Monthly Archives: September 2004
The first German film to feature an actor playing the Führer opened this week. But by depicting him as a complex character, does it diminish the evil that he did? Or is Germany finally coming to terms with its past? The acclaimed Hitler biographer Ian Kershaw offers his verdict Continue reading…
Merhan Karimi Nasseri has spent 16 years living in Charles de Gaulle airport. Now Steven Spielberg’s Terminal has catapulted him to international stardom – but casts little light on who he really is. And Sir Alfred, as he calls himself, isn’t too sure either. Paul Berczeller, who spent a year with Nasseri, set out to unravel the mystery
I first saw him, many years ago now, staring out with an uncanny gaze of blank intensity from the pages of a newspaper. Seated alone on a bench, immune to the endless motion of the airport around him, there was a curious inscrutability to his slight, balding yet dignified countenance. He looked like some unlikely cross between a Zen master and Chaplin’s Tramp. He had these amazing long brows, as dark as his hooded eyes, and a small, perfectly groomed moustache perched on top of his upper lip. It was like a caricature of a face, five charcoal marks on a canvas. But strangely noble, too.
His name was Merhan Karimi Nasseri though he called himself “Sir Alfred”. He lived in a lost dimension of absurd bureaucratic entanglement. That is to say, on a bench in Terminal One of the Charles de Gaulle International Airport, and he had lived there since 1988. For a series of insanely complicated reasons, the Iranian-born refugee was now a man without a country – or any other documented, internationally accepted identity status. Alfred couldn’t leave France because he did not have papers; he couldn’t enter France because he did not have papers. The authorities told him to wait in the airport lounge while they sorted the paradox out. That he did – for years and years.