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Diplomatic Training

DW staff (sac)July 7, 2007

Working in various countries as a diplomat is a dream career for many German university graduates. But the road there is a rocky one. The selection process is tough and only the very best applicants get a position.

Being a diplomat is about more than just shaking hands

It doesn't get more idyllic than this. The German Foreign Ministry's training academy is based along the woods and fields on the shores of Lake Tegel in Berlin. It's there that the country's prospective diplomats get their final polish before they head off to the embassies in Rome, Minsk or Addis Ababa.

But don't be deceived by the scenery. There's a lot of hard work at the academy and the timetable is full to the brink.

Christian Doktor is one of the 35 attachés here. For one year, the academy is intensely preparing him and the other future diplomats for their job serving Germany's foreign policies.

Whoever has made it here already has a university degree -- and gets a one-year crash course in diplomacy on top of it. According to Doktor, it started off with learning how to communicate within a group and in public. Then rhetoric and language courses in English and French were on the schedule.

"We had a history block, a run in eight days through German history from 1871 through today," Doktor said.

But Doktor doesn't consider the compact instruction as stress, but rather as a privilege. After completing his studies in law, the 28-year-old worked in the foreign office for a year -- and got hooked.

"The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is, of course, an amazing employer," Doktor said. "There's no other profession which takes you to so many countries in the world."

Being a diplomat is a life decision

In order to get one of the 35 spots at the academy, Doktor had to compete with some 1,500 other applicants. He also had to prove in a multi-stage selection process that he is suitable for the diplomatic profession.

Bundesaußenminister Frank-Walter Steinmeier
Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier is Germany's most well-known diplomatImage: AP

"This doesn't just include intellectual capabilities and the creativity needed for this job, but also social and intercultural competence, as well as self-confident appearance and motivation," said head trainer Stefan Biedermann. Whoever wants to become a diplomat also has to be willing to work in a different country every three years.

"That's why we always speak of a life decision and not a career decision," Biedermann said. "It affects your private life, your family, relatives and friends so completely, that you shouldn't talk about a simple career or a job in this case."

Doktor has long since made this decision for himself. He wants to see the world and get to know various cultures. The thought of living with moving boxes doesn't scare him.

Parties are part of it, too

The 35 attachés also spend a lot of their free time together. Doktor said he hoped that the group will go through their respective careers and support and help each other.

"You need contacts, not just professionally, but also on a human and social level," Doktor said. "That is a very important goal that is reached with this training, because we are all here together, celebrating together and doing sports together."

The prospective diplomats thus shouldn't just be getting to know the finer points of consular work during their year at the academy in Tegel, but rather also the other attachés. Trainer Biedermann therefore doesn't at all object to the many wild parties.

"They often go into the early hours of the morning," Biedermann said. "The training supervisors only demand that at eight the next morning, everyone is back in the classroom in tie and suit, keeping a stiff upper lip -- or countenance, as the diplomat calls it."