This ambassador wants to do karaoke with Filipinos

Published August 7, 2021, 12:00 PM

by Carol RH Malasig

At home in Manila with Germany’s Ambassador Anke Reiffenstuel

NATURE’S CONVERGENCE A Buddy Bear, one of Berlin s most memorable symbols with a whaleshark painted on its stomach, welcomes people into the German ambassador’s home in Manila

Germany’s Ambassador Anke Reiffenstuel arrived in Manila back in August 2019. Tall, blonde, svelte, and with a warm air of sophistication, she had seven months to get to know the Philippines before the pandemic hit. She acknowledges that she’s quite lucky to have arrived when she did. She had a bit of time to lay the groundwork for some of their projects before the world went into a standstill.

A different challenge

The pandemic hasn’t been kind to people who love to socialize. For diplomats who are required to engage in socialization and build networks to be effective in their careers, the new normal has been quite the new, untamable animal. “It’s just not the same kind of atmosphere when you are talking, exchanging thoughts,” says Amb. Reiffenstuel. “The large part of what diplomats do in these meetings is catch the atmosphere, getting an idea of what’s going on in the margins of the conferences.”

There’s just so much one can pick up during an in-person conversation. Certain emotions that merely bubble up the surface, the mildest of fidgeting, how a person searches a room with his or her eyes while talking to someone—things that video conference apps like Zoom and Webex are unable to pick up on.

WOHNZIMMER Bright and airy, the German Ambassador s residence is yearning to host receptions again

Embassies in different parts of the world have had no choice but to adjust and Amb. Reiffenstuel has witnessed her own team adapting to completely different challenges. At the beginning of the pandemic, they repatriated 2,500 German tourists, a good number of them divers who enjoyed being in remote islands.

Another project that had to take on a new form was one that helps women in Quezon City generate their own income. Together with a non-government organization (NGO) and the support of Mayor Joy Belmonte, the embassy provided training and sewing machines to a group of women in the city. They started sewing school uniforms, bags, and table cloths. “Now, during the pandemic, these women are providing income for their families by sewing PPEs, delivering to all kinds of facilities,” says the ambassador.

Alone but not lonely

Amb. Reiffenstuel’s husband is currently serving as her country’s ambassador to South Korea. It’s not uncommon in the foreign service to have couples who rise from the ranks together and for most of their life, the Reiffenstuels served in the same embassy. Until now.

BUNNY BUDDIES Two of the ambassador’s adopted rabbits Monsieur Plume and HB

“The plan was to see each other often,” the Ambassador divulges. “But the pandemic made it difficult.” With the kids all grown up living in Germany and the US, they had to find a way to stay connected. They set up a regular Sunday Zoom or Webex call for at least an hour. “It was stiff at first but now, we just got used to it,” she says. “We don’t need to meet face to face to have a connection.”

Here in the Philippines, you arrive and you are immediately welcomed into the family. This is amazing.’

In the property’s garden, three adopted rabbits freely enjoy the grass and the sun, keeping the ambassador company as she works from home. She admits she has had no experience taking care of rabbits but she has accepted them and now, they’ve gotten used to her. “They are quite shy but they now come to see me when I go to the garden,” she says.

RABBIT HIDE Goldie, the ambassador’s third rabbit, is quite camera shy

She confesses that despite the current situation, work still keeps her busy. Germany, a big supporter of peace and stability in different regions, has been helping out in the peace process and partnering with the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG). “We started a cooperation with the PCG from our stabilization budget line for their work in Palawan, the West Philippine Sea,” says the ambassador. “We cannot do lip service, saying that we value stability without providing input. Support can mean financial, experts, and training.”

Back to Asia

WITH LOVE, FROM INDIA Treasures from the ambassador’s previous postings

Amb. Reiffenstuel recalls the time she was being asked to choose her posting among a list of vacancies. “Manila was my top choice. I was really happy when I was informed I would get the posting here.”

After getting posted in London, New Delhi, and Cairo during the Egyptian revolution of 2011, she and her husband wanted to return to Asia. “India was my first posting outside of Europe. I learned to see that my country, Europe, was not the center of the world and things could be seen from a different angle,” she says, adding that the posting in India taught her so much and helped her see different perspectives. “Here in the Philippines, you arrive and you are immediately welcomed into the family. This is amazing.”

In fact, work in embassies outside the home continent is rarely boring. “When you’re in an embassy in London or France, you don’t have to explain much to the headquarters,” she says. “Here, there’s a lot of work at the embassy. It’s what I find attractive—to explain what I understand and learn. Why decisions here are made a certain way and what is behind them.”

More to be done

The ambassador has two more years in Manila and she hopes she can get more done.

SINGING WITH A GERMAN AMBASSADOR Amb. Anke Reiffenstuel at home

“If we have more Filipino students studying in German universities then coming back with positive experiences from Germany, this is the best multiplier [of people to people relations],” she says, admitting that while this approach takes time, it’s proven to be effective. She also wants Germany to be more visible in the energy sector where she feels they have much to contribute.

There’s also more to see. Once travel is possible again, Amb. Reiffenstuel would love to see Baguio and Iloilo for heritage churches and galleries. Surprisingly, there’s one experience that the ambassador cannot miss out on while she’s here.

“I’ve never been to a karaoke bar! I’d like to go,” she beams, the first German person I ever met to utter those words. “It’s something very Filipino and I want to experience it.”

And oh, won’t we love to take her when this pandemic is over!