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Germany

The caretaker: Bernd Jahrmaerker from Goettingen

Bernd Jahrmaerker has led a life of many ups and downs. Now 53, he works as a school caretaker in Goettingen. He describes himself as a typical German – and to him, that means he’s not afraid of hard work.

Bernd smiling

Bernd puts a brave face on all the sudden changes in his life

Bernd Jahrmaerker has led a life of many ups and downs.

At half past six in the morning, the streets of Goettingen are still deserted. Most of the houses in this historical university town in southern Lower Saxony are shrouded in darkness, but the lights are already blazing in the Hainberg high school. Caretaker Bernd Jahmaerker is doing his rounds of the school premises, switching the lights on and opening up the classrooms.

bernd in a storage room

Bernd has the keys to all the storage rooms in the school

The first students begin arriving at about twenty past seven, by which time Bernd is back in his office enjoying a cup of coffee.

Soldier turned electrician turned caretaker

Later he'll be checking the school's heating system – but he won't even have to leave his office, because these days, the system is computer-operated. Bernd is actually a trained electrician. He learnt the trade after turning his back on his first profession: Soldier.

"I enlisted when I was seventeen, and intended to spend my life in the Bundswehr (the German Army)," he recalls. But then he fell in love, and his plans changed. His girlfriend came from Goettingen. She was the sister of a friend of his, and a model. Bernd was serious about her, and when she gave him an ultimatum after four years – their relationship, or the army – he didn't hesitate.

"I handed in my resignation and moved to Goettingen to be with her," he says.

workmen selecting tools

Bernd organises all the repair work in the school building

The relationship didn't last, but by then the town had become Bernd's home, and he decided to stay. Today he lives by himself in a modest apartment. He has no children – none of his own, at least. He says that the 1100 students at the school take enough looking after.

He doesn't get much time to put his feet up. In the middle of a conversation about new tools with the school director, he's abruptly called away to deal with a blocked sink in the girls' toilets. On his way to sort it out he's held up by an electrician installing new sockets on the second floor, who needs a ladder. Then Bernd gets a message that a delivery has arrived and he needs to sign for it.

Bernd Jahrmaerker has been working at the Hainberg high school for twelve years. Before that he worked as an electrician all over Europe.

An accident changed his life

But when he was forty, fate struck. He was badly injured while playing football: Three ribs were broken and the tip of one them pierced his lung. He spent months in hospital and almost died. Once he had recovered he was overcome with an urge to change his life. He felt like he wanted to be around people, so the he jumped at the opportunity to become a school caretaker and beat 170 other applicants for the position.

He says he's found happiness – although he admits he doesn't laugh very often - and says that his motto is "seize the day."

Author: Shabnam Nourian (jp)
Editor: Rina Goldenberg

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