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German envoy in Shanghai has long history.
Update:2011/4/8 13:27:18 Views:4969
 

ON the wall behind the desk of Dr Wolfgang Roehr, former and current Consul General of Germany to Shanghai, hangs an intriguing woodblock print about a moment in history.

The limited edition print, one of 60 by Hangzhou artist Zhao Yannian done in 1956, shows four Chinese citizens confronting two foreigners in an office. 

It depicts an incident in 1933, when Soong Ching Ling, wife of Dr Sun Yat-sen; famous writers Lu Xun and Lin Yutang; as well as Cai Yuanpei, educator and chancellor of Peking University, protested to the then-deputy German Consul General in Shanghai against violations of human rights in Germany. 

That was the year Nazis started taking power in Germany and began burning books by Communist and Jewish authors.

The entire story, including the protest telegraph sent by Soong to Adolf Hitler and the German responses, is recorded in the book written by Roehr's wife, Dr Silvia Kettelhut, about the history of the German consulates in Shanghai, starting with the Hamburg consulate in 1853, since there was no German state at the time.

Roehr held the consular post between 2002 and 2007 and returned last year.

Impressed by the incident, Roehr first saw the print in the former residence of Soong Ching Ling when he was in Beijing, and immediately bought it when he saw another print in an art gallery in Shanghai in 2003. 

He took it to Berlin when he concluded his first posting in 2007, and now has brought the painting back again, along with his family, his memories and his service.

"It is very unique in the Foreign Service to be sent to the same posting again. It hasn't happened in the past few decades," Roehr tells Shanghai Daily in his office, standing before the print.

"I have spent more than half of my career dealing with China, including more than 10 years serving in Beijing and Shanghai, as well as a posting at the Asia Desk back in Germany."

Roehr is a specialist on China, like many diplomats sent to the country. 

He met his wife , also a China specialist, at a reception in Beijing, when he was serving in the political department of the embassy and she was studying Chinese. 

Their daughter, who speaks Chinese fluently like a native, was born during his first staying in Shanghai.

Roehr served in Beijing from 1986 to 1989 and then from 1996 to 1999. He visited Shanghai for the first time in 1996, before becoming Consul General in 2002. 

Because of their interest in Shanghai history and architecture, his wife in 2002 founded the organization Explore Shanghai Heritage, which regularly hosted lectures at their residence by historians, film makers, architects and authors.

The couple still enjoys walking around the former French concession area on weekends to look at old houses. "It's nice that there is always something new to discover," he says.

"It is also quite nice now that many old houses have been carefully restored, sometimes with cafés or shops, if they are not overdone. That's what really makes Shanghai so special."

He appreciates the city's collection of European and Chinese architecture, as well as many historical sites, but is also concerned about "the danger of building too many new houses, which makes it look a bit like everywhere else."

Germany and China will celebrate the 40th anniversary of bilateral relations next year, and the geographical area covered by this Consulate General, basically the Yangtze River Delta, is particularly important.

In 2010, Germany-China bilateral trade rose sharply to US$130 billion, compared with around US$90 billion in 2009; half was in the Yangtze River Delta region. Half of the more than 3,000 German companies in China are also in this region. It has more than 15,000 German citizens, two-thirds of all Germans in China, forming the largest German community in East Asia. 

The area also contains the world's largest German school, with 1,100 German students, and the world's largest German business association. Some German schools or business associations in other countries may be larger, but they also allow non-German students and companies - the Shanghai school and association are for Germans exclusively.

The Consulate General office in Shanghai is Germany's fourth-largest visa section abroad, with more than 80,000 visa applications in 2010. Roehr expects a 4 to 5 percent increase in applications this year.

Familiar with the city and the office, Roehr is upgrading the visa section with a new office, more spacious and comfortable to accommodate increasing demand. It is expected to open this summer.

He also plans to implement a new visa policy for longer periods and multiple entry for those who need to visit Germany frequently. If applicants have been to Germany once and returned and can persuasively make the case for frequent visits, they may be issued longer visas with multiple entries. This will be especially helpful for those who plan to study in Germany. The policy will go into effect in the near future, he says.

"A lot has changed (since my last posting). The Expo has given Shanghai an enormous boost and I enjoyed it a lot," he says.

"Now Shanghai needs something new, and I believe the city is on the right path by looking to upgrade its industry to the service industry and emphasize innovation, which it has been doing for the last couple of years."



Q: As a diplomat, what is the one item you can't do without?

A: I constantly need good books to refine my professional skills.



Q: What are your best and worst career experiences?

A: When I worked in New York, we once had a proposal that we wanted some countries to sign to agree with us. So I told a colleague to get Mauritania to our side, and somehow he went to the Mauritius. So we ended up getting an additional signing, more than we planned, even better. Sometimes, mistakes can also be useful.



Q: What is your motto for life?

A: There's a German saying, which translates as "The dogs bark and the caravan continues on its way." It means that one shouldn't be too influenced by other factors on his way.



Q: Favorite place in Shanghai?

A: We really like to walk around the former French concession on the weekends to look at the old houses. There's always something new to discover. And it's quite nice now that many old houses have been carefully restored, sometimes with cafés or shops, if they are not overdone. That's what we really like and what makes Shanghai so special.

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