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Karlheinz Böhm: Sad farewell forever

Karlheinz Böhm with his wife Almaz.
Photo: Getty Images

Interview with his wife Almaz Böhm

We met Almaz Böhm (47) in the Munich office of the Menschen für Menschen foundation. For 21 years, she has been the woman on the side of the great Karlheinz Böhm, who founded this aid organization 30 years ago. Unforgettable is his legendary bet back then at "Wetten, dass ..?". Since then he has been tirelessly fighting for the poor in Ethiopia. With a wonderful woman at his side!

Mrs Böhm, you took over the chairmanship of your husband Karlheinz from "Menschen für Menschen" half a year ago. What is your conclusion?

Almaz Böhm: It is a great honor for me to continue the work. There is still a lot to do and we are always starting with new projects.

You mean projects like Borena, which was pushed in 2011?

Almaz Böhm: Yes. There live about 300, 000 people. In 2012, we also started work in Abune Gindeberet, where 119, 000 people live. All in all, we currently have ten so-called integrated rural development projects and two special projects, including a children's home in western Ethiopia.

How was the transition as the sole CEO? Is the responsibility bigger now?

Almaz Böhm: She did not get bigger. Since 2008 I have already worked responsibly. But the perception from the outside is different now; For example, people now automatically direct their appointment requests to me and not to my husband. But I've known the way of working for years.

Her special focus is on girls getting a good education, reading and writing ...

Almaz Böhm : Yes, that's very important. After all, they make up half the population and are the most disadvantaged - socially and traditionally. That's why it's important that girls have the same opportunities as boys. They should be able to attend a school and be educated. Women who live in the countryside are not just there to give birth to children. We promote small loan programs in the business sector and also give courses to help women learn to handle money.

Through such activities, life in the villages changes visibly. For example, if a woman with a loan amount opens a small business, then the others can shop for their daily needs and do not have to wait until the market takes place once a week. Half of the population in Ethiopia is under 18. There is a lot of potential in it. For the young people, we need to increase educational opportunities - this is very important for building the country.

Equal rights for women - is it possible?

Almaz Böhm (she laughs): That's very difficult. But we are confident that one day this will happen. We are happy about every little step the women make. Especially through the small credit program, women can find a better place in society. Often Karl sat with farmers (Erertal) under a tree and discussed, very patiently. He loved these meetings. In the beginning only farmers came. Later, women joined in because Karl wanted that, and the women asked for it. The men then recognized that women were also there.

The word of Karlheinz Böhm counts more than that of the husband?

Almaz Böhm : Yes, I think so, but not only. In the beginning he had to ask the peasant women extra. Today, women automatically come to community meetings. These are small steps, and one can not compare this with European conditions. But things have changed a lot in the last 30 years.

How is equality at home with Karlheinz and Almaz Böhm ?

Almaz Böhm : We have them. We are very closely connected - also through the work. And even now, although he has given the work to me, he is always there for me. If I need advice, he takes me seriously, is always by my side. He is the driving force behind me.

You are working and a mother of two. Aida is 19 and Nicolas 21. Does she sometimes plague her guilty conscience?

Almaz Böhm : Of course I do not have as much time as I would like. But we have had such a life since the beginning of our relationship. We do not know it differently, are a traveling family between Europe and Ethiopia. The two children came everywhere - until it got serious at school. Then we had to separate physically: My husband was traveling more, I was there for the children. Today it is the other way around. The little time we can spend together, we live intensively. Every second we use. We also try to go on holiday together. Ethiopia is our holiday destination again this year.

You said flippantly: "My husband always has the last word" ...

Almaz Böhm (she laughs): The last word is not quite right! We are two people with two opinions. Of course we also discuss very often. If he has a different view, then he has to convince me and vice versa. Who always has an opinion?

Do you have an example?

Almaz Böhm : We often have a different view of culture, such as the differences between Europe and Ethiopia. My husband gives me the opportunity to understand the European views. I teach him the African way of life and mentality. This is an important addition to our private lives and also to our daily work. Karl and I meet with a lot of respect. I admire his lifetime achievement, which he has provided. His commitment to find a new life and implement it so consistently.

How is your husband Karlheinz Böhm ?

Almaz Böhm : Thank God he is very good.

He will be 85 ...

Almaz Böhm : Yes. That's why we give him peace and he enjoys it to the fullest. Karl thinks it's great how I get involved in the work. He tells me everything I do.

When you're on the road, who cares about him?

Almaz Böhm : A relative of mine lives in our home and friends and neighbors are always visiting. Otherwise, he does not need anyone to take care of him; he is still agile.

How often are you traveling?

Almaz Böhm : I am in Ethiopia for half a year and in Europe for half a year. Not in one piece, but every six weeks.

Do you skype with your husband?

Almaz Böhm : When the children are around, we skype. Karl is not so into the technique. Ethiopia does not have internet everywhere. But we call almost every day.

Are your children already involved? Nicolas once said, "Dad, when you're tired, I'm doing 'people for people' with mom ..."

Almaz Böhm : That was his goal when he was little. Karl and I are very happy about this wish. But Nicolas is still young. He has to find his way of life now. We definitely do not want to influence him. But when his path leads to "people for people", we are happy. But first of all, school and education are important.

Is Nicolas studying?

Almaz Böhm : Not yet, but he wants to study in the social field.

Then the course has already been set?

Almaz Böhm : You do not know that. Teenagers often change their wishes. Our daughter Aida wanted to become a kindergarten teacher from the very beginning and has stuck to it. She is currently undergoing training.

Her husband said in 2008: "If it is so far with delivery, I will not hesitate for a moment." When did Karlheinz Böhm decide the transfer?

Almaz Böhm : There were no such moments. My husband is a responsible person and has been thinking for many years: What will become of my work if I can not do it the way I used to?

He has thought long and deliberately introduced me in recent years. Then he saw how I get involved and involved. He deliberately thought about giving this trust, the work he has built up over many years, in good hands. That did not come overnight.

He is also someone who can listen very well to himself. Everyone can understand that with 84 you can not travel all the time and can only live out of your suitcase. The trips, also within Ethiopia, are very exhausting. Many car rides take place on gravel roads. These are already difficult conditions, as in the case of travel within Germany - with constantly changing hotels. After 30 years of intensive work you can feel it physically, even younger people notice that.

When will we see him again? If Markus Lanz takes on "Wetten, dass ..?", Are you both sitting on the couch, performing together?

Almaz Böhm : I can not predict what's to come. But if Markus Lanz invites me, I am glad and gladly come.

With her husband?

Almaz Böhm : No, he does not make any more appearances.

Why not?

Almaz Böhm : He deliberately chose to retire and to entrust me with the day-to-day business of "Menschen für Menschen" - including public appearances and media dates.

How do you manage to switch off personally? How do you relax?

Almaz Böhm : The best part is when I am at home on weekends and can sleep late for a long time. Not having to set an alarm - that's what I enjoy. Usually I sleep like this until ten o'clock.

Do you also cook on the weekend?

Almaz Böhm : Yes, very much like European. I also try to invite friends and neighbors because social contacts are very important to me.

Is there a glass of wine in addition?

Almaz Böhm : Yes, sure, that is relaxing. I drink white wine, my husband loves red wine. Incidentally, there is wine with my name that Karl got for his 80th birthday. A dry, Blaufränkisch red wine and Grüner Veltliner.

What if you come home tonight? What awaits you?

Almaz Böhm : My husband is waiting for me, that's always very nice. He knows exactly when I'm coming when there's no traffic jam. When I ring, he is very happy, takes my bag from me and then we sit in the living room and I tell him what I've done everything.

Then please tell him that we miss him!

Almaz Böhm : I like to do that. He will be very happy.

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