On the Scene: Hawaii’s Honorary Consul of Germany Denis Salle is working to preserve a piece of history
Denis Salle was born in Hamburg, Germany, but his step-grandfather had family ties to Hawaii, and Salle spent part of his teen years living here.
Mahalo for reading the Honolulu Star-Advertiser!
You're reading a premium story. Read the full story with our Print & Digital Subscription.
Already a subscriber? Log in now to continue reading this story.
Denis Salle was born in Hamburg, Germany, but his step-grandfather had family ties to Hawaii, and Salle spent part of his teen years living here; he attended Kahuku High School in 1980, and Kalani in 1984. He decided to make Hawaii his home in 2000, earned an MBA from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and founded eC3 LLC, a medical information technology firm. In 2012, Salle became honorary consul of Germany, Germany’s official representative in Hawaii. In June, he became dean of the Consular Corps of Hawaii.
Salle, 52, has been exploring the almost-forgotten history of Germans in Hawaii — particular the history and legacy of Heinrich Hackfeld and H. Hackfeld & Co. Ltd., one of the original “Big Five” firms, whose corporate assets were confiscated after the United States declared war on Germany in 1917. Hackfeld & Co. became American Factors, which later became AmFac. The turn-of-the-century Hackfeld building on the corner of Fort and Bishop streets was torn down in 1969; its ornate gate was put in a little triangular park with a fountain and a canon next to the AmFac Towers.
Fifty years later the historic gate is much the worse for the wear. Salle is raising the money to restore the gate and upgrade the park. For more information, visit hackfeldgate.com.
How did you get involved with the history of Germans in Hawaii and the plight of the Hackfeld gate?
Niklaus Schweizer (honorary consul emeritus of Switzerland) and I speak the same language and have the same history affection, although he’s a lot more scholarly than I am. He wrote a book in ’82 about Germans in the Pacific, and when you read that book you come across Hackfeld, there’s no way around it. The duties of an honorary consul are not just handling passports and notarizations, we’re also there to nurture cultural exchange. I was looking for something cultural of German descent and I found the Hackfeld gate.
Were Germans erased from our local narrative because of the world wars?
Enough time has passed that we don’t need to hide the fact that Germans were not always evil. There are other things to say about their legacy and the impact of sugar in Hawaii, and the reverberations of that era today are so strong that once you start seeing that legacy I think it’s worthwhile spreading the word. My dream would be to get the Hackfeld story and the German legacy into the schools as one part of Hawaiian history. This could be a small contribution to the larger rewriting of Hawaiian history that needs to be done. The gate could be a hands-on starting point for some people to take the journey.
What’s your next step?
I have permission from the (state) Department of Transportation Highways Division to take the gate out — with a crane — bring it to Sand Island and sandblast it, repaint it, put the things that are missing back in and plunk it back down in the park.
How much will it cost?
It’s probably going to cost $50,000. I’m working with the German Benevolent Society on this — they’re a nonprofit — and we’re hoping to find people who see the value in this.
You’re an honorary consul, you’re a businessman and you’re working to save the Hackfeld gate. What do you enjoy doing for relaxation?
I like to walk my dog and drink coffee in cafes. I play squash, I windsurf and I surf. The rest of my time is split between my two kids and my wife.