“Why? No.” I said, surprised.
“We got the cigarettes for you. 1000 packs. It’s cheap. You only pay 2.50 Deutschmark for one pack, half the price in the store!”
“What??” I asked. “1000 packs??? I thought you get me like 20 or so. What am I doing with 1000 packs? I can smoke for 3 years on them!”
“Do you want to buy some at least?” a disappointed U asked.
“Yeah, give me 100 packs. I have the money for that right here. Will buy more later on...”
“Don’t you have some friends you can sell those cigarettes to? You will always make a profit with the pack you only costing 2.50 DM...” U said weakly.
“Nope. I am the only one I know who smokes that stuff. I love those cigs. But everyone else I know opens the windows once I light one. They hate them. No re-sale value at all on those ones. Actually, some friends might pay me a dinner if I would swear to never smoke them again in their presence.”
U went outside to get the cigarettes from the trunk of his car. “What do you really need these films for?” I used the chance to ask Kim. “I can’t believe U spends all that much money just for private screenings at the ‘embassy’.”
“It’s not just him watching them, the whole ‘embassy’ watches them.”
“Well, that is like, how many people?”
“Oh, we are 10 families there right now – about 30-40 people including the children. We all love films.”
U returned and handed me a plastic bag with the cigs.
“Oh, thanks”, I said, “we were just talking about your internal screenings at the ‘embassy’.”
“Yes”, U said, “I don’t like video. I like to see films only on 35mm.” That sounded reasonable to me – a lot of my film collector friends have a similar opinion. But aren’t people in North Korea starving to death while U ordered films for tens of thousands of dollars for private screenings? And actually, was he that high in the hierarchy to be in a situation to do that?
“You are the Secretary of Economic Affairs at the ‘embassy’” I asked, “What does that mean? What do you do?”
“Oh,” U smiled, “I arrange business for my country with Germany. I just made a deal this week worth 20,000 Deutschmarks.”
Judging the expressions on his face, he was immensely proud of that deal. Was he kidding me?? 20,000 Deutschmarks was peanuts comparing the sums he was ready to spend on the film deals! What was behind all that? Or was U really wasting all that government money for his private pleasure!?
“From when I was a child, I always loved action films,” U continued, “and I always liked to see them on the big screen. Forget about video! You don’t see the details of a good production on a video screen.”
Wait! If a small-scale diplomat like U could afford such a point of view, what about the big master: movie-loving head of the country Kim Jong-il? Would he be satisfied watching videos? Certainly not! But where would he get his films from? Berlin was an easy place to find film prints of all kinds, unlike most of the other places where the North Koreans had an embassy. Was U the one who got the Great Leader the films for his private screenings?