Rembembering Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke (1941-2010)
During his time as US ambassador to Germany, from 1993 to 1994, Richard C. Holbrooke had the notion of founding the American Academy in Berlin as "a living center for the exchange of ideas." Plans for the institution were announced on September 9, 1994 by US Vice President Al Gore, former Secretary of State Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, and Ambassador Holbrooke, together with German President Richard von Weizsäcker, American attorney Thomas Farmer, and then-Mayor of Berlin, Eberhard Diepgen.
Richard C. Holbrooke speaking at the American Academy in Berlin in May 2009. Photo: Hornischer
Since opening its doors to its first class of Berlin Prize Fellows, in 1998, the American Academy has become one of Europe’s most vital and effective institutions of transatlantic dialogue, built upon an enduring network in the United States and Germany. Its cross-cultural, interdisciplinary environment has made it, in Ambassador Holbrooke's words, "a center for American scholars, thinkers, leading intellectuals, and political figures to come to Berlin, to share their experiences, and to learn from the people of Berlin and Germany."
Richard Holbrooke and Chancellor Angela Merkel with guests in the American Academy library, 2008. Photo: Hornischer
Upon the death of the Academy's founder, executive director Dr. Gary Smith said in a recent statement, "I have lost not only a colleague and mentor but also a friend, without whom there would be no American Academy in Berlin. Richard Holbrooke was a passionate and demanding advocate of the German-American relationship, who, long after his time as US ambassador to Germany, remained actively committed to the exchange of ideas in the cultural, intellectual, and political spheres."
Former US President George H.W. Bush talking with Richard C. Holbrooke at the 2008 Henry A. Kissinger Prize ceremony. Photo: Hornischer
Ambassador Holbrooke cogently described the larger idea behind the Academy in an interview published in the Berlin Journal in 1999:
When the American troops – the famous Berlin Brigade, which had guarded Berlin all during the Cold War – left in September of 1994, I was American ambassador to Germany, and I felt very strongly that we should have something that would replace the troops, something that would bind the people of Berlin to the people of the United States. This was because the new generation of Americans and Berliners would not remember the Berlin Wall; they would not remember Kennedy's famous speech; they would not remember the confrontation in 1961 at Checkpoint Charlie; they would not remember the Airlift. And so, it was important to create new institutions – if you will, new traditions.
Ambassador Holbrooke's idea still guides the activity and spirit of this institution; its origins will forever be bound to his bold and unique vision for a nonpartisan cultural institution dedicated to sharing ideas across the Atlantic, binding the intellectual and cultural worlds of America and Berlin, a city with which the United States should maintain its unique cultural, social, political, and historical links.
Ambassador Holbrooke's family has designated a number of non-profit organizations that are accepting donations in memoriam. Please check the State Department's memorial page for the listing.
The Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Visitorship
In November 2004 the trustees of the American Academy announced the creation of a special endowed prize named for Richard C. Holbrooke that brings outstanding American policymakers, cultural leaders, and educators to Berlin as fellows or distinguished visitors. Since its creation, the Richard C. Holbrooke Prize has been awarded seven times:
Patricia Wald, former judge, US Circuit of Appeals for the District of Columbia; and Former judge, International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, Washington, DC (fall 2005)
Frances Fitzgerald, writer, New York (fall 2006)
Daniel Mendelsohn, author and critic, New York (spring 2008)
Jonathan Franzen, writer, New York (spring 2009)
Martin Indyk, vice president and director of foreign policy, Brookings Institution, Washington, DC (spring 2010)
Jack A. Goldstone, Virginia E. and John T. Hazel Professor of Public Policy, School of Public Policy, George Mason University (fall 2011)
Calvin Trillin, author and journalist, New York (spring 2012)
Selected Works at the American Academy in Berlin
Richard Holbrooke was one of the most spirited advocates of the American Academy in Berlin, visiting often for lectures, meetings, and official trips. He was a frequent contributor to the Academy’s publications, including the Berlin Journal. Below are a few selections of recent contributions to Academy life:
Richard C. Holbrooke discussing the US presidential race in 2008 and the challenges the next US president would face (Special Supplement in der Tagesspiegel and Handelsblatt, Fall 2008)
"Richard C. Holbrook's Pragmatic Vision: When a Diplomat Dreams," his contribution to Die Zeit's "I Have a Dream" series, with Christine Brinck (reprinted in English in Berlin Journal 6, Spring 2003).