After Arctic austerity, Khodorkovsky savors Berlin luxury

Reuters
Mikhail Khodorkovsky speaks during a news conference in Berlin, Sunday, Dec. 22, 2013. The former oil baron and prominent critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, was reunited with his family in Berlin on Saturday, a day after being released from a decade-long imprisonment in Russia. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
.

View gallery

Mikhail Khodorkovsky speaks during a news conference in Berlin, Sunday, Dec. 22, 2013. The former oil baron and prominent critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, was reunited with his family in Berlin on Saturday, a day after being released from a decade-long imprisonment in Russia. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

By Erik Kirschbaum and Lidia Kelly

BERLIN/MOSCOW (Reuters) - The luxury hotel in Berlin where Mikhail Khodorkovsky has spent the last few nights is worlds away from Corrective Colony No. 7, where the former oil tycoon was locked up for years.

But Khodorkovsky says he could not care less about the gulf between the cramped Russian prison and his palatial accommodation at the Adlon, Germany's most famous hotel.

After being pardoned by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who let him out more than 10 years after he was jailed for tax evasion and fraud in a case his supporters say was politically motivated, Khordokovsky is reportedly staying in the Adlon's vast "Pariser Platz" suite.

The contrast between the 3,200 euros ($4,400) per night suite with the most lavish luxury Germany can offer and the dreary prison in Segezha more than 2,000 km (1,250 miles) to the northeast near the Arctic circle could hardly be starker.

For the last two and a half years, Khodorkovsky shared a filthy barrack-like room there with more than 20 other inmates, his mother Marina Khodorkovskaya once told Reuters.

She said she was only allowed to see her son every two months.

"I could talk to him for four hours by phone through a window glass," she said. Her side of the partition had only two chairs, nailed to the floor, and one receiver, so she had to take turns with her husband while talking to Mikhail.

Khodorkovskaya said that when Mikhail's wife returned from visits to the prison the first thing she would do was take a shower. "That should tell you a lot about the conditions there."

She said after a day in the prison workshop, Khodorkovsky would return to his room, take a piece of paper and write. His cell mates got used to this and let him keep the light on. He would put ear plugs in and write while they watched TV.

She said most of his cell mates were young criminals, many from Taijikistan and Uzbekistan. Many were Muslims.

Once, she put some ham in a package she was giving him. "My son looked at me and said: 'Pork? Mom, I have Muslims in my cell. They will think I asked for pork so as not to share'."

She said her son claimed he slept calmly and told her that he had neither "nightmares nor dreams" at night.

Khodorkovsky said in an interview with The New Times, a Russian newspaper, that he did not let conditions in the prison get to him. He said he worked in the prison shop for up to 11 hours a day, which he regarded as a waste of time.

EPITOME OF LUXURY

By contrast, the Adlon is the epitome of luxury in Germany. It was first built in 1907 and became a popular destination for royalty, diplomats, politicians, artists and celebrities. Famous guests included Greta Garbo, Albert Einstein, Charlie Chaplin, Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt.

The hotel survived World War Two but it was set on fire by Soviet soldiers in May 1945. It was torn down in 1984 by the Communist East German government. After German unification, it was rebuilt in 1997.

President George W. Bush stayed in the 382-room hotel on his visit to Berlin in 2002 and later that year Michael Jackson dangled his nine-month-old son from a fourth-floor balcony. Barack Obama stayed at the Adlon when he came to Berlin as a presidential candidate in 2008.

Many Hollywood stars have also stayed at the new Adlon, including Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Penelope Cruz, Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore.

According to Berlin tabloid B.Z., Khodorkovsky is staying in the "Pariser Platz" suite with a view of the city's famous Brandenburg Gate and the central Paris Square.

No one at the hotel would confirm he is staying in that suite. But the hotel's website describes it as "furnished in the style of a 1920s luxury apartment ... with a reception room, two elegantly furnished bedrooms, a spacious living room with an open fireplace, an office and an elegant bathroom with a sauna, a steam shower and a jacuzzi."

How did that strike Khordokovsky after his years in the Russian penal system? "I'm absolutely indifferent to living conditions," he told The New Times in the interview, which was conducted in his suite.

(Reporting By Erik Kirschbaum in Berlin and Lidia Kelly and Steve Gutterman in Moscow; Editing by Giles Elgood)

View Comments (42)