BERLIN (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told young Germans on Tuesday of his adventures as a 12-year-old son of an American diplomat in divided postwar Berlin, and urged them to be true to their ideals and values as Europe struggles to emerge from economic doldrums and deal with the threat of terrorism.
Speaking at a town hall meeting Tuesday, Kerry spoke a few sentences of passable German to the delight of a crowd in a packed Internet cafe before regaling the audience with tales of his boyhood in Berlin in 1954.
He recalled a clandestine bicycle ride into communist East Berlin. "I saw the difference between east and west. I saw the people wearing darker clothing. There were fewer cars. I didn't feel the energy or the movement."
When he returned home, Kerry said, his father "got very upset with me and said: 'You could have created an international incident. I could have lost my job.' So I lost my passport, and I was grounded and I never made another trip like that."
Today, Kerry said: "I never forgot and now it's vanished. Now, so many other countries have followed with this spirit of giving life to people's individual hopes and aspirations."
Kerry urged Germans to be tolerant of all points of view.
"People have sometimes wondered about why our Supreme Court allows one group or another to march in a parade even though it's the most provocative thing in the world and they carry signs that are an insult to one group or another," he said. "The reason is, that's freedom, freedom of speech. In America you have a right to be stupid. ... And we tolerate it. We somehow make it through that."
Kerry also took the opportunity to plug a New England clothing line after one audience member complimented him on his pink tie. A graduate of the noted St. Paul's School in New Hampshire and Yale University, Kerry extolled the sartorial virtues of Vineyard Vines, a Connecticut purveyor of — in its own description — "preppy" clothes that has a pink whale for a logo.
"I don't own any stock in the company," he said to laughter.