Tuesday, March 27, 2007: Over lunch in Georgetowne at Kaffee Leopold, Raimund Loew, Washington bureau chief of the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation, and I had an intense discussion about the presidential election in France. When I asked whether either of the leading candidates, Nicholas Sarkozy and Segolene Royal, spoke English, he replied: “I’m almost certain they do, given their age and the exposure they have had to Engish-speakers from around the world.” Did he think the third major candidate, Francois Bayrou, spoke English as well?
“No,” replied Raimund without hesitation, informing me that horse and cattle farmer Bayrou “talks only to his cows.”
That was Raimund Loew in a nutshell. With a deadpan expression and his near-flawless English, the top U.S. correspondent for Austrian TV and radio would have the best of rib-ticklers on the most serious of topics. Coupled with his insight on world and U.S. politics, Raimund Lowe’s sense of humor and refusal to take himself seriously were among the chief reasons that a lunch or dinner invitation was always a red-later date on my calendar. (“It’s my watch this time,” was his signature expression, translated to mean his turn to host the meal.)
So when Raimund bid farewell to the nation’s capital on July 26, I was genuinely melancholy. Actually, he took the occasion of a dinner with our wives one month ago to break the news that he knew would be distressing. After sixteen years in the nation’s capital, Raimund, his wife Kirsten, and their two children were moving to Brussels. His new beat was the European Union. On the 26th, scores of his friends joined Austrian Ambassador Eva Novotny at the Austrian embassy to bid “auf wiedershehn” to this remarkable and well-loved newsman.
Recalling how he left his previous assignment in Moscow after Boris Yeltsen thwarted the coup attempt against the last leader of the old Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev. Raimund illustrated how the years here had gone by dramatically and filled with change: his young children learned English; arriving during the presidency of the elder George Bush and leaving during that of the younger George Bush; and the most recent changes in the White House Press Room, where he and I met and became friends.
“I must say, I liked it better in the old press room [before it was cleaned up to become the high-tech, 21st century forum that was unveiled earlier this month],” the Austrian said, “The Briefing Room is power and unrelenting challenge to power, high tech and chaos, that’s what I like about America.
Where else could you find order at the [press secretary’s] podium, and right in front of it — Helen Thomas?”
In what I sensed was a reference to my own stories of the complaints many White House correspondents had about the new rules (that include not drinking coffee at one’s seat and clearing out of the room at a certain time), Raimund pointed out that “there is a new rule that flip-flops are banned from the White House. But I predict that in two or three months, rules like this and the rules for the press room will be forgotten and it will be back to what it was.”
“It’s going to be different in Brussels,” he told his assembled friends, noting that the EU press room there is “five times as large as the White House press room and that the briefings are translated into 22 languages.” He also noted that the spokesman for the EU is a civil servant — a contrast, Raimund feels, from White House Press Secretary Tony Snow, “who is a media celebrity and more popular than the President.”
In introducing Hanno Settele as his successor at Austrian Radio-TV, this most enjoyable friend quoted another Austrian who came to the United States: “I’ll be back.”
And I’m sure I speak for all of Raimund Loew’s friends when I say I sincerely hope so.”