North Korea is considered the most mysterious country in the world. Its inhabitants can not travel to other countries, and their authority strictly controls information from the "outside world" that comes to them. And while the entire Western world thinks that the dictatorial regime of the Kim family and their leader is dictated by the North, the North Koreans consider living in a true utopian society and that their leader is caring about them as best as he can.
This country, however, has opened its borders to few tourists who can afford to visit it. Among them is the German writer, satirist, television author and comedian Christian Eisert. For him, this was a special experience because, as a boy, growing up in East Germany, he imagined a rainbow toboggan, seen in a North Korean propaganda film.
Based on this experience, he wrote the book "Kim and Tintin - North Korea Vacation," which was also published in our country. Only for Telegraf, Christian reveals how it was growing up in East Berlin, why he decided to go to North Korea, what he had the opportunity to see, what was his opinion about Kim's rule and what he thought about Serbia and its citizens.
How did your life look like while you were growing up in East Germany?
My family has encountered resistance, but it was not active in the political opposition. My aunt, my mother's sister, went to West Germany in the late 1950s. Because my grandfather did not want to stop contacting his daughter, he lost the post of assistant professor at a high school. My mother was later not allowed to write her doctoral thesis, because she also did not want to stop contact with my aunt. I went to a church nursery, but later I was young pioneers wearing a blue scarf. It was a very ambivalent life.
Was your family separated from their relatives because of the construction of the Berlin Wall?
My family was not surprised when it was split in 1961 due to the construction of the Berlin Wall. My mother's sister went straight to West Germany in the late fifties, until there was an insurmountable wall. When I was a child in the eighties, we could not visit my aunt and her family. They always had to come with us.
How did you experience the political changes that took place in your country in 1989?
On November 9, 1989, I saw the famous press conference on the television in the evening, announcing that residents of East Germany were allowed to travel to the West without a visa or visa application. What it specifically meant, we did not understand anything, like many others, and went to bed. On the 10th of November at 6 o'clock in the morning, my mother woke me up with the sentence: "Christian, the wall is demolished". I went to school, but lessons were not held, because everyone wanted to talk about that event.
In the afternoon, I had two classes in the subject "Introduction to Socialist Production". My mother picked me up from school and we took a busy train to West Berlin. There were thousands of people on the square at the Memorial Church, many waving black and red-colored flags, and then Chancellor Helmut Kohl came and spoke. A lot of people from West Berlin whistled to him, and I did not understand why. Later I learned that unlike the East, Col was not favored at that time in West Germany.
Was there any surprise for you when Germany became a single country in 1990?
Through the western media, radio and television, I was very well informed about the development of the political situation, although I was 13 years old. I felt that something changed. When the wall collapsed so quickly, no one could have predicted that the unification of West and East Germany would come so quickly. Fast unification was the only right path. Otherwise, East Germany would be economically, but also because of the relocation of many from East Germany to West Germany, socially impoverished. Most of the people in East Germany 1989/90 wanted to be "West".
Where does your fascination with North Korea come from? Why did you decide to visit that country?
My school was named "Friendship School between East Germany and North Korea". We had regular visits by the North Korean delegation. One of these visits showed us a propaganda film about North Korea. There, they had one large rainbow color slide, which impressed me as a child. Later, as an adult, I had to always, when I heard something about North Korea, think of that slide. I told this to my friend Tan. She did not believe me that there was such a slide. Since we did not find anything on the Internet, I told her in a joke: "Let's go and look." The joke came true and ten weeks later we were already in North Korea.
What were you expecting to see there and were you surprised by what you found there?
Although the country was and is one of the most important exotic destinations in the world, Pyongyang at first was not different from what I knew while growing up in East Berlin. Everywhere there are typical socialist montage facilities, in which I grew up. On the other hand, we found that only the facades of the houses were often freshly painted, and those that were towards the streets through which we drove. Houses in the rear often looked gray and empty and had awful walls. Also, many people go there on foot, so they do not pay attention when they cross the street because they do not expect a car. There were no private cars in North Korea. This has changed and you are proud of Pyongyang when you sometimes encounter traffic.
Is everything we hear about this country really true? Is life difficult there, do people fear their lives or really love their "great leader"?
There are no human rights in North Korea. There is no free press and there are no free elections. Whoever wants a different place needs a permit, and who is a little critical of the system and the government, must go through some bad consequences, even with the death penalty. However, I know, even from my experience in the dictatorship, a story and acting in a different way from the outside, than what he thinks from the inside. Praising the great leader serves for surviving. Unlike East Germany, most people in North Korea have no access to foreign media or the Internet and can not compare their lives or check the credibility of official press releases. In some circles, especially in Pyongyang and the Chinese border, people are very aware that their lives are very different from life and freedom over the border. The regime tried to discourage dissatisfaction with force, on the other hand, Kim Jong Un made small concessions and allowed independent economic activity, so the supply situation, especially in Pyongyang, has improved.
How many days have you spent in North Korea?
With the arrival and departure we were twelve days on the road.
Which places have you visited there?
Overall, I drove about 1,500 km across the country. Always under the supervision of three guards from North Korea. We traveled from Pyongyang to the mountain of Mihonga, north of the capital, then to the west coast and finally to Kaesong in the south, directly on the border with South Korea, which we also visited.
What is your unforgettable experience in North Korea?
In the North Korean border area, in the South Korean region, my friend Tan and I ate in an empty restaurant. We had a fight and Tan left the restaurant angrily. I ran behind her. In the restaurant's foyer, I heard music, which was familiar to me. It was some German hit. I made several dance steps and one of our guides asked me if I wanted to dance. I said: "I need a woman for this," and a few seconds later, in front of me, a small North Korean woman in traditional clothes appeared and I danced with her to German music at the most dangerous border in the world.
Describe us some interesting person you had the opportunity to meet there?
It was taken into account that we have controlled contact with the North Koreans. Free speech was not possible, only with our guides, who worked for the secret service, we were able to talk freely. We could laugh and joke with them, however we were always aware that if they received a command to kill us, they would do it. A few months ago, I met a Northkorean woman in Germany who fled North Korea. She was born in a camp because her parents were detained there. She lived 21 years in the camp and lived through the worst torture and atrocities. Regardless, or primarily for this reason, she radiated an incredible lifelong joy. Impressive woman.
Is your book based exclusively on true events or are some parts of fiction?
Everything is based on real experiences. I just changed some names for security reasons.
What do you think the reactions your book would cause if it was published in North Korea?
It is a book that is critical of the political system, but despite this, it is a fun story. It will not officially appear in North Korea. However, copies of the German edition are in the German embassy in Pyongyang and in the apartments of German diplomats. As the apartments are regularly searched by the North Korean secret service, North Korea is aware of the existence of a book. In addition, the book "Kim and Tintin" appeared in Chinese, and German tourists always ask for a water slide, claiming that it is well known in Germany. In the beginning, the North Koreans did not know what the Germans were talking about, and in the meantime they began to lead tourists to that place. My book has triggered some things in North Korea.
What do you think about the government of Kim Jong-un and what's your opinion about him as a "great leader"?
Unlike others, I think that Kim Jong Un, like the men and women behind him, are not crazy idiots. The regime behaves very cleverly in its spirit. From the outset, they provoke the missile tests of the West, and from recently, China, and inside they claim that the country is endangered and must be held together to withstand difficult situations, as the enemy is at the door. In the end, Kim's family and generals are only worried about preserving power. As long as the North Korean elite does not rebel, the system will remain. Regardless of whether Kim Jong Un has such a power, he plays a supporting role. He must play the role of a leader on the first line.
Was this an experience and opportunity once in your lifetime or would you go back to North Korea in a few years?
It was an unforgettable experience, and for me as an author it meant, besides, a great success. With 26 editions, it's the best-selling book on North Korea in the German-speaking field. I'd like to go back there again. I'm just afraid that he will not let me get into the country. That means, quite possibly ...
Are you planning to come to Serbia soon and to hang out with your readers?
Unfortunately, I have never been to Serbia, but I have heard impressive things about the landscape and the hospitality of the Serbs. In addition, there are political parallels between my childhood, East Germany, and the history of Serbia. So I would like to once come to Serbia and tell the story of my trip through North Korea. Someone would have to organize one lecture.
(Telegraf.co.uk / A.Taskovic – firstname.lastname@example.org)