Meet the Consul
Tell us a little bit about you personally. Where are you originally from and where did you spend your childhood?
I was born in a small village called Demaenova in former Czechoslovakia and lived there with my mother and grandparents for the first seven years of my life. This was in the low and high Tatras mountain range and as my godfather worked for the mountain rescue team, I grew up skiing in winter and hiking in summer.
When I was a child, my mother and I moved to Vorarlberg in Austria, where my adoptive father lived. I attended the elementary and middle school in Lustenau and afterwards went to a tourism high school in Bludenz, where the Milka Chocolate Factory is located. I remember, every morning getting off the train in Bludenz and inhaling the delicious smell of chocolate.
How did you come to the United States?
Because of my Slovakian heritage, I became used to travel long distances. We spent most holidays in the U.S. and also commuting over 30 miles from Lustenau to Bludenz to school didn't bother me. I also discovered early that there is more to see than Vorarlberg and Austria.
When I was 15 years old, I took my first solo flight from Zurich to Atlanta, which was the biggest airport in the world at that time and from there to Winston-Salem in North Carolina. I spent one month there with friends of my family and looked after their two boys. After high school, I took a year off and traveled around the world for three months visiting Singapore, Australia, Hawaii and Vancouver. Since then, I have taken every opportunity to travel and I even feel like being a modern nomad sometimes.
What is your professional background?
After my year off, I started to take financial service classes at the University of Vienna. Later, I applied for a job in the Principality of Liechtenstein, where I worked for one of the largest law firms. I then became the personal assistant of the Senior Partner and worked in the trust administration field for offshore companies.
Despite working full time, I graduated with a trust and international tax degree from the University of Liechtenstein. I can't say that I have ever stopped educating myself and I'm still learning every day. I have even considered going back to Austria to study economics and business there.
When did you come to the Bermudas and why did you decide to settle here?
After five years in Liechtenstein, I was sent to Bermuda for a merger with a trust company and that was the beginning of my life on the island. I had a three-year work permit but, as it happens, I met my husband here in Bermuda and never left. In 2008, I was hired by a New York based foreign exchange trading company to run their Bermuda office which I did for three years before giving birth to twin boys.
You are the founder of H.design. Would you like to share some details about your company and its projects?
The business started from the experience I gained, managing my own kitchen renovations. These renovations led me to deal with choosing, importing and managing the installation of products in the high-end kitchen market as well as working with local architects and products.
The positive feedback from friends and clients has resulted in a following of people, who are looking for something unique and different when designing their kitchens in Bermuda. Most of my clients know the brand we represent. So it’s a matter of making the transition to their "dream kitchen come true" as smooth as possible.
My professional highlight is for sure our own home, which combines the traditional Bermuda architecture with modern design. I used to be a little homesick, so I decided to bring parts from Austria to Bermuda by first adding small accessories, later furniture and then a modern kitchen from my country of heritage. Because of my design business and the regular containers coming from Austria, I started to import Austrian wine and I still bring in the world's best mustard, Lustenauer Senf, from my hometown.
As you have had a keen eye for design since a young age, how would you describe the most typical characteristics of the architectural works on Bermuda?
Bermuda houses are very distinct because of their white roofs, which collect drinking water, and because of their colorful walls. Many houses are outdated and when younger people buy a small house, they often want to add bedrooms and other living spaces or modernize their kitchen and the bathrooms. So combining a contemporary kitchen with modern furniture or adding a modern wooden entrance door with glass and stainless steel gives a Bermuda house a unique look.
Which architectural landmarks in Austria do you like most?
Museumsquartier in Vienna is probably my favorite landmark! It is a wonderful mix of modern, 18th and 19th century buildings. There are also beautiful landmarks in Vorarlberg such as the Festspielhaus and the Kunsthaus in Bregenz.
How would you compare the life on the Bermudas with the life in Austria?
Life in Bermuda is very different from life in Austria in many ways. From a mother's perspective, children are attending school much earlier, so drop off with lunch boxes is at 8 am and pick up at 3 pm. Children do not come home for lunch by foot like they do in Austria for example. We do not have big lunches, as the main meal is dinner.
You don't necessarily own a bicycle and you are not allowed to have a second car because the island is too small for it. On the other hand, you might own a surfboard, jet ski, or boat. Bermuda has an expat community of over 15,000 people from the U.S., Canada, England, France, Italy, Germany, Austria and Switzerland. So it is a melting pot of cultures and sometimes you even celebrate public holidays from different countries, like Thanksgiving, the Queen's Birthday or St. Patrick's Day. I am very lucky to have the two worlds combined. I enjoy both, skiing and hiking in Austria as well as the beach and boating in Bermuda.
How many Austrians live on Bermuda? Would you know them personally?
There are approximately 70 Austrians living in Bermuda. There is an overall German speaking community of over 350 people and we organize a German speaking happy hour once every six months. I personally know about 15 Austrians and we see each other on a regular basis, meet for dinners and get together with our kids to encourage them to speak German, which is actually not always as easy.
When were you appointed as the island’s Austrian Honorary Consul and how did that come to be?
After my predecessor Oskar Lewnowski resigned in December 2014 due to health issues, I offered to the Consul General in New York City to take on his role. I am very honored to represent Austria in Bermuda, together with my husband, who is the deputy consul.
Would you like to share some aspects of your work as an Honorary Consul?
Are there any special stories to tell? My duties are rather representative, but I still assist people with applying for Schengen Visas or passports which they receive in New York. I am also helping out with translations and certifications. More importantly, I am involved with charity work in Bermuda and using my function to communicate with corporate sponsors and government to make improvements on the island.
At the moment, I am working on a project to have a playground installed in the Botanical Gardens with an Austrian playground designer and I am very excited that some part of it have already received funding. I have also helped organizing the UN International Women's Day celebration this year in Bermuda, where we invited women to speak up for gender equality. Recently, I welcomed an Austrian Cellist at the airport, who has partnered with local artist Heather Nova, who has been successful and internationally recognized for many years.
Tell us your favorite story about the mystery of the “Bermuda Triangle.” Are there any new mythical tales being told on the island?
Well, it is always a good way to start a conversation and talk about the Bermuda Triangle myths. But I don't think there is much truth behind it. Fact is, Bermuda is a small island in the middle of the Atlantic ocean, located about 800 miles off the coast from South Carolina, surrounded by coral reefs. So if you ever get stranded here, trust me, it’s not the worst place to be!
Thank you very much for your time!