Bonn Former employees of the American Embassy in Bad Godesberg fondly remember their time in the city on the Rhine. They all agree: "There will never be another time like in Bonn. That was unique."
Not always without struggles, and not everything was perfect, but you had fun and felt better than anywhere else. That was the conclusion of the approximately 20 former employees of the American Embassy in Bad Godesberg at their bi-annual meeting in the district. The working climate and atmosphere were unique and unrepeatable.
"We meet twice a year since the American Embassy moved here in 2000," said co-organiser Manuela Lömpke. Together with her husband, she maintains a list of about 60 alumni, whom she had written to for the 40th time with information about the place and time of the meeting. "Not everybody can always join, but we are usually between 20 and 40 people", summarised Norbert Engels, who is almost always attending. Together with his colleagues Andrea Hauch and Gerhard Erfmann, who are also represented, he had worked in the IT department of the embassy at the time. "You had dealings with all departments because everyone worked with a computer," he recalled.
Always fun at work
He shared a long-stretched office with his colleagues in which people rolled from workstation to workstation on roller chairs. "We didn’t just install programs over people's heads, but tailored the software to their exact needs," reported Engels. The special thing about the time was that people always had fun at work. "There was actually once a complaint about us from our boss. An American heard us laughing," said Engels. The man had simply not imagined that one could work in a good team and laugh at the same time, said the former IT employee. "I don't want to forbid you to laugh, but please laugh a little softer," the boss asked at the time, the three colleagues remembered - and laughed.
Almost like a state in the city, the embassy had its own departments for each ministry at the time, there were workshops, living quarters within the American settlement and of course the new building for the High Commission, which had been placed on pillars because of the danger of flooding. Architect Harald Nethe, also a former member of the embassy, told us that at one point during floods, a boat had been taken to the rooms on the first floor.
An ingenious system
At that time, the Americans had devised an ingenious system for quickly and effectively erecting the American settlement and the buildings belonging to the embassy. "There were wooden construction elements, all of which measured approximately 1.25 by 2.5 meters," said Nethe. "This had the advantage that every carpenter in Bonn could easily make such elements." That is why the settlement has grown so quickly. Later, he recalled, the Americans switched to steel and glass constructions for the embassies and for representative buildings.
There had also been frightening moments in the embassy, the alumni told in unison. For example, on the evening when the embassy was fired upon by members of the Red Army Faction (RAF) in Schloss Deichmannsaue. "At first I thought that the Marines were having fun or that this was some kind of exercise, when the bullets shot past us," said Engels. But it soon became clear how serious the situation was. "Actually I had wanted to go home soon, but not a hope," Lömpke remembered. To be on the safe side, everyone stayed in the building for hours until the situation was resolved. "I couldn't go out until well after midnight," Lömpke said. By then, she had managed telephone calls from the authorities and the press offices and was thus up to date. "That was quite exciting.“
However, despite all the exciting events and many challenging tasks, the mood in the team has never suffered. "We never tried to outdo each other", Engels thought aloud about a possible reason for the good cooperation. But it could also be that it was simply the mentality of the Rhineland that had promoted the "social life" of both Germans and Americans so well. In any case, they agreed with many American colleagues who, like themselves, would still say today: "There will never be another time like in Bonn. That was unique."
(Original text: Petra Reuter; Translation: Mareike Graepel)