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al­ter Lind­ner is not your ar­che­typal diplo­mat.

The new Ger­man am­bas­sador in Pre­to­ria is also a pro­fes­sional clas­si­cal and jazz mu­si­cian with four al­bums to his name, and a record­ing stu­dio.

He is also an ex­pert at man­ag­ing crises, whether ne­go­ti­at­ing with ter­ror­ists or rep­re­sent­ing his gov­ern­ment’s ef­forts in the Ebola cri­sis.

Lind­ner re­places Horst Freitag, whose term came to an end last month. He proved his “hands-on” phi­los­o­phy the day af­ter he landed in South Africa by tak­ing part in the Ger­man em­bassy’s vol­un­teer ac­tiv­i­ties for Man­dela Day in Soweto.

Nel­son Man­dela, like Gandhi, is a hero to him: “He’s one of the peace­ful giants in the world.”

His Ital­ian NGO-worker wife, Laura Suster­sic, who has lived and worked in Africa for a decade, is here with him, while his 25-year-old daugh­ter, Samira, works for the World Bank in Ber­lin.

In his of­fice in the Ger­man em­bassy, a stone’s throw from the Union Build­ings in Pre­to­ria, he says his phi­los­o­phy around diplo­macy is “not to be ar­ro­gant and to think you know ev­ery­thing, and not to have this pro­to­col-ish dis­tance be­tween you and other peo­ple”.

The 58-year-old is un­con­ven­tional, tall and hand­some. He tames his bushy hair by putting it in a pony­tail. On the day of the in­ter­view, he is dressed in a tie-less black suit with a cler­i­cal-style col­lar for an ac­cred­i­ta­tion cer­e­mony hosted by Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma.

He says pro­to­col and call­ing peo­ple “your ex­cel­lency” cre­ates dis­tance. “That is why I al­ways try to go into slums, talk to nor­mal peo­ple – that is why I will try to take a taxi and ride through to the mar­kets, if it’s okay se­cu­rity-wise. Never iso­late your­self.”

In ad­di­tion, mu­sic, dance and soc­cer (Ger­many has the cur­rent world cham­pi­ons) are three ways to open peo­ple’s hearts, he says.

As a young man, he worked as a cab and truck driver to earn money, and trav­elled around the world from 1976 to 1980 while fin­ish­ing a mu­sic de­gree. He re­turned from his trav­els to study law and en­tered the Ger­man diplo­matic ser­vice in 1988.

He missed out on Africa, be­cause it wasn’t that easily ac­ces­si­ble for a young Ger­man trav­eller, but he has since made up for that.

In 2006, he went to Nairobi, Kenya, for his first am­bas­sado­rial post­ing.

Lind­ner also gave mu­si­cal per­for­mances in Kenya – and later in Venezuela – with lo­cal artists.

Af­ter that, he was cri­sis man­age­ment com­mis­sioner for Ger­many’s for­eign of­fice, do­ing “mainly hostage ne­go­ti­a­tions” with or­gan­i­sa­tions such as al-Qaeda.

From 2010 to 2012, he was Ger­many’s Africa di­rec­tor and trav­elled to more than 40 African coun­tries.

Last year, his am­bas­sador­ship in Venezuela was

A WHOLE LOT OF SOUL

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