100 Coffees

Coffee #5: Bill Kraemer

Speaking with Bill Kraemer, a guest at Hostel Roots, about his colorful life stories, travels, and the advice he would like to pass onto his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

I had the pleasure of meeting Bill at Hostel Roots, the Dutch hostel that I am working at this summer. When I first came to the hostel, he had just arrived from Portugal to buy a boat in the Netherlands. He ended up extending his original one-week stay to two weeks.

Since then, he has shared with us many adventures of his younger days and stories about his children and grandchildren. He is well-traveled, and has been to many places, from Europe to North and South America to the Middle East.

Bill is memorable—you can always find him reading a book in either the living room or the terrace with his orange-framed reading glasses. He is always up for conversation, and has taken the initiative to get to know many of the other hostel guests and to offer assistance with our shifts in any way possible. When he leaves Hostel Roots, Bill will be missed, especially his familiar presence, willingness to have conversations, and gregarious personality.

– Caroline

Occupation: Foreign exchange. I’m in the business of buying and selling gold.

Favorite Coffee or Tea: Many years ago, on a trip back from Africa, one of my guys’ wife was on tour with their kids from the states, so we met them in Germany, Austria, and finally, Venice, Italy. While we were there, I went to a hole-in-the-wall restaurant and ordered a coffee. They asked me, “How would you like it?” I said, “You surprise me,” and they gave me one of the best cups of coffee I’ve ever had in my life. I think they boiled the cream or milk with some special coffee.

Photo Source Photo Source

Home: Ferragudo, Portugal

What would be an ideal day for you?

I travel the world dealing with people who have problems with money and try to solve these problems for them. Mostly, I’m on the phone talking to them or their attorneys or correcting contracts that attorneys have sent back to me.

Why did you decide to move to Portugal?

It was a complete accident. I lived in Madrid, Spain. We had a business there, and we sold it. A good friend, who owned a hotel on the beach in Portugal, invited me for a visit. So, a few friends of mine and I went to Portimão and Praía de Rocha, and it was so great that I ended up buying a house in Portugal.

Portimão, Portugal Image Source: easyJet Holidays Portimão, Portugal Image Source: easyJet Holidays

What is one good book or article that you read recently?

I like murder mysteries.

He reaches for a book on the shelf and places it on the table.

Thunder Point by Jack Higgins. It has action, mystery, and he travels everywhere—it even takes place underwater. It’s about a lost submarine that was found and had things in it that proved that there was a Nazi, Martin Bormann, who escaped at the end of World War II. There was a whole series of money that was passed around to help Hitler’s cause. Even though there were a lot of people in the 30s and 40s who were Nazi sympathizers, they didn’t want their names down. There was a secret document on this lost submarine that gave it all away.

If you could pick someone’s brain for a day, who would it be and why?

Photo Source: The Washington Post Photo Source: The Washington Post

Barack Obama because he was brilliant. I think he tried to do an awful lot of things to help an awful lot of people.  And this comes from a Republican rather than a Democrat.

Possibly Bill Clinton, as well. Bill balanced the budget and did many good things while he was in office. Now that he’s out, he’s still trying to help disadvantaged people around the world.

What kinds of questions would you want to ask them?

I would like to ask them how to participate because I’m more of a direct person—I like to take action, and I don’t know if I could be a politician. I would want to know how they would work within the system to bring help to those who need it.

If there was one world issue that you could solve, what would it be and why?

Hunger, because I believe that people who are fed and have good jobs won’t be so ready to pick up a rifle and go to war.

Can you tell me one interesting story?

I was doing some deals in Venezuela with a national Venezuelan oil group. I was talking to the secretary-treasurer, and when he heard my last name, he asked me how it was spelled. I asked him why he was so interested.

He was originally from Czechoslovakia and he said that the way you spelled your name gave a description of what you did. If you spelled my last name “Kramer,” it meant that you were probably a small trader or a store owner. If you spelled it “Kraemer,” it meant that you were a large trader and probably owned manufacturing plants. In the case of my grandfather, who came to the United States from Germany in 1894—give or take—he and his cousins started Kraemer Textiles, so it proved to be true, without me even knowing it.

Can you tell me about an experience that changed your life?

My brother-in-law was a pediatric neurosurgeon. He was one of the best from what I understood from meeting some of his former students, whom he taught in university, and by going with him to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. This was where my daughter, who had eye problems, went and had seven operations that corrected them.

Seeing all of the other children with all of the things that they had wrong with them—how they were so upbeat and brave—and the things that my brother could do to fix them was miraculous. Being a doctor the way that my brother was—he had to operate on these kids to help them. He taught these students to help children to be able to do what they do.

Why does this experience still stick with you?

I’m one of nine. I’ve got 14 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. I have no idea the amount of nephews and nieces I’ve gotten because they keep multiplying. My family cherishes children the same way throughout the family.

What did you learn from this experience?

That children have to be taken care of and there has to be other ways to make sure kids get fed, grow, and prosper.

Where he’s from, (He motions towards another guest at the hostel who is listening in.) Ethiopia, has some of the biggest refugee camps because of the war that goes on between different Muslim tribes. There are millions of kids there. Millions of kids are taken care of by agencies like Doctors Without Borders and volunteers who work in these camps. If you’ve ever been to one of these camps, the living conditions are horrific; I’ve been to one of these, the one in Jordan, next to Israel, where these refugees came out of Syria. I’m thankful for these camps because it helps these children be somewhat safe, but the way they live is still terrible.

Jordan Za'Atari Refugee Camp Photo Source: Richard Wainwright Photography Jordan Za’Atari Refugee Camp Photo Source: Richard Wainwright Photography

What is something that you wish people did more of?

There are so many ways in this world that things can be taught. For example, Israelis have taken over parts of the surrounding deserts and created beautiful farmland. If the Palestinians learned from them, they would be able to live side by side. Again, if people are eating well and have a place to live, they wouldn’t be eager to pick up a gun and shoot up somebody.

What is something that you’re proud of?

My children. All of them—those who are mine and those that are adopted who are mine (note: Bill has adopted several children)—have all done well personally, but have also done marvelous jobs raising their children: my grandchildren. Now, that level is starting to have children and I feel like they have good examples from their parents, which reflects on my ex-wife and myself.

What kinds of values do you want to instill?

I hope that they never quit pursuing their dreams because dreams are something to be cultivated. If they have a dream—if they want to go to university to be a doctor, to be a nurse, to be whatever they want to be—I want them to find a way to do it and to not quit until they’ve achieved whatever it is they’re after. Whatever they do, I want them to do it to the best of their ability and to never quit.

What is one challenge you have overcome?

The fear of losing, which I’ve overcome by learning to just never quit. If you’re a salesperson, and you know your product and you know that it’s a good product, to get the answer “no” is sometimes very depressing. But I’ve learned that not everything is for everybody, and that you have to make presentations to a certain number of people in order to get a certain number of “yes’es.”

How does the person you were in your twenties differ from how you are now?

I don’t think that I’m any different. I worked hard, I had dreams, and I tried to put those dreams into practice. The only thing that age has done for me is slow me down a bit, but I still have the same attitude.

What is some advice you would give to yourself when you graduated college?

To believe in yourself, to not let anybody erode your confidence, but to always learn because whatever you learn becomes one of the few things that no one else can take away from you. Always be willing to be open to new ideas. Enjoy what you do because if you enjoy what you do, it’s not work and you’re willing to get up everyday to do it.

“Always [be willing to] learn because whatever you learn becomes one of the few things that no one else can take away from you.”


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