by Todd Wellington
Bernd Schaefers, the German movie and real estate mogul who owned and operated Burke Mountain Ski Area in the early 90s, is nothing, if not elusive.
Several attempts to locate him have proven to be fruitless, yet interesting.
The last time anyone had heard about him was when he made international news for being wanted by German police in connection with the biggest bank fraud scandal in that country's post-war history. Other than that, his wearabouts since he pulled out of Burke in 1994 have been unknown.
But one thing is certain, there are a few people looking for him.
One call of inquiry to the Internal Revenue Service about possible federal tax liens prompted three in return asking about whether this story had been written yet and what it said. "So, what did you find on Schaefers?" asked one IRS official.
Current Burke Mountain owner Andy Holmes was equally inquisitive, "Let me know if you find him," he said. "I think a lot of people are probably looking for him."
After several calls to various German police agencies, a public information officer who was willing to speak with a member of the American media gave the official spin on the Schaefers case.
"Do you know where Bernd Schaefers is?" was the question. "I can not give you that information," was the answer. "Is Bernd Schaefers in your custody?" "I can not give you that information!!" "Is Bernd Schaefers in prison?" "I can not give you that information!!!"
The German media was more pleasant than the police, but no more helpful. Uli Becker, a reporter for the City News, a daily Munich newspaper, was less than helpful. "We do not know where this man is. Why do you wish to speak with him?" he asked.
After being updated on the Schaefers situation, he was at least willing to look into it. "Ah, yes," he responded in an understanding way. "I will check with my editor and call you right back," he promised. That was in early April.
A call to the South German newspaper in Berlin, where Schaefers owned the Neue Constantin Film Studios which claims "The Never Ending Story" as one of its better known exports, resulted in yet another futile attempt to locate the man who had plans to turn Burke Mountain into a German Theme Park.
"Schaefers, yes, of course," answered the paper's film critic. "Now, tell me, what film was he in?" An Internet search turned up several "Schaefers" and several "Bernds," but no matching "Bernd Schaefers."
But persistent calls to Schaefers' Ravine Lake Road home in Bernardsville, N.J., did turn up something. Schaefer's longtime wife, Karin, a statuesque blond who was a professional model and model agency owner in Germany, agreed to answer a few questions.
Was he with her?, "no," she responded. Was he in prison? "no!" she insisted. And was he in Germany?, "no, I don't think so," she answered.
But as to where he is now, she was less than candid. "I can't tell you," she answered. "I can't tell you because I don't know where he is."
According to Karin Schaefers, Bernd moved out about a year ago and although she does keep in touch with him, their 28-year relationship is apparently over. But the parting was apparently not bitter. "In 28 years, I have nothing bad to say about him. Bernd always did his best."
Compounding matters for the mother of two are tax problems which are forcing her to sell her 43-room house and move with her two children to smaller quarters.
According to the Bernardsville tax collector, The Schaefers' Ravine Road Estate is quite nice. About 200 acres of farm land in several parcels worth an estimated $350,000 to $400,000. "He's sitting on a bundle up there," she said.
However, right about the time his fortunes went south at Burke mountain leading to the eventual bankruptcy of his company, Bear Kingdom Ltd., in December of 1995, he was also falling behind in his property tax payments.
There are now two tax liens for unpaid 1994 property taxes on two of the larger Ravine Road parcels. One for $47,711, and one for $181,918. The liens have since been sold at auction.
But the former model turned mogul's wife isn't angry despite all that has happend since 1994. "My god, that doesn't help you," she said. "The best thing in life is when you have a good attitude about every thing, life goes on."
She is also not bothered by those who would snicker about her misfortune. "In Germany, we say 'the bees always always nibble on good food.' People love to talk about other people especially when they are up and then they fall."
And when it comes to Bernd's questionable business dealings, she stands four square behind him. She traces his bad business fortune back to a 1991 deal with the government of France that went sour. "What happened, could happen to anyone, she said. "He is one of the nicest, kindest, and honest people. He didn't steal from anyone," she insisted. "He could have put some money away for himself, but he didn't. He is not a gangster."
And don't be surprised to see a Karin Schaefers and her children back in the Burke area for a visit sometime in the future. "We will definitely come," she said, "I like that place very much, the people are very nice."
Finally, Karin Schaefers makes it clear that she has no plans to move back to Germany because of her appreciation for America and its people. "They are the most tolerant people in the world," she said.