Smoothly ironed suits, crease-free dresses, notepads clamped firmly under their arms: There is certainly something that speaks of representing the state about the group of 12 young diplomats from Mali, Botswana, Southern Sudan and Malawi as they enter Room A-106 of the local government office of Berlin’s Neukölln district. One would now expect camera flashes and German senior officials to shake hands diligently and receive the delegation. But in room A-106, there’s only Arnold Mengelkoch, Neukölln’s integration commissioner, who is waiting to give a lecture on migration. In fact, the young officials are not here for diplomatic reasons, but to learn.
They have been invited by Germany’s Federal Foreign Office, or more precisely by unit 1-DA, which is responsible for international diplomatic training. Around 300 young diplomats come to Germany every year as part of this programme – to further international understanding and for strategic reasons, as co-organiser Karl Flittner explains: “On the one hand, the Foreign Office wants to provide diplomatic training for young people who have no opportunity to do so in their home country. On the other hand, we want to make contacts and show them our country.”
In order to master this balancing act, the Foreign Office has created a full programme for young diplomats like Angelina Jolong from South Sudan. “Last week we visited the Federal Council, took part in a guided tour of the former Buchenwald concentration camp and took lessons on international negotiations,” she says, adding that while it was exhausting, it was also very impressive. “What amazed me was how much the Germans are trying to promote a society in which everyone is treated equally. That can be complicated, as here in Neukölln, but the aspiration is perceptible.”
Jolong speaks as if she had written down the compliment to Germany beforehand, she says it with such confidence. It’s clear that she has diplomatic talent – and she’s recently also been gaining practical experience. Only the previous day, she and her colleagues had to step in front of the cameras at German broadcaster Deutsche Welle to test and fine-tune their public appearance. Professional media training is also part of their diplomatic training.
The program wasn't always this in-depth. It began in 1992 as an emergency measure to help the former Soviet republics, which under Moscow's aegis had not had their own foreign services. Germany helped to rebuild them. Over time, however, the aid programme became a permanent institution. Today, the training includes courses for diplomats from 180 countries.
Wame Dechambenoit from Botswana is one of them and is convinced that she can learn a lot in Germany: “For example, how a representative of a government should have a stance on their country’s history. The Germans we met don't hide the dark chapters of the past. Instead, they draw political lessons from it. That impressed me.”
In the coming weeks, Dechambenoit, Jolong and their colleagues will become part of the alumni network of the German Foreign Office. Back home, they will be on the guest lists of the German missions abroad. Because – and this is more than just a saying in the diplomatic day-to-day business of the Foreign Office – we always meet twice in a lifetime.