Engaged in Bridge-Building As Malayali Face of Germany

Thiruvananthapuram: Every year, between 75,000 to one lakh German tourists visit Kerala. Spices exports to the European Union (EU) from Kerala touch around Rs. 15,000 crore per year of which 40 per cent goes to Germany. Around Rs. 5000-crore worth marine products are shipped to the EU annually from Kochi port of which considerable amount goes to Germany. And, 25,000 to 30,000 Malayali families are living in Germany. These figures show the significance of the recently-constituted Honorary Consulate of Germany in Thiruvananthapuram, the first European Consulate in Kerala.

In an exclusive interview with Destination Kerala, Dr. Syed Ibrahim, Honorary Consul of the Federal Republic of Germany and Director, Goethe-Zentrum, Thiruvananthapuram explains the different ways in which diplomatic power can help boost bilateral relationship between Kerala and Germany by further strengthening collaborations in economic, political, cultural and academic fields.

Being the Director of Goethe-Zentrum since its inception in 2008, Dr. Syed has always been the first line of contact for information and assistance whenever there was a consular case involving Germans in Kerala. His tryst with Germany began in his teens when his father brought home a wall clock, which was made in West Germany. The young Syed was entrusted with the duty of winding the clock every week. In course of time, the inscription ‘Made in West Germany’ on the dial got etched in his mind igniting a passion for things German. After completing his Masters in German from University of Kerala, he did his doctoral thesis on Nobel literateur Elias Canetti under the title: ‘Portrayal of the Crowds in the Works of Elias Canetti’. An IT entrepreneur, Dr. Syed set up Palnar Transmedia Pvt. Ltd. at Technopark in Thiruvananthapuram in the late 1990s.

What are the services your office offers?

The President of Germany has bestowed a huge title on me. I will continue to deliver with passion. First and foremost, my job is to provide assistance to Germans in Kerala. Perhaps, you might have noticed a German tourist at the reception when you walked in. Somebody has stolen his passport and money. Earlier, Germans who were facing similar situations in Kerala had to travel to the Consulate in Bengaluru seeking help. That too, without proper identity proofs or any money. Now they can approach this office. Once their personal details are ascertained, we assist them in getting substitute travel documents from the Consulate. Now, we have entrusted VFS Global (Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi) to receive the applications, verify the same for correctness and completeness, collect fees and send all applications to Consulate office in Bengaluru.

My jurisdiction as the German Consul is restricted to the State of Kerala. If someone comes from Nagercoil, since this office is the closest to him, we may address the issue. We will look at them on a case-by-case basis. For any prospective investor from Germany coming to Kerala, the presence of German consulate will certainly add more confidence. They will understand that getting the visa will be easy. Such intangible elements can contribute very significantly to boost business relations between both regions.

Other than routine Consular duties, what will be your key priorities in firming up the relationship between Kerala and Germany?

Soon after assuming office, I have started a journey from North Kerala to the South to interact with the business community. The purpose is to learn more about traders based in Kerala who are catering to the German market; are they happy with the kind of services that they are getting from the Consulate and are they facing any difficulty in terms of payments, market regulations, quality criteria or getting visa? How informed are these traders about various fairs being held in Germany every year? By knowing these things, we want to work on strategies to help traders explore and make best use of the opportunities available for them.

How will the Consulate help benefit tourism sector of both regions?

Thanks to the State Government’s promotional activities, Kerala Tourism is a known brand in Germany. However, I feel there is a need for Kerala to improve and project itself as an eco-friendly tourism destination. We cannot always live in the glory of our past. We have to improve our quality in terms of infrastructure, services and price worthiness. The question in every tourist’s mind would be whether the money he spends here in Kerala is worth or not? People travel to get out of all their stress back home and refresh their mind and soul. We should consider this aspect in our mind and give them better services.

We are working towards bringing in a high-level delegation comprising leaders of tourism industry in Germany to Kerala every two years. If things pan out as per plan, we will be facilitating such a delegation to Kerala next year. I am also looking forward to have a detailed interaction with stakeholders in the State’s tourism sector. We can also facilitate the visit of representatives from Kerala Tourism to Germany also.

How will the Consulate help students who aspire for higher education or employment in Germany?

Germany is one of the few countries which offer education free of cost to foreigners. You need not have to pay any tuition fee from kindergarten to post-doctoral studies. After completing their studies successfully, all students will get a visa valid for 18 months to help them in job hunting. Once you land a job, you can settle there. For students, we do some free consultancy, advising them to search for Universities offering BTech, PG or doctoral studies. We also organise seminars to publicise the academic opportunities in Germany. Most of the universities are using English as medium of teaching. But your social life certainly requires German language skills.

Recently, we celebrated the eighth anniversary of Goethe-Zentrum. This year we had more than 1500 students learning German. We also have a branch in Kochi. 40 per cent of the students here would be seeking higher studies in Germany while 20 to 25 per cent among them are on the lookout for nursing jobs. The Church here has a very strong relationship with Germany. A considerable number of our students who learn German are sisters, nuns and priests who have been assigned various duties in Germany. For spouses who are joining the family in Germany, basic language degree is a must. Professional opportunities in Germany have increased manifold. So, we are looking at the possibilities of reinventing the wheel that started in 1960s.

What will happen to Palnar Transmedia, your IT company, now?

Started in a small way, Palnar now employees 50 people and has a very strong lineup of clients. I was expecting this and I have groomed a team which is honest, passionate and competent to lead the company. I
will step down as MD but will continue as shareholder of the company. We will have a CEO. Every life has an objective and I see that here in this office.