The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 ushered in a fraught time in the lives of East and West Germany — and the American diplomats posted there. U.S. diplomat Donald Bandler and his wife Jane found a novel way to reach out to East German diplomats in Bonn adjusting to the new order: the game of tennis.
Bandler, later our ambassador to Cyprus, was posted to West Germany when the wall fell. During the long Cold War, East German and American diplomats rarely socialized in Bonn, and then only on formal occasions. The Bandlers broke the ice by inviting East Germans to friendly matches on the U.S. Embassy tennis courts. The East Germans reciprocated with invitation to tennis and well-lubricated socializing deep in Weimar (still a part of East Germany). Bandler woke up with a headache — and deeper ties to important colleagues during a time of political upheaval.
Bandler’s tour in Germany was followed by several prestigious posts. He served as the Deputy Chief of Mission in Paris, France, then as the Special Assistant to the President for Canadian and European Affairs. He finished his career as the U.S. Ambassador to Cyprus. Donald and Jane Bandler were interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy and David Reuther, beginning February 23, 2003.
Drafted by Jamie Smith
Read Donald Bandler’s full oral history HERE.
“These East Germans came down [for tennis]. This is the first time this had ever happened.”
MRS. BANDLER: We invited some East Germans to the Embassy tennis club.
BANDLER: This was an unprecedented thing. We invited them to come to our tennis facility to play.
MRS. BANDLER: The East Germans.
BANDLER: And these East Germans came down. This is the first time this has ever happened and I don’t know how they got out but they did.
MRS. BANDLER: My guess is it was probably right after the wall came down.
BANDLER: Yes, along with a lot of other considerations. In any case, we played tennis and it was pretty good tennis. We had a coach on our side.
MRS. BANDLER: Well it was tennis diplomacy.
BANDLER: Tennis diplomacy. And it’s a beauty. So we had a good time.
Tennis Diplomacy in the East
BANDLER: We put them up and they give us an invitation to come, maybe a month or so later.
MRS. BANDLER: Something like that.
BANDLER: Yes. We crossed over into East Germany after obtaining permission. The Ambassador said it was fine, let’s go do that, it would be interesting. We arrived at a little town in Weimar. They had some pretty decent tennis courts, and we arrived in the evening so we can’t play any tennis that first day. But we settled in our quarters. Then the East Germans started offering us their whiskeys of various sorts, not just whiskey but all 54 kinds of booze.
BANDLER: It was a little crazy because they had good beer and people were just drinking their hearts out. I’ve been told, and it was true, that I drank a little bit too much that evening. So the following morning I was able to pull myself out of my bed at around 11:30. The matches were supposed to start at 9:00 a.m. but there was no way I was getting over there that early. And so by around 1:00 or 2:00 in the afternoon, we went over to play.
BANDLER: I was playing relatively feebly compared to what I could have been doing on that tennis court. In any case, we went back and forth with the tennis diplomacy.
TABLE OF CONTENTS HIGHLIGHTS
BA in Political Science, Kenyon College 1965-1969
MA in Classics, St. John’s College 1973-1974
JD at George Washington University 1975-1978
Joined the Foreign Service 1976
Bonn, Germany—Minister-Counselor for Political and Legal Affairs 1989-1993
Paris, France—Deputy Chief of Mission 1995-1997
Washington D.C, USA—Special Assistant to the President for CAN/EU 1997-1999
Nicosia, Cyprus—Ambassador to Cyprus 1999-2002