Bridge Builder book review

Bridge BuilderWhat a biography – and what a life!  In his book culled from sixty years of diary entries, here’s what Walther Leisler Kiep writes as an overview:  “It had been a long road from a carefree childhood, a turbulent youth, and a truck purchase leading to a rocket-propelled career……Of course I did not know that it would take me from the heights of being a shadow foreign minister to the lows of being a party treasurer accused of corruption.  I never dreamed that one day I would find myself on the floor of my sauna trying to escape a terrorist’s bullets.  I could not foresee that I would be asked by a German chancellor to carry suitcases full of cash in a top-secret effort to support democratic movements in Portugal and Spain.  I did not anticipate getting engaged in hush-hush mediation efforts involving such figures as a Turkish prime minister, a member of the East German Politburo, a mayor of Shanghai, the leader of a Palestinian terror organization, or the feuding CEO’s of the world’s largest automobile companies.  I did hope that a life in politics would be exciting and rewarding.  That expectation was fulfilled, but I also suffered some deep disappointments.  This is the story of both, achievements and disappointments – the story of my life in politics.”

By the age of 35, Kiep could have just lived comfortably, and supported his family, on invested income which he made from business with Volkswagen and an American insurance company.  Originally Kiep’s dream destination was America, but when he couldn’t go there, he started doing business in Germany, accompanied by amazing incidents of good luck.  In 1948, Kiep sold a new truck for 11,000 Deutschmarks and began a Ford dealership in Frankfurt to try and sell new cars, and in 1979 Ford supported Kiep with new cars to sell to American customers.  Then he secured an agreement with the Insurance Company of North America to be one of their agents in Germany.  He bought his first car, a Ford, and married his sweetheart Charlotte later in 1950, and then had two sons and two daughters.  Life was good until tragedy struck in 1975 when his son Michael died of cancer.  In 1982 Kiep’s main client, Volkswagen, and the  Beetle became popular in Germany, especially among American soldiers.  In 1970, at its peak, Volkswagen sold nearly 600,000 Beetles to the United States.

But Kiep wanted to go into politics (even if he would lose half his income because he could then only be a silent partner in his businesses) to set forth his ideals.  He chose the Christian Democraticn Union party  (CDU) when Konrad Adenauer was chancellor, and in the center of this book we see Kiep in photographs during his distinguished career with the likes of Margaret Thatcher, then U.S. Senator Edward M. Kennedy, U.S. Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, Chancellor Ludwig Erhard, U.S. President Jimmy Carter, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, then U.S. Vice President George H. W. Gush, CEO of Volkswagen Carl H. Hahn, and many others.  One of his colleagues in Lower Saxony once said about him, “His opponents fear him, the people love him, and he has no enemies.”

The Sultan of Hamengkubowono IX of Yogyakarta wanted to be a gracious host to Kiep, so “Upon my return to Jakarta, there was a knock one evening on my hotel room door.  Two burly gentlemen introduced themselves as messengers of the Sultan.  With them was a beautiful girl, perhaps fourteen years old.  I realized immediately the purpose of this visit, and it was evident from the girl’s behavior that she knew what was expected of her.  I invited the three of them into my room and began to chat with the two men about anything that would come to my mind.  An hour or so later, as my filibustering efforts ran out of steam, I got up, shook their hands, and bid them a good night.  They withdrew, with the girl in tow, probably wondering what was wrong with me.  I, in turn, hoped that the Sultan had not found it insulting that I had not availed myself of his “generous” offer of hospitality.

In another instance “there was an attempt to spring a ‘honey trap’ on me, where two beautiful young ladies showed up at my Berlin hotel room door one evening and explained that they had observed how lonely I seemed.  I sent them on their way with assurances that I did not suffer from loneliness.”

After either an assassination attempt by a terrorist or a possible attempt at burglary (foiled by Kiep’s courageous Black Labrador dog – investigations proved non-conclusive) in Kiep’s personal sauna when three gunshots were fired through the sauna door, Kiep decided to go everywhere with security men protecting him. When he was at home his wife had to do everything surrounded by men carrying machine guns!

Kiep was always for strong German-American relations, as:  “For Germans of my generation, who experienced Nazi tyranny and the horror of World War II, it was the United States of America that liberated Europe from the terror regime of Adolf Hitler in 1943.  The end of World War II was the darkest hour in our lives, but soon after 1045, the United States paved the way for Germany to get an unexpected second chance to become a democracy.”  Personable, hard-working, well-educated, often in the right place at the right time, and certainly a vivid writer, we meet Walther Leisler Kiep in Bridge Builder as a man about whom George H. W. Bush wrote, “I have great respect for Walther Kiep.  I can think of nobody that has done more for U.S.-German relations.  I know his book will be a must read for all who believe in a strong German-American alliance.”

Bridge Builder:  An Insider’s Account Of Over

60 Years of Post-War Reconstruction, International Diplomacy, and German-American Relations by Walter Leisler Kiep, published by Purdue University Press on February 15, 2012, 320 pages.

About Christina Zawadiwsky

Christina Zawadiwsky is Ukrainian-American, born in New York City, has a degree in Fine Arts, and is a poet, artist, journalist and TVproducer. She has received a National Endowment for the Arts Award, two Wisconsin Arts Boards Awards, a Co-Ordinating Council of Literary Magazines Writers Award, and an Art Futures Award, among otherhonors. She was the originator and producer of Where The Waters Meet,a local TV series created to facilitate the voices of artists of allgenres in the media, for which she won two national and twenty localawards, including a Commitment to Community Television Award. She isalso a contributing editor to the annual Pushcart Prize Anthology,the recipient of an Outstanding Achievement Award from the WisconsinLibrary Association, and has published four books of poetry. Shecurrently reviews movies for , music for, and books for


  1. What an interesting life! I like biographies like this one, which are also historically accurate because the writer has kept a journal. Walther Liesler Kiep also sounds like a very likeable fellow!

  2. What an entrepreneur! It sounds like Kiep was always in the right place at the right time, and that his biography is comprehensive. We often forget about German-American relations, which are important.

  3. Biographies are my favorite type of book, and I’d love to read this one and pass it along to my friends!

  4. This book sounds interesting; I admire people who are self-made and able to rise to prominence through their efforts.

  5. To have met the people he has met, to do the things he has done, what an interesting life this person has led. This sounds like a book I would enjoy greatly.

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