Mon, 03 Oct 1994

Traveler ambassador is going home

By Meidyatama Suryodiningrat

After a three-and-a-half year posting in Jakarta Ambassador Karl Walter Lewalter finally bids his friends farewell tomorrow. Calling his experience here the "most interesting period" in his life, the well-traveled envoy will become Sub-Director General at Asia and Pacific Affairs at the German Foreign Ministry.

JAKARTA (JP): Despite the vigorous campaign conducted by the Ministry of Tourism, Post and Telecommunications, not many Indonesians can boast that they truly know the wonders of their archipelago. And even fewer foreigners can claim they have witnessed the many sights scattered around the country.

Recently The Jakarta Post had the pleasure of talking with a person whose list of visitations even surpasses some Indonesian airlines.

Outgoing German Ambassador Karl Walter Lewalter admitted that he is a traveler. "We invested a lot of time in traveling," he said of his three-and-a-half-year stay here.

North and South Sulawesi, the islands of Maluku, Banda Neira, the islands of East and West Nusa Tenggara -- Sumbawa, Sabu, Roti -- Kupang in western Timor, Irian Jaya, North and South Sumatera and Java are just some of the places he and his wife, Regina, ventured to.

Lewalter's has traveled so extensively that he was at a loss to think of a place he had missed.

The Post then posed another challenging question to the ambassador, asking about his favorite place. Lewalter had to pause, saying "It is very difficult to say, I've seen so many places."

Nevertheless, after further contemplation, he said that if he ever came back on a week long vacation his destination would probably be, where else, Bali.

"Bali is still the most outstanding experience," he remarked.

"How many times have you been there?" asked the Post.

"Half a dozen times," he replied while quickly defending that they were all "short trips."

Lewalter began his tenure here in April 1991 after serving as ambassador to Sofia, Bulgaria.

"It has been one of the most interesting periods of my life," said Lewalter of his post in Jakarta, adding that both he and his wife would have liked to stay for one more year.

"I know that she regrets a little bit more than I do that we have to leave right now."

Scheduled to leave tomorrow, Lewalter will take up a new position as Sub-Director General for Asia and Pacific Affairs at the German foreign ministry in Bonn.

Lewalter said he had collected quite a number of souvenirs during his stay and extensive travels which he will take back to Germany.

"Yes, we bought a lot of textiles...and that's what we are carrying home," he quipped.

The 56-year old German ambassador began his diplomatic career in 1964 after studying law at Freiburg i.Br., Lausanne and Bonn.

According to Lewalter the diplomatic life is extremely interesting because he is not simply a diplomat, not just talking to high officials and to the government but also caring about human problems.

"I was happy to find this diplomatic profession really corresponds to my nature," he said.

Reflecting back on his arrival in Jakarta, Lewalter said living here was not a tough adjustment despite it being his first posting in Asia.

Lewalter admitted that he did not know much about the country before coming to Jakarta. During the first few months of his stay here two things really struck his wife and him: traffic and the shops.

"We were amazed to see the shops so full," he said.

The traffic in Jakarta of course needs no explanation since the situation bewilders even the local people, but the shops?

Lewalter explained that having just served in an Eastern European country still crawling from the effects of a Soviet dominated and controlled economy, the richness and stock at the stores here was quite a contrast.

"It's not only a country where we as diplomats can live but also where people can live. Of course not everybody has the money to pay for everything but even at the lower level it was obvious there were no shortages," he said recalling his early assessment of Indonesia.

Lewalter claimed that he and his wife felt very assured, especially since they had not known Indonesia's true state of development.

Queried whether he had any distasteful experiences while living here or during his travels, Lewalter remarked that he had none, saying he would be leaving the country with a lot of positive impressions.

"I'm not just saying that because I'm a diplomat and because its an interview," he assured.

Speaking on the development of Indonesian-German ties, Lewalter modestly says the state of relations were already very good when he arrived and thus the last three years have been more of an intensification of those strong bonds.

Trade relations have significantly improved in the last three years with two-way trade rising from US$2.96 billion in 1991 to the current rate of over $3.1 billion.

Indonesia imports mainly German machinery, chemicals and cars, while primarily exporting textiles and garments to Germany.

Germany is one of Indonesia's most important aid donators. German and Indonesian officials recently signed an economic cooperation deal which will appropriate a total of DM 149.5 million ($93.4 million) here.

"We think that Indonesia is developing at an impressive rate and the development is broad. If we can contribute to that, we will," Lewalter said.

When asked whether he will leave many friends as he embarks on his new assignment tomorrow, Lewalter unhesitatingly said "yes" pointing to former Ambassador Hasyim Djalal, past Indonesian ambassador to Germany, as someone he has known since 1967.

How would Lewalter liked to be remembered by the people he leaves behind?

"Well, just as a friend. That's what I tried to be and that's what I learned to be in Indonesia," he said.