S. Steinlein – The last GDR ambassador in Paris

Spread the love

“I’m always surprised by people who claim to know what they’ll be in twenty years,” says Stephan Steinlein, smiling.
“My experience is quite different…” Stephan Steinlein ambassador GDR

When Stephan Steinlein wakes up in his student residence in Strasbourg, far from home, on November 10, 1989, he discovers that the Berlin Wall has fallen. “At first, I couldn’t believe it, but then it was all over the internet, and I was ecstatic.”

Stephan Steinlein observes developments in Berlin after the fall of the Berlin Wall, mainly through the newspapers, from his Strasbourg study. “All of a sudden, a lot of my peers and acquaintances were in the spotlight. It felt odd to be so far away from the action at that point.” Meanwhile, he has met his future wife, a French lady, in Strasbourg. He went to Berlin without her in April 1990. He intends to look for work opportunities for his German partner there. Why not in the current GDR administration?

Stephan Steinlein ambassador GDR

Stephan Steinlein ambassador GDR
The former Foreign Ministry of the GDR in Berlin (demolished in 1995) © dpa/picture-alliance

“Back then, I went to see Hans Misselwitz, new State Secretary of Foreign Minister Markus Meckel. He was a classmate of mine, and I asked him if he happened to know of any positions in the Foreign Office that would be suitable for my wife because if he did, she would gladly come to Berlin with me…”

To his surprise, by way of an answer, Steinlein receives a job offer for himself, one which he “would never even have dreamed of”: Stephan Steinlein ambassador GDR.

“No, I don’t have anything for your wife, but I’ve got something for you. You don’t want to be Ambassador in Paris, do you?” I discussed it briefly with my wife and accepted – you can’t say no to something like that!

They were looking for someone who could speak French and be trusted by the new government for the position of Ambassador in Paris. “There weren’t many people around who matched the bill,” Steinlein muses, adding that under the “Two Plus Four Treaty,” three theologians with similar career paths to his were in the running for the role of new GDR Ambassador.

The French government gave Stephan Steinlein their “approval” on July 4, 1990, allowing him to begin his work as GDR Ambassador officially. He states that the embassy personnel had remained unchanged: “I was the only new recruit and a total beginner when it came to diplomacy.” Dealing with the staff’s existential angst and closing down the embassy while still trying to motivate himself and others was a tall order for a 29-year-old.

Stephan Steinlein ambassador GDR
Three different GDR diplomatic passport types…1950s, 1960s, and 1980s

In Paris, Stephan Steinlein became the last GDR Ambassador. He is now the Chief of the Federal President’s Office. Since March 2017, he has been Germany’s highest-ranking civil servant state secretary.



FAQ Passport History
Passport collection, passport renewal, old passports for sale, vintage passport, emergency passport renewal, same day passport, passport application, pasaporte passeport паспорт 护照 パスポート جواز سفر पासपोर्ट

1. What are the earliest known examples of passports, and how have they evolved?

The word "passport" came up only in the mid 15th Century. Before that, such documents were safe conducts, recommendations or protection letters. On a practical aspect, the earliest passport I have seen was from the mid 16th Century. Read more...

2. Are there any notable historical figures or personalities whose passports are highly sought after by collectors?

Every collector is doing well to define his collection focus, and yes, there are collectors looking for Celebrity passports and travel documents of historical figures like Winston Churchill, Brothers Grimm, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Read more...

3. How did passport designs and security features change throughout different periods in history, and what impact did these changes have on forgery prevention?

"Passports" before the 18th Century had a pure functional character. Security features were, in the best case, a watermark and a wax seal. Forgery, back then, was not an issue like it is nowadays. Only from the 1980s on, security features became a thing. A state-of-the-art passport nowadays has dozens of security features - visible and invisible. Some are known only by the security document printer itself. Read more...

4. What are some of the rarest and most valuable historical passports that have ever been sold or auctioned?

Lou Gehrig, Victor Tsoi, Marilyn Monroe, James Joyce, and Albert Einstein when it comes to the most expensive ones. Read more...

5. How do diplomatic passports differ from regular passports, and what makes them significant to collectors?

Such documents were often held by officials in high ranks, like ambassadors, consuls or special envoys. Furthermore, these travel documents are often frequently traveled. Hence, they hold a tapestry of stamps or visas. Partly from unusual places.

6. Can you provide insights into the stories behind specific historical passports that offer unique insights into past travel and migration trends?

A passport tells the story of its bearer and these stories can be everything - surprising, sad, vivid. Isabella Bird and her travels (1831-1904) or Mary Kingsley, a fearless Lady explorer.

7. What role did passports play during significant historical events, such as wartime travel restrictions or international treaties?

During war, a passport could have been a matter of life or death. Especially, when we are looking into WWII and the Holocaust. And yes, during that time, passports and similar documents were often forged to escape and save lives. Example...

8. How has the emergence of digital passports and biometric identification impacted the world of passport collecting?

Current modern passports having now often a sparkling, flashy design. This has mainly two reasons. 1. Improved security and 2. Displaying a countries' heritage, icons, and important figures or achievements. I can fully understand that those modern documents are wanted, especially by younger collectors.

9. Are there any specialized collections of passports, such as those from a specific country, era, or distinguished individuals?

Yes, the University of Western Sidney Library has e.g. a passport collection of the former prime minister Hon Edward Gough Whitlam and his wife Margaret. They are all diplomatic passports and I had the pleasure to apprise them. I hold e.g. a collection of almost all types of the German Empire passports (only 2 types are still missing). Also, my East German passport collection is quite extensive with pretty rare passport types.

10. Where can passport collectors find reliable resources and reputable sellers to expand their collection and learn more about passport history?

A good start is eBay, Delcampe, flea markets, garage or estate sales. The more significant travel documents you probably find at the classic auction houses. Sometimes I also offer documents from my archive/collection. See offers... As you are already here, you surely found a great source on the topic 😉

Other great sources are: Scottish Passports, The Nansen passport, The secret lives of diplomatic couriers

11. Is vintage passport collecting legal? What are the regulations and considerations collectors should know when acquiring historical passports?

First, it's important to stress that each country has its own laws when it comes to passports. Collecting old vintage passports for historical or educational reasons is safe and legal, or at least tolerated. More details on the legal aspects are here...

Does this article spark your curiosity about passport collecting and the history of passports? With this valuable information, you have a good basis to start your own passport collection.

Question? Contact me...