Along with the entire Berlin foreign policy community we mourn the tragic death of Dr Sylke Tempel. At the same time our thoughts and hearts are with Dr Daniela Schwarzer who was injured in the same accident that ended Sylke’s life. May Daniela be well enough soon to return to her family and to resume her responsibilities at the helm of the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP), a task that has become more challenging with Sylke Tempel’s passing.
Sylke was a truly exceptional personality and a leading voice in the German foreign policy discourse. While the country and its political elite are facing new risks and responsibilities, a “strategic community” of experts in think tanks, government, NGOs and the media is still in the making. Much has changed in recent years, and much of that change has been inspired by Sylke Tempel.
As editor of DGAP’s journal Internationale Politik and its English language companion Berlin Policy Journal, Sylke pushed for a recognition of Germany’s interests and potential and fought for a foreign policy that was ambitious in both its normative consistency and its realism. She was a challenging and engaging moderator of debates, fearless of mandarins and taboos, speaking her mind and encouraging others to move beyond the soft talk of politics. In her appearances on radio or TV, Sylke stood out for her uncompromising rhetoric. She had thought about the issues precisely and her arguments were always razor sharp.
This passionate focus on substance and her clear reasoning gained her respect and admiration beyond Germany. As news of her passing spread, many of my colleagues around Europe recalled meetings and encounters with her. Her audience and impact may well have been much larger than she knew.
But to those of us who knew her, Sylke was more than the mind and voice on foreign policy. She had a great sense of humour; she loved a sharp wit and the game of words and meanings, and never took herself too seriously. She was also a great caretaker of the people around her - a team player and a leader who got the best out of everyone. And her efforts to build a more inclusive and representative foreign policy discourse have made our community younger, more female, and stronger intellectually – in short: much better.
Sylke has inspired many among those she worked and discussed with, and through this inspiration she will be present among us long after that fateful day in October 2017, when the season’s first autumn storm hit Berlin.
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The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. This commentary, like all publications of the European Council on Foreign Relations, represents only the views of its authors.