Hannes Richter

Meet the Consul

Hannes Richter

Werner Stemer | Miami, FL

In our new series Meet The Consul we will introduce you to Consuls that are appointed for Austria to the U.S. It will give you an idea of what the everyday life of a Consul is like and what kind of the challenges they face. In this issue, Austrian Honorary Consul Werner Stemer shares his experiences and tells us about his job as head of mission of the Austrian Consulate Miami and his life in the Sunshine State.

Where are you originally from, where did you grow up?

I was born in Bludenz in Vorarlberg, the most western state in Austria. I grew up in St. Anton, a small village of about 500 people that is located in the picturesque valley of the Montafon.

Why did you initially come to the United States and how did you end up in Miami?

I originally came to the United States as a musician. My band toured the East Coast from Rhode Island down to South Florida. This is where I met my wife later on, who was born and raised in Fort Lauderdale. After having lived and studied with me in Innsbruck for three years, she wanted to come back to the United States. That's when we packed our bags, and that's how I ended up in South Florida.

What is your profession?

I am an attorney. When I first came to the States, I was a musician. That career, however, was not very conducive to a solid family life - our daughter Sarah had meanwhile been born - so I joined a video production company. After a few short years of traveling and film and video production, I joined a patent law firm. First, I was hired as a technical translator and later as a patent agent. It gave me the opportunity to finish my studies in physics. After a few more years I became an attorney, with a specialty in intellectual property law (patents, trademarks).

Since when have your served as Austrian Consul in Miami, and how did that come about?

I have served as the Honorary Consul at the Austrian Consulate Miami for the last four years. I had, for well over fifteen years, represented many Austrian companies and investors and I maintained steady and ongoing contact with the Austrian Trade Commission. The trade commissioners referred my name to the Austrian Embassy when they were looking for a Consul in Miami.

What do your tasks as a Consul typically involve and how much time does it take out of your professional day?

My tasks vary widely. We do, of course, certify signatures and contracts, we sign proof of life papers for the Austrian pension system and the Austrian National Fund, and we answer many telephonic requests for information about Austria. We also attend to many Austrians who find themselves in Miami without a passport because it had either been lost or stolen. These emergencies often happen on weekends and late at night.

These certification and emergency tasks typically take up several hours each week. Whenever possible, I represent the Republic of Austria at official and social events. After all, as the Honorary Consul of Austria, public relations and the promotion of the great country of Austria is an integral part of my activities.

How is life these days in Miami and South Florida? Any pros and cons?

South Florida is a paradise. Especially the early months of the year, from February to May, are typically blessed with extremely beautiful weather. Then, each year we are surprised again when the heat and the humidity really set in during June and July. We are, of course, always aware of the possibility of a hurricane or a tropical storm during the summer and into fall. But these potential negatives are easily offset by the abundance of natural beauty, which includes the Everglades ("River of Grass"), the Florida Keys, and the warm Caribbean currents of the Gulf Stream. Miami is truly a magic city. Besides world class art and entertainment, we boast of some of the best professional sports teams in football, basketball, baseball and even ice hockey. There is always something to do in South Florida and there is never enough time.

Are you in regular touch with Austrian businesses and expatriates in the area?

As a patent attorney I specialize in representing Austrian, German, and Swiss companies in the United States. I am regularly in touch with Austrian businesses and also with expatriates in the area. Many of the expatriates also stay in touch with each other through the Consulate and I try to maintain as many expatriate contacts as I reasonably can.

Are there any special stories you would like to share with our readers?

There is one recent series of events that sticks out: An Austrian visitor called me Sunday just before midnight. He introduced himself as Michael (name changed) and explained that his passport was stolen. His return to Austria was planned for the following Saturday. Since this would leave enough time to issue an emergency passport (Notpass), I invited him to come to the Consulate the following day. He showed up on Tuesday. We immediately prepared all the necessary paperwork and sent it to the Embassy in Washington. The passport arrived on Thursday and Michael came and picked it up.

By Friday morning he called me to tell me that his new passport had been stolen. He came back to the Consulate later that day so I could issue him a Transfer Paper, a travel document that is typically accepted by most airlines. Later that same day Michael called me to let me know that his entire backpack -- with the Transfer Paper, of course -- had gone missing.

That same evening his backpack was found by our cleaning crew in the office lobby. To make sure everything would go smoothly from there, I drove to the airport early the next day to meet Michael and to hand him his possessions. By noon, believe it or not, I received a phone call from Michael telling me that his papers had been stolen. With the help of the most courteous staff at British Airways, we were able to get Michael on his plane home. A week in the life of the Austrian Consul in Miami.