MANILA, Philippines—German culture is nearer the Philippines than perceived.
Baywatch, the world’s most watch television show with 1.1 billion viewers, has David Hasselhoff for its star and executive producer. He is part German. The man behind blockbusters Independence Day, Godzilla, The Patriot, and The Day After Tomorrow is Roland Emmerich, is also German. Then there’s the popular rock band, The Scorpions, also German, and a favorite among jeepney drivers plying the Cubao-Cogeo route. The iconic seven-time Formula One world drivers’ champion Michael Schumacher was born and raised in Germany.
German models Claudia Schiffer and Heidi Klum are the obvious antithesis to this notion, despite their vixen-like physiques, proving that every girl-next-door has the right to feel beautiful. Schiffer was also part owner of the Fashion Café chain, which had a branch in Glorietta, Makati.
Along Edsa, when laws on outdoor advertising were still sketchy, Guess billboards as big as basketball courts featured Claudia Schiffer and littered the highway, providing a daily staple for street-bound motorists and office building window cleaners alike. Heidi Klum, on the other hand, was ranked by Forbes Magazine in 2008 as the world’s second highest-earning supermodel with an income of $14 million. Klum is also the Emmy Award-nominated hostess of Project Runway and Germany’s Next Top Model.
Then there’s the Oktoberfest, the festival that traces its origin to the commemoration of the wedding of Prince Ludwig I and Princess Therese of Bavaria. Since then, the yearly festival has been synonymous to German friendship and hospitality. And as German reunification also takes place on the same month, this increases the significance of the month of October to Germans worldwide.
German sausages, or wurst in Deutschland, come in several varieties: Frankfurters, Brawurst, Currywurst, Knackwurst, and so on.
The conception of internal combustion engines, and eventually the automobile, was pioneered by Engineer Gottlieb Daimler (1834-1900). Along with business partner Wilhelm Maybach, Daimler developed the engine that would power “motorized carriages” and provide accessible mobility. In 1926, the Daimler company merged with Karl Benz, paving the way for the world-renowned Mercedes Benz marquee, and which cultivated the Filipinos’ affinity for the fine “Chedeng.”
The immortal Beetle was developed in the 1930s by Ferdinand Porsche. Deriving its name from “People’s Car,” the Bug (as some would call it in later years) came from a design principle of fitting two adults and three children and achieving speeds of up to 100 kph. It then went on to become a symbol for mobility in the 20th century that a number of Filipino families adapted.
The Autobahn is the country’s Federal Motorway, the main artery for inland transport across Germany. Most Filipinos associate the Autobahn with vehicles going at legally-permitted break-neck speeds. However, once you are there and almost all cars are cruising at 130 kph, it doesn’t really feel that fast, unless you’re going full-throttle on a subcompact sedan!
To begin with, most Filipinos might be surprised that Adidas and Puma are actually German brands. The Dassler brothers Adi and Rudi founded a shoe factory in 1924, providing quality footwear for Olympic athletes. The brothers split up in 1947 with Adi forming Adidas (shortcut for Adi Dassler), which today includes Reebok, TaylorMade Golf, and Rockport in its portfolio. Rudi, on the other hand, formed Puma, which has its own niche market for high performance footwear and apparel. Hugo Boss is another German brand known for its high-end line of couture and prêt-a-porter designer clothing.
Germany in the Philippines
Despite being continents apart, Germany and Philippine history have come to some peculiar intersections, like the Battle of Manila Bay. As recounted by President Fidel V. Ramos during the inauguration of the Mabuhay Germany! expo in 2008, German ships were closely watching during the siege, awaiting the outcome.
Even Philippine National Hero Jose Rizal himself played a role in early German-Philippine relations. In 1886, Rizal traveled to Heidelberg to study optometry under the tutelage of Dr. Otto Becker. It is also there that he wrote his nostalgic literary piece, “A Las Flores De Heidelberg (To the Flowers of Heidelberg).”
It is in Germany that Rizal met his lifelong friend, Ferdinand Blumentrit. He traveled to Leipzig where he translated Friedrich Schiller’s “William Tell” to Tagalog, upon the request of his compatriots in Spain. Rizal also traveled to Berlin where he wrote the final chapter of his novel “Noli Me Tangere.”
Today, a life-size statue of Dr. Jose Rizal stands in a fountain in a small park in Wilhelmsfeld, Heidelberg. “This is how deeply the Germans love your national hero,” said Professor Manfred Ollik, a retired colonel of the German Police Academy who lives with a Filipino wife in Dagupan City. Bosch Philippines CEO Roland Odenthal also recalls passing by the Rizal monument on his way to school during the 1970s.
In the Philippines, for more than 100 years, the German Club has provided a place of respite and interaction for Germans and Filipinos alike. In the past century, it has stood witness to the country’s unfolding history and today enjoys the regular patronage of members and guests at its current location in Legaspi Village, Makati City.
Also in the same timeframe, several German businesses have set-up shop in the Philippines and vise-versa. And while several Filipinos have made Germany their home—like Winnie Camacho, chief designer of the new Mercedes Benz E-Class at Daimler’s Stuttgart headquarters—a number of Germans have chosen the Philippines as their new residence.
Likewise, several local personalities are also known to have German heritage, led by the country’s foremost Zobel family. German pharmacist Dr. Johannes Andreas Zobel traveled from Hamburg to Manila to establish Zobel Botica in the 1830s. His grandson Jacobo would later on marry Trinidad de Ayala; thus, setting a precedent for the Zobel de Ayala clan that transformed Makati into the country’s premier business district.
Other Filipino personalities with German ethnicity include Miss Philippines Earth Sandra Seifert, Binibining Pilipinas International Melody Gersbach, actors Aga Muhlach, Diether Ocampo, Roxanne Guinoo, and Jewel Mische, and Senators Pia and Alan Peter Cayetano, among many others.
Germany is Europe’s capital for utilizing clean, renewable sources of energy. Further to this, it is the world’s first major renewable energy economy in terms on financial sustainability. In 2007, Germany sourced over 14 percent of its energy requirements from renewable sources: wind, solar, geothermal and others. One year prior to this, renewable energy investments in the country was estimated at some 9 billion euros, developing an industry that employed over 214,000 people. Germany is targeting to source 27 percent of its energy requirements from renewable sources by 2020.
As the Philippines hurdles its current economic and technological challenges in implementing the Clean Air Act, perhaps a glance at its German neighbors may bring the country on the road to sustainable development. Various German organizations are present in the country, fostering technical cooperation with local agencies and communities.
Even as both countries look forward to even stronger bilateral relations in the future, its historic connections shall always be a testament to friendship and an enduring alliance.
Excerpted from an article by the German-Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry Inc., a non-stock, non-profit organization founded in February 2008 by the German business community in the Philippines to promote and improve bilateral trade relations between the two countries.