German Bhutan Himalaya Society: History of Events
the German-Bhutan Himalaya Society (in German: Deutsche Bhutan Himalaya Gesellschaft (DBHG e.V.) has been working for Bhutan. She is 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.
Dieter Brauer and the “Deutsche Welle” have supported intensively the setup of radio and TV of the “Bhutan Broadcasting Corporation”
An extensive exchange with other European Societies began soon, with guests from Bhutan, lectures and the first friendship trip with a delegation of society members 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 society.
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 a lecture 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.
Wangditse Lhakhang in Thimphu: Replacement of the roof with contribution by Prof. Gerner and the Society members.
Jaba Lhakhang in Haa Valley refurbished with the help of the Society
Drakten Lhakhang Restoration
The World Exposition “Expo 2000” in Hannover was an outstanding occasion with an extraordinary Bhutanese pavilion which attracted 20.000 visitors per day. Our 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.
The Bhutan Day 2000 was held on July 27th right at the Expo 2000. The delegation from Bhutan was headed by H.M. Queen Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck together with the then 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.
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, among them Bjee Samten Choling Lhakhang.
Exchange of experts: Seven Bhutanese craftsmen study at the German Center for Crafts and Preservation of Historic Monuments (Deutsches Zentrum für Handwerk und Denkmalpflege) in Fulda.
Yugyel Dzong in Lingshi: Quantitative survey and assessment by Prof. Gerner.
Choetsi Lhakhang in Paro Valley. Restoration works with support from the German Bhutan Himalaya Society.
Exchange of experts, seminar and workshop at Simthoka Dzong and Rapa Hall in Thimphu
Prof Manfred Gerner became President of the Bhutan-German Himalaya Society taking over from Dr Manfred Kulessa. Mrs. Ursula Lemmer became Vice President.
Lingshi Dzong Restoration continues with support from the Society.
Chuckchi lhakhang in Bumthang: Construction of a monks’ residence, kitchen and a house for butter lamps
Dr Manfred Kulessa and Mr. Gregor Verhufen organized a seminar “Bhutan” for undergraduate students at the University of Bonn
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 official opening was celebrated together with the inhabitants of Bjee.
Support of the reconstruction of a mill in Ura, Bumthang district
In September 2008, the fifth meeting of the European friends of Bhutan took place in Bietigheim / Germany, organised by our sister society Bhutan Hilfe e.V.. 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. The restoration and replacement of the water supply of Tamshing Chorten began.
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, co-organized a three-part seminar “Happiness of the Dragon – The Philosophy of Happiness in Bhutan and Elsewhere” with the “German Society for the United Nations” and participated in the talks and discussions on GNH. A seminar series was conducted in Bonn: “Bliss of the Dragon – the philosophy of happiness in Bhutan and elsewhere”.
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.
the Bhutan Day was held at the State Museum of Natural History, Karlsruhe. The topic was “Nature – Sustainability – Happiness” with visit of the exhibition “Of Butterflies and Thunder Dragons – Nature and Culture in Bhutan”
And in 2013, Bhutan Day focused on the “History and Importance of the Dzongs” with contributions by Prof. M. Gerner, Architect Barbara Calvi, Italy and Architect Dipl.-Ing. Friedrich Falch, Austria, who spoke about the renovation of the Trongsa Dzong.
In 2014, the Bhutan Day had the main topic “Magicians and Modernity” with contributions by Prof. M. Gerner, Gregor Verhufen and Dr. Irmela Harz. The Bhutanese Ambassador in Brussels, H.E. Sonam Tshong, participated in the conference and thanked for the numerous help of the society. Mrs. Aichem-Degreif from the German Foreign Office and Mr. Kretz from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) spoke on behalf of the German government and emphasized the importance of the work of the DBHG.
In 2015, Reinhard Wolf was elected president of the society, and Dr. Irmela Harz joined the Board as Executive Secretary. Prof. M. Gerner became – next to Dr. Kulessa – Honorary President. The Bhutan Day was held on the main topic “How is tourism changing Bhutan?”. Board members Dr. Kulessa, Reinhard Wolf and Gregor Verhufen attended a meeting with then Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay in Brussels.
The society celebrated its 30th anniversary in the historic city hall in Bonn with Hon. Tenzin Rondel Wangchuk from the Royal Bhutanese Embassy in Brussels as chief guest. The topic of our jubilee conference: “Happiness and Sustainability – Tradition and Modern Development in Bhutan”.
In November 2016, Board members of the society including Dr. Irmela Harz and Reinhard Wolf witnessed, H.E. Lyonchhen Tshering Tobgay, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Bhutan, receiving the honorary award of the German Sustainability Award “for his exemplary sustainability policy and on behalf of the for the Kingdom of Bhutan, which is setting an example in the which is moving in an exemplary manner towards ecological, social and political sustainability”. The award was handed over by Federal Environment Minister Hendricks. The laudatory speech was given by Richard David Precht, German philosopher and bestselling author.
In April 2017, German Federal Environment Minister Mrs.Hendricks visited Bhutan. The aim of the trip was in particular the exchange on forest development, nature conservation and climate adaptation as well as bilateral talks with Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay and the minister of agriculture, forestry and the environment. The German Federal Ministry for the Environment funded from its International Climate Initiative (ICI) a project on sustainable forest development in Nepal and Bhutan. Also in April 2017, Claudia Roth, Vice President of the German Bundestag, made a trip to Bhutan to Bhutan. Ms. Roth expressed her full support for an intensification of the relations with Bhutan, not only in the committees of the German Bundestag but also in other in other areas of civil society. Our society provided support in the preparation of both missions.
The Bhutan Day 2017, held in March in the Tibet house in Frankfurt, had the topic “Bhutanese Youth in pursuit of happiness” with a keynote speech of Dorji Wangchuk, who works as a consultant within the Financial Services in London and is a is a very keen observer of the economic and political developments in Bhutan. In October 2017 the history of philately and communications gained new insights when His Majesty the King of Bhutan donated a rare and valuable collection of stamps and communications products to the Bhutan Postal Museum. The collection came from Marion Hass, former managing director of DBHG, who passed away in 2016, and includes products that are no longer available in Bhutan, helping to fill gaps in Bhutan’s postal history. Some items even pre-date 1962, when the first post office was opened in Bhutan. For example, three envelopes issued by the British Empire were titled: Northern Frontier of India, Second Bhutan Expedition. The mail was addressed to British soldiers who participated in expeditions to Bhutan and Sikkim in 1861, 1864 and 1866. Also included in the collection are historic telegrams, and envelopes showing that they were carried by mail runners. The collection also contains documentation (in German!) with maps showing, among other things, the post offices and weather stations.
In April 2018 Ambassador Pema Choden visited PRIMAVERA in Southern Germany to deepen the long-standing relationship and jointly discuss ways to further enhance cooperation. In January 2019, Agriculture Minister Lyonpo Yeshey Penjor also visited the company. PRIMAVERA is producing pure aromatherapy products and high-quality natural beauty products that holistically enhance your well-being. First contacts with Bhutan go back a long way: in search of the best, unadulterated lemongrass essential oil, the company’s founders Ute Leube and Kurt L. Nübling visited the Kingdom of Bhutan for the first time back in 1990. They were immediately impressed by the unique beauty and unspoiled nature. However, Bhutan is also a poor country where almost two-thirds of the population lives from agriculture. So the idea was born to help the people to help themselves. Harvesting lemongrass, distilling and exporting the all-natural lemongrass essential oil goes back to these beginnings. Social responsibility – today Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) – was already anchored in the consistently ecologically oriented PRIMAVERA vision back then, long before this concept of global social responsibility advanced to a zeitgeist topic and found its way into marketing strategies.
The Bhutan Day 2018 had the topic „Buddhism in Bhutan – Past and Present”. Gregor Verhufen, Vice President of our Society gave an Introduction to the History of Buddhism in Bhutan and Acharya Kelzang; Resident Lama at the Kamalashila Institute for Buddhist Studies and Meditation in Langenfeld / Germany lectured about Vajrayana Tradition of Bhutanese Buddhism, while Samten Yeshi, who at that time attended a Master Course on Heritage Preservation at the Central European University in Hungary, spoke about Buddhism in Conventional Society of Bhutan.
The Bhutan Day 2019 focused on „Development Cooperation between EU and the Kingdom of Bhutan” with Ulrike Müller, Member of the European Parliament, and Dr. Stefan Lock, Section Head of EuropeAid /European Commission as prominent speakers.
Prof. Manfred Gerner, Honorary President of our Society, presented the report on the finalisation of the works at Membartsho, the „Burning Lake” in Bumthang. This project has been financed by our Society.
Together with the Swedish Bhutan Society, our Society has provided seven special Perkins typewriters worth approximately 7,000 euros to the Muenselling Institute, a school for the blind in Eastern Bhutan.
In 2020, our Society contributed to the transportation of a preserved Royal Bengal Tiger, who in 2018 was sighted near Thimphu, captured and housed at the Wildlife Research Centre until it died of a disease. The tiger was then professionally skinned by Bhutanese professionals trained by Mr. Fischer, a taxidermist from the Erfurt Natural History Museum, and the skin was sent to Erfurt for taxidermy. There, the tiger was masterfully prepared by Mr. Fischer and colleagues. In Bhutan, the desire arose to use this animal as one of the most important species conservation examples for Bhutan’s environmental strategy. However, the return transport turned out to be difficult because there were hardly any flights or other transport possibilities to Bhutan due to the Corona Pandemic. First, a transport flight went to Bangkok; the freight forwarder then managed to customize the transport box so that it fit into Drukair and could be flown to Paro / Bhutan. On October 19, 2020, the tiger then “landed” safely in Paro.
In November and December 2020 our Society organized – jointly with the Humboldt University of Berlin and College of Natural Resources of Royal University of Bhutan – four online meetings to discuss possibilities to further extend and intensify academic relations between Bhutan and Germany (especially in the fields of agriculture, ecology and economy) and to propose ways to continue this discussion for specific identification of joint project proposals. This exercise was financially supported by the German Embassy in New Delhi.
In May 2021, the Bhutan Day was held online due to the pandemic. The topic was “Tourism in Bhutan post COVID-19: Is the principle of “High Value – Low Volume” experiencing a renaissance?”
Ms Dechen Wangmo; Chargé d’Affaires/Deputy Chief of Mission of the Embassy of the Kingdom of Bhutan / Brussels gave a welcome address. We also had a short introduction of Mr. Chambula Dorji, the new Honorary Consul to Germany in Bhutan; and Dr. Simon Stroß of the German Embassy New Delhi spoke about the Establishment of diplomatic relations between the Kingdom of Bhutan and the Federal Republic of Germany. The Keynote speech was delivered by Mr. Dorji Dhradhul; Director General of the Tourism Council of Bhutan and Mr. Olav Clemens of the West Coast University of Applied Sciences / Germany presented his reflections on tourism in Bhutan.