German-American Bridge Builder Walther Leisler Kiep at the German House
“You build bridges where people think you can’t build bridges," is how Thomas Roth, Bureau Chief of ARD German Television New York, introduced the special guest to the audience at the Otto Karl Kiep Auditorium in the German House. For more than half a century, Walther Leisler Kiep has actively committed himself to promoting German-American friendship. The influential politician and longtime Chairman of the Atlantik-Brücke presented his new book, “Bridge Builder: An Insider’s Account of Over 60 Years in Post-War Reconstruction, International Diplomacy, and German-American Relations,” giving an inside history of his life in politics and of German-US relations over many decades.
Enlarge image Walther Leisler Kiep (© GKNY) As an independent politician and treasurer of the then-governing CDU party, Minister of Finance in Lower Saxony, member of the Volkswagen Supervisory board for 21 years, and confidant of several US presidents, Kiep made constant and invaluable contributions to German-American relations and worked specifically to improve the German-American friendship, particularly after the Second World War.
The book presentation took place at a very special location for the Kiep family. Last year the Consulate General named the German House audience after Otto Carl Kiep, the uncle and godfather of Walter Leisler Kiep. Otto Karl Kiep was the German Consul General in New York from 1931 until 1933; he was removed from his post after he praised Albert Einstein's arrival in the US, stating publicly to the Manhattan audience, "your gain is our loss." He was eventually executed for his resistance opposition to the Hitler regime in 1944.
Besides discussing German- and European-American relations, Roth and Kiep had a spirited conversation about Kiep’s political experiences and spoke about topics like German unification, the country’s complex relationship with the Middle East, and the current financial crisis.
After a political career of over 50 years, working with true heavyweights in politics and economics, one can imagine that it is not the easiest task to reconstruct every important incident and meeting for an autobiography. For Kiep, his diaries therefore were a “wonderful way of keeping an overview of things you might have forgotten.” The author, who holds a collection of 65 diaries documenting his life, uses them as a “self-control instrument” which make him reflect on his decisions. “The whole book is based on my diaries”, he said. They provide deeper, more personal insight: “Without my diaries, this book would not exist.” It is fortunate for German-American relations that these diaries- and the history they contain- had such a fastidious author.