He’s known as an actor for his starring role as Kaiser Franz Joseph in the classic 1950s trilogy ‘Sissi’, but a wager on a German TV show catapulted Karlheinz Böhm to become a humanitarian hero in Ethiopia.
The wager that Karlheinz Böhm made 30 years ago on “Wetten, dass?”, a popular German game show, was simple enough: he bet that not even every third television viewer would donate one deutschmark, one Swiss franc, or seven Austrian schillings to needy people in Africa.
Böhm won that bet, but still managed to collect 1.2 million deutschmarks (610,000 euros; $868,000), which he donated to the Ethiopian government in a gesture that would come to define his life’s work.
Until then, Böhm was best known as an actor, starring in the classic 1950s film trilogy “Sissi” as Kaiser Franz Joseph.
But a few months after appearing on the German game show, Böhm started the Menschen für Menschen (People for People) foundation, which aims to provide support for self-development in Ethiopia.
As Menschen für Menschen approaches its 30-year anniversary this November, the 83-year-old Böhm was honored with his own square in the diplomats’ quarter of the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.
‘Karl Square,’ as it is now called, also features a sculpture of Böhm, who is known simply as Karl in much of the country.
“I consider this an unbelievable honor for our work at Menschen für Menschen, but also as a great incentive,” Böhm said at the dedication ceremony. “In line with the idea of ‘help toward self-development,’ we’ll continue to work in Ethiopia until the day when this wonderful country no longer needs our help.”
Former German President Horst Köhler was also present at the dedication ceremony. He called Böhm a “quiet revolutionary,” adding that Böhm’s work had enriched one of the poorest countries in Africa.
Author: Matt Zuvela (dpa, epd)
Editor: Susan Houlton