25.03.2019 - Article

“What a great and multi-faceted, welcoming and hospitable, complex and complicated country!,” read Ambassador Schäfer's interview with The Diplomatic Society #DiplomaticallySpeaking

Interview with the Diplomatic Society
Interview with the Diplomatic Society© Diplomatic Society (Screenshot)

DS (Diplomatic Society): Last country where you were based before coming to South Africa

AS (Ambassador Schäfer): Before I arrived in South Africa in 2017, I was the spokesman for Germany’s Foreign Minister for more than six long years, based in Berlin. But this isn’t my first time here in South Africa. I worked and lived here from 2007 to 2011 - what an exciting time that was – not least with South Africa hosting the 2010 World Cup.

DS: An interesting place in South Africa

AS: I love Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. We are very lucky in that the gardens are just around the corner from our place in Cape Town. We like to stroll around or just have a picnic surrounded by Fynbos vegetation under century-old trees. A majestic, a beautiful place, with Table Mountain in our backs and the smell of the sea in our noses.

DS: Your impression about South Africa

AS: What a great and multi-faceted, welcoming and hospitable, complex and complicated country!

DS: One place you would like to be posted to or visit

AS: My experience is: Be careful with what you wish for … and believe in the wisdom of your government (Please apologise for coming across as very diplomatic here…). And frankly, it is hard, if not impossible to top beautiful South Africa!

DS: Most memorable appointment thus far

AS: They say that your first assignment abroad is the most memorable one: My first was Kiev, in the late 1990s, an exciting time of great hopes for change and transformation in Ukraine we all shared. Later, as ministry spokesman, I was back in Ukraine quite often, in the beautiful city of Kiev and in the East – unfortunately, under less joyful and sanguine circumstances. It was a time of crisis diplomacy, tensions, fear and violence in the midst of protracted crisis in Eastern Ukraine. Coming back, and in a way coming home to the city that welcomed and hosted us so generously after such a long time – and in times of crisis – left deep marks.

DS: Most challenging situation that you had to handle thus far

AS: Just last week, the embassy’s press colleagues forced me to do a photo session with them. I had to stand still and smile for half an hour. Does that count?

DS: My inspiration is/comes from...

AS: … all those who don’t give up and fight for a right cause, against all odds, sometimes all alone, without any promise of success or gratification. South Africa can pride itself on brave heroes who did just that. Women and men like Nelson Mandela and Albertina Sisulu have been an inspiration to the entire world.

DS: Place in your country that you love to visit.

AS: I grew up in the port city of Bremen, in northern Germany. I came to love the constant rain and miserable weather there, the fact that people are very down to earth and that I get to see my favourite football team play: Werder Bremen!

DS: Most interesting place to visit elsewhere

AS: Most interesting? That’s a tough call.
But have you been up the Ponte Tower in Hillbrow? Up in the clouds in the whirlwinds of a great Highveld thunderstorm with fascinating views of and insights in the developments of Jo’burg, this great and vibrant African city … If not, you should

DS: Favourite dish of your country

AS: Quite clearly “Grünkohl und Pinkel”, green cabbage, potatoes with all kinds of meat and sausage, a speciality of my home town Bremen.

DS: Tastiest dish of another country.

AS: Lamb curry à la sudafricaine

DS: My favourite book is...

AS: There are many. On South Africa … Alan Paton’s ‘Cry, the beloved country’, written in 1948, right before the advent of Apartheid. It makes you cry, and despair of the injustices it displays, it makes you brood over life, and where it can lead to. It helped – at least it helped me – marvel at the intricacies of this country and its people.

DS: At the moment I am reading

AS: Madeleine Albright’s ‘Fascism. A warning’. And Martin Meredith’s ‘Diamonds, Gold and War. The Making of South Africa’

DS: I enjoy listening to……

AS: …my little daughter singing her newly learned songs from Kindergarten. Please don’t ask me to sing them to you!

DS: I spend my leisure time

AS: Filling out silly questionnaires…

DS: One sentence describing a lesson that you have learnt from being a diplomat

AS: Never lose your curiosity and commitment!

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