Somehow it was imperative that Stephan Steinlein now becomes ambassador in Paris for a second time. That he is - at least in post-war history - the only German ambassador who has represented two countries in the same post. Steinlein still has something to do there: one day he has to succeed in bringing his credentials to the Élysée Palace.
He just didn't manage to do that the first time. It's been 33 years since that first time. He was recalled after six weeks. He hadn't done anything wrong. Only the country that had sent him, the GDR, was just being merged into a united Germany. And all his messages below.
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It was Steinlein's first turning point. History didn't just happen, it was made. Markus Meckel, just a short time before the shaggy-bearded pastor of the opposition civil rights movement, who suddenly became foreign minister in the first and last freely elected GDR government, was urgently looking for unsuspecting people – and found Steinlein, who was 29 at the time. He had neither political nor foreign policy experience, but he did meet two criteria: he had been learning French for four years and was considered unaffected.
The son of the evangelical superintendent in Nauen, Brandenburg, was not in the FDJ and therefore only got his high school diploma via a detour through vocational training in the steel and rolling mill in Hennigsdorf. Only then was he able to study theology at the language college in East Berlin – where the new Foreign Minister Meckel once studied. One thing led to another.
Steinlein once said everything he knew about France up to that point he had learned from Louis de Funès films, which were also shown on GDR television. No! But! Ooaah! He'd never ducked through Provence, let alone taken a taxi to Paris—but he'd made it halfway there in the turmoil before the Wall came down. Steinlein experienced the fall of the Wall in France, in Alsace. In August 1989 he was allowed to travel to Strasbourg as a doctoral fellow. It changed everything. Here he met his future wife François. Three of her four children would later study in France, together they would spend almost every summer vacation in France. The country, he says today, has become his second home.
Even if the first Paris adventure only lasted those six weeks, Steinlein had acquired a taste for it. He was one of the first East Germans to be trained as attachés at the Foreign Office Academy in 1991.
Now, at the age of 62, it's time again: Paris! When the appointment became known, some may have had a crazy thought in their heads: wait a minute, is Frank-Walter Steinmeier going to be president of France now? Because for more than two decades it has actually always been like this: Wherever Steinmeier appears, Steinlein is not far away. He had a steep career in the slipstream of today's Federal President. These "Stones" are a hugely successful political band.
Steinlein had just completed three years at the embassy in Warsaw when the then head of the chancellery, Steinmeier, brought him to Berlin as a press officer and office manager. He follows Foreign Minister Steinmeier to the Foreign Office as Chief of Staff. He remained at his side after the failed SPD candidate for chancellor, Steinmeier, wintered a legislative period as opposition leader in the Bundestag. He returned to the Foreign Office with Steinmeier, this time as his State Secretary. And when Steinmeier finally moved to Bellevue Palace, Steinlein followed him as head of the Office of the Federal President.
Nevertheless, Steinlein only joined the SPD when most left – after Agenda 2010. Another turning point. Last year he experienced his third. Steinmeier's Russia policy, the idea of "change through integration," was always his. Just like the Franco-German attempt to prevent Russia from further Ukraine adventures in the Normandy format. Today, Steinlein freely admits that this policy has failed. At the time, however, she was correct, only in this way would Ukraine have gained the time to defend itself against Putin's attack today.
Steinlein left the presidency last year, returning to his AA for one last turn abroad, returning to Paris, this time to the fine Palais Beauharnais, residence of the German ambassador. Not an easy task these days, the hearts of both countries are beating at a completely different pace. "Together we are building a strong Europe that believes in its future," says Steinlein undeterred. Quite a diplomat. Learned is learned.
Are the Stones separated forever now? No, there will be a reunion at the end of August. His old boss is coming to Paris for a work visit.