BELOW THE LINE
By AMBASSADOR JSOE ABETO ZAIDE
On my cross-posting as ambassador to Germany in 1999, I discovered at the flea market a pair of icons of the Angelus executed in Florentine style – one icon of the Virgin Mary, the other one of the Angel Gabriel. They were perfect for the Ambassador’s office because the German word Botschaft, which means the “good news” in the New Testament, is the same word for “embassy”; and the Botschafter is the “bearer of [good] news,” “the “messenger,” or the “ambassador.” The Angel Gabriel was the Ambassador at the Annunciation.
Peter Scholz was one memorable German Botschafter to the Philippines. He kept fond memories of Manila and of his Filipino friends. Peter learned this from a German lady mentor; (she relived in her mind’s eye happy memories, many years after she had lost the gift of sight.) Peter knew the Pinoys’ strengths and foibles. He knew us, warts and all; and he loved the sinner, cursed the sin.
This Ambassador lived through and experienced EDSA People Power. He worked hard for a superlative state visit of President Corazon Aquino. In Berlin, she would be proven a prophet: she declared that the walls which divided the two Germanys would come down. Peter thought that it would be a long while before Germany would have another Philippine state visit like this. So he suggested to the Federal Foreign Office to gift Manila the silken Philippine flags which lined the Adenauer Alle on Cory’s visit.
This Ambassador observed closely the then Defense Secretary Fidel V. Ramos, whom he witnessed morphing from soldier to statesman. He would be one of only two foreign Ambassadors who would be personally farewelled by President Ramos.
Despite his successes, Peter was nagged by the thought that Foreign Secretary Roberto Romulo seemed formal and distant. He said that Mr. Romulo never called him “Peter” but always “Ambassador Scholz.” I assured him that Romulo’s seeming formality was not a personal estimation. I may be faulted for sherpaing our foreign secretary on German protocol: Secretary Romulo addressed Peter formally, sensible to the German nuances of “Sie” (“kayo” or “thou”) vs. “du” (“ikaw” or the familiar “you”). Peter worked hard; but the two never broke out of the verbal log-jam, never shifted to “Bobby” and “Peter.”
After deeply binding the ties between Berlin and Manila. he retired in mid-1995. When he left Lumbang, the German residence at Dasmariñas Village, he gave his household staff munificent bonuses — which must have seemed a king’s ransom to them. A deeply religious man, long after retirement he continued to support Veritas in the Philippines.
Peter kept one foot in Manila, another at his retirement home in Pfalzen, South Tyrol. Oh, he also maintained his flat at Plittersdorf near Bonn. That last one would prove providential, for me. When I was cross-posted from Austria to Germany in May, 1999, I established my residence in Berlin. But our embassy remained in Bonn for another six months. So I was a pendler — a commuter between Berlin and Bonn for the duration.
Because our bean-counters could not authorize a second living quarters allowance for me in Bonn, the pundit Joe Guevarra quipped in his column “Point of Order” that the Philippines is so poor because “…the Philippine ambassador lived in Berlin and worked in Bonn, with conjugal visitation rights to Berlin!”
Peter Scholz never dreamt that, four years into retirement, he would extend Official Development assistance to a Philippine envoy: He lent his 80-square-meter two-bedroom flat in Plittersdorf to me (until we completed the successful transfer to Berlin in October, 1999.) Peter’s flat was just a block from the Rhine. My wife Meng and I loved to promenade by the river bank. A ferry took us across to idyllic Königswinter (King’s winter), at the foot of Drachenfels ( Dragon’s rock), where, legend says, Siegfried slew the dragon.
Berlin is the redoubtable capital, returned to a Reunited Germany. But the river Spree could never be Der Rhine — the only river grammatically ordained by German language into male gender. Two addresses that we would missed on leaving a small town in Germany for Berlin were Poerschke, haberdashers to the German foreign office and foreign diplomats, and the Maternus Gasthof. I acquired an alpaca suit from Poerschke when I was still a size 44; I purchased 13 Daniel Hecter suits there — half of them on summer or winter sonderangebot (25%-50% off price). The Maternus was a favorite watering hole of German parliamentarians — not only because it served the best entel’orange (duck marinated in orange). Madame Ria, the proprietress, had the legendary reputation to be able to make political opposites like Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and Bavaria’s Franz Josef Strauss share a table on peak hours. I knew this from my father, Joe Zaide, who had served as press counselor in Bonn in the late sixties.
Old men reminisce. Peter and I kept track of whereabouts and what abouts via annual scandal sheets and postscripts on Christmas cards. We visited Peter in Pfalzen; he descended on us in Berlin one New Year’s eve. He also drove all the way to attend our daughter Luisa Kochel’s wedding in Clivio, Varese. Though rare and far in-between, we kept ties that bind.
Last Tuesday, I received a telephone call from our mutual friend, Claus Sudhoff, an old Manila hand and sole proprietor of a shirtmaker firm which bears his name. No, it was not about something I ordered. It was about something more sudden. Peter Scholz had suffered a stroke in Sardinia; and on Sunday. 11 August 2019, he was in the bosom of Abraham. My wife Meng and I will ask our parish priest to celebrate mass for one of the Philippines’ best friend.
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