Interview: H.E. Walter Stechel, Consul General of the Federal Republic of Germany – April 2010
Mr. Stechel is in his fourth and final year as Consul General of the Federal Republic of Germany in Mumbai. He shares with us the events and attractions which put Germany at 2nd place on the list of hottest destinations to visit in 2010 as well as discussing the growth in trade, tourism, investments and education exchanges between India and Germany.
This is your last year as Consul General in India. Before you bid auf Wiedersehen, what are the memories and experiences that you will take back from this tenure?
There are two aspects to this; the first being that I had the chance to experience a wonderful and diverse country. I am still trying to visit the places in India that I have not seen as yet. For example, recently I happened to visit Kolkata and Varanasi, soon I will travel to Udaipur and Hampi. I am trying to experience as much of India’s diversity as possible.
Secondly, for me as an economist, it is fascinating to see a country developing at such a rapid pace and establishing itself as an economic power in the world. I feel fortunate to personally experience such a major change in the world economic order. Right now, India is such a vibrant country, full of optimism and youth, always on the move. This is the impression I am taking with me when I leave India.
During your tenure as Consul General in India, which roles of yours have you found most interesting?
The role of a Consul General is not limited to trade or the issuing of visas. I feel that culture and education are becoming more and more important. Learning the language, for example, is one gateway to understanding another country’s culture. I am very fortunate to have been a part of initiatives that have brought people closer to Germany, generated interest and helped people further understand our country.
Science and technology is another key area for cooperation. When Chancellor Angela Merkel visited India in 2007, her focus was the exchange of science and technology between India and Germany. She launched the famous Science Express that was seen by about 2 million people across India. When President Horst Köhler visited India recently, he inaugurated the Indo-German Max Planck Centre for Computer Science, together with the Indian Science and Technology Minister, Prithiviraj Chavan.
Many leaders from India, including the Prime Minister, have also visited Germany. This exchange takes place frequently and shows how India and Germany have become strategic partners. For Germany India is a valued and reliable friend of long standing. On the other hand we feel that Germany is one of India’s preferred partners in areas ranging from business to science and technology. We have achieved a lot but there is still great potential for future projects and cooperation.
Which are the various trade, education and tourism bodies that have forged successful alliances with partners in India?
The Consulate is not alone in promoting Indo-German relations. We have several institutions which cover different areas and all work together towards exchange between India and Germany, particularly in view of the forthcoming Germany year in India in 2011/12. This will provide a broad spectrum of activities in cultural, economic, scientific and political areas and throughout the year will highlight the strong relationship between our countries.
The Indo-German Chamber of Industry and Commerce is a pillar for economic relations between the two nations. With more than 6500 members, the Chamber is the largest of our bilateral Chambers worldwide. This network is supported by the German government and deals primarily with trade and investment issues. The Indo-German Chamber provides excellent service to Indian and German companies who are seeking to explore the other market.
Max Mueller Bhavan is the centre for cultural relations. For over 50 years, Max Mueller Bhavan has established itself not only as the gateway to cultural and intellectual Germany but also as a forum for Indians and Germans to discuss current issues, be it in the area of climate change or urban development.
The German Academic Exchange Service – DAAD – provides scholarships in support of Indian students interested in studying in Germany. In addition, they maintain a strong network of scholars through which they channel cooperation and partnerships between India and Germany. India is developing as an interesting academic destination and DAAD also facilitates many German students who are interested in studying in India.
How has trade and investment exchange between India and Germany been during 2008-09 and what are the key growth areas you foresee in 2010 and beyond?
During 2009 trade between India and Germany has consolidated at a high level. The trade volume between our two countries reached more than 13 billion Euro – let us recall, that in 2003 it was still at around 5 billion Euro! India has become a major market for German companies. Considering the large share of investment goods in German exports to India, one can appreciate the role of Germany in modernizing India’s economy and making it fit to compete in the global economy.
German companies are recognizing the importance of India as a market and as a strategic partner. They are therefore investing heavily in India and I do not foresee any break or dip in this trend regardless of the overall economic situation. When we look at incoming investments to India, we see that Volkswagen opened a manufacturing plant in Pune last year and production has been scaled up over recent months. That is Germany’s flagship investment in India at over EUR 580 million. Coincidentally, this was achieved during the recent economic downturn. It shows how Volkswagen regards the importance of the Indian market over the long term. Mercedes has also announced a major investment in India of the same magnitude.
Are Indian companies looking for partnerships or investing in projects in Germany?
This is a very important point and a major development during my stay here in India.. Indian companies are becoming more and more globalized. They recognize that they have to establish a presence in overseas markets. It is natural for them to look at Europe, not only the United Kingdom but continental Europe as well. When you look at continental Europe, you have to look at Germany, being in the heart of Europe and being connected by excellent infrastructure to other parts of Europe. There are many Indian companies who have invested in Germany and many more that are exploring this possibility. I am pleased that during my tenure in India, there have been many Indian companies that have established their presence in Germany either by partnering with or taking over small and middle-sized companies that are well established in their markets. This helps Indian companies gain access to technology and customers in Europe and is a very sensible and viable way to approach the European market.
How has Germany been able to weather the recent economic downturn? What were the challenges faced during this period?
On one hand, Germany has been affected much more than other countries because we are very dependent on exports. Therefore any difficulties occurring in export markets such as the United States or parts of Europe, affect us greatly.
On the other hand, we have weathered the storm more effectively than other countries for two reasons. The first reason is that we are not highly dependent on the financial sector or the service industry in general, which were the sectors most affected. Germany has a very strong manufacturing industry and this strong base helped us see through the economic decline. The second reason is that we have minimized the effect of the crisis on the employment level through a system of financial support and incentives that helps companies maintain their trained and reliable staff, and therefore allows them to be in a good and ready position when the economy picks up again.
We have seen signs of a forthcoming upswing in the global economy and we aim to position ourselves well for this trend. India continues to be a very important market and economic partner for us and we are quite optimistic that together we will grow out of the economic trough of 2008.
Global warming is a serious issue. How has Germany addressed the situation successfully and how can an emerging nation like India learn from Germany in balancing economic growth and environmental sustainability?
Global warming is a threat to us all. We all have to face the consequences of global warming. In fact, the carbon footprint of a German is still much larger than the carbon footprint of an Indian and we recognize this difference. On the other hand, Germany has been preparing for the challenges headed our way with regards to climate change. As a mature economy, it is using its technical and financial resources to reduce its emissions. Germany is constantly in the process of fine-tuning its energy production, its industries, its transport and its housing to the needs of carbon reduction. This comprises issues of energy efficiency and alternative sources of energy where Germany is very strong. I think the German industry is providing many excellent solutions and exemplary models for energy reduction and carbon reduction. There is tremendous potential for cooperation between India and Germany in this area.
Let me mention an example for the reduction of carbon emissions in the area of tourism. As you know, bicycling is very popular in Germany. There are many bicycle tracks even in the large cities such as Munich. This reduces overall carbon output and also encourages good health and wellness. But it is also a convenient and eco-friendly way to travel during your vacations. There are many popular long distance bicycle trails such as those along the Ruhr Valley, the Elbe and the Rhine. There are no steep inclines or hassles with traffic. I can only encourage Indians to explore this possibility and try to establish similar bicycle routes in India.
Regarding tourism, tell us about the many centenaries being celebrated in Germany in 2010.
A country with the long and diverse history of Germany is looking forward to major celebrations each and every year. However 2010 certainly offers a particularly rich bouquet of events including a good mix of culture and history.
One of the most important events taking place this September in Munich will be – not the 200th Oktoberfest because there were several years when it was not celebrated – but 200 years since the beginning of this tradition in 1810. It will be a celebration of people, food, beer, music and Bavarian culture.
Another major event taking place this year is the Oberammergau Passion Play festival which takes place every 10 years. This festival dates back to a commitment of the local population during a severe bout of plague in 1633, during the Thirty Years War and draws about 500000 visitors every time it is staged. It is culturally and spiritually one of the most significant events to be seen in Germany.
There are also many events surrounding Essen and the Ruhr Valley which has been chosen as a European Capital of Culture for 2010. There are wonderful art exhibitions taking place such as in Essen’s architecturally brilliant Museum Folkwang which is currently showcasing masterworks of the early 20th Century. The Ruhr Valley also offers stunning industrial and natural landscapes. Coming back to Eco-tourism: You can ride a bicycle along the Ruhr Valley which would be one of the best ways to experience the museums, industrial monuments and natural beauty of the area.
From event centenaries to memorial days for famous Germans, much is happening in Germany in 2010 and we invite everyone to be a part of it.
What are the memories and impressions that you expect people to take back with them after visiting Germany, especially as a tourist?
I hope that visitors will bring back impressions of a country that is welcoming towards its guests; a country that is open to people from all over the world; a country that is diverse in its own right and offering a vast range of cultural, natural, technical and infrastructural wonders.
What are your predictions for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa?
Germany is certainly a team to beat in the World Cup. There are many strong contenders such as Italy and Brazil so we can definitely look forward to an exciting and suspenseful tournament. I am going to keep my fingers crossed for Germany, just as I am keeping my fingers crossed for the women’s team in the FIFA Women’s World Cup being held in Germany in 2011.
Lastly, your message to the readers:
Germany has something for everyone; from the culturally inclined to the adventurous to the people who just require a break in their hectic schedules. There are not enough words to be spoken or printed on paper to describe the experience of visiting Germany. We invite you to experience it for yourself.