John Kerry, in one of his first appearances as
the new US secretary of state, Monday reminisced about biking into
forbidden East Berlin as the child of an American diplomat.
The former senator, 69, who was formally sworn in during a non-public ceremony Friday, told the story in his first remarks to State Department staff in Washington. His predecessor, Hillary Rodham Clinton, has stepped down, prompting Kerry to note that he has "big heels" to follow.
Kerry was in Berlin in the mid 1950s, before the Soviets erected the wall separating Russian-controlled East Berlin from West Berlin. Kerry, then 12 years old, was an avid bicyclist - as he still is.
"It was stunning how little control there was," Kerry said, describing how he used his diplomatic passport to enter into the Russian zone.
"And I'll tell you, as a 12-year-old kid, I really did notice the starkness, the desolation," he said. "There were very few people. They were dressed in dark clothing. They kind of held their heads down."
He said he saw "no joy" in the streets. When he returned to safety in West Berlin, he felt "this remarkable sense of relief and a great lesson about the virtue of freedom and the virtue of the ... ideals that we live by and that drive us."
Kerry said he was "enthralled" by his bike outing in the East zone. But his father was not - and seized his passport and grounded him.
That didn't keep him from exploring West Berlin, however. He "rode everywhere" - around the lakes, up and down the Kurfuerstendamm with its bombed out Kaiser Wilhelm Gedaechtniskirche, past Hitler's destroyed bunker.
As an adult, Kerry, who resigned as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to take his new post, served two tours of duty in Vietnam and volunteered to serve on a "swift boat" patrol vessel on the Mekong delta.
But, when he got home, he became an outspoken voice against the war, which propelled him onto the national political stage. One of his main achievements as a senator was a bipartisan effort in the 1990s with Republican Senator John McCain, who had been a prisoner of war in Vietnam, to reopen diplomatic relations with Hanoi by resolving prisoner-of-war issues.
As the Democratic presidential candidate in 2004, Kerry ran and lost against the incumbent Republican, George W Bush.
In nominating Kerry, US President Barack Obama said: "John's entire life has prepared him for this role."
Kerry thanked and praised Clinton for her accomplishments during the past four years, adding that Obama's vision and the work of Clinton and the State Department had "without any question ... restored America's reputation and place in the world."
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