The rambling pot-rock wall that encloses the Homestead in Midway is a long way from the wall that surrounds East Berlin. But Homestead maintenance manager Roland Klahre knows well about both.
Klahre grew up in Hohnstein, East Germany, where his father was a florist with 5 acres in greenhouses and cold frames. He longed to have his son take over the family business but, Klahre said, "The work was too delicate for me, I wanted to study mining." However, by 1960 East Germany was in a noose that would tighten into the Berlin Wall. Klahre wanted out."I took a bus out of East Berlin and carried all the money I owned sewn into the lining of my suitcase," Klahre recounted. "The wall hadn't gone up yet, but there were checkpoints all around Berlin, and when the Russian soldiers came on the bus, all I could think of was what would happen if they discovered the money in the suitcase. It was my money, but it was illegal to try to take it out," Klahre said.
He took a flight out of West Berlin and went to Hanover, where he graduated from Oelsnitz Mining School and was offered a job in Africa. Klahre went instead to Durango, Colo., where an aunt and uncle lived, and he operated a ranch there for the next 25 years.
Klahre then moved to Midway, purchasing a home across the street from the Homestead. He and his wife, Pauline, brought a houseful of children. They adopted one of the many foster children they have cared for. The rest of their family is nearly grown, with one child in medical school, one on a mission in Germany, one at the University of Utah and two in high school.
Klahre worked for a tire company in Heber and began landscaping his front yard. He built a bridge across a stream and fashioned a rock and greenery haven that won a statewide gardening award. It was only natural that the next project would be working at the Homestead.
After one year Klahre became maintenance supervisor in charge of a crew of 10 in the summer and six in winter. "This place is a challenge because it's so large," Klahre said of the 50-acre resort. "We work with heaters and air conditioners, pools and spas; keep up the grounds, and take care of transportation and set-ups for conventions and weddings. We've put in sidewalks and new roofs and are adding 50 new units and an 18-hole golf course."
Klahre takes immense pride in the four-star rating the Homestead has garnered under the management of new owner Jerry Sanders. As he walks through the restored milk house and the stately Virginia House, Klahre spots a tiny corner of wallpaper starting to curl and a burned-out light bulb. "When you have some buildings over a hundred years old, you can get problems," Klahre said. Before the day is over, the repairs will have been made.
Visitors are proudly shown the airy gazebo that appears to float over a flowing stream that originates in the Homestead's famous hot pot. The gazebo is now a popular wedding site, with its scenic backdrop of the meadows and pastures of Heber Valley. The almost completed 18-hole golf course will add manicured greens to the view from the gazebo.
Looking over the quiet valley, Klahre says, "Because Salt Lake City is not that far away, we get many visitors who come up for a weekend in the country. It's a slower pace, more relaxed - a quiet and secure place."
Each morning as Klahre raises the flag he thinks about about the freedom he found in America. "The flag reminds me that I'm living in a free country. Being here instead of in East Germany is like day and night. You do have to see it to believe it," he said.
Klahre's brother and sister from East Germany visited him recently. He had not seen them in 27 years.
"When I went places with them, I kind of felt like we all take things for granted. When we walked for the first time into a grocery store, my brother just stood in the aisle and stared. He couldn't imagine that there were no long lines of people outside and that there were so many vegetables available, Klahre said. "They were just like a bird when he discovers the cage door open - he's afraid to fly out. When we drove across the state line from Colorado they were fumbling for passports and wanted to know where the border guard was."
While preparing for the snowmobiling, cross-country skiing and sleigh-riding crowds to come, Klahre is quick to praise his crew. "I can't take the credit here, it's a team effort," he said. But the man who quietly works with a handicapped youth on his crew brings a serenity and dignity that fits with the demeanor of the gently aging resort.
"I do love my work," Klahre said. "You get to feel like it's your own - that you belong to it."