Konrad Thurano, 98, is not too good on his legs, even with the aid of a walking stick, but put him on a tightrope and he seems years — no, decades — younger. Thurano believes he is the world's oldest high-wire artiste still performing, and no one has found an active centenarian acrobat to disprove this, so it's probably true.
At a birthday party this week in the German city of Kassel, he did a few pull-ups to a wire to demonstrate.
"I feel as fit as ever," he said. Not very loudly, but the words were clear. "My eyes and ears haven't done too well, but my arms and legs are still doing what they are supposed to do."
Shuffling over to the wire stretched between two walls, he pulls himself up, by his wrists at first, then by his hands and finally by just his index fingers.
His eyes twinkle from under his black-brimmed hat.
He has performed in a variety theatres for more than 80 years and has known many of the greatest singers and other international performers who filled the variety houses of the 20th century.
Jerry Lewis, Marlene Dietrich, Sammy Davis jr, Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra all knew Thurano. He once even met Charlie Chaplin.
"Those were great days," says Thurano's son Johnjohn. "The top artistes used to spend time together on ocean liners or on first-class trains. There was a camaraderie among them."
"I'm not giving up now," declares Thurano with a cheeky schoolboy grin. "Keep happy, I say. Maybe I'll make 100."
Asked about the secret of his old age, he reckons he did nothing special.
"I ate what anyone eats: lots of fruit, but I like meat and pasta too. I even used to smoke, until I was 50."
"I don't do any special exercises either. Oh, you know, I just run a few kms every day on my treadmill at home."
In January 2006, Thurano had a farewell variety performance, his family say, but he puts up his hand to contradict, and insists that was not the end: "It was no more variety, but I still go on stage."
He and Johnjohn, 62, do their own regular shows together on the tightrope.
"I want to retire, but my father won't let me," jokes Johnjohn.
"I can't stop. If I stay more than three days at home, I feel I'm going mad with boredom. I've got to get out," he says, adding that he knows already what he'll do on his 100th birthday on April 3, 2009: go on the high wire.