Philippine Hon. Consul, Dr. Axel Neumahr celebrates 5th year of duty
Interview by Rebecca Urbancik Garcia, Germany
Although a certified Attorney in Commercial and Corporate Law by profession, to many Filipinos and Germans alike, Dr. Axel Neumahr is also well known for his role as the Philippine Honorary Consul for Baden-Württemberg. Dr. Neumahr completed his studies at the Universities of Tübingen and Leiden/Netherlands. He received his doctorate in 1999 from the University of Tübingen under Prof. Dr. Kerner. Before co-founding Reith Neumahr Rechtsanwälte in 2005 (until 2014, Reith Schick & Partner), he worked for a commercial law firm in Stuttgart in the areas of corporate law and mergers & acquisitions (M&A). He has been a partner at BRP Renaud und Partner mbB since 2019. Dr. Neumahr is also active in training and further education, a lecturer at the University of Hohenheim and at the Baden-Württemberg Cooperative State University. As Dr. Neumahr celebrates his 5th year in the service of the Filipino community, I am pleased to share his insight and experience on his role, as well as some of the goals and projects he envisions for the Philippine Honorary Consulate in Baden-Württemberg moving forward. How did you assume your role as Honorary Consul? What sparked your interest about the Philippines? During the course of my profession as a lawyer, I happened to meet Prof. Dr. Gerhard Zeidler, the former Honorary Consul General for Baden-Württemberg from 2002 to 2016. Sometime in his last term of duty in 2016, he asked me if I would like to take over his role when he goes into his well-deserved retirement. I was, of course, very honoured that he chose me as as his successor among his numerous business contacts. However, like all major decisions, I had given it some thought before giving my answer — not because I did not want to accept it but because I wanted to make sure I could fulfill the responsibilities that go with it. I heard that you visited the Philippines when you assumed your position as Honorary Consul. How was your visit? Yes, we went on a Country Appreciation Business Mission to the Philippines in February 2018 together with the newly-appointed Honorary Consuls in Germany and those from other European countries. We had meetings in Manila with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to familiarize ourselves both with diplomatic and trade relations as well as business directions of the country. We also went to some of the top holiday destination islands such as El Nido in Palawan, Panglao in Bohol, and Cebu. What are your impressions of the Philippines, Filipinos in general, and more specifically the Filipino community in (Stuttgart) Germany? Are there any significant traits / characteristics that you have observed as Honorary Consul? The Philippines is certainly on its own economic boom and the high consumption habits of the Filipinos are evident with all the huge shopping malls in various commercial centers. Amidst the modernization, its colonial past is integrated in the metropolis. The Churches brought about by Christianization during the Spanish time and later on its era under the Americans can be seen through the architecture of government buildings and the iconic jeepneys form part of its distinguished identity as a country. It is also interesting to know the strong influence of the Chinese in the country and that " Binondo", a city in Manila, is the world's oldest Chinatown having been established in the 1590s by the Spaniards as a settlement for the Catholic Chinese. As for my impression of the Filipino people, I have not heard of any foreign nationals who have not been amazed by the friendliness and hospitality of the Filipinos. The Tourism Department has a promotional advertisement which says "W hen you are with Filipinos, you are with Family." That is exactly how it is. The Filipinos will give the best of what they have for a guest, be it in terms of food, shelter and treatment. The same characteristic also speaks for the Filipino Community in Stuttgart. They are very cohesive and co-exist among each other. We have around 10 Filipino organizations that regularly create social, cultural and religious events for the community. The Filipinos here are also very supportive of each other. It is unlikely to find any hungry or homeless Filipinos in the streets of Germany as the spirit of " bayanihan“ or being there for each other is very much alive in the community. Other than that, the world knows that nothing compares to the Filipinos' resiliency and optimism which help them survive even the worst disaster and crisis. The Filipinos here in Baden-Württemberg are no different. Congratulations on your 5th year of duty as Honorary Consul. How has your experience been so far? What was the most significant activity and/or role you’ve had as Honorary Consul? Thank you. Yes, it has been 5 years since I got my Exequatur in March 2017, officially confirming my function as Honorary Consul.
The first few years went well. However, as for most of us, the last two years have been challenging . Nevertheless, we were able to overcome those hurdles and also managed to have a number of accomplishments. One of the most significant activities we had was when we joined the very first „Lange Nacht der Konsulate“ (Long Night of the Consulates) in Baden-Württemberg in September 2020 . It was organized by the State Ministry for Justice and for Europe which is also responsible for the tourism and cultural affairs of the federal state. With the support of the Philippine Consulate General and the Department of Tourism in Frankfurt, we participated in the event by holding a Philippine Fashion Show and presented the traditional and creative designs of Milan-based Filipino designer, Lionell Christian Lanuzo. It also allowed us to showcase the various holiday destinations in the Philippines through video presentations, a display of tourism brochures and by giving out samples of typical Filipino food.
Aside from that, the celebration of the Philippine Independence Day, together with the Philippine Embassy in Berlin (PE Berlin) and the Philippine Consulate General (PCG) in Frankfurt, is always a highlight and an important milestone for us because it gives us the opportunity to do our primary role in promoting cultural, culinary, tourism and economic diplomacies in just one event. Through networking with the business community, we are also able to tap potential businesses for the Philippines and for the Honorary Consulate. In 2018 , we had the opportunity to promote Investment in the Philippines as we celebrated Philippine Independence Day with leading German brands such as Stihl and Porsche. Dr. Nikolas Stihl , Chairman of the Advisory and Supervisory Board of the Stihl Group best known for their motorized chainsaw, was one of our Guest Speakers during the event. In 2016, this German manufacturing giant invested Php2.5 billion (more than US$ 50 million ) in a 60,000 square-meter production facility in Sto. Tomas, Batangas located south of Manila through its Hong Kong-based subsidiary Zama Corporation. Dr. Stefan Lutz and Mr. Torsten Klavs who were responsible for After Sales Market and Qualification and Support for Porsche AG also shared their testimonies in choosing the Philippines as an important partner in implementing their business strategies. Since 2008, Porsche AG, Porsche Philippine importer/dealer PGA Cars Incorporated and the Don Bosco Technical Institute in Manila, have opened their doors for underprivileged but deserving Filipino youth. Every year, around 30 Don Bosco scholars are sent to the Porsche Training and Recruitment Center Asia (PTRCA) in Manila which is the first of such facility outside Baden-Württemberg, the home of Porsche in Germany. Some of the outstanding graduates from among these scholars have also been trained here in Germany and we have had the opportunity of meeting three of them in November 2019 during their training at Porsche in Zuffenhausen in Baden-Württemberg. In 2019, the Philippine Honorary Consulate in Stuttgart with the support of the Filipino Community also hosted the world-renowned Imusicapella Choir from Cavite who were then doing their European Tour and joining various International Choir Competitions in Germany, France, and Italy. To what extent has the pandemic affected your role / activities? Before I answer that, please allow me to say that throughout the Pandemic, the PHC Stuttgart never stopped rendering service and, except for our usual seasonal breaks, we never really closed our office. At the onset of the lockdown in March 2020 until about a year later, we were busy helping out PE Berlin and PCG Frankfurt both in the „Rescue Mission“ initiated by the German government and the „Repatriation Mission“ on the Philippine government's side.
Although we were not issuing visas to foreign nationals and applications for consular services became minimal, we were, however, pre-occupied with providing Assistance to Nationals (ATN), both Germans and Filipinos, who were separated from their loved ones, in either in the Philippines or in Germany, and those caught in a difficult situation due to work and/or holiday-related Schengen Visa issues. Likewise, the policies on reduced social contact meant less opportunity for me as an Honorary Consul to do my role in promoting the Philippines in some of the major events that we used to participate in. For example, every year in January, the Philippines through the Department of Tourism in Frankfurt in cooperation with the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) is always part of the world's biggest Holiday and Caravaning Fair called CMT Urlaubsmesse which takes place in Stuttgart. We have been supporting this event by attending to the Philippine booth and joining designated events for members of the Consular Corps. This week-long event draws hundreds of exhibitors and thousands of visitors yearly not only from Germany but from neighboring European countries as well. Unfortunately, such an event had to be cancelled or reduced to a virtual variety due to the Pandemic these last 2 years. However, towards Autumn of last year, we were still able to do some physical events such as a Welcome Reception for the new batch of Triple Win Nurses. The Triple Win Program is an employment agreement between the German Society for International Cooperation and the Central Placement Services of the German Federal Employment Agency for the sustainable recruitment of nursing staff from abroad, such as the Philippines. We also had some other collaborative activities with the Philippine Consulate General in Frankfurt such as the two Consular Mobile Outreaches held in the cities of Leonberg and Ulm alongside an Art Exhibit and Food Festival.
In addition, we had pioneering virtual activities done through social media where we profile outstanding members of the Filipino Community in Baden-Württemberg called „Tao at Serbisyo: Ang Galing ng Pilipino“ in cooperation with the Filipino Nurses' Community in Germany (FNC-Germany) and The Filipino Channel or TFC in Europe.
Could you share any goals you envision for the Honorary Consulate this year - or in the near future? Are there any projects / events Filipinos in Stuttgart can look forward to? Our immediate goal for this year is to refresh and expand our relationship with the German business sector by doing a physical celebration of the 124th Philippine Independence Day and hopefully gain back the interest of potential investors, enticing them to explore doing business in the Philippines, With the change in administration and tourism slowly getting back into full swing for international travelers, we believe it is time to work on recovering the lost opportunities brought about by the pandemic.
While our relationship with the Filipino Community is very much stable, our goal is to keep the Filipino Community intact and functional from one generation to the next . The Filipino Community is the bloodline of any diplomatic mission, such as an Honorary Consulate, in a foreign country. It is therefore important that the nationals of the country which we represent are unified while we work on expanding our network with the foreign business community.
We are also in partnership with the University DHBW, the Baden-Wuerttemberg Cooperative State University Stuttgart or Duale Hochschule Baden-Wuerttemberg Stuttgart, DHBW. It is one of the largest universities in the Stuttgart and Upper Neckar regions. The most important feature of this University is the integration of theory and practical experience. Students regularly switch between theoretical phases at the university and practical phases at the work placement. That means, students studying at this university are in a bit of a ‘hybrid’ model — they spend half of their time at the university, and the other half working at companies such as Bosch, Mercedes-Benz, or Porsche.
Headed by Professor Uwe Swoboda, the Media, Sales and Communication Scientific Director of the Center for Media Management, these students also have a study where they visit countries for a film project.. Their last project was in Ethiopia, for example.
I spoke with Professor Swoboda and encouraged him to film their next project in the Philippines. He and some of his students are probably still traveling around the Philippines as of this writing. Prior to their travel, the Honorary Consulate provided DHBW the necessary contacts, addresses, destination to visit in the Philippines, both in Manila and in the provinces. Once the movie project is complete, the film will be screened in one of the theatres within a Cinema Complex at Stuttgart's City Centre with 300-400 invitees. Are there any special plans for the month of June, particularly the Philippine Independence Day? Yes, we have a couple of events in celebration of the Philippine Independence Day.
We will be doing a Filipino Food Festival together with the Filipino and German Community at the Sta. Maria Church in Stuttgart. This Church has served as a Filipino stronghold and a magnet holding the Filipinos together in prayer during the 2-year pandemic.
Just like pre-pandemic, we are again hosting a reception and expecting about 100 guests composed of dignitaries from the business sector and colleagues from the Consular Corps within Baden-Württemberg.
For this year’s Independence Day Celebration, we are inviting Mr. Hartmut Jenner, CEO of Kärcher, a German company specializing in cleaning technology. Mr. Jenner will be talking about Cultural Sponsoring.
Kärcher put up a Service Center in Alabang, Muntinlupa in 2016. Since then, they have restored three important landmarks in the Philippines back to its splendor. These landmarks were the Rizal Monument in 2017, the Edsa Monument in 2018 and the San Agustin Church in 2019.
Throughout the evening, half Filipino singer-songwriter Simon Paterno will be entertaining us with his singing prowess and talent in playing the piano. His real name is Jens Simon Petersen but, as he told us, he uses the name Simon Paterno as his artist name in honor of his late Filipina mother from whom he acquired his singing talent. In cooperation with the Philippine Department of Tourism, we will also be promoting places to visit in the Philippines through a display of destination brochures and as well as tourism videos throughout the evening.
We hope to attract Filipinos and Germans alike to reminisce and learn the vast opportunities the Philippines has to offer… What message do you wish to impart to Filipinos in the area of Germany? It is our wish that the solidarity and „Bayanihan“ of the Filipinos will remain strong as it is. We also encourage the young generation to create their own groups. We already have a strong community of nurses and religious groups. We could still establish a community of engineers, doctors, performing artists, gourmet chefs, writers and so many other groups that could help create a stronger Filipino Community in Baden-Württemberg. As Dr. Jose Rizal once said, „the youth is the hope of our future“ and we believe they are.
Thank you very much, Vielen dank, Dr. Neumahr for your time and congratulations once again on your 5th year of duty as Honorary Consul! Mabuhay! *with inputs from Ms. Rhodaliza Steegmaier, Philippine Honorary Consulate