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