First it was a restaurant, now a luxe resort. GLENN GALE meets a German hotelier whose interest in Jose Rizal is revealed in his establishments. The latest—Bohol’s Peacock Garden.
We all have our dreams, but very few actually get to realize them. One such lucky dreamer is Philippine-based German hotelier and bon vivant Hans Schoof, who can rightly claim to be a Dr. Jose Rizal aficionado as well.
Trekking the world in the early 1980s as a backpacking, free thinking, New Age traveler (though he prefers to tag it his “hippie stage”), taking in everything from the sun-kissed beaches of Greece to the valleys of the Khyber Pass in Pakistan, and encountering all kinds of people and experiences along the way, Hans had a lot of time for dreaming both by day and night.
But his recurring dream was having his own place perched on a hill with a sweeping view of the sea a kilometer or so beyond.
Fast forward to 1986. After a laid-back stint in Thailand, the adventurous Hans surfaces in the Philippines where through a series of good circumstances he finds himself in Bohol and actually discovers the location he has been dreaming about. What’s more, in Baclayon—the sleepy Bohol hamlet where his dream comes true—he also finds the girl of his dreams.
On his chosen 35-hectare sea-view hilltop site Hans built a sprawling Mediterranean-style home that carved up around 13 hectares. And some years later, almost as an afterthought, Hans and Lani—who by happy coincidence celebrate their silver wedding anniversary this month—used up another 11 hectares of the property to build the magnificent Peacock Garden Resort and Spa (incidentally the only spa from the Philippines lauded in the 2012 edition of the Condé Nast Luxury Spas), which is a little bit of Bohol that is now for ever Europe in its imperial setting.
With their son Chris (they also have a daughter Katrina) now running the luxury 33-room resort so named because of the peacock’s connotations with beauty and royalty, Hans has more time to indulge in his pleasures, which includes a fleet of vintage Bentleys and Rolls Royces for a leisurely and elegant drive, augmented by a Mercedes Benz AMG Gullwing (with top speed of 320 mph), a Porsche Cayenne, and a BMW sports convertible which fulfill his need for speed by day.
By night he is most content when he has a Cuban cigar dangling from his fingers and a bottle of 40-year-old Port by his side, and engaging in expansive conversation about his idol, Dr. Jose Rizal.
Though hailing from Wiesbaden, Hans (whose family was in the business of manufacturing automobile parts) lived in Heidelberg for five years—that being the city where Rizal also spent a significant amount of time. Hans explains: “There were various ‘Rizal markers’ in the town which piqued my interest. The building across Heidelberg University where Rizal wrote his poem ‘To the Flowers of Heidelberg,’ and the ophthalmology clinic where he honed his skills to later operate on his mother’s cataracts. There’s even a street and a river embankment named after him. Heidelberg was the city where Rizal stayed the longest during his travels. And even though I was still to visit the Philippines, it already was imprinted on my mind that Rizal must be a great man.”
Several years later when he settled in the Philippines, Hans put up a German restaurant in Malate and named it Old Heidelberg. “I wanted it to be a place where Filipinos, Germans, and other expats could enjoy classic German cuisine. And I thought it would be fitting to have a portrait of Rizal by the entrance to welcome Filipinos, but also as a way of introducing German customers to the Philippine national hero. By then I had also gathered a few books on Rizal which I had on display in the restaurant.”
“One evening, a Filipino turned up [and] asked why, as a German, I had a picture of Rizal at the restaurant entrance. I told him what I had read and thought about Rizal. By the end of the conversation he insisted I come with him. I had no clue where he was taking me, but he brought me to a gathering of the Knights of Rizal, a Philippines-based international organization of like-minded individuals whose purpose was to ensure that Rizal remains relevant. I was inducted as a Knight and met more people who had a wealth of knowledge and a genuine interest in Rizal. My fascination for Rizal grows to this day.”
Hans notes that what he really admires about Rizal is his being a “multifaceted genius.” He goes on: “Rizal’s capacity for 22 languages, his interest in medicine, engineering, literature, politics, all contributed to what I believe is his greatest legacy: his global, forward thinking. Clearly ahead of his time, his legacy wasn’t just to Filipinos but also to modern Asia. Gandhi credited Rizal for being one of the cornerstones of political self-consciousness in the region.
“As much as he was the biggest critic of himself, he was the same for the Filipino people. Even in the deepest of his revolutionary thoughts he cautioned Filipinos about the price and responsibility of freedom.”
Hans’ efforts toward perpetuating Rizal’s legacy (in 2005, he sponsored the first translation of El Filibusterismo into the German language) have not gone unnoticed in his homeland.
The living room furniture of the late Pastor Ullmer, used by Jose Rizal during his stay in 1886 in the vicarage in Wilhelmsfeld (from where he wrote the last few chapters of Noli Me Tangere, which was published in Berlin in 1887) was donated by the pastor’s family to Hans for his commitment to promoting the ideals of the Philippine national hero.
There is a proviso that the furniture—on permanent exhibition in Peacock Garden—cannot be sold. In case it is no longer in the custody of the Schoof family it is stipulated that the furniture be turned over to the Rizal Shrine in Calamba, Laguna.