'Of course, my most recent trip was much faster, but Lufthansa should be praised for those early flights'

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 January, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 January, 2001, 12:00am

When Kayser Sung landed at Frankfurt Airport in January 1961, he marvelled at the landscape. Everything was white, dusted with a thick layer of snow.

It had been many years since he last saw snow in his native Nanjing, and coming from Hong Kong it was indeed a treat. But snow was just one of the many pleasant surprises in store for the respected journalist.

As deputy editor of the Far Eastern Economic Review, he had been invited on Lufthansa's inaugural flight from Hong Kong to Germany.

World War II had brought an end to German civil aviation between East Asia and Germany and those wishing to travel to Germany from Hong Kong had to make lengthy journeys via Rome or Paris. But Lufthansa changed all that in 1961.

The journey was long by today's standards. Mr Sung said it took two days, and Boeing 720B stopped to refuel in at least three places, including Calcutta and Karachi. But he said the service was excellent.

'The cabin crew seemed to really care and offered a personal touch. They were all German and very hospitable,' he said. He remembers the frankfurter and German wine. The service on board was consistently good all the way to Frankfurt, he remembers.

'It was a very memorable flight, not least of all because of the royal reception we got when we arrived.' Mr Sung travelled first class with prominent businessmen.

Improved air travel to the Far East was deemed essential if German-Asian bilateral trade was to flourish and there was already much talk of tapping the potential of the Hong Kong market.

Germany had textile machinery and photographic equipment to offer, among other things, which Hong Kong was eager to import. And Germany provided a ready market for Hong Kong textiles. It was a good match and the Lufthansa flight was the icing on the cake.

'That first flight had a great impact on the subsequent promotion of trade and transport facilities,' said Mr Sung. It was the first of a handful of trips that he would make to Germany to compile a 100-page report for the magazine on trade relations between Hong Kong and Germany. He interviewed senior government officials, including the vice- chancellor.

'In those days they were saying to developing countries that the formation of a common market would not make Europe more protectionist,' said Mr Sung.

Ten years ago, Lufthansa invited Mr Sung to the 30th anniversary of that first flight. Only a handful of people from the inaugural flight were still alive and 10 years down the road there are even fewer. But Mr Sung looks certain to celebrate the 50th anniversary. At 81, he still goes to his Lan Kwai Fong office everyday and has a sharp memory.

He has flown between Hong Kong and Germany countless times. His last trip was in 1999, on Lufthansa. So how does Mr Sung rate today's Lufthansa with that first flight?

'Of course, my most recent trip was much faster and more efficient than the first one. But Lufthansa should be praised for those early flights - they were far ahead of the game then. Today there is much competition between airlines, but in those days Lufthansa was by far the most efficient.'