Helmut Hainzlmeier, a 65-year-old Bavarian mountain-climber [pictured above, right, with his companions], was one of three German tourists kidnapped from Mt. Ararat by a PKK platoon on July 8. He was released along with his companions on Monday July 21. They have now returned to Germany.
When the story first broke, Reuters Television did a report from Bavaria. Here is a partial transcription, which gives some background on Mr. Hainzlmeier, who evidently volunteered to be a hostage. Following that I have reprinted an interview with Helmut Hainzlmeier from the German magazine Stern, which I translated via Google and then cleaned up using a German dictionary. Thus I am responsible for any errors. The details are sparse but vivid: lava caves, a bear's den, and guerrillas who "knew very well where they wanted to go."
Elsewhere in Germany, a friend of one of the kidnapped tourists
described him as a man who had his feet firmly on the ground.
Otto Kneitinger, who runs a hotel in the small southern German town of
Abensberg in Bavaria where at least one of the kidnap victims is from, told
Reuters Television "he is a serious person and a super buddy."
"There aren't a lot of people like him around. That explains why
he volunteered to be a hostage, instead of the others. He is a great person
and that's one reason why he will master this. I just know," Kneitinger
According to Kneitinger, the kidnap victim, identified in the local
paper as Helmut Hainzlmeier, "volunteered to be a hostage, instead of the
And now the interview, from Stern:
Helmut Hainzlmeier is back home. For 13 days he was in the captivity of the Kurdish terrorist [sic] organization PKK. In an interview with stern.de he speaks about the hijackers, a failed transfer and his fear of the Turkish army.
Mr Hainzlmeier, how are you?
I feel very good.
You were in the hands of the PKK almost two weeks. Can you describe this time?
It was tough, no doubt. In particular, the "walking-tours" -- if you want to call it -- in the night. We changed our location almost daily, always at night. During the day, we slept and ate.
Did you have a rough idea where you were?
We had often clear starry nights. Ararat we always had in sight. Even the Polar Star I always saw. We moved towards the east and came to a bear's cave. We were there three nights.
How big was the group?
It varied between four and nine PKK members. Up to 15 people alternated being with us. It seemed as if every four kidnappers belonged together.
The constant change of location sounds like aimless wandering.
The hijackers knew very well where they wanted to go. Everywhere they had a kind of base; lava caves, for example. Before the border with Iran, they knew well that the Turkish army there had cut off the routes. That is why we then cut back again in the direction of Ararat. They had to stay in the area of the mountain. The military kept out of that region -- thank God, in our view.
We saw a direct clash of the kidnappers and the Turkish army as the biggest danger. That would be disastrous.
Otherwise you had no fear?
I never feared for my life. We had to trust the PKK statement that they viewed us as guests. We heard Deutsche Welle [German Radio] just about every day. We were kept informed.
Still, 13 days in captivity must have been gruelling.
We learned that on Monday a week ago a transfer - always the hijackers spoke of an "event" - failed. They wanted to deliver us to neutral mediators, so it could be objectively determined if were not pleased with the PKK. Almost one week later, it worked.
How will you spend the next few days?
I want especially one thing: peace.
Interview by Martin Rutrecht
Article 22 July 2008