Friday, August 17, 2007

Singapore, Germany and Austria

Germany and Austria are neighbours, and both speak German. And there is something available in Germany and Austria which I am sure many Singaporeans will miss greatly - snow. I can still remember the first snowfall when I was a student in Ghent, Belgium 30 years ago. The awe and feeling of "wonder" (can't find the exact word to describe the wonderful feeling) I can never forget. And my stay in Grindelwald, a mountain ski resort in the Alps in Switzerland, that was a wonderful vacation that is etched in my memories.

And snow is something you can never get in tropical Singapore. Well, perhaps not exactly correct, because there is the Snow City at Jurong. But there is nothing like the real thing you can get in Germany and Austria.

But snow will not be the only excuse for Singaporeans to travel to Germany and Austria. With a share of approximatly 30% of its trade volume and about 900 German companies registered in Singapore, Singapore is Germany's most important economic partner in the ASEAN area. Total bilateral trade in 2005 stood at Euro 8.18 billion and total German direct investments in Singapore up to 2004 was more than Euro 5.271 billion. Germany ranked 10th in Singapore's exports and 9th in imports in 2005. With various trade organizations like the Singaporean-German Chamber of Industry, Commerce, the Singapore Economic Development Board and International Enterprise Singapore maintaining offices in Frankfurt to help to facilitate trade in both directions, Singapore businessmen have plenty of reasons to go to Germany.

And there are educational ties between the two countries as well. Included are 28 bilateral cooperation projects between German institutions of higher learning with 3 Singaporean universities. The German Institute of Science and Technology (GIST) in Singapore, the first branch of a German university, began operating in July 2002.

If you want to go to the 2 neighbouring countries to experience the real snow, for business or educational purposes, travelling between them is very convenient. The 2 capital cities Berlin and Vienna is well connected. They are served by Germany's full service national carrier, Lufthansa, which have direct flight from Berlin to Vienna. And if you book your tickets online, sometimes they have special deals and you may be able to get your ticket cheap. They also have the so called 'happy hour' where you can bid for flights. In addition to such full service airlines, there are also budget airlines operating between the countries. For example, Air Berlin have flights to Vienna from Dortmund, Hamburg and Duesseldorf, Germanwings have flights to the Austrian capital from Cologne-Bonn while Sky Europe gives a good deal on flights from Stuttgart to Vienna via Bratislava. The distance between Bratislava to Vienna is only 50km and you get there riding the SkyShuttle bus for just an extra 10 Euro.

When I was touring Europe 30 years ago on my own (not package tour), I had to contend with hunting for accommodation on arrival. A risky proposition especially if you are travelling in cold winter. What would have happened if the hotels are fully booked? Sleep in the railway station? Now you can book ahead of arrival online with sites like Hotels Deutsche (German Hotels). If you are looking for hotels in Berlin, you can try Hotels in Berlin. Can't read German? Then go to Hotels in Berlin. For Vienna, there is Hotels in Vienna and its English version is at Hotels in Vienna. Now you don't have to worry about having to sleep in the railway station in the middle of winter or something just as unpleasant.