Weekly Local Biography

  Jens Kronberg

The project coordinator for the Free University of Berlin’s work with disadvantaged children with HIV in northern Thailand is a young German, Jens Kronberg. He is a man who was raised in oppressive times, yet can see some good features in the society from which he fled. He is in many ways a quiet achiever, and a quiet philosopher.

Jens was born in East Germany, the year they built the wall through Berlin, though it was not just there to keep toddlers on the East side! His father was a psychologist and his mother a dentist, so he was born into an academic household.

However, it would be incorrect to say he was ‘raised’ in that household. In a parallel with many children in rural Thailand (which Jens sees himself) he was raised by his grandmother for the first 10 years of his life, as his mother was studying or working, as was his father. After that time he then spent weekends and holidays with her. There could be no doubting that his maternal grandmother had a very strong guiding influence on young Jens. “My grandmother always told me to never forget to say thank you for what you have received in your life.” This is a tenet that he still follows today.

He was a good student and by the time he had finished he decided that he wanted to work in the hotel business. This entailed studying in Leipzig, a city which Jens described as “Famous for its book fair and the Underground (movement) to bring down the wall.”

That Jens became a member of the Underground was easy to predict. After his receiving his diploma, he was not allowed to work in large cities, and was in actual fact under ‘house arrest’ so he could not work at all.

The Protestant church arranged contacts for him in West Germany and he was “bought out” to allow him to flee to the West a couple of years before the wall came down. “The new generation cannot remember this,” said Jens, with just the slightest touch of irritation in his voice.

Being a political refugee, the US government offered him the opportunity to go to New York, which he took. However, his time in America was very short, as he found the culture shock too great, and he returned to West Germany.

Whilst he felt more at home in the German milieu, his East German diploma was not recognized by the West German authorities, so he went to the Berlin Free University to commence and complete a three year course in personnel management.

Following this he went to work as a personnel manager in Berlin, and then was head-hunted for work near Frankfurt. During this time, he discovered Thailand, but it was not the result of a burning desire to experience the Asian East, but rather based on the availability of plane tickets to America! He wanted to go to the US for his holidays, but there were no flights available coinciding with his time off; however, the travel agent said that this place called Bangkok was available! He arrived here, and then just kept on coming back. “It’s a feeling. It’s an energy. I feel free. I feel welcome here.”

He also found that rural Thailand was in many ways similar to the East Germany of his childhood. “The people here are like the East Germans. People sit and talk together and many families will share one TV,” he said. “The social network in East Germany becomes family, just as it does here.”

Knowing of his affinity for Thailand, the Free University of Berlin offered him the position of project coordinator for one of their many charity projects they run in the world through their International Academy. That was in 2001 and Jens was not tied down in Germany. “I had no hobbies. I don’t collect stamps,” he joked.

He made contact with the charity groups in Chiang Mai and work began in earnest. “My part is funding, PR and marketing,” said Jens. He relates to charity work because of his own innate feelings, again related to the advice given him by his maternal grandmother re saying thank you. “I have had a good life,” said Jens. “Now is the time for me to give back. This is not because of my religion, but more from what my grandmother taught me.”

The travel and the need to be gregarious suits him. “I enjoy the fund raising. This is why I am so successful,” said Jens, all said without any ego. However, he is also moving inexorably back into the business world. “We can help people through entrepreneurship, help them with jobs.”

In himself he is inherently a quiet person. He gives as his aim, “To find my own quiet self within the next five years.” He will stay here. “I love this country. I love the King. My grandmother taught me respect and the Thai’s respect the elderly and the monarchy.” He also noted that in Thailand there is a quiet culture - but a noisy people!

He is still single with no dependants and lists his hobbies as swimming and tennis, though he used to be a marathon runner in Germany, but the climate here precludes this. He does not have TV, so has started to read again. “I need it like my food,” said Jens, who gives crime thrillers as his favourite staple. He also likes philosophy, but finds this is difficult to become involved with here. There is a big difference between bar room discourse and philosophical debate! His personal philosophy he considers has been influenced by his psychologist father (and his excellent teeth perhaps from his dentist mother’s influence?).

Jens Kronberg was not an easy man to interview, as his character is very deep, and his childhood background still makes him wary of strangers, I am sure, despite his saying, “I like to travel and meet people.”

Thank you for your time, Jens.