Timeline: Activities / Projects of DBHG
For over 26 years the Bhutan-German Himalaya Society has been working for Bhutan. She is the oldest or at least one of the oldest friendship societies for Bhutan. Mutual understanding and coming to know better each other are as much part of the tasks as caring for guests from Bhutan, lectures and information events, exhibitions, study tours and support of the preservation of Bhutan’s historic heritage.
In 1984 the “Cologne Friendship Circle for Bhutan” was founded with Mr. Fritz Hermanns, Chairman of the Board of the Cologne Savings Bank being the driving force. On May 11th, 1986 the “Bhutan-Himalaya Club” was formed and officially registered with the Cologne district court. The founding board members were Fritz Hermanns, Siegfried Kretschmar, Klaus Mattes and Claudia Weinberger. Soon the “Club” got the support of 50 members, among them Dieter Brauer, the families Beck and Wils and Prof Manfred Gerner.
An extensive exchange with other European Societies began soon, with guests from Bhutan, lectures and the first friendship trip to Bhutan in 1988. In 1988, too, the first issue of “Thunlam” was published. In 1990 H.E. Dasho Nado Rinchen gave a presentation to the DBHG.
1992 saw in Bonn the first – very successful – “Bhutan Day” with a large participation of the public. 1994 was marked by the second friendship trip as well as the contribution on the development of Bhutan by H.E. Dasho Jigmi Y. Thinley during the Bhutan Day. The annual friendship trips as well as the Bhutan Days became a tradition.
A highlight in the history of the society was the 1st Conference of the European Bhutan Friendship Societies in Thimphu 1996. In the meantime Dr Manfred Kulessa had been elected President of the society and Prof Manfred Gerner Vice President.
The World Exposition “Expo 2000” in Hannover was an outstanding occasion with an extraordinary Bhutanese pavilion which attracted 20.000 visitors per day. The Bhutan-German Himalaya Society had participated as much as possible in the years’ long preparations on the planning and erection of the pavilion and also during the Expo itself. Bhutan’s presentation on the Expo proved to be an important contribution towards making Bhutan better known in Europe and in Germany and to create a better understanding of Bhutan.
On the Expo the Bhutan Day 2000 was held on July 27th. The delegation from Bhutan was headed by H.M. Queen Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck together with the Crown Prince H.E. Dasho Jigme Khesar Namguel Wangchuck, Dasho Nado Rinchen and Dasho Bap Kesang. The German delegation was led by Minister Heidemarie Wiezorek-Zeul. Among the guests were many DBHG members and representatives of European friendship societies.
Her Majesty the Queen Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, with then HRH Crown Prince (now HM the King), Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and Prof Manfred Gerner welcoming the guests at the visit of EXPO 2000.
On the occasion of EXPO 2000, the second conference of the European friendship societies was held. A highlight of this conference was the speech given by Her Majesty the Queen Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, who was accompanied by the then Crown Prince (now HM the King), His Royal Highness Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck.
The society had now over 150 members. Besides many smaller activities the society’s efforts for the preservation of Bhutan’s culture were increased, in particular the preservation of the many Dzongs, Lhakhangs, Gompas and Tschortens.
In 2001 the Royal Government of Bhutan appointed Dr Manfred Kulessa as Honorary Consul.
On the occasion of the delegation trip in the year 2000, the delegation members were received by H.M. Queen Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck and they had detailed discussions with the Foreign Minister as well as other ministers.
In 2003 Prof Manfred Gerner became President of the Bhutan-German Himalaya Society taking over from Dr Manfred Kulessa. Mrs. Ursula Lemmer became Vice President.
In 2006 Dr Manfred Kulessa and Mr. Gregor Verhufen organized a seminar “Bhutan” for undergraduate students at the University of Bonn. The society had now more than 200 members. The annual Bhutan Day, the Thunlam magazine and the delegation trips to Bhutan had become “institutions”.
In connection with the Bhutan Day 2007 an exhibition on Bhutanese textiles with the title “Textile Craft Work and Art from the Kingdom of Bhutan” was organized. Mr. Roland Benz contributed selected paintings from Bhutan. As distinguished guests on the Bhutan Day H.E. Ambassador Sonam T. Rabgye and the former Vice President of the German Federal Parliament Mrs. Dr Antje Vollmer could be welcomed.
Until 2008 the first renovations of historic monuments (e.g. Bjee Samten Choling Lhkakhang) could be completed successfully and the new official opening was celebrated together with the inhabitants of Bjee.
From 12 to 14 September 2008, the European friends of Bhutan met in Bietigheim / Germany. Her Royal Highness, Ashi Sangay Choden represented Bhutan. Here, one of the highlights was the painting exhibition of Roland Bentz and a concert of Bhutanese musicians.
The year 2009 was marked by the disastrous earthquake in eastern Bhutan. During the delegation trip Prof Gerner met with the Minister of Home Affairs Lyonpo Minjur Dorji, visited the destroyed site of Yangner and developed plans for the reconstruction of Yangner Lhakhang.
In the following year – 2010 – the society supported the big exhibition “The Dragon’s Gift – the Sacred Art of Bhutan” in the East Asia Museum in Cologne, organized a three-part seminar “Happiness of the Dragon – The Philosophy of Happiness in Bhutan and Elsewhere” in cooperation with the “German Society for the United Nations” and participated intensively in the talks and discussions on GNH. Among the main goals were the reconstruction of Yangner Lhakhang and the publication of the booklet “Happiness of the Dragon – The Philosophy of Happiness in Bhutan and Elsewhere” together with the “German Society for the United Nations”.
In 2011 the reconstruction of Yangner Lhakhang was completed. The Italian friends of “Amici del Bhutan” had helped, too. After the disastrous fire in Wangdue Phodrang Dzong only recently we have immediately opened a new fund in order to support the forthcoming reconstruction.
Activities and Projects of the Bhutan-German Himalaya Society
Parts of the activities of the DBHG are the annual Bhutan Days and the delegation trips. The society looks after Bhutanese visitors in Germany and has supported the Kingdom of Bhutan at the Expo 2000 in Hannover, on the issue of refugees, the development of a constitution as well as with the extremely successful exhibition (50.000 visitors) “The Dragon’s Gift – the Sacred Arts of Bhutan” at the East Asia Museum in Cologne. As President and as Honorary Consul, Dr Manfred Kulessa in particular has been very active. The “Bhutan” seminar for undergraduate students at the University of Bonn was held by Dr Kulessa and Gregor Verhufen. In 2007 the extraordinary weaving and textile craft and art was acknowledged with an exhibition of precious textiles.
Mr. Dieter Brauer and the “Deutsche Welle” have supported intensively the setup of radio and TV of the “Bhutan Broadcasting Corporation”. Members of the society contributed also to the Tarayana Foundation as well as to the Health Minister’s Fund for the immunisation of children (Health March).
Prof Manfred Gerner, President of the Bhutan-German Himalaya Society for many years has worked 6 years as curator for the city of Frankfurt and has headed the “German Centre for Craft and Preservation of Historic Monuments” with projects around the world for over 20 years. Prof Gerner has contributed in various ways to the preservation of Bhutan’s cultural heritage.
Wangditse Lhakhang / Thimphu: Replacement of the roof
Jaba Lhakhang/Haa Valley: Restoration
Drakten Lhakhang: Restoration
Exchange of experts: Seven Bhutanese colleagues study for 3 weeks at the German Centre for Craft and Preservation of Historic Monuments (”“Deutsches Zentrum für Handwerk und Denkmalpflege”).
Yugyel Dzong-Lingshi-Project: Quantity survey and assessment. See report by Prof. Gerner: Yugyel Dzong
Choetsi Lhakhang / Paro Valley: Restoration
Exchange of experts, seminar and workshop at Simthoka Dzong and Rapa Hall, Thimphu
Lingshi Dzong: Restoration
Bjee Samten Choling Lhakhang / Tongsa: Restoration
Chuckchi Lhakhang / Bumthang: Construction of a monks’ residence, kitchen and a house for butter lamps.
Support of the reconstruction of a mill in Ura / Bumthang
Restoration and replacement of the water technique of Tamshing Tschörten
Yangner Lhakhang: Reconstruction with support from the Italian “Amici del Bhutan” and the Royal Government of Bhutan
Wangdue Phodrang Dzong: New fund for the forthcoming restoration Historic Documents: Project for the finding and digitalisation of historic documents under the guidance of Mr. Gregor Verhufen started. The two projects are implemented in cooperation with the Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs.
Many other contributions have been published in the now bi-annual “Thunlam” magazine by board members and other members of the society (in particular Dr Manfred Kulessa, Gregor Verhufen and Dieter Brauer). And last but not least must be mentioned the publication of the booklet “Happiness of the Dragon – The Philosophy of Happiness in Bhutan and Elsewhere” in cooperation with the “German Society for the United Nations”.