One of the pleasant tasks of a Consul General is the solemn remission of a decoration of the Federal Republic of Germany. But what if a host country personality already has the highest medals and continues to do good and worthy things? I was confronted during my term as Consul General in Montreal (2009-2012) in such a case, which was also new to me:
Many Montrealers will certainly remember Mr. Rolf C. Hagen, who, after immigrating to Canada in the early 1950s, became a prominent businessman and founder of a globally active and successful company. Throughout all his life he made generous donations to the German community in Montreal, the churches and the German Alexander-von-Humboldt School. Shortly before my arrival, he had made a significant contribution to the construction of the school's new gymnasium, named after him “Hagen Sports Centre”. He had long been the bearer of the Federal Cross of Merit and the Grand Cross of Merit. How could we thank him for his new benefits? Suddenly, an appropriate opportunity arose: The Former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt announced his visit for the end of May 2011 to participate, in Quebec City, in the annual meeting of the “InterActionCouncil”, an association of former heads of state and government, organized by the former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. After the conference, on the way back, Helmut Schmidt intended to pay a visit to the grave of his friend Pierre Trudeau at the cemetery of Saint-Rémi before taking the flight back to Germany from the Montreal airport. When Rolf Hagen had learned of this visit, he expressed his great wish to meet very briefly Helmut Schmidt, whom he admired for his commitment as Senator (Minister) of Interior of the City of Hamburg during the great flood of February 1962 and to exchange a few words with him, for a maximum of 5 minutes. According to the busy tour program, the best place for such a meeting was the airport hotel where a break was planned before departure. To our great joy, Helmut Schmidt was ready to accept our request.
The appointment took place in a hotel room. The two men, sitting in their wheelchairs, had a little trouble getting into conversation. But that changed suddenly as they started to exchange memories of youth. It turned out that Rolf Hagen had attended the vocational school in Hamburg, where Helmut Schmidt's father was then the director. The Schmidt family spent their holidays regularly in Grömitz, a seaside resort on the Baltic Sea and hometown of the Hagen family. Soon they started talking in Low German. Only after 45 minutes they said goodbye, very visibly in a good mood. All the guests left the room, so that Helmut Schmidt could rest a bit. –
Four months later, a joint book by Helmut Schmidt and Peer Steinbrück (a former Federal Finance Minister) entitled “Zug um Zug” appeared on the German book market. It was a dialogue on the big issues of the world, including the increasingly restrictive regulation of smoking bans in a growing number of countries, a subject that greatly annoyed the notorious smoker Helmut Schmidt. Of course, we had informed him before his arrival and reminded him many times that this was also true for Canadian hotel rooms. But, perhaps because of his animated meeting with Mr. Hagen, he had forgotten these hints, which was reflected in the following passage from his book (p. 18): ”I had a little prestige in America. But recently, in Canada, I had to pay the hotel an extra $ 150 for a thorough cleaning after the room was used by the smoker Schmidt. “On the remark of Peer Steinbrück, that in Hamburg this would have cost him only 60 EUR, he continued: ”60 euros? It's cheaper than 150 $! No, seriously, it's a hysteria that has spread across half of the world from America. But it will end just the same as prohibition. “
Smokers around the world will certainly thank him for this comforting vision. But will it ever be realized?