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Germany and China move ahead together

WOLFGANG Roehr, a German diplomat, still remembers the reception in 1987 in Beijing where he met his future wife, also German. He was serving in the political department of the embassy and she was studying Chinese in Berlin.

Their five-year-old daughter was born during his service as Consul General of Germany in Shanghai from 2002 to 2007. Roehr jokes about her first language being Chinese.

Roehr appreciates Shanghai for its economic development and the rare collection of good European and Chinese architecture. He returned to Berlin in 2007 after his posting, but he has visited 27 times in a German-China collaboration in the past three and a half years.

Now a special ambassador in China-German relations, he is back at the Expo site in Shanghai for a few days.

Roehr is quite satisfied with the design of the Germany Pavilion. He hopes to visit more pavilions, especially the China Pavilion.

His last World Expo visit was to Expo 2000 in Hanover, Germany, and he praises the professionalism and dedication of the World Expo Shanghai organizers.

Many people have regarded Expos - collections in one place of offerings from around the world - as things of the past, as it is much easier to travel to individual countries today.

Roehr sees the Expo in Shanghai as something quite opposite - "a window on the world," as most Chinese haven't had the opportunity to travel.

He cites the three-year project "Germany and China - Moving Ahead Together" that he has headed since 2007, showcasing bilateral cooperation in culture, tourism education, environment, trade and other fields.

The project features a separate 250-square-meter building made of bamboo - open only through June - in the Zone C, between the Romanian and Croatian pavilions. It also has a small exhibition of solutions to various urban problems within the Germany Pavilion itself.

"Instead of a single cultural year in Beijing or Shanghai, we wanted to do this for three years from 2007 to 2010 and extend to other fields such as urban planning, economy, education and tourism," Roehr tells Shanghai Daily.

"We wanted to present the whole of Germany not in a narrow way, but rather to find out how can Germans and Chinese work together to make the world beautiful and the future better," Roehr says.

Sustainable urbanization is key to the program that aims to attract and amuse people with fun events teaching about environment and sustainability.

As part of the project, Roehr and his team went to cities such as Nanjing (Jiangsu Province), Chongqing, Shenyang (Liaoning Province), Guangzhou (Guangdong Province), Wuhan (Hubei Province) and Taicang (Jiangsu Province). In each city, they invited the public to events staged by both German and Chinese artists, performers, businessmen and scholars.

In each city they stayed for around two months and offered numerous events, from soccer games to academic environmental seminars, from rock concerts to German-language competitions, and from writers' exchange programs to urban planning exhibitions.

"Our events are never unilaterally German. There is always a common and joint approach with China," says Roehr.

Over the past three years, around 1.3 million visitors have attended 600 programs around China. The Chinese cities visited are now much better known in Germany since the events have been reported in German media.

In each city, the Germans usually built small, simple and graceful bamboo pavilions that could be dismantled and recycled. The pavilion at the Expo Shanghai is one of these, exhibiting photos from past China-Germany events.

The highlight of the pavilion, known as the German-Chinese House, is an interactive virtual game called "Let's Jump." Designed specially for the Expo Shanghai, it had attracted 11,000 players by May 6.

Visitors stand in a line in front of a white screen and start building a virtual community together by jumping. The first step is a house - the higher someone jumps, the taller the building becomes. Visitors then hold hands to connect virtual power lines for the community. The same goes for planting and watering trees.

All the houses and trees are incorporated into a complete community at the end of the game. Players can download images of their communities from the "Moving Together" Website.

The house will be dismantled at the end of June, but Roehr and his team will continue to organize events outside the Expo site in Shanghai until October, when the three-year project comes to an end, as does the Expo.

Roehr expects China to launch a similar cooperative project in Germany in 2012, marking the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations.

Wolfgang Roehr

Age: 62

Nationality: German

Profession: Diplomat


Self-description: Inquisitive, flexible and friendly. Favorite place:

Streets of the former French concession. It's a great mixture of nature, vanity and good architecture. It's urban life at its best. Strangest sight:

There's no difference between the pronunciation of "4" ('si') and "10" ('shi'). I guess that's why Chinese are so good in business.

Perfect weekend:

A walk in Xijiao State Guest Hotel. They have a nice park and I like to walk there. And perhaps a dinner overlooking the Bund. Motto for life:

If it ain't broke, don't fix it. It may not be revolutionary, but very sustainable. Don't try too many new things.

How to improve Shanghai:

Stick a little more to traffic rules - for walkers, drivers and bikers, everyone.

Advice for newcomers: Enjoy the city, let yourself go and you'll love it.


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