“We’re all OK but we’ve been cautioned to stay home,” Candy Moreno Rauh responded to the deluge of concern on her Viber group as news of the tragedies went viral.
Safe is how the Filipino German feels in the sylvan setting that is her private refuge.
Icking is postcard-pretty, with the Bavarian Alps dominating the horizon. Fewer than 4,000 folks live on these 6.56 square miles of pastureland. They’ve been there and done that and fiercely protect their town’s tranquility.
More cows and sheep than four wheels seem to roam the roads.
On any given day, the lilting “Hallo” might mingle with the murmur of the Isar River and the chirping of the birds nesting in the woods. But for two weeks in May, the singsong had a distinctly new ring on Mittenwalder Strasse.
The main drag along the S-Bahn station in Icking echoed with familiar intonation as visitors from California and Manila skipped off the train for the three-minute stroll to their home away from home in Bavaria, southern Germany.
The irongate electronically opened into the home of the siblings’ sister – now mine, courtesy of her youngest brother.
If anyone told then-Manilan teen Isabel “Candy” Moreno she would live her early autumn years as a suburban ”hausfrau,” she would have blown smoke from her thin menthols and pooh-poohed the thought with her bejeweled fingers.
The middle of three sisters dabbled in modeling, studied in Madrid, took up dressage and took up interior design. She never needed a resume. Instead she built Candy Lion, producer and purveyor of handmade one-of-a-kind linens and pillows. The little project prospered, fueling its founder’s creativity, taking her all over the globe on sourcing expeditions and buyers’ conventions, until she gave it up when she married Manfred Rauh, a German engineer whose path she crossed during one of those buying trips.
That was many moons and several continents ago.
For three seasons of the year her day begins and ends in her Bayern (as Bavarians call their region) garden, where she digs dirt, pulls weeds and plucks withered leaves from her pampered plants while her husband works in his home office. They pause for a quick lunch, often something simple like soup or sandwich. In December they jet off to their winter home in Capetown, South Africa, where they play golf and enjoy an extended summer in the southern hemisphere. They read much, party little. They make time to give back, contributing to the homeless and displaced. Manfred headed the center that processed and resettled recent Muslim refugees.
Candy still likes bling but not on herself. She designs and cobbles jewelry that is both fun and valuable. Crafted from natural elements, each of Rauh’s sparklers is a work of art. The hobby began during Rauh’s sojourn in Shanghai, where her husband was stationed as country manager for industrial giant Siemens. There she learned traditional decorative knotting, a folk art traced back over a thousand years ago to the Tang and Sung and then the Ming dynasties.
The discovery turned into a passion. She taught the craft to her sisters and friends. They collected beads – jade, carnelian, amber, wood and glass – anything that could be pierced and strung in silk thread into ornaments for the body or the home. They held knotting sessions, a metaphor for their enduring relationships.
Rauh has become jeweler to her Bayerische friends, who browse the “treasure room” at her home when they covet something unique for themselves or others.
The hobby took a break this late spring in favor of family. There was the birthday celebration for the “baby” brother the Germans last saw 25 years ago in San Francisco, and the comforting of two older brothers who had lost their wives to cancer within a year of each other last fall. The Rauhs suspended their routine for their guests as they adapted to the Manilans: having rice at every meal; playing mahjong every afternoon; texting throughout the day.
The couple gleefully received their “pasalubong” from across the globe, including the clandestine Lapid Chicharon from the Philippines and low-fat Spam from the United States.
How my brothers-in-law managed to slip in the verboten cargo boggled the mind, promptly earning a warning from us that a Customs beagle sniff baggage arrivals back home, so don’t even dream about pulling the stunt in SFO.
Our canned mystery meat apparently is precious in Deutschland, now that the U.S. has vacated its bases. In a country where sausage is king, no “brat” and “wurst,” as locals call their links, outshines the sentimental value of the Hormel legend.
Food, indeed, is the language of love, especially in a country where the flavors of home are scarce.
“From the official statistics of Germany,” says Philippine Ambassador Melita S. Santa Maria-Thomeczek, “21,000 Filipinos” live among over 80 million people in Germany. Philippine “nationals,” she likely meant, as she qualified that the “figure does not include those who have become German citizens.”
Candy and her techie son Christian, 30, her daughter, Bea de Leon Rankl, and Rankl’s sons, William and Sean, are among some 30,000 other Germans of Filipino descent under the Philippine radar.
The Rauhs made Bavaria their home between postings in Bangkok and Shanghai in the 1980s, a decade after the first wave of Filipinos arrived.
“They were nurses, they all settled in West Germany,” Thomeczek dscribed the first recorded influx from her homeland. “Germany had an agreement with the PH and Korea to get their nurses. This year, some nurses are celebrating 50 years in Germany.”
The next wave of Filipinos were fiancees of German citizens, according to the envoy.
“FilGers,” as Thomeczek refers to her constituents, are unspoiled by success. They take personal and professional achievements as givens, not reasons for acclamation. Hence, no name came to mind in response to this writer’s query about prominent Filipinos in Germany.
Within their communities, they provide services lacking in the mainstream, as in proficiency in Philippine languages or awareness of the customs of the archipelago. Travel agencies and catering are the two biggest enterprises owned by Filipinos. Those who seek employment in the larger community thrive in social services, said the diplomat.
If they were in the United States, Rauh and Thomeczek would have bonded soon after the latter settled in the capital last year. The fact that the Maryknoll College alums had not connected belies the gap between “FilGers” and German Filipinos.
Thomeczek spent four years as Philippine consul in Bonn in the mid-1990s. She was deputy consul general in New York prior to her home recall. She had presided over the DFA Ladies Association before heading the embassy in Berlin.
The envoy may be unaware that Manila-born Bea Rankl, who attended Ecole Superieure de la Mode in Munich, was assistant fashion editor at Madame magazine before she married outdoor home furnishing entrepreneur Marcus Rankl. Her pioneering spirit goes back to her paternal great grandmother Narcisa de Leon, who founded LVN, the pioneer film studios in the Philippines. Rankl parlays her artistry in her eponymous houseware design shop near their residence in Grunwald, known as Bavaria’s Beverly Hills.
Filipinos in general have good street cred, said Thomeczek.
“FilGers can easily integrate. They are peaceful citizens. Our nurses have been recognized well in society. Domestics (among them) are much sought after. They are seen as loyal, caring, clean and trustworthy.”
Filipinos there hail from all over the Philippines, she added, pointing to “a big group called Ala Eh – mostly from Batangas …(that) get together through one or two big events a year.”
Forty percent of them voted in the May 9 Philippine national elections.
If language is the biggest barrier to Filipinos’ acculturation, their ethnicity and religion unite them.
“Almost all of them exist with a mission to help the Philippines,” saidThomeczek. “There are also a lot of religious groups like the Couples for Christ, which have survived all these years. In many cities like Frankfurt, the surviving Filorgs (Filipino organizations) are the religious ones.”
Where Filipino presence dominates is in church where Filipino Masses take place.
We might have been the only Filipinos among hundreds of families that lusty afternoon when we toasted our birthday celebrant at Waldwirtschaft, a beer garden locals dub "Wawi" in the town of Grosshesselohe.
Over juicy pork ribs, gigantic pretzels and what Bavarians tout as the world's best beer, we indulged in filial affection eight decades from the summer our chemist patriarch, Hector Moreno, studied in the same country, even eyeballing The Fuhrer in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. We thanked our parents, clinked mugs, and cheered our family German-style: Prost!
Cherie M. Querol Moreno is a Commissioner with the San Mateo County Commission on Aging and executive director of nonprofit ALLICE Alliance for Community Empowerment. She is editor at large of Philippine News, columnist for Philippines Today USA and contributor to Rappler and GMA News Online.
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