Talking culture: Consul General of Germany in Chennai Karin Stoll on dosas, Dravidian temples and urban green transport
Meet Karin Stoll, Consul General of Germany in Chennai. She is a political scientist, art historian and leader, all-in-one. In a high-profile role in Chennai, this soft-spoken professional juggles it all. Dressed smartly in business attire adorned with a batik silk scarf, she is an epitome of grace and dignity. She’s also a hands-on hard worker, who is passionate about what she does. You can see her keen interest in work and in being a friend to India. Karin is someone with high ideals, someone who wants to make a difference.
Indulge catches up with Consul General Stoll at her office on a typical working weekday. Southeast India is the perfect location for her, with about 130 German companies in Tamil Nadu alone! Some of them are hidden champions, world leaders in what they are producing. In just 18 months, she has achieved a good deal, and her presence is felt not only in the industry, but also in cultural institutions and the government here as well.
The key to her success? She loves her job. After only one year, she has requested to do a four-year stint! Excerpts from the conversation...
You moved to Chennai after a prior assignment in Delhi… How was that transition, and how has your experience been?
I was the Head of the Economics department in Delhi. I’m a political scientist and an art historian, so it was great to be in the capital city with its fabulous architecture. I’ve been posted in Pretoria /South Africa, Kampala/Uganda, New Delhi, Rome/Italy and now, Chennai. After Delhi, I was sure I wanted to come to India again — the Southeast of India. So, when the position came up for Consul General, I applied for it. My jurisdiction is Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. Together with Hyderabad, this area is one of the power hubs of German industry in India.
I came here with a positive, upbeat mood, and I was pleasantly surprised. Actually, I have adapted pretty well, even to the weather, and a bit of humidity makes you feel better. Of course, I got a warm welcome from my colleagues and my staff at the consulate.
You seem really comfortable here in Chennai.
Relatively speaking, Chennai was a softer landing. I already had connections here, due to my previous role in Delhi, and I’d done a fair amount of research. I can unwind here better, and therefore, work more efficiently. If you go to Marina beach or Kapaleeshwarar temple or Mahabalipuram, within one hour, you are somewhere completely different from the hustle and bustle of a big city!
I also live at a walking distance from my work, so that really makes it easier.
What is your key agenda here as Consul General?
My key agenda is two-fold. Firstly, it is to be informed better about what we are doing here. German interests and engagements are diverse.
Besides Indo-German industry and investments, we have cooperation projects in Coimbatore, our ‘Smart City’. We are also supporting Chennai in the field of water and green urban transport. I want to make this strong partnership more recognisable, not only for the Tamil Nadu government, but also for our German institutions here and back home. I believe that the nexus between industry and science is crucial. I want to add more to the profile of German engagement in the Southeast.
Of course, I am supported by the Indo-German Chamber of Commerce, our agency for academic exchange, DAAD and the well-known Goethe Institute — all with offices here in Chennai. Additionally, as a part of my role here, I follow the regional politics, and keep in touch with what’s happening in town.
What other initiatives are undertaken at the Consulate?
It’s a small Consulate, with a staff of 27 people. We have a visa department servicing the jurisdiction. We currently have more than 20,000 Indian students in Germany.
We support several social initiatives. Recently, we also undertook wall painting initiatives in South Chennai.
We intend to better connect with the local municipal administration: solid + e-waste and recycling are some of the issues. We’d like to provide best practices, and be a role model in the area.
Additionally, we have many academic partnerships here. One of the key ones is with IIT Madras. What started out as a vocational training school, recently celebrated its diamond jubilee. It was my privilege to give a speech at the event, it was a really touching experience.
We also have the Indo-German Centre for Sustainability at IITM. But there are so many more academic partnerships!
You mentioned the cultural aspect. As an art historian, how do you look at South India?
As an art history major, this is heaven. I’ve been to almost all major Dravidian temples in Tamil Nadu.
One of my highlights is the Kailashnath temple in Kanchipuram.
It’s an archaeological marvel with frescos of different forms of Shiva and Parvati. In Chennai, I often visit the Kapaleeshwarar temple. It is very pleasant, and I can just sit and relax, and nobody bothers you there. All my visitors love it too. During Pongal, the festivities and the kolams at Kapaleeshwarar are simply amazing.
How about the cuisine?
I am a dosa person! Prawns, deep-fried ladyfingers, poppadum and filter coffee are also my local favourites. From the north, I like palak paneer and butter chicken, but I think I am enjoying the healthier vegetarian varieties of South Indian cooking.
I enjoy cooking as a way to unwind, and I also do my own shopping from a local organic food store.
What are some of your hobbies in your spare time?
I like photography, cooking, yoga, swimming and reading mostly non-fiction books on politics, and arts. I also love to travel, and India has so many rich UNESCO World Heritage sites, definitely a treat for my art history background. Coincidentally, my hometown Regensburg is a UNESCO town.
Do you travel for work or is it usually personal travel?
It’s a fair bit of both. Besides Chennai, which is the main hub of science and industry, I have travelled to Coimbatore, Hyderabad and also to Puducherry, where we have German companies. At least once a year, I go to the north to meet with the other consulates, and the embassy in Delhi.
For personal travel, I have travelled to most of North and South India, except not to the mountains yet, nor Kashmir or the seven sisters. I do go back to Germany twice a year.
Your favourite place to relax in India?
I think, it would be in a nice resort somewhere between Kovalam and Kanyakumari, where you could enjoy and relax, and also be within the vicinity of some marvelous historic sites.
Have you acquired any Indian art from your travels?
Yes, I do have a good collection. One of my favourites is a replica of a Natraj from an Auroville artist, and I also have some artwork from Indian contemporary artists. I love Indian textiles, but space is getting scarce!
Tell us a little about your family.
I have my family back in Germany. My 24-year-old son is very at home in India, and now we sometimes travel together, when he visits. My sisters enjoy visiting me, and we travel together too.
How do you hope to foster the friendship between Germany and India?
I try to lead by example, to be down to earth and have an open approach to things, and to other people. If you smile at people, they smile back at you. Given a choice, I’d rather go to a project than attend a function. I’d rather visit a factory, university or an NGO. I love to interact with people from all
walks of life.