Retired chef keeps fit with books and broadband

Fritz Kohlhaas, a senior citizen of Haines Junction, has found a way to keep fit. Both brawn and brain at the same time.


Fritz Kohlhaas, a senior citizen of Haines Junction, has found a way to keep fit.

Both brawn and brain at the same time.

Five afternoons a week, through pleasant or inclement weather, Kohlhaas walks several blocks to the Haines Junction Public Library.

He carries his weighty briefcase full of books and research notes. It takes him 20 minutes each way.

The moustachioed gentleman exudes a sense of humour. “My old legs won’t go faster,” he says, and his eyes twinkle.

He maintains he walks for the exercise; he owns no vehicle.

“I had two small heart attacks,” says the soft-spoken Kohlhaas. “So I won’t take a chance anymore.

At the library, Kohlhaas borrows books and does research on internet.

“At first, I just read books,” he says. “Then I took the computers for seniors course at the Haines Junction campus.

“That’s what did it. “But I still read books,” he adds with a smile. “Mostly everything. I like mysteries – British mystery novels. History and biography, too.

“Marguerite (the librarian) always orders me books from Inter-Loan, and I belong to Book of the Month Club.

“I don’t watch TV,” he adds. “I just use it for video tapes and DVDs.”

Online, Kohlhaas reads Swiss and German newspapers, and writes e-mails.

And online, he pursues his passion for analyzing biographical and historical movies for historic integrity.

Kohlhaas shakes his head. “Sometimes there are a lot of inaccuracies.” He cites examples from the movie Elizabeth, and the TV series The Tudors.

“There is always a certain amount of artistic licence,” he begins. “But in The Tudors, they just went overboard.”

He explains what he sees as several discrepancies in marriage partners (who married whom) in the series.

“And Cardinal Wolsey was very ill and died in bed. He did not commit suicide,” Kohlhaas ends emphatically.

Kohlhaas explains his serious interest and foundation in British history.

“In Germany, I studied English history in English,” he says. “My teacher studied at Oxford in England, so I got it pretty accurate.”

Kohlhaas sits straight, elbows on the arms of his chair, and relates details of the path that brought him from Germany to Haines Junction.

As a boy, he lived near Kassel, Homberg/Efze in Germany. He began studies in mechanical engineering.

He had two semesters to go in 1953, when his mother brought the family to Vancouver where she had a sister. (His father had passed away in 1951.)

Kohlhaas intended to work and complete his mechanical engineering studies in Canada.

“I tried to get a job, but didn’t at first,” he says. “So I went up to UBC. The dean of engineering told me I had to start back at the first year again.

“I didn’t have the money to do that, so somehow I got stuck in the restaurant business – cooking and managing.

“I learned to like it and that was it.”

Kohlhaas spent 25 years as senior manager for The Texan Restaurant chain in Vancouver. The three restaurants in Vancouver and Surrey offered the regular fare of burgers and fish and chips.

But they made their own doughnuts.

“And then they sold out,” Kohlhaas says. “The company no longer exists.

“I was over 50 then. To get another job, I was either too old or too qualified.

“So I came north, cold turkey, in 1984.”

Kohlhaas spent the next 11 years working at White River Lodge on the North Highway. There, he managed the kitchen, generators, rooms and gas.

“It was good. We baked our own bread and buns – sourdough. But Cauleen (Beatty) did most of the baking.”

“Most of the people I know in the Junction, I met up there,” he says.

Kohlhaas retired from White River Lodge in 1995, and moved to Whitehorse.

“But I prefer a smaller place,” he says, “so I moved to Haines Junction in 1999.

“I already knew a lot of people, and felt comfortable coming here.

“My nephew, Mark (Kohlhaas), is here. He does my shopping for me in Whitehorse, or I shop at Madleys.”

“And I see my friends at the pub. A person has to get out,” he adds.

So between the library and the pub, the affable Kohlhaas can keep track of what is online and what is on tap.

And he has fun doing that.

Kohlhaas is somewhat reticent about describing himself.

Then, “I never thought about it much,” he says. “I guess I was a workaholic.

“I like to get things done, and I never take any days off.”

But he does not consider his library research as work.

“No, that’s relaxation,” he says.

Kohlhaas has been visiting the Haines Junction Public Library for the 10 years he has lived in the Junction.

That is a considerable number of blocks to walk and books to read.

When asked how many miles, books, movies, and Google searches he thinks he covers every year, he just chuckles.

And if there is such a thing as a twinkly eyed chuckle; Fritz Kohlhaas appears to have perfected it.

Even the twinkle in his eye, it seems, has kept fit over the years.

Elaine Hurlburt is a freelance writer

who lives in Haines Junction.

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