Saturday, August 13, 2022 | Muharram 14, 1444 H
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EDITOR IN CHIEF- ABDULLAH BIN SALIM AL SHUEILI

Building bridges between the Orient and the Occident

Natascha Plankermann is a trained and experienced German editor, who works as a journalist, moderator and author for various media including ‘Rheinische Post’, ‘WELT’, ‘Apotheken Magazin’ as well as ‘Funke Mediengruppe’.


Fascinated with Oman she is a sought-after expert and in the forefront as both the countries have nurtured diplomatic relations for more than 50 years.


In 2015, she discovered Oman by chance fulfilling a dream and travelled around the world for over two months. Oman was the first country on her itinerary as their travel agent told them that it was the safest country in the Arab world. She and her friend fell in love on the second day.


In Germany she occupied herself more extensively with Oman, travelling repeatedly, from time to time also together with Gabriele Brähler, her co-editor and came out with a book ‘1001 Friendships‘ (Freundschaft), in which they have put together 25 articles covering a wide range of topics. The 224 page illustrated book describes the special relations between Oman and Germany on the basis of articles dealing with economy, culture, tourism, media, education, religion and science, society among others.


Printed in English and German with an Arabic abstract, the book tells of people who make progress on the basis of shared values such as respect and mutual understanding. A case in point is Muadh Abdulmalik Al Badaei from Muscat and Pius Schmidt from Munich or Khalid Alfahdi and Steffen Sauer becoming thick friends stressing German and Omani students living, working and achieving great things together. Natascha shares more about her book and her love for Oman in an interview.


What was the inspiration for your book ‘1001 Friendships’ on Oman?


On the many journeys I myself became the Scheherazade or rather the ‘Omanerazade’ so many stories about wonderful and special friendships or relationships between Oman and Germany I learned, and wanted to tell them with pleasure. I also felt it was a kind of mission as many Germans don’t find it easy to deal with people from Arab countries. I wanted to show examples of how it can work. My colleague Gabi Brähler accompanied me from time to time and took over some of the stories, while other colleagues wrote down their own experiences. The then German ambassador to Oman, Hans-Christian von Reibnitz, encouraged me to collect the stories in a book. His successor, Thomas Schneider, continues to promote the project and also wrote a word of welcome for it.


What fascinated you to Oman and how many times have you visited so far


Oman was the first stop on a journey in big steps around the world which I undertook with a colleague from January to early March 2015. We had planned to blog goodnight stories from around the world and started in Oman. We heard that this is the land of 1001 Nights. This expression reminds us of Scheherazade, the woman who tells fairy tales in 1001 Nights to save her life. By doing so, she fascinates the king who actually wanted to kill her. The fairy tales from 1001 nights are famous in Germany. We landed in Muscat on January 6, the day on which Orthodox Christians celebrate the festival. According to the Bible, the Three Wise Kings arrived at the crèche of Jesus. I liked this idea, as one of the kings brought frankincense as a gift again a connection to Oman. Since that day, I have traveled to Oman twice every year, except for the last Corona years.


Tell something more about ‘1001 Friendships’ not mentioned in the book


Behind the stories are miles and miles of apparently endless drives through Oman. I was often marvelled at as a driver when we showed up with the rental car at the places where we were doing research or talking to the people. Today I would call quite a number of them friends or good acquaintances. It is amazing how many nice people you can get close to when you show a genuine interest in the country and its people. This is also true for Oman lovers here in Germany that I have met. You stay in touch via social media, even though it often seems that you completely disappear from the scene for the Omani when you leave the country.


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How long it took to complete, and why was it called ‘1001 Friendships’


We named the book in reference to the ‘Tales from 1001 Nights’ that I mentioned. 1001Nights, evokes positive associations regarding the Orient and we know in Germany: It’s about stories, in this case about friendships. Between 2016 and 2019, we finished everything and wanted to present it at the International Tourism Fair 2020 in Berlin. But then Corona came in the way.


Some sponsors supported us, but we invested most of it ourselves and the book is a real passion project that couldn’t even be properly presented yet due to the pandemic and its consequences. I hope to find an opportunity to present the book in Oman this year and would appreciate support. Have just initiated the transport of several hundred books to Oman.


Which section among the 25 articles was more time consuming to collect?


This is hard to comment on. I would say it’s a total work of art and we used every single one of our stays to put it together lovingly, piece by piece, like a mosaic.


How did you go about doing this, any pre work done or help sought from groups


As I said, the pieces of the mosaic are fitting together and I could go on and on now after publication. Because experience shows: Once you deal intensively with a topic, you always learn new and different aspects. That’s what happened to me with German-Oman relations and the stories about them. I also received support from others: I asked colleagues who had worked in Oman or had already written about the country. I found the article about camel breeding by chance in the major German weekly newspaper ‘Die Zeit’ and the author revised it again for the book. Members of the German Omani Association (DOG) also played a role in the book.


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The response so far on the book, is it available online


Omani fans in Germany love the book as much as German fans in Oman. All can order from Donata Kinzelbach, our publisher, or directly from me or Gabriele. This is also possible online or anyone who is interested can email me on NataschaP@t-online.de. Now several hundred books are on their way to Oman, and I hope to be able to offer them in Muscat bookstores or through museum stores in the country.


Can you share your experiences as a traveller


Travelling in Oman is like diving into a wonder bag. Basically, it is best not to plan exactly in advance and let yourself be surprised. This is how the most beautiful experiences come about and you suddenly meet people who show you something you never expected. This is what happened to us in Salalah, where a nice Omani spontaneously became our guide through the city and its surroundings. However, it is difficult for Germans to just let themselves drift and not to plan their time in detail. We would like to know what to expect but in my experience it is nice to just let it come to you.


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Any other related additional information and more books planned in future


I would love to tell the Germans more about Oman and bring German colleagues to the country to report. However, this should be done carefully so that the enchanting nature and special places, such as the Ras Al Jinz Turtle Reserve, are not crowded. We in Germany like to talk about sustainability, also with regard to travel and tourism. It would be nice to develop awareness about sustainable awareness. I see beginnings of this in the heritage hotels and the fact that the old mud houses are being repurposed, for example in Nizwa, where I recently stayed. I’m sure there are still so many stories to tell also gladly in other ways, in articles in German media, in films.


Your hobbies, interests on Oman


Travelling, swimming, writing, meeting people. Oh yes, I love tap dancing like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers to the rhythm set by the shoes. In Oman I have danced only once at a wedding, but I am sure there is more to come.


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