German envoy finds true meaning of ‘home’ | Global News

German envoy finds true meaning of ‘home’

DR. KLAUS Zeller and his wife Maria Teresa “Pinky” del Rosario during the book launching of “Crossing Many Borders to Reach Home” at Manila Polo Club. KIMBERLY DELA CRUZ

Even ambassadors of first world countries face some of the same struggles as ordinary overseas workers.

In his book “Crossing Many Borders to Reach Home: From Europe to Asia—and What is Home (Volume 2),” former German Ambassador to the Philippines Klaus Zeller shared his experiences in different parts of the world and admitted he had his own difficulties finding the true essence of “home.”


Working almost 40 years with the German foreign office, Zeller served in  India, Uganda, France, Germany, Austria, Iran and the Philippines, among other posts. Young foreign service officers or those who aspire to be in the diplomatic service will find his  autobiography full of valuable  insights on history, politics, and economic and diplomatic affairs.


Family and friendships

Zeller also shared insights on his personal journey. Much like ordinary overseas workers,  he faced adjustment problems living in foreign environments and experienced loneliness and the pains of separation from family.

Zeller recounted  many exciting and challenging  stories of his “travels with mission.”

One story he recalled is that of a German couple, also in the foreign service, that he met in India. He later learned that the husband committed suicide. Speculations of his death included depression, melancholy and an incurable sickness, among other things.

“Even successful and brilliant lives could not end great. This message came to me again and again,” he wrote.

“I always found that in diplomatic life, one needed a wife and a family to retire to after long days spent with often strange people.”


After having an opportunity to go back to Europe for a new post, Zeller thought his family should stay in a more familiar place for good. He figured that he and his first wife Francoise would be better off in Paris because they knew their ways better around there.

However, in spite of the success in his high level career and  regular family life, Zeller felt that there was still something lacking.

“Everything passed by too quick to be experienced as real. There were many encounters in my professional life, but no new lasting friendships.  Even the family life did not leave strong traces… Even the remembrance of how my parents were in these years is weak, nearly inexistent. It must be my fault,” he wrote.


Zeller later discovered that the difficulties of working in a new environment could actually lead to the forging of strong friendships—such as one he made during a post in Africa.

He remembered he was genuinely happy working in Africa  with the ambassador of Uganda’s German office because they were able to work very well together. They  had the same views on many topics and were able to have frank and  open discussions. It was not easy to gain friends in Germany, he noted, expressing surprise that he gained one working abroad.

Zeller was assigned to the Philippines shortly after the assassination of opposition leader Ninoy Aquino, now a national hero. His minister had reminded him to be extra careful stepping out of the plane because “they seem to be shooting people in this country,” he quipped.

He found the Philippine culture westernized in many ways, which put him at ease in the work and social environment. The country had  a strong Catholic influence from Spain but it was reinforced by American Catholicism as well, he noted.   Zeller also got to meet ordinary Filipinos and explore  places outside Manila.

Second marriage

“But over all these, the Philippines had bestowed upon me my second wife, thus giving a major new direction to my life,” he said, recalling how he met Maria Teresa “Pinky” del Rosario.

Remarrying caused great changes to his life,  especially to the people close to him, Zeller wrote.   There was a risk his career might also be affected by  the decision. But he dealt with it anyway.

Towards the end of his ambassadorship to the Philippines, Zeller turned down a career opening that would have caused his separation from Pinky. An assignment  as  ambassador to the international institutions in Vienna allowed the couple to stay together.

“For her, I think, besides the question of personal attraction, it was the promise of liberation and freedom,” he wrote.

When the two arrived in Vienna, they invited their respective families over to their place to get acquainted. Later they moved to Bonn, where Zeller headed  the Asia-Pacific Department.

“It was once more packing, once more landing in unknown surroundings. And we had to leave a town and country which we really had liked,” he said.

For Zeller, moving to Bonn meant dealing with a new state of affairs, and for Pinky, to be hanging around with nothing to do.

Pinky later on found a job at the Cologne Philippine Trade Office and participated in Zeller’s social side of work.

Zeller admitted they did not feel at home in Bonn. They visited his parents in Reutlingen from time to time. He did not know that one of their  visits would be the last time he would see his father.  For him, losing his parents was like losing his natural home.

“For me, the parents were always unchanged and I felt they were permanent… I never thought that when we left Reutlingen after a short visit, that I would not see my father (or my mother) again,” wrote Zeller.


Zeller retired on his 65th birthday on Oct. 3, 2000.  He may have wanted to continue working as he still felt strong, healthy and confident, but he knew that there were a lot of people waiting in line to be moved to higher positions. “They would not like the elder ones to stay too long.”

Now in his 70s, Zeller chose to stay in the Philippines with wife Pinky. Being in the country as a “legal alien” had its advantages, he wrote.

“My view of the surroundings is sharpened and clearer,” he said. Thus, the affection he has for this country. He regularly contributes to seminars and lecture series, especially on foreign affairs. He recently signed an agreement with the UA&P to lead a regular discussion group.

“The endgame is different. Retirement should be different from active life,” he said.

Home was always there

Was he ever homeless? In hindsight, Zeller said he never was.

“[The moment] when I stepped out of my parents’ house, I found friends and institutions who sheltered me,” he explained at the end of the book. Zeller may have travelled across borders and even went back to his own motherland, but he decided to stay in a foreign country where he found comfort from the people and his surroundings.

After years living abroad, he would discover that “home” was not necessarily found in one’s place of birth.

“She is the direct answer to  ‘what is home,’” Zeller said during the recent book launching at Manila Polo Club, pointing to his wife Pinky.

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And as of the moment, he’s enjoying being at home with Pinky.

TAGS: Foreign affairs, Migration, Overseas Workers

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