He Talks About His Boyhood Bicycle Ride Behind Iron Curtain
Much has been made of the new U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s familiarity with the Foreign Service as the son of a former diplomat.
In his first day at the State Department, he spoke about the challenges of Foreign Service families “who have to uproot kids and uproot families and move from school to school and struggle with those difficulties.”
But Kerry has not always been so keenly aware of difficulties of diplomatic protocols, especially as a 12-year-old in Berlin.
Moving to Germany with his family in 1954, Kerry said he used to ride his bicycle up and down the Kurfurstendamm, and past the burned-out Reichstag and the Brandenburg Gate.
One day he used his diplomatic passport to cross into the East Sector, the Russian sector, where “I really noticed the difference between the East and West. There were very few people. They were dressed in dark clothing. They kind of held their heads down. I noticed all this. There was no joy in those streets.”
“And when I came back, I felt this remarkable sense of relief and a great lesson about the virtue of freedom and the virtue of the principles and ideals that we live by and that drive us. I was enthralled.”
His father, not so much.
“I got a tongue-lashing. I was told I could’ve been an international incident. He could’ve lost his job. And my passport,” he said raising a faded green diplomatic passport, “this very passport, was promptly yanked. And I was summarily grounded. Anyway, lessons learned.”
“If the tabloids today knew I had done that, I can see the headlines that say, “Kerry’s Early Communist Connections,” something like that. That’s the world we live in, folks.”
Living overseas as a boy was a great adventure, Kerry says. And 57 years later, he begins what he expects will be another great adventure at the State Department.
“What other job can you have where you get up every day and advance the cause of nation and also keep faith with the ideals of your country on which it is founded and most critically, meet our obligations to our fellow travelers on this planet?”
“That’s as good as it gets,” he told employees at the State Department. “And I’m proud to be part of it with you. So now let’s get to work.”