Originally, he wanted to become a travel photographer. Then, however, his travels took him to Bali, where the Pondok Sari Resort became his life’s work. Until February 4, 2014 – on that day Rolf Lohmann was killed in an accident in the icy landscape of Iceland. A recognition of his life and work.
Text: Lutz Peter Kaubisch – Photos: Sandra Schmidt, Tobias Zimmer
LIFE IN THE TROPICS – DEATH IN THE ICE
He had not planned to come to Bali, his home of the last 20 years. But here he found his greatest task, his legacy, that now has to be carried on by others. “Pondok Sari”, House of Blossom, that’s what it is called by the people from Bali. It is a tourist jewel in the northwest of the island taken note of worldwide.
Rolf Lohmann had never given up his restless life as a travel photographer. Above all, the magnificent nature of Iceland fascinated him. There he was killed in an accident on February 4, 2014, when capturing the icy paradise on photos. He was 50 years old.
For many people his name is inseparably connected with the westernmost of the Lesser Sunda Islands. The natives respected him as the big German who knew Bali and the country’s nature better than any other stranger. 20 years are a long time to settle down. Rolf Lohmann was deeply rooted in the history and traditions. In this sense the House of Blossom astonishes every visitor. It is a Garden of Eden, indeed, with many houses in it. They are a testimony of centuries-old craftsmanship. “When I came to Bali for the first time in 1989, there was nothing here. Not a single tree, just a small corner, where wine was grown” Rolf Lohmann told his story again, when we met him for the last time in the restaurant of the resort. “We started with a bungalow for backpackers. And over there, where Werner Lau is now operating the diving centre together with Dieter “Düde” Merz, there was an old fisherman’s hut. There was nothing else here.” Today the resort stretches over an area of nearly two hectares at the edge of the village of Permuteran. It is a small paradise with luxuriant vegetation, with large palm trees and flamboyant trees towering above it all. The temple trees, too, have grown big to give plenty of shade. In Indonesia they are called “Frangipani”. Europeans call them wax flowers, although they are used to smaller types. Every day their nice smelling flowers are draped on the bed sheets, a ritual emphasizing the country’s hospitality.
The resort borders directly on the sea. Some fin flaps away from the beach and the diving centre, at the local reef, the largest project to grow corals artificially has been operated for several years. Nature has suffered by dynamite fishing in the past. Macro fans will enjoy to see the progress made by the environmentalists. A 20-minute boat ride to the west Menjangan is rising above the waves. The island is part of the Barat National Park and is one of the favourite diving places in the Bali sea. The wall sites drop to depths up to 40 meters. Reef sharks, large barracudas , gropers as well as jackfish swarms build the background. To moor boats here is a spectacular adventure, even above the water: Java is ahead, and at the eastern side of Bali’s neighbouring island the crater of the Gunung Ijen volcano towers nearly two and a half thousand meters above the sea, a giant colossus. Its crater has a diameter of 16 kilometres. It is the largest one in the world. The local diving sites are a 10 to 20-minute boat ride away from Pondok Sari – only Secret Bay, with its smallest and most bizarre creatures of nature, like frogfish, dragonfish, pygmy seahorses and many types of slugs and mantis shrimps, is nearly an hour away. If you are lucky, you can even see a sea snake or a mimic octopus, whose home is a shell.
Rolf Lohmann took a sharp look, before he knew: he had arrived at the place, where he wanted to stay. The walk to the restaurant with a view to the beach leads you along well cared lotus ponds and the pool made from lava stone with Buddha in its middle. A bit hidden at the back there is the spiritually designed spa area. Those seeing it for the first time, pause to admire the environment that was created here. You can feel the harmony of the bungalows with their surroundings. “Joglos”, Rolf Lohmann says showing to several houses. Bali’s famous building style actually originates from Java, he is explaining. Often he was travelling many weeks to find and collect the building materials for the traditional houses with their carved filigree ceilings and the “gebyok”, ornate wall panelling. In the course of the years they were rebuilt, becoming double bungalows and partly two-storey deluxe bungalows with their own gardens and outside baths. “I knew every merchant and every measure by heart. My team and I, we were searching in the dust for days.”
When Rolf Lohmann flew to Bali for the first time, he was working for the traditional brand of Rollei. They had sent him to China and Indonesia, in order to make photos for the international Photokina fair. The island captured his focus for ever. On his second trip, starting from Denpasar, the capital in the southeast, he took the central route through the mountains to Pemuteran, a four-hour trip through wild nature and along tea plantations. “It was love at first sight.” At second sight, he got to know Vivien, his future wife. It was not least because of her, that he turned his back on Germany, without, however, losing touch with his former home: his brother and sister with their families, and his mother were still living there. Two or three times a year he returned home – the last time in January.
“Rolf Lohmann is irreplaceable. He was the heart and soul of Pondok Sari. It is incredible, that this is all over now, and it makes us very sad”, Myriam Kolbisch says, the marketing director of the Sun + Fun diving travel company. All the people in the travel business feel and think so, and, above all, all his friends and the 90 employees. “Rolf made Pondok Sari to a very special hotel, which cannot simply be assigned to a category by one more star for its design”. It is part of the village life. Rolf Lohmann provided work for many people in the village. Pondok Sari guarantees the living for many families. At the same time it is the spiritual centre of the village community. Here they come together for their traditional temple celebrations. There they will pray for him.