Hannes Richter

Meet the Consul

Hannes Richter

Peter Fredericks, San Francisco, CA

As part of our ongoing series, Meet the Consul, Austrian Information spoke to Dr. Peter Fredericks, the Austrian Homorary Consul in San Francisco, CA.

Dear Dr. Fredericks, could you tell us a little bit about where you were born and something about your background?
I was born in Chicago to an Austrian mother from the small town of Stadtschlaining in Burgenland and a German father. My grandmother also moved to Chicago from the Burgenland when I was a baby, so I had the advantage of speaking only German in our home until I entered kindergarten. We moved to Pacific Palisades in southern California when I was 11 years old, so I spent my high school years there, but I also often visited Austria. I have spent my adult life between the U.S. and Austria, working, studying, and living in both places.

What brought you to San Francisco?
I originally moved to northern California to attend Stanford University and since then, I have always returned to San Francisco. In 1983, I completed my doctorate at the Wirtschaftsuniversität Wien and started a set of companies in Vienna with two Austrian partners. In 1985, we opened an office in Menlo Park to be close to Silicon Valley.

This was for a software company we had started with venture capital from two Austrian banks and several Austrian government organizations. We were successful in selling our Austrian software company to a large American acquirer, which was featured on the front page of The Wall Street Journal. My wife is a urogynecological surgeon, so we spent a few years in southern California while she pursued a fellowship at UCLA. We moved back to the Bay Area in July 2007. My brother and my wife’s two sisters both also live in northern California.

How long have you been serving as the Austrian Consul in San Francisco, and how did that happen?
I have served as Austrian Honorary Consul for Northern California since we returned to the Bay Area; I was privileged to know most of the Austrian diplomats posted in Los Angeles from the time when my family first moved from Chicago to the Los Angeles area in 1968.

At that time, Thomas Klestil was Consul General and Egon Winkler Trade Commissioner (Egon and his wife Claudia have remained wonderful friends, whom we saw recently during our June 2012 visit to Austria). When we were living in the Los Angeles area in 2006 and my wife was completing her surgical fellowship, I was asked by then Consul General Martin Weiss to become Honorary Consul.

What are some of your favorite places in the city?
Do you have any favourite restaurants? San Francisco has so many wonderful areas, from the Marina to Golden Gate Park to the ethnic Italian North Beach and Chinatown neighbourhoods. I love the Museum of Modern Art and the Asian Art Museum, while my kids prefer the newly renovated Academy of Sciences and the Exploratorium. My recommendation on restaurants is to try ethnic ones, especially all of the Asian cuisines represented on Clement Street for example, and also Mexican food, which can be found in the Mission area. We live just north of the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County, so I also have to mention the redwood trees in Muir Woods, the wine area of Sonoma County, and for kids the Discovery Museum in Sausalito.

Other than San Francisco, do you have any favorite places in the U.S.?
I think New Orleans is a city with a unique culture that many Austrians overlook when they visit the U.S. The Jazz and Heritage Festival at the end of April is a wonderful event, but there is always something musical happening in N’Awlins and the cuisine is so distinctive.

Since there isn’t really a desert in Europe, I think Austrians should visit the desert, for example, Joshua Tree National Park in southern California. Santa Fe, Sedona, and other southwestern places are also very interesting. In winter, Utah has probably the best snow in the entire world. Not to forget, there are also the tropical islands of Hawaii, which are so different from European islands.

How would you compare life in San Francisco and in California with life in Austria overall?
I have spent a lot of time thinking about this, because these are my favorite two places! San Francisco is, in some ways, similar to Vienna in that these cities both have such a manageable size, and you really have everything: a vibrant urban environment with a cosmopolitan feel, but also immediate access to beautiful nature. The Austrian Gemütlichkeit is wonderful, as is the open-mindedness of the people in the Bay Area. Are there any Austrian traces in San Francisco? San Francisco is a very international place for a city its size. We are also proud to be the place, where the UN was founded. We had an Austrian governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. There is definitely a nice Austrian community in the Bay Area.

What about the expatriates in the area – are you in contact with any of them, and what are some of the things they do?
One of the reasons I serve as Honorary Consul is that I like meeting and being in touch with Austrians here in northern California. There are Austrians active in many different fields, including Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley, and in the technology sector. I enjoy meeting Austrians individually and in small groups and at events such as those associated with the National Day and the Christmas holidays, and so on.

Would you like to share some aspects of your work as Consul; are there any special stories to tell?
I enjoy the full range of consular work, from the cultural to the economic. One particularly interesting task each year is having the Austrian pensioners come to submit their proof of life (Lebensbestätigung). These older Austrians represent a past generation that has lived through many hardships, and it is fascinating to hear their stories. At the opposite end of the age spectrum, it is nice to meet the Austrian babies getting their certificate of citizenship (Staatsbürgerschaftsnachweis).

Peter FredericksI also appreciate the opportunity offered by the Advantage Austria’s “Go Silicon Valley” program for Austrian technology entrepreneurs to come for a few months to a tech center here in the Silicon Valley. I come from the world of technology, and hope to see other Austrians pursue their creative ideas.