An interview with Roland Ermrich
We caught up with the German event organizer to discuss his events, aging and culture.
Read the short profile below.
“When I was two, I fled with my mother and four older sisters from Silesia in Poland to the Soviet zone in Germany, mostly on foot. We then had to escape again when I was five to the British zone, again on foot. My father was taken by the Russians and he starved to death in a concentration camp. These are some of my first memories. We finally made it to Osnabrück. My mother had incredible strength – she worked as a dentist and translator. It was not easy for us as refugee children. We had to steal to survive. Whether it was potatoes or flour or beechnuts from the forest. If something was stolen, the refugee children were always to blame – and often it was us. But by the mid-1950s, we could study what we wanted and that’s when I first became interested in politics. I remember when the Berlin Wall started to be built in 1961. People started building walls in protest in other cities across Germany (in order to shake people up) and I thought it was stupid. I felt we should change German policy. It was all symbolic. I refused to participate and only one teacher backed me up. He was from the Free Democratic Party (FDP) and that’s how I started to become more politically involved. I was actually in Berlin 28 years later when the Berlin Wall came down. It filled me with such joy. It felt like you could actually bring about change.”
Roland left school when he was 16 to travel the world – he was in California in the 1960s, and he traveled from Germany to India along the hippie trail. Though currently single, Roland has been married several times and he has a daughter who splits her time between Panama and Costa Rica with her diplomat husband. Roland ended up studying social sciences and psychology and spent most of his working life as a political consultant. He transitioned into publishing in the late 1980s, but his company was hit hard by the 1990s real estate crash, and then again by the 2001 financial crash. Since then, Roland has focused on publishing specialized books, and one of these – a series on German cities – spawned a cultural project called DMitte in Düsseldorf, where Roland now lives. This takes up most of his time.
“DMitte is a website focused on cultural events in Düsseldorf-Stadtmitte. We also use an old parking garage called Parkkultur to host events and concerts. I don’t earn money from it but I spend a lot of time working on it! I started it with a friend called Günther who passed away a couple of weeks ago. Almost 15,000 people from over 100 countries live in this area. Many are from Japan, Greece and China, and around 70% are foreigners or those who have a migration background. In the whole of Düsseldorf, perhaps 45% have a migration background. There is a great deal of fluctuation in the district, and no real neighborhood. Hence the idea: to do something to help bring people together. The Düsseldorf cultural scene has never been my area of expertise but I’ve now gotten to know it. We host small bands and acts that tend to belong to the underground scene. It’s fun and it’s been a success. I’ve always been driven by a desire to bring about social change. I’ll continue to do this for as long as my health permits.
“There’s probably no other country where senior citizens live as well as in Germany. But this doesn’t mean old-age poverty isn’t growing. In the past, it didn’t exist because everyone was paid well. Today, there are many self-employed people who are not paying into pension funds. I’m an example. Suddenly, you find yourself without health insurance. It’s not the amount of the pension that matters to me, but that people are completely without one. It can’t be that older people all get their meals on wheels. It’s about feeling valued in society. But it’s not only a matter of age – this is true for younger generations too. Nowadays, choices are very limited. Younger people don’t have the same choices I did. People live according to rules I don’t understand and that restrict everything. This is a huge difference. Back then, everything was freer. Those times are over.”