On top of the world and no vertigo: Heidi and Konrad Linckh, Gananoque, Ontario

Text: Bernadette Calonego
Photos: courtesy Konrad and Heidi Linckh

Heidi and Konrad Linckh Enlarge image Heidi and Konrad Linckh (© Konrad and Heidi Linckh) When Heidi Linckh told her parents in Germany on a nice spring day last year what she had just done, they said: “Now all is lost!” I know that parents cannot always appreciate what their adult children do. But I can relate to their shock. Because Heidi and her husband Konrad had bought a 138-metre tower in Ontario: the 1000 Islands SkyDeck (now renamed the 1000 Islands Tower).

It is a unique tourist attraction in the Thousand Islands region bordering the United States, with an elevator that rockets tourists in 40 seconds to the first of three viewing platforms. From there, you can see the St. Lawrence River meander past many small islands. Tourists who aspire for higher levels, can climb a winding interior staircase to the second and third deck. Here they must find themselves in heaven. Or close to it. On top, you can see across 60 kilometres of stunning landscape.

Some people have their own tree or truck or their own tent, but Heidi and Konrad, being very modest people, have their own 137-meter tower. Not bad, eh? Enlarge image Some people have their own tree or truck or their own tent, but Heidi and Konrad, being very modest people, have their own 137-meter tower. Not bad, eh? (© Ian Coristine / 1000islandsphotoart.com) It is a spectacular sight. And a spectacular purchase. I mean, a B&B in Canada would have been kind of sensible for newly minted immigrants from Düsseldorf. Even Heidi, looking back on their decision, cannot help but admit: “Who could have imagined that we would purchase a tower one day!” Well said, Heidi.

But to her defense, I have to mention that the decision was fast but actually not rushed. And certainly not crazy. Heidi (40) who hails from Mönchen-Gladbach in Germany has a BA in Business Administration. And Konrad (42) is an electrical engineer. They were well traveled: Heidi did studies in London, England and in Hawaii; Konrad had worked in the United States.

You see know why the railing is so high – because people have to rest their huge camera lenses somewhere. Enlarge image You see know why the railing is so high – because people have to rest their huge camera lenses somewhere. (© Heidi and Konrad Linckh) And they had married and honeymooned in Canada, at the Fenelon Falls. When they returned to Canada in 2011 as permanent residents, they were looking for a business. Konrad worked at Queen`s University in Kingston first, as a laboratory manager. And Heidi opened a bakery and sold German-style cookies and cakes at local markets in the area.

Oh sooo good! Heidi`s German cakes and cookies. To die for! Enlarge image Oh sooo good! Heidi`s German cakes and cookies. To die for! (© Konrad and Heidi Linckh) But really what they wanted to be was entrepreneurs. They looked at camp grounds, at a saw mill, a small hotel, a gas station and a window-framing business. But nothing worked out the way they wanted. Their real estate agent, becoming desperate, showed them the 1000 Islands Skydeck Tower on Hill Island. The property also included 10 acres of land, two gift shops, a currency exchange, a 10,000-square-foot exhibit hall, an ice cream shop, retail space, storage buildings and parking for 100 vehicles. Not bad, eh?

When you are on a high tower like the 1000 Islands Tower, then everything is very tiny in the distance. Enlarge image When you are on a high tower like the 1000 Islands Tower, then everything is very tiny in the distance. (© Heidi and Konrad Linckh) The Linckhs had known that this landmark was for sale. “Konrad took an interest in the tower because as an engineer he was fascinated by its structure”, Heidi says. Inside is an elevator that takes people up to its airy platforms. As fate willed, Konrad`s nephew in Germany was an elevator mechanic. So Konrad got the details, and together they figured out that the elevator was safe and sound. Konrad also made sure that the nearly 50 year-old tower would not crumble in the near future, despite walls that are almost half a metre thick. He got the help from experts at Queen’s University who X-rayed and analyzed the structure and gave him the thumbs up. Heidi on the other hand made sure the numbers added up. When the elderly owners who wanted to retire, came down from the original price of 2.5 million dollars, “I was hooked”, Heidi says. “I made up my mind after one day.”

Sometimes the Linckh family can be seen on their tower, but as you probably notice: They cling to each other - no wonder, at this height. Enlarge image Sometimes the Linckh family can be seen on their tower, but as you probably notice: They cling to each other - no wonder, at this height. (© Konrad and Heidi Linckh) Which was a good thing. Because the season started in April! Last year, the Linckhs worked 190 days non-stop until the season ended in October. Heidi says that around 25,000 people visited the tower. She worked mainly in the gift store and sold tickets, souvenirs and German-style baked goods. Their five-year-old son enjoyed the many kids that come to the tower. Konrad acted as guide, especially for tourists from Germany. Mind you, he is really into it, he can already name over 100 of the thousand islands in the area.

Heidi realized quickly that you cannot transfer your German know-how one-on-one to Canada. “There are cultural differences”, she says.

 

Spies, spies everywhere! They might look right through your window. Enlarge image Spies, spies everywhere! They might look right through your window. (© Heidi and Konrad Linckh) We have to know more! We asked Heidi some CCQ (Curious and Crucial Questions).

Heidi, have you ever climbed the 400 stairs of the spiral staircase that winds around the tower?

No, this is just an emergency staircase. It is not for tourists, for liability reasons. And I am not sure who actually would want to climb these 400 stairs without feeling vertigo! It takes about half an hour to the top.

Heidi`s souvenir shop – there can never be enough t-shirts, a tower of shirts so to speak. Enlarge image Heidi`s souvenir shop – there can never be enough t-shirts, a tower of shirts so to speak. (© Konrad and Heidi Linckh) As the owner of a tower, are you now towering above normal citizens?

No way! I am not riding the elevator every day. Somebody has to have the feet on the ground! But it is a treat for me to see the view once in a while after a long day. The sunsets are out of this world!

What are the cultural differences you mentioned earlier?

Well, the German tourists pay the entrance fee, go up in the elevator and enjoy the wonderful view. The American tourists ask me what they can do on top. Maybe it is because they don`t have these high clock towers in the U.S. like we have in Europe.

Sunset tour on the 1000 Island Tower – a midnight ghost tour is probably next. Enlarge image Sunset tour on the 1000 Island Tower – a midnight ghost tour is probably next. (© Heidi and Konrad Linckh) Okay, so what can you do on top?

Enjoy the breathtaking view, of course! We also have a guide who points out the interesting things that you see from above. But we are thinking about having more events up there, like birthday parties, weddings, movie nights or to install a light show. Or a coffee shop, although that is something that Canadians and Americans have to learn to appreciate first.

But are Canadians not huge coffee drinkers?

Yes, they are, but for them coffee is more important than cakes. With the Germans, it is the other way round. But they complain about the prices which Canadians don`t. I used to bake all these German goodies like Bee Sting Cake (Bienenstich), Danube Waves (Donauwellen) or Nut Corners (Nussecken), but the Canadian costumers said: “This is too nice to eat it now, this is for desert.”

I see no Spiderman, mummy, where is Spiderman? Mummy, I want Spiderman!!! Right now! Enlarge image I see no Spiderman, mummy, where is Spiderman? Mummy, I want Spiderman!!! Right now! (© Konrad and Heidi Linckh) How do you accommodate Canadian preferences?

I started baking Brownies, and they sell well. In the gift store, I had to expand my German taste for stuffed animals and wooden toys which I love. In Canada, the kids buy everything with Spiderman on it.

So you are getting the hang of it?

Oh yes! When there is a large family with kids in the elevator, we switch off the light for fun, and the kids just love it!

When the season ends in October, what do you do in winter?

We renovate. We will be renovating for the next six years, I guess.

Let`s go island hopping - 1000 islands in 3 hours. Enlarge image Let`s go island hopping - 1000 islands in 3 hours. (© Heidi and Konrad Linckh) How do your parents and relatives in Germany now think about you owning a tower?

They think it is great! My mother-in-law helped with tourists in the elevator when she was visiting. And my mother baked German cookies while she was here.

What do people ask you when they buy tickets for the tower?

Where we come from and how much we paid for the tower.

That makes me curious: How much did you pay for the tower in the end?

(laughs) We don`t tell them and we won`t tell you!

One last question: Can you remember what you did on the day when the Berlin Wall was demolished (November 9, 1989)?

We were both very young at the time, still going to school. I was 16 or 17. I remember that we sat in front of the television set the entire afternoon. About one year before the fall of the Berlin Wall, we had a discussion at school in a lesson about politics. And the unanimous opinion was that the German reunification will never materialise. When it actually happened, we thought: Politics can change from one day to the other!

This is your treat, one of Heidi`s delicious cakes, because you read the entire story (if you didn`t, you won`t get anything)! Enlarge image This is your treat, one of Heidi`s delicious cakes, because you read the entire story (if you didn`t, you won`t get anything)! (© Konrad and Heidi Linckh) I grew up in the very West of Germany, so we were not impacted much. But I remember that all the second-hand cars disappeared because they were sold in the East.

Konrad`s father grew up in Berlin. When the family traveled to Berlin for a visit, they had to cross the territory of the DDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republik or Eastern Germany). He remembers how badly they were treated at the checkpoint.

More information:
www.1000islandstower.com

Heidi and Konrad Linckh

Visa stamp by Immigration Canada

Bernadette Calonego, author of immigrant portraits

Bernadette Calonego

Most of our immigrant portraits are written by Bernadette Calonego, a freelance Canada correspondent for European German-language newspapers. Writing about German immigrants in Canada made me realise to what extent they helped to shape this country – and still do," she says.