You are now representing Paradise on Earth : Tea Businessman Olav C. Ellerbrock is Hamburg’s longest-serving Honorary Consul
When Peter Schulz issued the exequatur - the approval for the office of representative of a foreign country in Hamburg, to the tea businessman Olav C. Ellerbrock, the then Mayor said: “I would like to be in your position. You are now representing Paradise on Earth.”
That was in 1974, and since then Olav C. Ellerbrock has been Honorary Consul General of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, and now is the longest-serving member of the diplomatic corps in the Hanse City. If you become Consul General as a career diplomat, you will move on after a few years. But as honorary consul? “That is a great honour, and thus you stay.” Ellerbrock, who has included the consulate into the offices of the family business of Haelssen & Lyon in the Storage City, is now 81-years-young, active and does not think about retiring.
In the restaurant “Breitengrad” in the Gefionstrasse, the Silva family serves typical food from Sri Lanka: Great and strongly spiced curries, lamb, tuna, lentils, additionally mango-chutney. Consul Ellerbrock likes it hot. He has helped the owners of the Breitengrad in the 1970s to find jobs at the Elbe river, and still today he is interested in the well-being of the culinary embassy of Sri Lanka.
It was no surprise that this country asked if he wanted to represent their interests in Hamburg. “We are buying the tea where it grows, and sell it where it does not grow,” Ellerbrock says. An in this respect, Sri Lanka was in the leading group, as the Ceylon-teas were coming from there (“deeply-black leaf, copper-red lighting tea, somewhat bitter, but aromatic – one of the best teas of the world”). Ellerbrock’s father had invested in Sri Lanka in 1959, eleven years after independence – in an instant-tea-factory. “It’s still running today.” This gave the Hamburg tea entrepreneur a good name and best contacts. How often Olav C. Ellerbrock has visited Sri Lanka, he doesn’t know. Leading a traditional tea business, which – as one of the oldest tenants – is residing in the storage city still with a rental contract of 1887 and has one of the oldest accounts with the Deutsche Bank – “without break from 1879” – buying the best teas in all production areas of the world, thus in some 30 countries, you get abroad fairly soon. Almost 16 years, Ellerbrock was “outside”, in 1952 for one year in India: “The first German after the Second World War, even up there in Darjeeling.”
“You should go there. Sri Lanka is a most beautiful country with happy and hospitable people.” Olav C. Ellerbrock
Ellerbrock was head of the company and chairman of the German tea association, when the Ambassador of Sri Lanka offered him the title. His area of office comprises Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein. In former times, many seamen came to him, but today it is more about issuing passports and documents for local Sri Lankans. Trade is blossoming. Herbs, tea, graphite, gemstones, sisal and other threads are coming from Sri Lanka.
When delegation from Sri Lanka are going to Hamburg or a new Ambassador, things are getting turbulent. Ellerbrock laughs. “There are countries, where there is almost no danger of a ministerial visit. Those colleagues are laughing, if it is getting hectic around here.” After the Tsunami 2004, he and his Bremen colleagues have collected donations of more than one million Euro. In the moment he supports a film to promote tourism.
Consul Ellerbrock, that reminds of the old times of a Consul Buddenbrook. However, he also experienced other times, the almost 26 years of the cruel civil wars in Sri Lanka, when the Tamil Tigers became active also in Hamburg to demand funds from their countrymen. “There I have always enquired thoroughly and gave clear advice.” Thanks to God, Ellerbrock says, since 2009 there has been peace in the country.
If he had a fixed place at the Matthiae-Mahl already? “I tell you something: I have been in Bremen at this date for many years. Since 1901 there has been an East-Asian Association there, which celebrates its Liebesmahl almost every time at the same day – and the Bremen town hall is more traditional than the Hamburg town hall.”
In his everyday-life, Southeast Asia also plays a role: “I did not marry an Asian. My wife Namou comes from Southern France, we have been married for almost 50 year. But in our living room at the Leinpfad, the furniture is mostly Asian.” And he mourns a great loss: For 20 years he could employ an Indian butler, which now went back home after retirement. “Sotho was a great cook, he had been trained with the British High Commissioner in Bombay, came with a Swiss diplomat and stayed in our home.”
Ellerbrock is happy in his office and with Sri Lanka, and if he is telling about his trips, this has an enthusiastic character: “Just go there. In the winter to the South, the water has 30 degrees Celsius, also the air. Up in the mountains, in the highlands, it is almost even more beautiful. You can drive for hours through a landscape like a park. The tea gardens are stretching to up to 2000 meters. A great country, with happy and hospitable people.” Thus paradise on earth.
(Image, Caption: Olav C. Ellerbrock, 81, in the tea bureau of the family company Hälssen & Lyon. Since 1974, he has been Honorary Consul General of Sri Lanka. Image: Klaus Bodig)
- Asian Tribune -