Thais flock to German fair
Bad Homburg, home to two Siamese salas, marks 150 years of Thai-German friendshipJintana Krueser and her friends attend a Thai festival every summer in the German city of Bad Homburg. For more than a decade, she says, it's offered them not just cultural shows and authentic food and other items from the homeland but "a great opportunity to meet up with friends who live far away".
"It's pretty much our annual meeting!" the 38-year-old mother of two laughs.
Jintana and 30,000 fellow Thais and Germans flock to the festival every year, staking out picnic spots under the big trees in the vast Kurpark.
This year's two-day festival was particularly special, with unprecedented activities marking the 150th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Thailand and Germany.
"Thailand and Germany's relationship can be traced back to the days of Siam and Prussia," says Chirdchu Raktabutr of the Thai Embassy, who presided at the festival's opening on August 4.
"The close and friendly relationship is reflected at all levels, from the royal family and political leaders to private individuals" and includes many exchanges in technology, security and education. Germany is Thailand's largest trading partner in the European Union.
The 150th anniversary celebrations which came in various forms throughout the year are aimed to raise awareness to both Thai and German public as well as uplifting the image of Thailand to be more than merely a holiday destination among the Germans, said Chirdchu. "We would love to show them our greater potentials that they might have not yet been aware," he said, adding that those include great medical care services and strong interest in German's dual education system.
Chittipat Tongprasroeth, deputy General-Consul in Frankfurt, said there were not only Thai government offices, but also the private sector that joined hands to make this event happened. "More importantly, the event also marked a new beginning as it was the first time the Thai communities throughout Germany have fully participated in organising the event."
Chittipat said the events prior to this year's were primarily formulated by officials with minute input from people. Currently there are nearly 100,000 Thais residing in Germany, most of them women, he added. "Thai communities here are full of potential and they have shared their visions on how to represent Thailand to Germans," he said.
These included a showcase and demonstration of textile weaving, musical instruments and all kinds of handicrafts. There was also an art corner where children could enjoy painting, colouring as well as having facial paints.
On the stage, most of the activities against the backdrop of glittering sala were also performed by Thais residing in Germany, including traditional dancing, Thai boxing and a Thai silk fashion show. The Phi Ta Khon show was, however, directly flown in from Loei province.
Elsewhere the department of international trade and promotion in Frankfurt held a cooking competition as a way to promote Thai cuisine and products, both fresh and non-fresh. The three finalists were provided with all kinds of ingredients and to conjure a Thai dish. The winner was Bianca Lorenz, a Wiesbaden native, with her red curry. Lorenz said she has cooked Thai for about a year and found Thai food to be very healthy. "It is lean, full of vegetable and very delicious," she said. Her prize was a free roundtrip ticket from Frankfurt to Bangkok and Phuket from Thai Airways and Bangkok Airways.
Bad Homburg Mayor Michael Korwisi said he was very happy to have such an event in his town, which is the largest of its kinds in Germany. "We had international festival too. But for a one-nation festival, there is nothing close to this," he said.
A Bad Homburger himself, he had the Thai sala very close to his heart. "We learn about it in school and I have seen it since young when teachers took us kids to walk in the park. But the Germans called it the Thai temple, whereas it is not temple, but a sala," he beamed, knowing the difference. "The Thai sala is the symbol of strong relationship between Thailand and Bad Homburg. It is very exotic for us here, and we are proud to have it."
Jintana, however, did not know it was the 150th anniversary of relations between Thailand and Germany. Nonetheless, she said she was happy to know and learn that it has been good thus far. "I wish it well. At least I am doing it on my part," said Jintana with a laugh as she and husband packed up their picnics while their two boys ran around on the green field.
The Thai touch
The first European city to have two Thai salas, Bad Homburg is famous for its mineral-water springs since the last century.
The springs in Kurpark are renowned for effective treatment of several disorders, including heart and circulatory diseases, and prompted several royal guests to visit, including Russian Tsar Nicholas II, Prince of Wales (King Edward VII), Empress Elizabeth of Austria, Queen Sophie of Greece, and King Chulalongkorn of Siam.
King Rama V visited the city of spas in August and September 1907 to regain his health at the famous mineral-water baths. Feeling honoured and grateful for His Majesty's visit, the city found a spring and named it after the King, who presided at its opening.
In return, the king said he would present the city with a Thai pavilion. The king's intention was to have the sala situated at the spring named after him, but it was moved to a more accessible and prominent part of the park. As the centennial celebration came close in 2007, the Thai authorities and the city of Bad Homburg agreed to materialise His Majesty's dream.
The city of "Champagne Air and Tradition" now has two salas - the only place in Europe to hold the record, certainly an amazing title for a small city of 56,000 residents north of Frankfurt.