member of a distinguished group of individuals who tell their stories as eye witnesses, so that it may fashion human spirit and behaviour in a positive manner, Riemer’s life is a treasure trove of rich anecdotes. He shares these anecdotes with teachers, professors, historians, ordinary people and more importantly, with children so they can fashion their present for a better future.

Nothing, as he believes firmly, however, tops the moment when Germany lost the war and the allies shared the spoils resulting in the birth of the German Democratic Republic (GDR). “People like me used to look around us twice before saying that it was the same s**t but there were different flies sitting on it,” he said his eyes twinkling. “You just did not know whom to trust. The Stasi were everywhere.”

Riemers‘s parents, who ran a small goods store, were oppressed for having capitalist leanings. “I remember when they formed little clubs to meet at my parent’s shop just so people could talk freely and then go home. My father had more clients, as a result of this, than state sponsored shops. The government were aware of his leanings so he paid more taxes.”

“I grew up fearing the secret service, or Stasi, because I once offered refuge to a striking worker during the Riot of the Workers an uprising on June 16, 1953 which saw millions of workers rising in protest, but which was crushed brutally by the state. I helped the man escape to West Berlin.

“My brother, sister and myself were forbidden to study because we did not subscribe to the political stance of the GDR. Later, I got married and had a daughter, realising the importance of a safe and better quality of life I made the decision to defect. I was so stressed out with the grip the state exercised on every facet of my life that I started having psychological problems. {After years of suffering] it took me just one day to be cured — the day after I arrived in West Berlin. The cure for the illness was that simple.”

Riemer was at the Brandenburg Gate, 25 years ago, when the Wall came down. He will be filing away one more anecdote into his already expanding mental archive when the celebrations begin on Sunday.

“There is,” he affirmed, with a beaming smile, “No greater joy than to be alive and to be able to talk about it. ”