One of Lufthansa’s key men in Asia was
Diether von Boehm-Bezing. Now retired, he has settled in Chiang
Mai and can look back on a life where he attended more wars and
revolutions than most civilians could ever imagine.
He was born in Germany, but with the advent
of hostilities moved to Austria to his grandfather’s farm.
Money was scarce after the war and Diether had to work hard on
the land with his father and grandfather. It was at this time
that his father suggested that 17-year-old Diether should study
agriculture, which he did at the Thuern Agricultural College.
“It was an acceptable decision to me and my parents.”
However, farming did not sit all that well with Diether as he
grew up, and by the time he was 22 he applied for a scholarship
to go to America to study Business Administration. “My father
did not like it at all. I think it was a big disappointment for
He did go to the US, despite the parental
opposition, and studied in Philadelphia, helping to support
himself with odd jobs in gardening and nurseries, so his
agriculture diploma was not totally wasted.
After graduation he began work in a German
travel agency office in Philadelphia and became friendly,
through business, with the manager of Lufthansa in that city. He
was enjoying the travel business and his friend in Lufthansa got
the young man a position as a sales representative with the
airline in Atlanta, Georgia.
In 1962 his connection with SE Asia began,
when he came out to visit the Lufthansa office in Bangkok, where
his previous boss from Atlanta had taken over. “I was
absolutely fascinated by Bangkok at that time.” So much was
that fascination that he asked if there were any jobs open in
Asia, formally applying through the Hong Kong office of the
He was rewarded with the position of 2IC in
India which he took in 1963, and 12 months later when the
manager for India became ill, Diether became the country
manager. He was just 31 years old.
He remained in India for 4 years, and then he
scored the position he really wanted. Manager for Thailand, that
posting also covering Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Burma.
At that time, the Vietnam War was escalating,
but for Lufthansa it was big business. With offices in Vientiane
and Saigon, Diether was a regular commuter. Air America pilots
would fly to Europe first class for their regular 10 day
vacation each month and the German hospital ship in Danang
changed medical staff every six months.
Diether even availed himself of the
opportunity to get in the co-pilot’s seat with an Air America
sortie over Laos. The plane had been fitted with a steel plate
under his seat, just as a confidence booster! Incidentally, the
connection with Air America did not end there - Hollywood shot a
movie about the (in)famous airline, starring Mel Gibson, at
Dieter’s Chiang Mai house many years later!
When the fall of Vietnam occurred in April
1975, Diether was there too, evacuating German Embassy officials
and families from Saigon. “It was absolute chaos. It was a
mess. It was pretty panicky with the airport under fire. It was
a harrowing experience.” And who said ‘desk jobs’ are
After the excitement of Saigon, was it a
relief to be sent to the relatively sleepy Beirut in July of
that year? Unfortunately, 2 months later they had their civil
war. By March 1976 Lufthansa had stopped flying in the region
and Diether had to be taken out of the country in a convoy of
foreigners, under an escort supplied by the PLO’s Yasser
In 1977, Lufthansa took pity on Diether and
gave him a plum posting. “You have done a good job,” he was
told. “You will now be transferred to Tehran, the most
profitable office for Lufthansa world-wide. You will never have
empty seats on any flight.”
Students of recent history will no doubt
remember that in 1978 came the revolution, though Diether and
Lufthansa hung on, but by 1982 Diether had to leave. He had
become known in the industry as “the guy who closes all the
He returned to Bangkok and stayed for another
seven years, much longer than is usual for Lufthansa managers,
but then volunteered to go to Indonesia, probably to ensure they
didn’t send him to another idyllic destination like Iraq!
After 4 years in Indonesia he took early
retirement, and he and his Thai wife returned to the kingdom.
They bought some land in the Mae Rim district overlooking the
Ping River and built a small Thai house. Bangkok had just become
too polluted and too westernised for the (once westerner)
He admits to having changed over the years.
“To an extent I have become Asian in my thinking. I am now a
Buddhist. Buddhism is very peaceful. You are not forced to do
all kinds of things. You can make your own decisions and it
gives me peace of mind.” There was no getting away from the
fact that Diether comes across as a man at peace with himself
and in harmony with his environment.
One part of his past life he has definitely
brought with him to Chiang Mai - his training in agricultural
science was not in vain. He has 10,000 square metres of
landscaped gardens where he tends to his collection of rare
plants and flowers.
While in Bangkok in the 70’s he founded the
first vintage car club in Thailand, but these days he owns a
Land Rover, a much more practical mode of transport for the
There is no doubting that this man is enjoying his life in
retirement. He goes to Europe for two months every year and has
frequent regional trips to Thailand’s neighbouring countries.
And when not visiting friends, they are visiting him here. To be
so content is an ambition we all should strive to achieve.