My Jakarta: Heiner von Luepke, Advocate for the Environment

In the smoggy streets of Jakarta, Heiner von Luepke is an advocate for the environment. The six-foot-tall expat from Germany begins with his own life choices, like riding a bike to work every day, but he’s also trying to clean up the country at large.

As a climate change adviser for the German NGO GIZ, von Luepke is working to curb global warming in Indonesia, which is in the top-five list of developing countries with the highest rates of greenhouse gas emissions. Here, he discusses his work with the Indonesian government, his passion for distance running and a few simple ways that everyone can live a more eco-friendly life.

What kind of projects are you working on in Indonesia? 

I work for GIZ, a company that’s partly owned by the German government. I’m currently focusing on the climate change negotiations between the Indonesian government and the German government, which is what brought me here originally.

Do you work with a particular Indonesian organization? 

I work closely with the National Development Planning Agency [Bappenas], which is my main counterpart. It’s responsible for developing the action plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2020.

Why did you decide to focus on climate change in Indonesia? 

Years ago, there was an NGO study financed by the World Bank and a report by the British government, and they showed how Indonesia has really high rate of gas emissions, just behind the US and China. So the topic came up at the 2007 Climate Change Conference in Bali.

Nobody was really expecting Indonesia to be mentioned like that in the reports. It was controversial because of the uncertainty. For example, palm oil plantations emit a lot of greenhouse gas, but it’s hard to know how much.

How do you measure greenhouse gas emissions?

You can estimate it, but it’s hard to measure exactly because Indonesia is so diverse with so many ecosystems, from Sumatra to Papua. But from my experience in East Kalimantan, I know deforestation led to a higher per capita emissions rate there than in the US or China.

What’s it like to work with Indonesians? 

I really appreciate what they do, though I can’t say that there is one type of Indonesian. Stereotypically, Germans are direct people, straight to the point. But working with Indonesians helps us get the job done and go places that otherwise would be closed.

Part of my job is bringing people together and finding a common interest.

In Jakarta, is traffic still the major cause of emissions? 

It’s obviously a significant cause of pollution here. The government has to regulate, maybe by restricting cars and motorcycles to 20 liters of fuel or to 100 kilometers of driving every week. It can also build greener office buildings, apartments and malls, even starting with lighting and window designs. Unless Jakarta reduces traffic, provides a good mass public transportation system and improves its waste management, it will never be a green city.

Do you enjoy living in Jakarta? 

Within moments of arriving in a city, I can usually tell whether I’ll like it. When I first came to Jakarta, I felt like I was able to find my niche immediately.

In the beginning, I lived in Kemang, then I moved to Menteng, Mega Kuningan and finally an apartment in Sudirman. I think what I need is a place where I can run in the early morning with humane temperatures and not much traffic, which I can do on [Jalan] Sudirman on Sundays. Four and a half years later, here I am.

So, you’re a runner ? 

Yes, I’m a runner, and it’s a challenge to be one in Jakarta. I usually run from my apartment to Gelora Bung Karno. I’ve joined several marathon competitions in the city over the years. When you run in the morning and you’re still sleepy, you have to be really careful and watch the road, especially crossing Casablanca. It’s quiet dangerous, seriously! [Laughs]

What steps do you take in your own life to be greener? 

To reduce my own carbon footprint, I use a bicycle. The only downside is getting sweaty before meetings [laughs]. I really like the idea of Bike to Work [bicycle community], people can enjoy the outdoors.

The biggest thing that I feel guilty about is a trip I took between Europe and Indonesia because the flight emissions are so high.

Where do you go to relax in this busy city? 

I play sports to keep my mind balanced. I also listen to punk music, so sometimes I watch live bands at a bar in Menteng, and I also enjoy eating out or getting drinks at Die Stube, a German pub and restaurant in Kemang.

Do you consider yourself an environmentalist?

Not just an environmentalist, but actually also a professional forester. I started working on climate change when there were still ongoing negotiations on the Kyoto Protocol, which aimed to fight global warming and deforestation.

A climate change forester isn’t a career that many people know about, but I take it as a challenge to be on the front lines, trying to find new solutions and implementing a climate program on behalf of the German government.

Heiner von Luepke was talking to Iwan Putuhena

Original interview was published in The Jakarta Globe

My Jakarta: Heiner von Luepke, Advocate for the Environment

For more on GIZ visit

My Jakarta: Doreen Biehle, Psychotherapist

With Jakarta back to its old self after the Idul Fitri holiday, the nightmarish traffic has returned in full force. But instead of ranting and raving as usual, we looked for someone to talk us down off the ledge. But if you’re expecting Doreen Biehle to start blabbing about the stress-related complaints of Jakartans it’s not going to happen. There’s a little thing called doctor-patient confidentiality, which means Biehle, who splits her time between work in Jakarta and relaxation in Bogor, isn’t about to tell you whether it’s the traffic or the hectic pace of the city that has everybody pulling their hair out.

How did you end up in Jakarta?

I’m from the US and have been working and living in Jakarta since 1992. I came here after marrying my husband, Widjanako.

I’m a widow now, after he died in 2003. I’ve done many things professionally in Indonesia, mostly with international public health projects, as well as providing private psychotherapy for expats and Indonesians.

Have you ever dealt with traumatic events in Indonesia?

I have over 20 years of work experience in the mental health field. Early on in my career in Indonesia I was recruited as a technical assistant for the counseling and mental health components of dealing with HIV/AIDS.

I have work experience with USAID, international NGOs and UN agencies. Recently I’ve been focusing on trauma work. I manage a capacity-building project for mental health professionals in Aceh, which started after the tsunami.

Is there a big demand for psychotherapists in Jakarta?

Yes. I mostly get referrals from embassies, international agencies and schools.

How does someone know which therapist is right for them?

It’s important to know something about the therapist’s experience and license to practice. If the therapist holds a professional license, you can contact the license board and inquire about their standing.

This is important since there can be fake professionals out there or professionals who have violated their code of conduct.

Can you talk a bit about confidentiality?

The confidentially principles are the same as with your doctor. The exception is if there is information that may affect the client’s or another person’s safety or welfare.

In these cases I must encourage the client to tell a family member or their doctor, or if they do not agree, to assist them in telling someone.

What is the most common problem among people in Jakarta who seek treatment?

There are myriad problems, similarly to any other urban setting. There are many mental health issues such as depression, personality disorders, anxiety disorders, addiction, relationship problems and behavioral problems with children.

There are many requests for counseling about sexual orientation and cross-cultural relationships.

What do you think is the No. 1 cause of stress in Jakarta?

Work, or lack thereof.

Do you spend more time giving advice or simply listening to people’s problems?

The role of the therapist is to listen and assist the client to heal their problem. There may be some practical advice I can give, but unlike a doctor, the therapist does not say, ‘Take this or do this and you will feel better.’

How do you listen to people’s problems day in and day out? It would drive me crazy.

Yes, there is a real art in listening and helping. It can bother you after a while, especially when you hear very horrible stories about the trauma people have endured.

That’s why a therapist needs to have ongoing mentoring, supervision and support in this profession.

For someone who can’t afford a psychiatrist, are there any other alternatives?

There are many therapists who provide pro bono work or have some arrangement with reduced fees. Public health facilities and some NGOs have psychologists with reduced fees. In Jakarta there are also help lines staffed by volunteers.

You split your time between Jakarta and Bogor. What do you like about Jakarta?

I love many things in Jakarta. I enjoy the arts, movies, fine dining, exercising at Plaza Senayan, but mostly I enjoy my home in Bogor where I mountain bike, run in Kebun Raya [Bogor’s city park], hike and socialize with neighbors.

Do you participate in any other organization or association?

I am active in church and in organizations related to my profession. I’m a founder of Yayasan Sejiwa, which tackles the problem of bullying.

Some friends and I run a mountain biking community in Bogor. You can rent a bike and ride around with us. Visit our site at

What is it that you find in Bogor that is not in Jakarta?

I work out of a small apartment in Jakarta. I don’t get to breathe clean air or have green space. This is why I have my sanctuary in Bogor. It is therapy for me.

What do you like the most about Jakarta?

I find the city to be quite vibrant and complete with all the modern amenities. The driving and rules of the road are quite unique. Yes, I’ve driven in Jakarta for nearly 18 years now.

Where can we find you on a Sunday morning? Saturday night?

In Bogor, mountain biking; having a laugh and drink with friends, looking for romance.


Doreen was talking to Iwan Putuhena

Original interview was published in The Jakarta Globe

My Jakarta: Doreen Biehle, Psychotherapist


Picture by Iwan Putuhena

for more information on Bogor mountain biking visit