Commanding hilltop views of Rosslyn, Virginia, are just icing on the cake for visitors to the German ambassador’s residence on Foxhall Road in Northwest DC. Located on picturesque grounds next to the embassy compound, the home was designed in 1994 by renowned German architect O.M. Ungers. While its contemporary aesthetic was intended to symbolize modern Germany, classically inspired columns and porticoes also evoke a sense of history. In this sprawling, clean-lined building, harmony and order prevail—down to furnishings the late architect specifically designed for every room in the house.
“The residence is ‘traditional-meets-modern’ and is functional as well as artistic,” says Ambassador Emily Haber, who arrived in June 2018 with her husband, Hansjörg Haber. “The clearest representation of the relationship between Germany and the U.S. is in the sheer size of the space. We have a tight-knit bond and need to be able to accommodate a large number of guests.”
Ungers created a striking motif of squares that he carried throughout the building. Window walls, imposing glass doors, lighting, artwork and even furniture all repeat this geometric form, while a largely black-and-white palette is offset with bold modern works by German artists. The public spaces, including a grand reception hall, ladies’ and gentlemen’s sitting rooms, a library and a formal dining room, are the perfect setting for what Haber calls “diplomacy through hospitality”—which, she notes, “takes place every time a guest walks through the entrance hall. Our intention is to make the rooms as comfortable as possible, to facilitate fruitful discussions.”
Events at the residence range from black-tie dinners to lively book discussions facilitated by Haber and her husband in the Berlin Bar, an atmospheric, cabaret-style space on the lower level lined with glamorous black-and-white photographs of Hollywood icon Marlene Dietrich, who hailed from Berlin. Delegation visits, expert round tables and concerts are also part of the mix. In October, the compound’s rolling, park-like grounds host the annual Day of German Unity, commemorating the 1990 reunification of East and West Germany. More than 2,500 guests join in festivities that celebrate the nation’s music, culture and cuisine.
Benoît Teisseire, the residence’s executive chef since 2000, specializes in German fare with a French spin—think lobster strudel and flourless Black Forest cake—served in a dining room that accommodates anywhere from 30 to 200 people, often twice in one day. Buffets for 450 are not uncommon.
Now a year into her stint in DC, Haber emphasizes bonds Germany shares with the United States rather than their differences. A year-long program called Wunderbar Together was launched in October 2018 with the Goethe Institut and Federation of German Industries; the initiative fosters German-American relations with activities related to science, the arts, culture, language, business and sports taking place in all 50 states.
Educated as a historian, Haber rates one of the first events she hosted in the residence as her most significant to date. “It was a citizenship restitution ceremony,” she recounts. “The guests were Germans and their descendants who had been deprived of German citizenship due to persecution on political, racial or religious grounds between 1933 and 1945. The ceremony formally gave them their citizenship back. It was a powerful and moving afternoon.”
Though she has spent many years as a diplomat in Russia and Turkey, Haber’s current post in Washington is her first ambassadorship; her husband, a career diplomat, recently retired from an ambassadorship in Yemen—allowing the couple, who have two grown sons, to reside together for the first time in 12 years. Both are enjoying their remarkable surroundings.
“It is humbling to live in a place that is so thoughtfully designed,” Haber comments. “When we first moved in, we made it our goal to arrange the furniture in the way the architect originally intended. The design is holistic—you can feel how one room flows into the next.”