Sun, May 14, 2017 - Page 4 News List

Backpackers in Berlin fret over funding North Korea

AFP, BERLIN

It is an unusual dilemma that tourists in Berlin have to grapple with — will getting into a hostel bunk bed help finance North Korea’s nuclear ambitions?

Backpackers staying at the Cityhostel found themselves struggling with precisely this question after learning that Pyongyang owns the property and is making money from it.

“Oh no, we’re funding the North Korean embassy! We’re sorry. Very sorry,” British tourist Alex Smith said. “We didn’t realize we were funding North Korea.”

By booking a room in the Soviet-style building, “my friend made a big mistake,” he said, turning to his travel companion and calling him a “silly, silly boy.”

Cityhostel found itself at the center of controversy after German media on Tuesday reported that the North Korean embassy was not just the guesthouse’s neighbour, but also the owner of the prime real estate.

Rented out since 2004, the property brings in about 38,000 euros (US$41,000) per month in rent for Pyongyang, public broadcaster ARD reported.

The German government on Wednesday said that it would shut down the hostel because the site had been leased by Pyongyang in violation of UN rules.

Tougher sanctions implemented in November last year require UN member states to only allow “North Korean foreign representations to carry out diplomatic and consular activities.”

“Any kind of commercial activity on the site of the embassy or in relation to the embassy is prohibited,” German Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Martin Schaefer said.

“Cityhostel in Berlin constitutes neither a diplomatic nor consular activity of a North Korean foreign representation,” Schaefer said, adding that Germany would “shut down the financial source to the North Korean regime as quickly as possible.”

Over the past 11 years, the UN Security Council has imposed six sets of sanctions on Pyongyang — two adopted last year — to ramp up pressure and deny the regime hard currency to fund its rocket and atomic programs.

Cityhostel’s employees told reporters that they were unaware of the link to North Korea, but would not say more.

The hostel’s management, a Berlin company registered as GBI, said in a statement that it “regrets having been taken hostage by international politics.”

It had “frozen rental payments” until further clarification, it said.

Within walking distance of major tourist sites like Checkpoint Charlie and the Brandenburg Gate, Cityhostel Berlin offers dorm beds for as little as 16 euros per night.

The hulking gray building that serves as the hostel is separated from the gated North Korean compound by a metal fence.

Canadian traveler Alexandra Brosseau said that “we don’t have a lot of money, so we decided to go there, but if we had known, we wouldn’t have come here.”

“It should be written somewhere, like on reviews or something,” Brosseau said.

Italian backpacker Emmanuel Giorno, 28, agreed, saying: “Spending money on the North Korean regime really isn’t great.”

Others, like Swiss tourist Diana Vukovic, had a laugh about it.

Nothing in the hostel hinted at its North Korean link, she said, although she conceded that inside, it did feel “a little bit like a prison.”

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