Wednesday, March 29, 2023 | Ramadan 6, 1444 H
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Bridging cultures

Photos by Natascha Plankermann and Michael Bittner

@lijucherianoman -

Strong bonds of friendship have been a hallmark of Sultanate of Oman and Germany relations. A number of German tourists visit the country each year and are swayed by its beauty. Among them are Natascha Plankermann and Michael Bittner, both friends from Düsseldorf who love Oman and have a flair for ships.

Natascha is a freelance journalist who has been regularly visiting Oman since 2015 and acts as Oman’s point of contact in Germany. Recently she was interviewed on WDR Fernsehen, a free-to-air German TV network and radio station and spoke about Oman’s reliance on green hydrogen as Germany looks towards newer energy sources.

Michael, 54, works as an application manager in an IT department of a leasing company in Düsseldorf. He is sailing this weekend on board Dar Mlodziezy, a Polish sail training ship until Antwerp, Belgium. He also travelled to Harlingen, Netherlands where the ships caught up for the biggest free maritime festival, the Tall Ships Races 2022.

Earlier, Natascha drove all the way from her hometown in her Citroën to watch Shabab Oman II anchored about 500 km at Port Kiel last month.

It was an amazing site as she saw two tall ships anchored at the Kiel-Wik naval base with both the German sail training ship Gorch Fock and Shabab Oman II anchored side by side.

Natascha who co-authored a book ‘1001 Friendships’ on Oman is a huge fan of tall ships and it came as a deep commitment to visit the Kieler Woche with a guided tour of the ship. During her visit, Natascha went around the exhibition which showcased exquisite details of Omani heritage and history. She met with Captain Issa al Jahwari, Officer Qasim al Balushi, Gadah, and Anisa, a student, who is sailing as a trainee on the ship.

Eight years ago, Michael, 54, had shot the iconic photo of an Arab sailing ship that changed his life. He was sailing on a Russian yacht and capturing images. With a passion for windjammers, Michael in 2005 stepped onto the shaky bottom of a ship that took him from Hamburg to Lisbon for the first time.

His knowledge of seafaring grew as an increasingly private pleasure, because as he says it has more to do with ‘programming than navigating’ for his job. Wearing a gray army uniform with a red beret, he receives official guests such as ambassadors during Kiel Week on board the Shabab Oman II.

“In this position, you communicate between the crews of foreign ships and the host during major sea events,” he says.

Michael makes sure that the Omani crew arrives on time for competitions or helps a sailor during any accident. “I have already accompanied someone with hernia to the hospital,” says Michael.

He now knows the Shabab Oman II from the mainmast to the engine room, and Natascha felt lucky getting a guided tour under him.

As a windjammer he is just as proud as the German sail training ship Gorch Fock, which was anchored next door at the Kiel-Wik naval base.

Captain Issa explains to Natascha saying, “Shabab Oman II has three masts and 34 sails and is called a ‘clipper’ due to its shape. It can cover an area of over 2,600 square metres. He mentioned that during her voyage, the 54 crew members were assisted by 36 trainees, with room for four guests. “If necessary, we can stay completely at sea for 25 days and produce our own drinking water along the way.

“We were looking for the photographer until we met by chance on another ship a few years ago. It became the beginning of a special friendship when Michael impartially talked about his spectacular iconic snapshot,” says Issa proudly.

Anisa, who studies IT in Oman, says, “I want to do something special and further develop my personality. The women sleep in separate accommodations on board and even have their own washing machines.”

Natascha could admire the sparkling deck planks with their brass-decorated steps, the carvings on the doors when they looked into the foyer of the air-conditioned reception room.

She also noticed guests having their hands decorated with henna by young women in traditional Omani costumes and viewing photos of Omani landscapes.

Sailing along and experiencing the team spirit of the crew is open to those who pass a test and manage to climb up to the Omani flag which flutters on the mast at a height of more than 50 metres.

Michael has already planned his next trip to Muscat and desires to continue accompanying the Royal Navy of Oman (RNO) vessel on its journey ahead. “I would do that for the Omanis at any time,” he adds gleefully.

Natascha was finally relieved and happy that she could be part of Oman in a small way during the ship’s long voyage ahead.

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