The pensioner: Nikolaus Netzhammer from Bonn | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 01.06.2010
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The pensioner: Nikolaus Netzhammer from Bonn

Nikolaus Netzhammer might be retired but he's busier than he ever was. He spends his time hiking and browsing historical archives – and simply enjoying life.

Nikolaus Netzhammer

Nikolaus Netzhammer has time for hiking now

Nikolaus Netzhammer likes to get up just after seven in the morning. There's no time to waste! He's putting the finishing touches to a book project.

Nikolaus is a hobby historian who lives in Bonn. Genealogy has become his main interest, and he spends his days researching his family roots.

A colorful familiy history

His great-uncle Raymund was the catholic archbishop of Bucharest from 1905 to 1924, and kept a diary.

Nikolaus with the Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church

Nikolaus presented his book to the Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church

Some one hundred years later, Nikolaus Netzhammer went to Bucharest to present the Romanian translation of this diary at the Romanian Academy, and gave Teoctist, Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox church, a copy of the book in person.

Now 71 and a pensioner, Nikolaus has already moved on to his next project: A Romanian translation of another book by his great-uncle. "Exploring history is fascinating," he says, even though his philosophy in life is to enjoy the moment. "Living on the Rhine makes me feel as though I am carried along on the current of life," he says.

Nikolaus was born in the village of Grenzdorf on the border to Switzerland, and grew up close to nature. His family owned land and was largely self-sufficient. He was one of ten children. "My parents were very strict but I had a happy childhood," he says. "We children were expected to help out on the fields and at home."

Today, he still enjoys regular family get-togethers.

old family photograph

Nikolaus had nine brothers and sisters

Suffering from the travel bug

But however much he loves his home, he also feels the pull of distant lands and often travels to cities such as Bucharest and Vienna, where he likes to study state and church archives, or Rome, where he recently gave a lecture at an international symposium.

He says that even though he's retired, he has more to do than he did during his career. He and his wife Maria founded a private school and ran it for over 36 years. The school dominated their lives.

"There was always a give and take between us and the students, parents and teachers," he recalls. "That's gone now, it's all in the past."

The private school was like a small, self-contained world – a microcosm - so retirement marked the end of an era for Nikolaus.

Looking after his wife

His wife has fallen ill, so he does all the housework himself. But he still finds the time to sit down at the computer and do his research. He keeps all his correspondence, archive materials and documents in two large wooden closets.

view of hills covered in trees

Ideal for hiking: The Siebengebirge (lit. "seven mountains") is a range of hills to the East of Bonn

"I like to multi-task," says Nikolaus. He thinks that's because he was originally left-handed but was made to use his right hand – a common practice in schools in Germany in the past. The result is that he ended up always using both hands at once – a habit he sees as a weakness.

Active as he is, Nikolaus also enjoys relaxing. In his downtime, he likes to take long walks.

"In the first two hours, my mind starts dredging up all sorts of unresolved issues and I remember all sorts of things I thought I'd forgotten, things I feel I have to address immediately. Then after two hours I start to calm down, my thoughts stop being specific and are replaced by feelings and sense, usually pleasant ones – then my mind can drift."

Nikolaus Netzmacher considers himself a fortunate man – even if he never fulfilled his ambition to become a famous organ player.

Author: Marina Borisowa (jp)
Editor: Rina Goldenberg

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