Buddhism – Sri Lanka’s greatest gift to Germany
Posted on February 12th, 2016

by Satharathilaka Banda Atugoda Former Sri Lanka Ambassador to Germany

It is reported that President Maithripala Sirisena will be making an Official/State Visit to Germany from February 13th, which is considered as a high watermark of the relations between our two countries. Visits by Heads of State/Governments as State Visits, are viewed as a crescendo of bi-lateral diplomacy between two friendly Nations. The British Scholar-Diplomat Sir. Ernest Satow’s ‘Guide to Diplomatic Practice’, mentions of the visits of Heads of State to other Sovereign States, from historical times, and the facilities, and ceremonials accorded during such visits. Depending, on the diplomatic level of these visits, and the level of friendship they are categorized as State Visits, Official Visits and Working Visits or Private Visits. Each country has its own practice and norms, in relation to the ceremonies and honours accorded to the Foreign Dignitary, based on the level of the Visit.

Some media reports said that his visit is made after an interregnum of 43 years. I beg them to correct these reports, as I was privy to the State Visit of President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, in 2001, as Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Germany. President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s visit to Germany in 2001, was from March 12- 16, and it was a State Visit, which had all the ingredients to make it such, as our relations were excellent. Some of these salient aspects of honour were, the Invitation extended by the Head of State of Germany Johannes Rau, Military honours on arrival and departure, Playing of the National Anthems, Residence at Adlon Hotel, the historic State Guest Palace, Meetings with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Bi-lateral meetings of delegations, Visit to Bavaria, which is a hallmark of State visits, and Ceremonial welcome by Minister President Edmund Stoiber, Presidential Dinners, and witnessing German Opera and of course, Reception by Sri Lanka Ambassador. It was a very successful visit spearheaded by late, Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar. The same pattern, probably. will be followed for President Maithripala Sirisena too, and all our blessings to the visit.

Sri Lanka and German Relations were at that time, at its zenith, and two notable political achievements were the pledge given by the German Government that they will persuade the European Union to proscribe the terrorist outfit LTTE, and make the fund-raising activities of the LTTE dispora illegal, which were factors which ultimately, paved the way to the defeat of the LTTE in 2009 and eliminate terrorism from Sri Lanka. One person who sacrificed his life in this endeavour was Late Lakshman Kadirgamar, who should be remembered in an essay of this nature.

There were other economic and commercial discussions between the two business delegations, some of which perhaps did not materialize due to the terrorist menace which dragged on for some more time, in the name of Peace Talks from 2003, and the LTTE getting breathing space to consolidate their power base in the so-called LTTE-held territories, a nomenclature used in the peace agreement. However, one such major commercial proposal was to set-up a BMW assembling plant in Sri Lanka, and establish an export-hub to export the product to South Asia, which did not see the light of day. All our sincere blessings, therefore, to the new proposal to locate a VW plant in Sri Lanka, which is a major step towards, strengthening the heavy industries in Sri Lanka. A few more BOI projects were established as an outcome of the previous visit and talks.

On the educational sphere, Germany agreed to provide University facilities for students seeking higher studies, and these openings are being utilized by Sri Lankan students, although the momentum is slow. The German Stiftungs (foundations) were to be strengthened to assist Sri Lanka in the varied development segments. However, due to short-sighted policies, in foreign policy, some of these were temporarily closed, but they are being re established, now, reflecting an enhancement of the relations. The GTZ, now GIZ has been commencing new livelihood projects to help low income groups in Society. Small and Medium Enterprises, and Industrial projects were to be helped, and they continue unabated, with the German Embassy in Colombo taking a special interest, as at present. It is a welcome move by the German Government to look afresh at the links forged already over the years in order to enhance bi-lateral links extending to more than 64 years.

Antiquity and Early Links

If one goes back to antiquity, the inhabitants of Sri Lanka and Germany, had the same beginnings, as taught in the ‘migration of humans from the ancient Aral-Caspian Depression.’ Some moved north while others moved south. Sri Lanka in written history became a Buddhist Religion-Cultural centre, while Germany became a part of the Holy Roman Empire. Until, the age of Great explorations in 16th and 17th centuries, the regions had less contacts, except for some sea-farer or a traveller who moved along the old Silk Route. The Island was known in antiquity as Taprobane. It was a land mentioned in German Literature as far back as 8th century, as a ‘land of legends, elephants, and precious stones’, as written in Rhabanus Maurus, the Abbot of Fulda. Even at present, Sri Lanka is a land of dreams in the mind of Germans. The Germans were not invaders or colonizers, but they were intellectuals, financiers, and whose support was sought by other European colonizers like Portuguese and the Dutch. German financiers like Fuggers were the supporters of Portuguese explorers of the 15th century. The sailors who joined in these travels wrote books on their travels in the German language, and one such was the ‘Collection of Travels to Eastern and Western India (Sammlung von Reisen in das Oestliche und Westlich Indien),’ published by De Bray. Another landmark was the Map of the World (1569), of famous Cartographer Mercator, which included Ceylon, introduced to us by our teacher Late Professor George Thambyapillay in the 1960s.

The Germans served in the Dutch fleets in the 17th and the 18th centuries, and notably, the Dutch Governor Baron Gustav Wilhelm Von Imhoff, who later became the Governor General in Batavia, present Indonesia, was of German origin. The eminent names like Wolf, Spittel, Schneider, Lorenz, and Drieberg who have contributed to the Sri Lankan Literature and Science, have links to German families. There were writers like Major Raven Hart who wrote ‘Germans in Dutch Ceylon’, give a glimpse of Sri Lanka in the 17th century. The other German Chroniclers like Von der Beer, (1636-1642), Christof Schweitzer (1676-1682), and Langhanz (1705), provide interesting accounts about then Ceylon. A notable contributor was Prince Waldemar of Prussia who produced illustrated accounts.

These historical antecedents are important to understand German ethos vis-a-vis Sri Lanka as Germany like Sri Lanka had vicissitudes of fortune, as a country. In 1871 Germany was unified and became an Empire, under Emperor Wilhelm I; Otto-Von Bismarck was the Chancellor. During this period Germany started commercial ties with the outside world and they started plantations in the Hills of Ceylon. John Hagenbach and Christian Boehringer, Saloman, Gabriel, and Maurice Wolmster were pioneers and Sogama Estate in Udapussellawa is one such plantation. Phillip Freudenberg was one entrepreneur, who started coffee trade in 1876. He was also appointed as the Consul and official representative of the German Empire in Ceylon. By 1903 the Germans established a German Club opened by the son of Emperor William II, Prince Albert of Prussia; it was located in front of the Colombo Museum. With the First World War, German property was confiscated. The second World War too had a negative impact on business and trade-relations.

On cultural links the famous Indologist, Wilhelm Geiger (1856-1953), laid the foundation for the systematic study of Sinhala Grammar. He also translated the Pali Text of Mahawamsa into English, with Mrs Bode. It is said that he received inspiration from Paul Goldschmidt, who was a German and also Archaeological Commissioner. Another German Protestant Missionary Bartholomaeus Ziegenbalg (1682-1719), laid the foundation for Tamil Grammar, and translated religious books to Tamil, living in Tamil Nadu

The Present Period

Emerging from the ashes of 1st and 2nd World Wars, in the 1950s and 60s, Federal Republic of Germany under Konrad Adenauer became a World Power like Japan, although there was East Germany created under the Cold War regimes. Germans never gave up until they unified the two parts of Germany in October 3, 1990, under Hemut Kohl, as one Germany, with the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Sri Lanka too after 450 years under colonialists, became Independent in 1948, became a Republic in 1972 and defeated a group of terrorists after a bitterly fought conflict, from 1983-2009. Sri Lanka became a member of the United Nations in 1953 while Germany became a full member of the U.N. in 1973, delayed due to cold war bickering. Nations go through such turmoil but they should have the will and capacity to come out of them. Both Sri Lanka and Germany have that courage to face adversity, and win the day.

Sri Lanka after Independence became one of the leaders, among the emerging countries from colonialism and they established the Afro Asian Association; they were the pioneers of the Non-Aligned Movement, started as Neutralism, commencing from the Colombo Powers Meeting and Bandung Conference in 1953 and 1954. Friendly relations with countries with International prestige and standing was crucial for Germany, as she also was on the path, to recover her own lost glory, and was keen to establish diplomatic relations with Sri Lanka.

Bilateral Diplomatic Representation

In fact since 1872, the Germans had their consuls responsible for Ceylon under the British, starting with Mr. H.H. Kramer; Mr. Philip Freudenberg based in Sri Lanka, who was a great entrepreneur succeeded Kramer. During the World Wars the Consulates were closed by the British, and business ventures were confiscated. When Sri Lanka gained Independence there were talks for commencing diplomatic relations, with Sri Lanka’s first High Commissioner to London, Sir. Oliver Goonetillike, and after negotiations, diplomatic relations were established in 1953. Dr. Georg Ahrens, was the first German Envoy and he took up post on December 3, 1953. Sri Lanka too established diplomatic relations in the same year with a top Civil Servant, Mr. Glannie Pieris, Professor G.L. Pieris’s father.

The Sri Lanka Embassy was located on a picturesque hillock in Bad Godesberg, in Bonn, (which was the Administrative Capital) and the Chancery in the City. When Germany was unified in 1990, Berlin became the Capital, leaving a few Ministries and Departments, in Bonn. By the end of 1990s, most Foreign Missions and Government Offices shifted to Berlin. Sri Lanka was one country which relocated to Berlin after a gap of a few years. Some of the countries in the East Bloc had their properties in Berlin and it was easier for them to move, whereas Sri Lanka had to start from scratch. With the policy of re orientation of Foreign Policy under late Lakshman Kadirgamar Sri Lanka Mission in Bonn too could shift to Berlin to Niklasse Strasse, in Berlin; after establishing a Sri Lankan Consulate in Bonn, to assist the Sri Lankan community and those Germans in North Rhine Westphalia. The year was 1999, and I as Ambassador of Sri Lanka in Germany was fortunate to be instrumental in the ,re-location, and organizing the State Visit of President Chandrika Bandaranaike to Germany, visiting the Capital Berlin as a State Guest, in the year 2001. Our Consulate in Bonn has been shifted Frankfurt subsequently.

Except for a brief period when Sri Lanka was to recognize German Democratic Republic, in the 1970s the relations were expanding in substance, and meaning. Even in the admission of Germany to the United Nations, Sri Lanka helped sort out differences with GDR, for both countries to be admitted. Germany, re-asserted her position her position in the comity of Nations,and became a World Power.

Germany is more relevant today, politically, for Sri Lanka as Chancellor Angela Merkel heads a Grand Coalition Government of Christian Democratic Party, (CDU), sister party, Christian Social Union (CSU), and Social Democratic Party (SPD), similar to Sri Lanka-Government. The Electoral System is worth studying as it combines personalized and proportional representation as in Sri Lanka. Head of State, is President Joachim Gauck, elected in 2012, could remain in office for five years and could be re-elected only once by the Federal Convention consisting, of the German Parliament and an equal number of members selected from Parliaments of 16 Federal States. Chancellor Angela Merkel can be called the Real Executive. The German Constitution has features, which could be used in Sri -Lanka’s constitution-making. The relations strengthened in all facets since 1950s.


Goethe Institute was established in 1956, and it promotes German Culture and Educational Policy. These have antecedents; Herman Hesse, who was a Nobel Prize winner in Literature produced his work, “Siddhartha”, in the first decade 20th century and he visited Sri Lanka in 1906; Marie Musaeus Higgins founded the Musaeus Collage in 1892; Dr Paul Dhalke founded the Buddhist Haus in Berlin in 1923.

Economic Partnership

Sri Lanka’s partnership with Germany was brought closer with the above mechanisms. German Tech, was established in 1959. Development of the Port of Colombo was given initial financial assistance in 1961. Cement Factory, Kankasanturai, Paper Factories at Valaichanai and Embilipitiya, Iron Foundry at Enderamulla were the industrial plants, started by Germany, but some of these are not functioning, due to varied reasons.

German Federal Ministry of Economic Co-operation (BMZ) has been giving aid through German Technical Cooperation (GIZ),their projects are more than 50. They give assistance to reconstruction and reconciliation projects in the north. The Chamber Construction Industry was granted financial support to train craftsmen in the North and East after 2009, during difficult times, and now there are directly done by GIZ. German Development Bank (KFW) grants soft loans on behalf of the Government, especially for small and medium enterprises. They have also given supply of electrical power rehabilitation in the Jaffna Peninsula.


The political organizations of Germany, have Foundations (Stiftungs). They are in the name of German leaders; Konrad Adenauer Foundation, of the Christian Democrats, Friedrich Ebert Foundation, of the Social Democrats, Friedrich Naumann Foundation of the Free Democrats, and Helmut Kohl Foundation in the name former Chancellor Helmut Kohl. They all support Sri Lankan Society to upgrade the democratic value systems, through higher education, establishing institutions, providing facilities for education abroad, and educating the civil society for democratic leadership. It was a very moving decision of Chancellor Kohl to grant aid to finance a hospital in Galle where he was personally stranded for sometime during the unfortunate Tsunami while holidaying, in Sri Lanka in 2004 December. That speaks volumes for their humane qualities. However, through, unsophisticated handling some closed, temporarily, and they have to be requested to return. Basically, their ethos and attitudes should be understood, in dealing with projects.

Irrigation Schemes

For example, Germany built, the Randenigala, Rantambe and Kirindi Oya Irrigation Dams, during the 1980s under the Accelerated Mahaveli Programme. Sri Lanka should grateful for the financial, outlay of 1.2 Billion German Marks (then currency), and also 380 million German Marks, as direct technical assistance, which brightened the lives of millions. In the 1980s Germany was the second biggest development partner. They became a leading investor in BOI projects numbering more than 50, which were adversely affected by the terrorism raising its ugly head in the country.

Trade and Investments

Germany is the fourth largest trading partner, and this could be further developed. Sri Lanka exports, textiles, garments, rubber, tea, plastics, transport accessories, vegetable products, machinery and allied goods and imports fabrics, iron and steel products, motor vehicles, paper products and beverages.The trade turnover is more than 8,000 million.

The investments of Germany in Sri Lanka are Foreign Direct Investments, under Board of Investments, and Germany has signed an Investment Protection Agreement with Sri Lanka. There are more than 170 such approved projects, valued at Rs. 12 billion.


Tourism developed between the two countries in spite of terrorism with more than 50,000 arrivals a year. Some Germans own tourist inns in the south, thus promoting Sri Lanka. Tour companies like, Rewe Touristik, formerly LTU, Acanthus Tours, and been in operation and this is an area that should be developed in our bi-lateral relations.

There is lot of potential in the allied segments of Tourism, like persons arriving for Ayurvedic Treatment, Meditation, and study of Buddhist Doctrine. They should be encouraged at all levels.

Sri Lankans in Germany

Many Sri Lankans have made Germany their home. There are around 60,000 Sri Lankans in Germany, majority had been settled after 1983, Ethnic problems. They have integrated into the German Society. Some of them contribute to the life of the host country; There are restaurant owners, and social workers among them. There are professionals among those who migrated as Students. There are Medical Doctors, Hoteliers, Translators, and Government Servants. Some among the Tamil Diaspora have become persons working against reconciliation among ethnic groups in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka’s Gift

The greatest gift that Sri Lanka could give to the West was the Message of the Compassionate One, and His Loving Kindness in form of the Buddhist Doctrine. This was so especially to a country like Germany, which suffered ignominiously, due to two World Wars. These links began in 1903 with a German National Anton W.F. Gueth being ordained as a Buddhist Monk under the name of Ven Nyanatiloka Thero. He did immense service to humanity as the Maha Thera of the Island Hermitage in Ratgama Lake in Dodanduwa. He was considered a Bodhisatva; He passed away in 1957; Sri Lanka paid the highest honour to Him by having a State Funeral at Independence Square. He had many erudite pupils, Nyanaponika, Nyanatassa, Nyanamoli, Anagarika Sugathananda, and Vappo. Ven Nyanaponika, (lay name Siegmund Feniger), was a great writer on Buddhism who lived in Kandy Hermitage. There are pupils of these monks serving the cause of the Dhamma. The pupil of Ven. Nyanaponika, Bhikku Bodhi, even was the Principal Speaker at the United Nations in 2000, on the occasion of the Declaration of Vesak Day as a Day of International Recognition.

A branch of the Maha Bodhi Society of India and Sri Lanka was established in 1921 in Germany by Dr. Karl Siedenstueker, and a small Buddhist Community exist today in Utting near Ammersee. The Buddhist Haus of Dr. Paul Dhalke, established in his own property was later converted to a Buddhist Vihara by Most Ven Mitirigala Dhammanishanthi (lay name Asoka Weeraratne). He did yeoman service to the Doctrine and its teachings through his German Dharmadutha Society established in 1954. Helped at that time by three Prime Ministers, Late Dudley Senanayake, Late S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike and Late Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike, and other philanthropists, Berlin Buddhist Vihara in Fraunau was established in 1957. As at present similar Buddhist Viharas are in existence, in Bonn, and small towns, where Buddhists live.

Sri Lanka has become a partner in progress of German Sri Lanka Relations for the benefit not only of the two countries but the whole world. President Maithripala Sirisena will take this message to Germany and thus revive our age-old links, never again for the pahana (lamp) so lit to be blown off by stray winds.

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