Saturday, August 24, 2013

Romancing the Saxon soul of Germany - a traveller's chronicle


By Madhusree Chatterjee
(Dresden)Saxony/New Delhi     

Millions of fleet-footed Indians with a fetish for wanderlust have been flocking to Germany for leisure and business holidays for more than three decades now.  But very few have tried to explore the soul of Germany — Saxony, the cradle of the historic Saxon empire and civilization. Germany is desperate to push Saxony to Indian travellers traditionally nurtured on lebensartjoy de vivre - of Munich, the chic exotica and speed of Stuttgart, the art of Frankfurt, the romance of Heidelberg, the wall of Berlin, the printed history of Gutenberg in idyllic Mainz.
“Saxony is built on history and culture – 700 years of architecture, wine, music, art hand-crafted watches. We want to bring it alive to India,” says Wolfgang Gartner of Saxony Tourism.

Gartner says the strength of modern-day Saxony with its capital city of Dresden sprawled in Florentine grandeur on the banks of Elbe — lies in its regeneration. The free state has risen like a phoenix from the morass and devastation of World War II.

The small impoverished town of Glashutte in the Sachsische Schweiz- Osterzgebirge region of the Ore Mountains (near Dresden) is Germany’s exclusive time-keeper. In the middle of the 19th century, a watchmaker approached the local Saxon government for support to build a watch factory. It brought an economic lifeline to the quaint picturesque town – making way for jobs to the poor residents. Over the decades, the pioneers at “A. Lange & Sohne (1845)” branched out on their own and created their own companies- nearly 10 of them which make luxury mechanical watches.

The industry, scarred by the war, was nationalized post-war under a Communist regime and began to recoup¸ very slowly. After the end of Communist regime – and the crumbling of the Wall – the state owned companies were privatized.  In 1997, A. Lange & Sohne, the flagship watchmaker, was elected as the most important German luxury brand. It is now a component of the Swiss luxury group Richemont.

Lange & Sohne is the foundation of the luxury backbone of Glashutte together with companies like Bruno  Sohnle Uhrenatelier Glashutte, Glashutte Original,  Nautische Instrumente Muhle, NOMOS /Wempe Chronometerwerke and Union Glashutte, which lend the town a maverick position in German’s haute shopping delights. It makes 50 per cent of the country mechanical watches in a digital age.

An old watchmakers’ school, where the time-craftsmen honed their skills, has now been converted to the German Watch Museum chronicling the history of German watch making and the intricacies of time mechanics.  “The town has recovered. It is an amazing post-Communist story,” Gartner told this writer/correspondent.

The other resurrection narrative is that of the wine from the Lippe estate. The Lippe family, one of the oldest noble families in Germany owned one of the largest private estates in Saxony with extensive vineyards. In 1945, the family was dispossessed of its estates without compensation and exiled to the west. The family castle in Proschwitz was used as a medical facility. After reunification, the scion, Georg Prinz zur Lippe returned to Saxony and bought back the vineyards and then the estate that looms on a hill. The Saxon Wine Museum is archive of the 850-year-old history brewing in Saxony— and the breathtaking Saxon Wine trail spans Pirna – south of Dresden – to Diesbar-Seusslitz, north of Miessen in the region. Old world wineries, estates, family homes and wine cafes dot the green undulating countryside.  

Personally, Saxony represents a slice of history that binds across great cultures of the Occident and the Orient —  like Emperor Augustus’ fascination with the last Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, who was treated as a local pop star in Saxony and a missionary, Bartholomew Ziegenbalg, a Lutheran clergyman from Pulsnitz (in Saxony), who was the first (Protestant) Pietist missionary to arrive at the Danish colony of Tranquebar in South India in  1706.  Pulsnitz, incidentally, is famous as the German “gingerbread” town as well.  The discerning local populace recalls the bridges with India, which sent the Vedas and Sanskrit through Max Muller to Germany.   

At the historic Green Vault Museum in Dresden, a green and diamond jeweled replica of the court of Aurangzeb in Delhi stands as a riveting testimony to cross-cultural camaraderie. The miniature court commissioned by Augustus the Strong even shows Mughal emperor receiving gifts on his throne. The craftsmanship is exquisite - almost life-like in execution and design.

“There is lot going between India and Germany in the tourism sector. Saxony and the spa town of Baden-Baden which is becoming an arts stop like Frankfurt are two of the new destinations we are trying to open to Indian cultural and leisure tourists. The German cultural showcased of 2011-2012 (it was the 60th anniversary of the Indo-German diplomatic ties and was declared as the year of Infinite Opportunities),” says Romit Theophilus of the German National Tourist Office.    

Germany is positioning itself as a “leisure and incentive destination for young, corporate and the family travelers. The India Pool of the German National Tourist Office (created in 2008) with 18 partners has declared 2013 as the year of “youth travel”.  Keeping in view of the travel theme for Indians to Germany, national tourist office has created “new bed and breakfast properties” across the country in ranges between 15 to 40 Euros for shared accommodation and four star stays for 200-220 Euros.

In India, the profile of outbound travelers to Europe – especially to destinations like Germany, France and Italy is changing. The high end leisure and business visitors have given away to cost-conscious youngsters and FIT category travelers, who prefer offbeat and budget itineraries.

“College and university students, young professionals and single working women – even from tier II and III cities- are travelling to Germany,” Theophilus pointed out. They look for economy deals. Many of them opt for homestays and farmstays in the scenic countryside in the outskirts of the bigger cities that offer traditional comforts of rural German homes and village beer like at ruddy prices.

The incentive groups – large corporate contingents in MICE segment – have been receiving “club class” customized treatment with special lunches and dinners on the German Alps – the country’s pride — which are being corporatized to lure business travelers. Sometime, the mountains and the Alpine trains are lit with corporate logos to give the visitors a sense of involvement.

The Alps is being “increasingly branded”, a German travel agent conducting trips to Zugspitze Peak (in Alps region) laughed. “Everyone thinks Alps belongs to Switzerland, they forget Alps belongs to Germany as well”.

“An incentive (corporate) team from HDFC adopted a town in Germany while on holiday some time ago. The head of the visiting group became the mayor of the town (name withheld on request) for a day and the people of the town came out to welcome the group,” Theophilus said.
The country is making an attempt to make deeper inroads into Indian heartland to reach out to the suburban traveler with large disposable incomes. “They are the future travelers to Germany,” the German tourism representative predicted.      

Official tally cites that Germany logged 560,000 of overnight visitors from India last year. It has been growing at 20 per cent every year.              

Sample this
Plan a trip to Germany- Berlin, Munich, Mainz, Saxony, Rurh, Frankfurt and Baden-Baden. You see a holistic picture of the treasures of Germany. And don’t forget to avail of the shopping (VAT) concessions while in Germany. It works out cheaper.             


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