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Nevadan at Work: Honorary consul helps Germans cope in America

As she neared retirement as the local honorary consul to Germany, Sigrid Sommer asked Andreas Adrian five times to take her place. Five times he said no.

On the sixth, he relented and took the post as his native country’s official, if volunteer, representative in 2007, following standard State Department clearance.

“When they approached me about being the honorary consul to Germany, I said, ‘How much will you pay me?’ They said, ‘Nothing,’u2009” Adrian recalled. “I told them I was sorry but that I was young I needed to make some money. I can’t just work for free and not a lot of people can.”

When he finally accepted the post, it was with the thought he would only do it “for a while.” Five years later, he is still on the job, even as he maintains his real estate brokerage.

He arrived in Las Vegas in 1997 after a stint in Florida and sank his roots.

“Living in Germany is like living in northern Wisconsin,” he said. “It’s cold, it’s cloudy, its gloomy, it rains a lot, it freezes. Even as kid, I did not like it. When I came to Las Vegas, I felt right at home.”

Not entirely. With an affinity for history and cultural traditions, he has not always found locals a receptive audience. In 2009, he helped to organize a 20th anniversary commemoration of the fall of the Berlin Wall, bringing in as a guest speaker a retired army officer stationed in Germany when the wall went up in 1961. About three people showed.

“Even now, we are trying to bring some history, but I think the public here just doesn’t respond to it that well,” he said. “We have the casinos and they are a lot more exciting than learning about history.”

But he also sees to the needs of the locals of German descent, the vast majority of them immigrants, tourists and business or diplomatic groups who might need a helping hand.

“As an honorary consul, you try to bridge the gaps between Nevada and, in my case, Germany,” he said.

One of those measures will begin next month, with the launch of a German Saturday School for children ages 4 to 17, to teach them the language of their ancestry.

Question: What are your duties as an honorary consul?

Answer: First, we are Germany’s official contact in the state of Nevada. We are not a full-blown consulate. I donate two days a week for honorary consul work (with regular office hours.)

What we do is help out German-American population in Nevada. We have about 45,000 in Las Vegas. When I first took the position, I thought, “That’s a large number and can’t be true.” But in April 2010, we started doing passport applications for Germans and now I think that number must be right because there are so many Germans coming to our office to apply for (German) passports.

Right now, we are helping a couple that is half German, but the kids were born here so they are American citizens. Because one member of family is German, they have right of German citizenship so they came in and applied for a passports. That’s a big issue for us.

We also serve foreign nationals (in the U.S.) with a green card but who need a visa to go to Germany. Visas and passports are issued by the consul general in Los Angeles.

Question: In Las Vegas, is part of the job dealing with German tourists landing in jail?

Answer: We step in as much we can. We cannot get them out of jail. But if a German national is arrested, we have to be notified. If they want to see a consular officer, they have a right to see me. We see if they can get an attorney and notify family. We visit people in jail, sometimes we can help them, sometimes they don’t want our help or need it.

But that is not such a big issue with Germans. When I compare with some of the other honorary consuls here, Germans are rarely arrested.

Question: What other problems do you handle?

Answer: People get robbed and mugged here. They get their cars broken into at the outlet malls. Suddenly, their passports are gone, their valuables are gone, everything is gone. They go to the police and they file a report and they come to my office because they need a replacement document to leave the country. They need help.

Once these people get help, they have a smile on their faces. Even if it is a bad and terrible situation, they say thank you for helping us. It just feels good.

Question: What do you do for business development?

Answer: As an honorary consul for your country, you foster trade relations where you can. I think Nevada has not really taken advantage of its corps of honorary consuls. I don’t know why. The other states are interested in their consular corps because they know that honorary consuls have good contacts with their countries, whether it’s government contacts or trade relations.

Question: One of the popular conceptions about honorary consuls is that you get diplomatic license plates, allowing you to tear up traffic tickets. Is that true?

Answer: To some extent. If a cop stops you, they have to get a supervisor involved. If they want to write you a ticket, you have to contact the embassy in Washington first. For a speeding or parking ticket, who wants to go through that trouble?

I don’t have one of those plates; I don’t believe in it. I don’t speed, I don’t wildly park, I follow the law. I have to because I am also a U.S. citizen.

Question: Another supposed qualification for honorary consul is that you must know how to throw a good party.

Answer: Once a year we do that on the Day of German Unity (Oct. 3). Usually a big party at (The) Westin. Last year, I flew in a 40-person choir from Germany and it was a huge event and everyone loved it. Condor Airlines is a big sponsor and we couldn’t do it without Condor because, as an honorary consul, you don’t have a budget to throw events.

Question: After initially not wanting the job, are you now glad you said yes?

Answer: After five years, I’m not sure I would do it again. It takes a lot of time, especially working for Germany because Germany is not a little country. It’s not just two days a week in the office but going to parties and meeting people at events. By having that position for Germany, you are living for Germany basically. People call you in the evening sometimes on emergency cases. Without my wife, I couldn’t do this position.

But somehow, I have managed to take care of my business and still do something positive for Germans, do something positive for my former country, do something good for Nevada and my city, Las Vegas. You can help people and that is rewarding.

Contact reporter Tim O’Reiley at
toreiley@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5290.

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