| Lars Nicolaysen |
Yokohama, Japan (dpa) – He knits and knits and knits.
When Bernd Kestler wakes up in the morning in his apartment in Yokohama, Japan the first thing he sees are mountains of woollen cloths donated by other knitters.
The 50-year-old is Japan’s exotic king of knitting, and now poised to gain a possible entry into the Guinness Book of World Records – and all for a good cause: Helping the survivors of the devastating March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
“There is hardly another man in Japan who knits,” admits Kestler, who moved to the country 16 years ago from his native Germany as a business consultant.
Knitting is a hobby that has created a new career for him as an evangelist of knitting and entertainer.
“I have found my niche here with knitting,” he says.
The public, especially the women, are thrilled by his artistic talent. He gives courses, in Japanese of course, on knitting and crocheting, appears on television shows, and conducts knitting workshops.
And because his adoptive homeland has made it possible for him to follow that unique career, he decided to give something back to Japan, in the form of a project mobilising knitters around the world to create a gigantic blanket for the tsunami victims.
On September 20, Kestler and his helpers unveiled a blanket measured at 476.78 square metres.
It is not designed to cover anything, just to attract attention.
Now it is up to the judges at Guinness World Records to determine whether this qualifies to break a previous record of 306 square metres.
To Kestler, the record is of secondary importance.
His aim is to keep awareness alive of the plight of tens of thousands of Japanese still
living in shelters more than three and a half years after the catastrophe of March 2011 that claimed 19,000 lives.
The huge blanket was unveiled in a gym in the town of Ishinomaki, one of the worst-hit cities.
The blanket grew out of the knit teacher’s public-service initiative, “Knit for Japan”.
Living in Yokohama, Kestler himself felt the jolts from the quake.
While watching the horrific scenes on television of the tsunami and the resulting nuclear catastrophe at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, the thought of fleeing from Japan never even crossed his mind.
On the contrary, he wanted to help the people being put up in emergency shelters in the affected regions.
“Initially, I sent caps, scarves and gloves that I knitted myself, because it was cold up north,” Kestler said of the disaster region. He mobilised pupils in his knitting courses, along with acquaintances and other helpers to do the same.
Then he began sending wool and knitting needles to the residents in the emergency shelters so that they could knit their own warmers.
“Many of the old people felt so useless, having lost everything and with nothing to do,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be something grand that you offer. It’s also the little things that can make a big impact.”
In the wake of his initiative, so many helpers came forward and so much wool was donated that one day the idea of putting together the world’s largest blanket came to him. It was also
a way of keeping people involved.
So Kestler used social media such as Facebook and Twitter to propound his “Knit for Japan” initiative. Each participant was asked to crochet a 20-by-20 centimetre “granny square” and send it along to be joined up with other squares into the giant patchwork.
“The response surpassed all my expectations,” Kestler said. People from around the globe, from Japan to Germany, from America to Taiwan, sent their squares – a total of 11,250 of them – to him. Entire truckloads came rolling in to Yokohama.
“I was sleeping among mountains of wool, since there was hardly any room left in my house. There are some real works of art among them,” he said of the granny squares.
He couldn’t do all the work himself, so he distributed the squares to a number of knitting clubs in Japan. Fifty granny squares were first sewn together to make each of 225 larger-sized blankets. These, in turn, were sewn together to make the huge blanket.
“We have knitted the entire world together,” Kestler says in awe about what was accomplished and about the blanket handed over in Ishinomaki.
Barely assembled into one huge blanket, the creation will once again be divided up into 225 smaller but usable blankets and be donated to people still living in shelters. Tens of thousands of survivors are still living in temporary quarters and the winter is rapidly approaching.
Kestler hopes that his project also will ensure “that the fate of the people there won’t be forgotten”.