FORMER classmates schooled alongside North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-un in Switzerland cannot reconcile the unhinged dictator with the funny, popular boy they used to know.
As a young teen Kim was nothing like the ruthless, relative-executing despot the world has come to fear, according to his old mates at the German-speaking Liebefeld-Steinhölzli public school in Koeniz, south of Bern.
Instead, they remember a popular, slightly overweight boy with a collection of Nike trainers to die for.
Despite his weight and short stature (he was around 170cm tall), he loved — and was good at — basketball, with a passion for the Chicago Bulls.
“He was a good friend,” Bern chef Joao Micaelo, who attended Liebefeld-Steinhölzli with Kim for two years, told The Daily Beast.
“We had a lot of fun together. He was a good guy. Lots of kids liked him. I don’t know anything about his life today. All I know is the guy I knew in school.
“He loved basketball. We played a lot together. I’d like to say to him, if you ever have the time, please contact me again so we can catch up.”
Then: Kim Jong Un as a fresh-faced schoolboy at the Liebefeld-Steinhölzli public school in Koeniz, Switzerland. Picture: Supplied Source: Supplied
And now: Kim Jong-un visits newly built Pyongyang Orphans' Primary School. Picture: AFP PHOTO / KCNA VIA KNSSource: AFP
Like everybody else at the school, Mr Micaelo was introduced to Kim as “Pak Un” and told he was the son of North Korean embassy official. He said one day Kim told him who he really was, but he dismissed the story as fantasy.
Another childhood friend, Marco Imhof, remembered Kim as competitive but good-natured.
“He was funny,” Mr Imhof who is also based in Bern, told the Beast. “(He was) always good for a laugh. He also hated to lose. Winning was very important.”
Kim’s wit appears to have been one of his most beloved attributes.
“He had a sense of humour and got on well with everyone, even those pupils who came from countries who were enemies of North Korea,” an unnamed former classmate told the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag.
“Politics were a taboo subject at school. We argued about (soccer) football, not politics.”
Kim, his older brother, Kim Jong Chul, and younger sister Kim Yo Jong studied in Swiss schools in and around Bern between 1992 and 2000.
Kim Jong Un (circled) in an undated class photo at Liebefeld-Steinhölzli public school in Koeniz. Picture: Supplied Source: Supplied
Students ham it up during the same class photoshoot, except for Kim Jong Un, whose expression remains sober. Picture: Supplied Source: Supplied
His older half-brother Kim Jong Nam, who was assassinated by poison-wielding female agents at Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur airport last year, studied in Moscow and then landed in Geneva.
Last year Kim’s aunt Ko Yong Suk told The Washington Post that she and her husband had been appointed Kim’s guardians during his years in Switzerland.
She described how the couple cared for Kim and his two siblings in Switzerland as if they were their own. Kim Jong Chol had arrived in 1992 and Kim Jong-un in 1996 at the age of 12.
“We lived in a normal house and acted like a normal family. I acted like their mother,” Ko said about her time in Bern, Ms Ko said.
“I encouraged (Kim) to bring his friends home because we wanted them to live a normal life. I made snacks for the kids. They ate cake and played with Legos.”
During school breaks, Ms Ko and her husband took the kids on extravagant trips that included skiing in the Swiss Alps, swimming on the French Riviera, and visits to Italy.
Kim’s love of all things Swiss is no secret and he has honoured his childhood association with the country in various ways since becoming supreme leader.
In 2012, he oversaw construction of the US$35 million, Masikryong ski resort near Wonsan, Kangwon Province, which is said to have been inspired by his time in Switzerland.
However, his attempt to buy Swiss ski lifts for the resort was thwarted thanks to international sanctions.
The following year, Kim took over a large tract of land in Sepo, Kangwon Province and turned it into a pasture and an alpine farm.
The baby-faced dictator has also been known to gift Swiss watches to senior party officials.