The East German Embassy in Washington DC

A reader’s question was the inspiration for this article about the East German (GDR) Embassy in Washington DC, USA.

A filmmaker needed a close-up from a GDR exit-visa for a film scene. The story is about a German Democratic Republic sports star who flees the country in the 1960s before the wall was built. Of course, I was glad to help with a scan of such a visa. But then there were follow-up questions, and he sent me a photo of an East German visa which I have never seen before – issued at the German Democratic Republic Embassy in Washington D.C. in 1987. East German Embassy Washington

East German Embassy Washington
Visa issued by the German Democratic Republic, Embassy Washington, 1987

On September 4, 1974, the United States became the 110th state and the last of the three Western powers to establish diplomatic relations with the German Democratic Republic. The United States’ non-recognition policy toward the GDR, which had dominated until then, made the establishment of diplomatic relations the all-dominant goal of East German U.S. policy. But as the strongest power in the West, with great cultural charisma, the United States was also at the same time the negative point of reference for East German policy and the embodiment of the class enemy.

For the U.S., the GDR was rather a regrettable operational accident of history. To the U.S., the second German state always appeared as a compliant satellite of Moscow, with narrowly limited room for maneuver and a permanent annoyance for Bonn’s ally that could be eliminated neither by confrontation nor by cooperation.

The first GDR Ambassador – Rudolf Sieber, remembers… East German Embassy Washington
On October 28, 1974, the Chairman of the Council of State of the GDR, Willi Stoph, informed the President of the USA. Gerald. R. Ford, of my appointment as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the GDR to the U.S. and asked him to “receive it with goodwill and to have full confidence in it with goodwill and to receive with full confidence what he has to say to you on my behalf and behalf of will present to you on my behalf and behalf of the Government of the GDR.”

On November 21, 1974, my wife Helga and I and our son Olaf started the journey to Washington.

Establishing the Embassy and the Tasks as the First GDR Ambassador to the USA
In the first half of October 1974, I had a necessary and sometimes complex exchange of views with his deputies about the embassy, including the GDR consulate, which was to be opened at the beginning of December 1974. Consulate of the GDR as the first diplomatic representation of interests in the USA.

On December 9, 1974, after consultation with the State Department, we opened the GDR Embassy with the Consulate as the first diplomatic mission in the United States.
We found modest accommodation in a neighborhood with similar diplomatic missions close to the White House and various important U.S. ministries.

Accreditation on December 20, 1974
The day of my accreditation with the President approached. The White House Deputy Chief of Protocol picked me up from the GDR Embassy in a state car typical for the occasion. Almost at a walking pace, we drove through the White House park to the Oval Office entrance. There I was expected, introduced by the Chief of Protocol and welcomed by the President and the 1st Deputy Secretary of State of the USA. Then-President Ford turned to me personally and surprisingly in a way that deviated from the protocol: Mr. Ambassador, you know my speech, I know your speech, don’t we want to dispense with the recitation and instead have an exchange of ideas on problems that are of personal interest to each of us? I agreed. East German Embassy Washington

Consul Harald Schrickel and his consulate looked after GDR citizens who lived and worked in the United States or were traveling as tourists and requested assistance from the embassy and U.S. citizens and citizens of third countries who requested assistance from the GDR.

To summarize: On September 4, 1974, full diplomatic relations were established between the United States of America and the German Democratic Republic. In early December 1974, both countries opened embassies and consulates in their respective capitals of Berlin and Washington, D. C., as the first diplomatic representatives of their countries’ interests. In the second half of December 1974, the accreditation of the first two ambassadors, Senator John Sherman Cooper, to the President of the Council of State in Berlin, and Prof. Dr. Rolf Sieber, to the President of the United States in Washington, D.C. East German Embassy Washington.

Siebers time as GDR ambassador saw the first bilateral agreements between the United States and the GDR, the effects of which he and his embassy staff had to prepare and oversee. For example, as of January 1, 1977, GDR merchant ships were allowed to call directly at U.S. ports for the first time to transport goods from there to the GDR. Until then, the GDR had had to use foreign shipping companies at often overpriced rates. Preliminary talks with the relevant port authorities were conducted through the GDR Embassy. The GDR merchant ships transported, among other things, feed grain from the USA for GDR agriculture. The first contracts were also signed by GDR companies with U.S. corporations such as Dow Chemical and Standard Oil. East German Embassy Washington

Another highlight of Siebers work as ambassador was the diplomatic preparation and partial supervision of an exhibition of the Dresden State Art Collections in the USA, which lasted a total of nine months and was entitled “The Splendor of Dresden – 500 Years of Art Collection – An Exhibition from the German Democratic Republic”. The 710 art objects were shown for three months each in Washington, New York, and San Francisco, with the new building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington opening on June 1, 1978, with the exhibition from the GDR. In the fall of 1978, Sieber was then succeeded as ambassador to the United States by Horst Grunert, by then deputy foreign minister.

Sieber was the first Ambassador of the German Democratic Republic in the USA (including Canada) from 1974-1978. There were only three GDR ambassadors in the USA from 1974-1990. Sieber passed at age 91 in 2020. East German Embassy Washington

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