A portrait of Georges Christen taken for Delano in February 2017 by Mike Zenari
A sculptor, holder of 26 Guinness World Records in feats of strength and old-time strongman, Georges Christen, 54, is one of a number of personalities to be featured inthe “Celebrating Luxembourg” series, presented by Delano and other titles published by Maison Moderne.
Throughout the year, Celebrating Luxembourg profiles the people who contribute positively to the grand duchy’s international reputation.
Jess Bauldry: What do you do for a living?
Georges Christen: My main job is professional old-time strongman. Nowadays you’ve competitions for strong men who lift stones, that’s more sport. The old-time strongman was a mix of strength, sport and variety act. I’m more a stage artist. I’ve also been working with Caritas for ten years as a sport manager for disadvantaged people. This could be homeless people, people who have lost their job, people who have problems with alcohol. I also do iron sculptures using my hands with my associate, Bernie Klein.
If you were not a strongman working on social projects, what would you be?
As a child, I wanted to do something a bit more adventurous. Normally, when you grow up, you realise you cannot live off that. I always wanted to prove it’s possible to follow your dream, and so I did. But, even when you follow your dream, I would say 30% of my time is still spent in the office doing things like contracts and answering the phone. It’s not only travelling and being a strong man. But it’s OK--the older you are, the more you like the office.
If you could highlight three major dates in your life, what would they be?
When I set my first record, bending 250 20cm nails in 72’55” in 1982, I was just a 19-year-old who wanted to set a world record. Shortly afterwards I did my first show in Dommeldange. There were only about 20 people there, but it was a good audience and that was when I realised this is the job I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Another date is today--the fact I’m still here in good shape and can still do all this and enjoy what I’m doing.
When you talk about Luxembourg to non-Luxembourgers, what do they say?
What I mostly hear is “yes, I know Belgium well”. You don’t have to go to Japan or China to hear that. Sometimes you hear it just 200 kilometres away in France. I remember I went to a kebab shop in France once and told the server I was from Luxembourg. He said: “It’s not a country, it’s a city.” He tried to convince me it wasn’t a country. The funny thing is that in China they knew about Luxembourg. I was very astonished. Maybe it was just a coincidence. That was in 2009. Things have changed so much since the internet, so it’s easier to learn about the world.
What does it mean to be a Luxembourger?
I never thought about this. For me, I’m a Luxembourger but I never had the feeling that when I go somewhere I need to say this. Perhaps someone will stand up at a show and say “moien”. It’s like if you travel from somewhere and meet someone from your village. You’re happy to see someone who comes from there.
Do you want to live abroad? If so, where?
I’ve a studio in Majorca. When I was seven, I took the plane to Majorca with my parents and have such fond memories. I didn’t go back for 20 years. Now I go a few times a year. Maybe, when I retire I will stay there more often. But to completely change countries? No. I’m like a cordless phone, you take it from room to room, but in the evening it goes back on the stand to recharge. I like travelling, but when I come back it’s like putting the cordless phone back in the bank.
Who do you think makes the best ambassador for Luxembourg abroad?
The best way to determine who is a good ambassador, for me, is when you go to a country and come back and reflect on what the people were like. It could be someone in the street who gave you directions. I wouldn’t say there is just one person, it’s a little bit of everybody who should try to be the best ambassador for his country when he’s abroad.
Francis of Assisi said that when you want to do the impossible, first you have to do the normal things, then the impossible things will happen by themselves. Often people get big ideas but when you explain all the small steps to get there, they lose interest. If you do it step by step, it can happen. My general philosophy is I try to be better each day. I try to be as good as possible.
In 2017 Maison Moderne and Nvision celebrate Luxembourg by profiling 100 people who contribute positively to the country’s international reputation and brand image. The series will culminate in a gala evening on 13 December at Luxembourg Congrès. If you know somebody who you think deserves to be on the 100 list, let us know: [email protected]