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Bridge Builder: An Insiders Account of over 60 Years in Post War Reconstruction, International Diplomacy and German-American Relations

Walther Leisler Kiep
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    Bridge Builder
    Book Description:

    Walther Leisler Kiep is one of the most independent and influential German postwar politicians. He is also a successful entrepreneur and longtime chairman of Atlantik-Brücke, the influential German-American friendship organization, which he now serves as honorary chairman. In his autobiography, Kiep speaks frankly about a life at the center of power: as an independent politician and treasurer of the governing CDU party from 1970 to 1991, who did not shrink from conflict with party leaders Helmut Kohl and Franz Josef Strauss; as Minister of Finance in Lower Saxony; as a longtime member of the Volkswagen Supervisory board for 21 years; and as an ambassador for German-American relations, and confidant of several US presidents. As well as presenting an inside history of the relationship between Germany and the United States, the book sheds particular light on the struggle for German unification and that country’s complex relationship with the Middle East. “Kiep is an entertaining storyteller, and he shows a good sense of narrative pace. His memoirs are also of immediate relevance for scholars of international history. Over the past decade, historians have been eager to uncover the activities of ‘transnational,’ nongovernmental actors, as opposed to formal government-to-government relations. From this standpoint, Kiep’s wide-ranging activities as a diplomatic and financial troubleshooter are illuminating,” William Glenn Gray, Purdue University.

    eISBN: 978-1-61249-207-0
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xii)
    Thomas L. Hughes

    This lively personal/political saga by Walther Leisler Kiep is an ultimate European insider’s account, rare in the English language. It constitutes an unusually valuable record of a half century of German and transnational politics. The author’s breadth of personal contacts, his ease of access in European and world capitals, and his repeated availability for important special assignments combine to give the reader many fascinating behind-the-scenes glimpses of important financial, political, and diplomatic developments over recent decades.

    The narrative covers the author’s wide and deep personal involvement over many decades as an astute trouble-shooter at home and abroad. His ventures start...

  2. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    Walther Leisler Kiep
  3. Chapter 1 A Long Road to Politics
    (pp. 1-20)

    The first American I ever met was Averell Harriman, one of the richest men of his time. Thus began a lifelong fascination with America. Many years later, I would meet Harriman again. He became a friend and mentor, even a role model as someone strongly committed to serving his country. Like him, I appreciated the good life, unabashedly. But I also worked hard so that others could enjoy a better life. Mine turned into a life of brokering deals and bridging gaps: between an ugly past and a better future, between the world of business and the realm of politics,...

  4. Chapter 2 In Politics
    (pp. 21-50)

    I was a newcomer in Bonn, but I was also a latecomer, having been elected two weeks after everyone else. The new government, which was just the old government with Ludwig Erhard continuing as chancellor, had already been confirmed by theBundestag. The business of politics was in full swing. I did not know my way around and had to learn that business from scratch. I did not get off to a good start. Looking for the room where members of my party were caucusing, I stumbled into a meeting of SPD representatives instead. Due to the peculiarities of my...

  5. Chapter 3 In the Opposition
    (pp. 51-92)

    The “small coalition” of SPD and FDP had a majority of just twelve seats in theBundestag. This left open the possibility that it might become smaller yet, to the point where it could lose its majority completely. Indeed, Brandt was eventually elected chancellor with only a two-vote majority. For not all FDP representatives in theBundestagwere happy with their party’s about-face. Even some SPD members openly expressed their dissatisfaction with such a coalition. A few switched sides immediately; others waited for best offers. The CDU/CSU saw its chances and tried especially to lure FDP representatives to its side....

  6. Chapter 4 Ostpolitik
    (pp. 93-126)

    The building of the Berlin Wall in August 1961 was the event that had triggered my decision to go into politics. I wanted to do something about the division of Germany that now seemed to be cemented in such an ugly, cruel, and potentially dangerous way. Over the course of the next decade, I established my reputation as a proponent of anOstpolitikthat would create a modus vivendi between East and West in general, and East and West Germany in particular—a form of peaceful coexistence that would keep open the possibility of eventual reunification while helping to lessen...

  7. Chapter 5 Special Missions
    (pp. 127-156)

    It was sometime in early spring 1975. I was sitting in theBundestagminding my own business(that is, half-listening to a speech while doing some paperwork), when I was approached by one of the fancily dressed ushers: “Chancellor Schmidt would like to confer with you.” Of course I interrupted my business; one does not leave a chancellor waiting, even if one is a member of the not-so-loyal opposition. I caught up with Helmut Schmidt in the lobby outside the chamber. He pulled me aside and told me that he needed my help, urgently. Thus began my introduction into the world...

  8. Chapter 6 Business, Politics, and Personalities
    (pp. 157-182)

    My adult life began in the world of business, as a salesman of cars and car insurance to American GIs in post-war Germany. I achieved success and prosperity in the insurance business as managing partner of an insurance brokerage firm. That allowed me to enter the world of politics in middle age, at which time I experienced the ups and downs described in previous chapters. Politics also introduced me to the world of big-time business, where I discovered—and practiced—business politics. Along the way, I dealt with some fascinating personalities, as colorful in their characters as they were outsized...

  9. Chapter 7 My Bridge across the Atlantic
    (pp. 183-216)

    Good relations between countries, contrary perhaps to established wisdom, do not just depend on common interests, shared values, eager businessmen, or skilled diplomats, though all of these are important. Good relations require a strong underpinning in each society—pillars, as it were, for the bridges that connect these countries with each other. As former President George H. W. Bush once pointed out, these “don’t just appear—they need to be artfully designed, carefully built, and constantly maintained. Otherwise, they won’t serve a need, or they are in danger of creeping corrosion or sudden collapse.” The former president’s remarks were addressed...

  10. Epilogue America In Me
    (pp. 217-218)

    For Germans of my generation, who experienced Nazi tyranny and the horror of World War II, it was the United States of America that liberated Europe from the terror regime of Adolf Hitler in 1945. The end of World War II was the darkest hour in our lives, but soon after 1945, the United States paved the way for Germany to get an unexpected second chance to become a democracy. Economic recovery set in. America, the conqueror, became the ally and eventually the friend that preserved the freedom of Berlin when it was threatened by strangulation during the blockade of...