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German Embassy press officer marks 40 years in job

He witnessed the then-German Chancellor Helmut Kohl pray for peace on a bridge between the two Koreas in 1993, before flying back to Seoul with him in a helicopter.

And throughout his 40-year career, long-serving German Embassy press officer Doe Phil-young has built a few bridges between the European nation and Korea himself.

“Being the Chancellor of united Germany, he went to Panmunjom and stood on the Bridge of No Return where he made a speech and prayed for Koreans’ unity,” said Doe recalling one of the highlights of his embassy career. “It was really, really touching and a very emotional experience. There was attention from all over the world.”

He marked his 40th year at the German mission in Seoul on March 1, and intends to stay on an extra year before retiring. He is thought to be the longest-serving diplomatic staffer currently working in Seoul.

During the past four decades he has assisted 10 German ambassadors to Korea, and selected more than 150 Korean journalists to visit on the invitation of the German government.

After he had worked for a short time at a Korean steel and manufacturing company upon graduating in Engineering from Hanyang University, a friend recommended a position at the German Embassy. 
Doe Phil-young (Kirsty Taylor/The Korea Herald)
Doe Phil-young (Kirsty Taylor/The Korea Herald)

“The conditions were really extraordinary both with the wages and the working hours, so I applied and it changed my whole life direction,” he said.

“I started in 1972. Korea was poor at that time and I had the feeling that the diplomats at that time tried to support very much the hosting country and the local people as well.”

Since then, he has met former German president Richard von Weizscker three times, and said that the reunification of Germany after the fall in 1989 of the Berlin Wall was an especially touching moment in his career.

“Coming from a divided country, Koreans really felt how good it was to share the impression of unity,” he said. “We really felt that deeply.”

Here in Korea, he also witnessed the late Cardinal Kim Soo-hwan and late Korean President Kim Dae-jung receive awards at the German Embassy in Seoul. The German Embassy has grown from fewer than 10 staff to 27 in his time.

Doe praised Germany’s support for his country as Korea grew throughout the decades.

But while Korea-German economic relations are flourishing with the new EU FTA, he said more could still be done in the political and cultural spheres.

“I think that not only the German people but the EU is dissatisfied with the Korean government’s policy toward Germany and the EU,” he said. “The Korean government sticks to four allies ― U.S., China, Russia and Japan ― so I think that having experience with Germans and Europeans, the Korean Government should look more toward the EU. The European market is also huge.”

He also thought Korean press should take a more global outlook, as the German media does, by printing more international news.

Efficiency in the workplace, and cooperation of opposing political parties were elements from Germany from which Korea could learn, he said.

German Ambassador Hans Ulrich-Seidt was to hold a dinner for Doe at his residence on Monday.

“His cooperation was and is highly appreciated throughout the decades. We are very glad to have him here with us,” the ambassador said. “He is highly respected by the German government, and by the embassy. He is a great gentleman, a good advisor concerning the social and public affairs development here and Korea, and a bridge-builder between Germany and Korea.”

By Kirsty Taylor  (kirstyt@hearldm.com)
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