Sunday, December 19, 2010

Frankfurt On My Mind

In the Arabella Hotel lobby, lounging with members of the Malaysian press.
Nice sunny day by the River Rhine...

A 900 year-old monastery that has fallen into disuse, in the grounds of Petersburg Hotel. Hotel staff said sometimes one could see shadows of long-dead priests lurking around here...!

A stunning view of the River Rhine and its surrounds from my hotel window up on the hill.

Petersburg Hotel. To reach here was quite a climb, by car, that is. On foot it would probably tire you halfway. Hotel legend wrote of a former president of a foreign country who, whilst staying at the hotel, went for a spin in a renowned German marque, and subsequently crashed the car at the foot of this steep hill whilst under the influence of alcohol. Thankfully for all, he wasn't in the least injured, just shaken (as were his secret service men...!)

Frankfurt Children's Museum, unofficially called the "Toy Museum". Our German hosts entertained the foreign journalists to lunch on the grounds of this museum (see the tents on the left).
Opel started business by making, among others, sewing machines...

One of the earliest Opel models... this one rolled out in 1899.

Also another early product of Opel, the tandem cycle (and penny-farthings too).

Yours truly trying out an electric bicycle on the grounds of the Toy Museum. I really fell in love with that bicycle; rode it in a nearby park with a song in my heart. Truly. One would have to fork out some RM3,500 to buy it (in Germany) at the time, and have it shipped back to Malaysia, at extra cost. I was seriously contemplating the option, before reality sunk in, that in Malaysia I would would not have been be able to ride a bicycle (electric or otherwise) in comfort due to the heat and dust and inconsiderate motorists...

New friends.. the press corp from Indonesia..

Frankfurt On My Mind

More than a quarter million visitors (321,958 to be exact) over a period of 10 days. That translates into some 32,100 visitors daily. Not bad. Not bad at all.

An impressive event with participation by big names from all over the world, and with a record attendance too, earning it another mention in the Malaysian Guinness Book of Records.

I'm talking about the recently-concluded Kuala Lumpur International Motor Show (KLIMS) 2010, held at the Putra World Trade Centre from December 3-12.

As it were, this triennial event was a year late; it was supposed to have been held last year, after 2000, 2003 and 2006, but unforeseen circumstances had pushed it into 2010.

No, I wasn’t there in person. All the wild horses in the world could not drag me to join the madding crowd thronging PWTC just to ogle at those sleek, gleaming marques.

I have had my share of excitement in the automotive industry. In my case, the baton had been passed on to younger professionals years ago, to people with a lot more enthusiasm at the mere mention of 'drag-coefficient' and 'double overhead cam' than I ever did.

For five years from 1992 I was knee-deep in auto jargon, consulting for an automotive company. As I was expected to keep abreast of new products, innovations and technologies in the industry, I had no choice but to learn about cars.

That was the time when I was handling the public relations needs of General Motors (Asia-Pacific Office). The Opel brand, to be specific. The year was 1992 and Opel had just returned to Malaysia after a 12-year hiatus.

Those were the heady days when Opel introduced various models in quick succession - the sedan Vectra, the sporty, compact Astra, the four-wheeled drive Frontera, the family sedan Omega, the coupe Calibra, the multi-purpose vehicle Zafira - and the locals were lapping it up like never before.

Frontera ranked as the first CBU (completely built-up i.e. fully imported) four-wheeled drive marketed below RM100,000 in Malaysia. It was a runaway success, with a nine-month waiting list.

Although the Opel euphoria didn't last very long - numerous AP-related issues limited the number of units that could be imported at any one time, thus prolonging the 'wait-time' and eventually putting potential customers off - it was good while it lasted.

The highlight of my work with GM was undoubtedly the week-long trip to Frankfurt International Auto Show in the spring of 1995.

Opel was to unveil its new edition, the Vectra, at the Show and had invited some 250 motoring writers from all over the world to witness the launch and test-drive the new model.

As GM's public relations and media frontliner, I was asked to identify and accompany three local motoring writers to the launch. The three selected were from New Straits Times, Sin Chew and Berita Harian.

Frankfurt was absolutely beautiful in spring; flowers were in full bloom everywhere you looked, there were ducks in the ponds, children in the parks and cruises aplenty on the Rhine. People were out in droves, enjoying the crisp spring air after months of freezing cold winter.

I chalked up a couple of 'firsts' on that trip; first visit to Germany, first flight with Lufthansa among them. And that first drive on the autobahn, speeding fast and furious, was simply exhilarating.

I remember the Berita Harian reporter whingeing about driving on the autobahn. "Puteri, aku tak biasa drive belah kanan la. Kena bawak laju pulak tu. Macam mana nak buat ni?" [Puteri, I'm not familiar with driving on the right. And fast too. What am I going to do....?]

The journalists were initially housed in Petersburg, a boutique hotel overlooking the Rhine, for the first two days, after which they were transferred en masse to Arabella in the heart of the city to be closer to the Auto Show's exhibition venue.

One of the highlights of our Frankfurt sojourn was a tour of Adam Opel AG's sprawling manufacturing complex in Russelsheim, Hesse. It was a real privilege to be able to see for oneself vehicles rolling off the assembly lines of one of the world's most established German auto makers.

Other treats during the week-long stay included visits to several famous tourist spots in the Hesse region; among them the imposing Niederwald Monument, constructed in 1871 to commemorate the foundation of the German Empire.

Niederwald, on a broad hill, could be reached on foot but we took a seilbahn (cable car) ride over Rudesheim's vineyards, transversing pockets of forest of oaks and beeches. Needless to say, the view was breathtaking.

This part of Rudesheim was pretty quaint, with narrow cobbled streets and wending ways. Our Frankfurt getaway culminated in a spectacular half-day cruise along the Rhine, taking in the ancient castles on both sides of the banks.

I have not been to Frankfurt nor Germany, although I have toured other parts of Europe, since that memorable spring trip. It would be a dream realised to head that way once again.

Of Frankfurt I remember the River Rhine most of all; such spectacular sights, of ancient ruins and vineyards and meadows and quaint little towns, and of the river siren Lorelei, whose voice bewitched sailors, crashing their ships against the treacherous rocks...


Wan Sharif said...

Nostalgic entry with nice photos.. mmmm.. the water of Rhine River was clearer than the one that we have in Sungai Dungun, in Kuala Dungun..
The sewing machine was made "as the engineers say" fit for purpose.. crude but very easy to maintain.. ah kenangan..

Kama At-Tarawis said...

Indeed wan. this is one of the ways saya cari topic untuk menulis. tengok report pasal KL Motor Show, saya teringatkan Frankfurt Auto Show. Tengok blogger reme tulis pasal his coin collections, saya teringat Basel World Money Fair.. nostalgia sokmo..

sg dungun kecik compared to rhine, tapi yg paling best of course pemandangan..

NanaDJ said...


You brought back my fond memories of Frandfurt. I used to go there quite often since my Bank had a German partner in the form of DG Bank(a cooperative Bank) whose HQ is in Frankfurt. I was attached to that Bank for two weeks and since I did learn German at Goethe Institute in KL, I managed to speak a bit of German. I love the Rhine Valley and Rudesheim and spend a lovely afternoon looking at Lorelei, romanticising about her. As you said, pemandangan memang mengasyikan.

I admired the Germans for their discipline and professionalism. Yes, I do miss Frankfurt and my good friends there.

Gurindam Jiwa said...

This is almost like reading Charles Kuralt's On the Road.

Kama At-Tarawis said...

Kak Nas - people who hv dealt with germans always say the same thing - they admire the teutonic discipline and professionalism.. btw i'm a fan of the german soccer team.. :)

GJ - you had me scurrying to google Kuralt, a name I wasn't familiar with. tqtq, i learned something new..

Al-Manar said...

You have rightly given glimpses of beautiful Germany. And I remember the sight of gas chambers of Dachau concentration camp and wonder when there would be more of those again for the group of people oppressing the Palestinians today.How, to my mind, they deserve the repeat of history.

Kama At-Tarawis said...

Pakcik - i hv always wanted to visit the concentration camps and gas chambers of auschwitz and dachau.. grew up reading about the holocaust, in particular the diary of anne frank. insyaallah one day akan sampai..