When President Barack Obama returns to Germany on Wednesday, there will be one South Florida resident looking on with a touch of nostalgia for her old job.
Consul General Eva Countess Kendeffy, who is retiring next week, is Germany’s chief representative in Florida and played a major role in the planning of Obama’s first three trips to her homeland.
In July 2008, then-Sen. Obama visited Berlin as part of a campaign season trip through Europe and the Middle East.
“Germany was so enthusiastic,” Kendeffy said of the speech that drew over 200,000 people to see the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.
As the head of protocol for state visits, it fell on Kendeffy to ensure that the guest of honor was received hospitably.
One of her most personally fulfilling moments was behind the Victory Column, a 19th century monument to Prussian military might and the site of Obama’s speech.
An aide suggested he take a photo with his host, and the future president gladly obliged while the crowd roared in anticipation, recalled Kendeffy.
“He was very calm and collected,” she said. “I was impressed.”
Kendeffy joined the West German Foreign Service in 1982, well before the Cold War began to thaw.
“The department I was in — thank God it doesn’t exist anymore — was the political office of the Foreign Ministry that was responsible for the whole of Germany and maintaining the Quadripartite Agreement,” she said.
The Quadripartite Agreement, signed in 1972, laid out the understanding between the Western powers — France, Britain, and the U.S. — and the Soviet Union that East and West Germany would be two separate states coexisting peacefully.
“It was a very important and historic office, but now very dated,” Kendeffy said of her first posting.
Since then, she has served in Germany’s embassies in Costa Rica and Washington, D.C., and as the ambassador to the Dominican Republic.
She came to South Florida as the Consul General to Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands in 2004, and served until 2007.
Before she left, she married her husband, Lawrence Giles, in a sunrise ceremony on a boat in Biscayne Bay.
In addition to coordinating Obama’s 2008 visit as a candidate, she oversaw his return as president in April 2009 for a NATO summit in Baden-Baden, and his June 2009 trip to the sites of concentration camps in Dresden and Buchenwald.
Kendeffy returned to Florida in 2010, and since then has emphasized building the German community’s business presence in the region.
There are approximately 250 German-affiliated firms in the state, providing some 26,000 jobs, according to the consulate. Many of the cruise ships passing through Miami are also built in Germany, Kendeffy said.
Kendeffy has also taken a personal interest in returning German citizenship to Jewish families who were stripped of their nationality by the Nazis.
Her overarching concern in her six years in Florida has been communicating to the estimated 200,000 Germans here that there are significant opportunities available.
“Everyone thinks it is just beach and sun and fun, but we have very serious work here, too,” she said of Florida. “It is a very multiethnic, multifaceted state.”
Having contributed her part to that very serious work, she plans on enjoying her retirement after handing over the reins to her successor, Juergen Borsch, at the end of June.
Kendeffy and her husband will boat through Florida’s “Little Loop” before attempting the Great Loop up the Atlantic coast, through the Great Lakes, down the Mississippi, and around the Gulf of Mexico back to Miami.