- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 21, 2004

Criticized as a cold, barren example of the design concepts that did so much for factories in the Rhineland and Ruhr, the massive German embassy residence on Foxhall Road NW remains one of the capital’s most controversial structures 10 years after its completion.

The first ambassadoral inhabitant couldn’t stand the place and made famously withering comments about it to the German press; the second kept quiet and made do. And now the third has done something to warm it up a bit.

“This was the only area we got to furnish ourselves,” said the current envoy, Wolfgang Ischinger, who was beaming nearly as much as the neon sign leading down to his new basement-level “Berlin Bar” Saturday night.

Mr. Ischinger credited his wife, Jutta Falke-Ischinger, with the idea of modeling the space after the famous Paris Bar in Berlin’s Kantstrasse, which, as any well-traveled sophisticate knows, has long been one of that city’s top late-night hot spots.

“We wanted to capture the lifestyle of our new capital and do some propaganda for it as well,” Mr. Ischinger noted as 100 special guests, including former U.S. Ambassadors to Germany Robert Kimmett and Richard Burt, Jim Hoagland and Jane Stanton Hitchcock, Jim Kimsey and the ambassadors of Spain, Sweden, France and Jordan filled the low-ceilinged, “post-Bauhaus modern” rooms to admire the walls (red), bar (sleek, long and black), comfortable furnishings (plush black settees spaced around low tables) and black-and-white art photos of postwar Berlin.

“We wanted something very gemutlicht,” said Mrs. Falke-Ischinger, “a place where people can stay late and feel very relaxed.”

That was certainly the case on opening night, which featured a cabaret-style program of costumed mimes, a jazzy trio and German TV comedy star Harald Schmitt entertaining guests with a snappy monologue and a contest with prizes. There was plenty of good champagne, wine and Bitburger beer on tap, and a beautiful buffet of leberpastete (liver pate) with Blackforest Ham, frischkase mit krautern (cream cheese with herbs), salmon, shrimp and other German specialties.

Mr. Ischinger’s diplomatic colleagues were intrigued to hear regular evenings will soon be scheduled for the classiest new hangout on Embassy Row.

Others may be preparing to follow suit..

“I think we have to do something,” said French Ambassador Jean-David Levitte, who may just have been pondering a new Lido de Paris at La Maison Francaise.

That would certainly improve Franco-American relations.

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