S. Steinlein – The last GDR ambassador in Paris

“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.



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