Reinhold (“Rein”) F. Krammer
Honorary Consul of the Republic of Austria in Chicago for Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin.
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Mr. Krammer, you are a citizen of the U.S. with Austrian roots: Could you tell us a little bit about your parents and where they are originally from?
Absolutely! I am a dual citizen of the U.S. and Austria. My parents were both born in Burgenland. They married in 1959 and emigrated to the U.S. in 1961 for better economic opportunities as many of the Austrians who came over here in the 50’s and 60’s and whose initial plans were to stay for five to six years, earn some money and then go back to Austria. They both come from rural areas; my father is from Großbachselten and my mother is from Rohrbach. I have three brothers. Most of my relatives are still in Europe, but I do get the opportunity to visit them occasionally.
Do you have any Austrian traditions and customs that your parents introduced and that you still cherish today?
As a kid, I remember celebrating Christmas on Christmas Eve, opening gifts in front of the Christmas tree decorated with candles and Lebkuchen (gingerbread). We would go to church and have a big dinner after mass. We also did not do too much work on that day and that is some kind of tradition we kind of kept up. It is something I vividly remember and my family still holds on to this tradition.
So you know the difference between Saint Nicholas and Santa Claus?
Yes. Absolutely! I also remember celebrating Saint Nicholas day and putting our shoes outside before we went to bed.
Do you visit Austria regularly?
I travel to Europe two to three times a year on business. As part of those trips, I frequently visit relatives who are now spread out through Eastern Austria, from Vienna to Burgenland. Also, my daughter did an internship in Vienna last summer: Actually, my whole family, i.e., my wife and four daughters, went to Vienna and spent about two months there. I was able to join them for about three weeks. I love the country, it is beautiful and the people are great. So, it is always a privilege to get back!
Regarding your personal background, you earned your doctor juris from DePaul University College of Law, and you do practice quite a wide array of law, including international business, trade law, etc.—does your Austrian background benefit your contacts with international clients?
It does quite a bit, as I mostly work with Austrian and German companies allowing me to use my limited German language skills whenever I can. The fact that they know I am Austrian by birth and have that heritage helps to build a connection and having them trust me. It breaks down a lot of barriers as there usually is an instant bond with Austrians in particular.
How would you describe your level of German language competence?
I would not say I am fluent, but I am competent: My writing and understanding are much better than my verbal communication skills. But I am continuously improving.
You hold many positions. You are a principal at Masuda Funai in Chicago and a certified public accountant as well. But you also hold other positions like President Circle Member of the Chicago Council and Global Affairs, Director of the International Trade Club of Chicago and the Austria America Foundation, Honorary Director of the American Friends of Austria and the German International School of Chicago (which is run by an Austrian). What drew you to add another position to your many duties as Honorary Consul of the Republic of Austria?
I am no longer active in some of those roles. I always find it important that if I join an organization, I should be able to contribute and have time to offer. As far as ITCC and the President Circle are concerned, I stepped down from those roles to focus more on some newer ones. It is important for me to give back, having always felt a strong tie to the Austrian community. In general, I feel home in Europe even more than here in Chicago. It is important for me to help out Austrians who either relocated or are traveling here, through my contacts with Americans and other nationalities; as well as to be a representative of Austria, to create good relations and help Austrians in any way I can. This will induce them to think the U.S. is a good place to visit, as people are friendly. And it is good to help fellow Austrians, anyway.
How long have you been Austrian Honorary Consul in Chicago?
It is my sixth year now.
Could you give us an idea of how many Austrians there are in your consular district? Besides Illinois, do you have any co-accreditations?
It is difficult to give exact numbers because many Austrians, like elsewhere in the world, integrate quite quickly into the communities. I think there are probably about 40,000 in the Chicago area. My reach also includes Iowa and Wisconsin, so we are looking at about 80,000 to 100,000 people who claim Austrian heritage.
That is heritage and not necessarily citizenship?
Are the numbers of citizens more difficult to judge?
Indeed, as they generally register with the Consulate General in New York City. Therefore, it is difficult for me to provide that number.
What are the things that Austrians need the most when they turn to you?
Typically, it will mainly be certifications as we do not issue visas or passports anymore; nonetheless, I get many inquiries regarding visas, which I refer mostly to New York City. Besides, there are also a lot of inquiries for different things: forms to fill out, U.S. tourists traveling to Europe, etc.
Is there a diplomatic life in Chicago?
The level of diplomatic events in Chicago is very high, as it is the location with the most consulates outside of Washington, DC. There is always an event I could attend—which I do on a regular basis. We also organize a ball every year in February for the Austrian community.
Chicago was formerly jokingly known as the biggest city of Burgenland. Do the Burgenländer still run traditional associations here?
There are two: the ‘Gemeinschaft’, which is still around though not very active anymore. The ‘Jolly Burgenlanders’ however, are still fairly active with dance events, etc. There is also an active ‘Steirer Club’ and they hold an Austrian picnic twice a year at the Steirer Alm in McHenry, Illinois.
Chicago is also the base for Austrian trade representative Peter Sedlmayer—do you work hand in hand with him e.g., on the ball which is a huge undertaking needing sponsors and people for preparation?
Absolutely, Peter and I work very closely organizing that event. We usually have 200 to 220 guests free of charge from the Austrian community and friends of Austria. We are grateful to our generous sponsors that are typically Austrian companies located in the area. #throwback to the 2019 Viennese Gala Ball in Chicago
You may want to mention these sponsors to motivate them to continue their support?
Some of the past sponsors have been Austrian Airlines, Gebrüder Weiss Logistics and Parndorf Companies from Parndorf in Austria, for example. We have had many sponsors over the years, typically ten to twelve companies: Without their participation and contribution, this event would not be possible.
Are they located here in Chicago or do you seek them out in Austria?
They are located here in the Midwest, mostly in Illinois, and a few more in Michigan. They are all subsidiaries of Austrian companies.
Mr. Krammer, that was very instructive. Thank you very much for your time and for introducing yourself.
Thank you for coming to Chicago and speaking with me.