Dubai: An ex-Navy pilot; a master goldsmith; a foot specialist who works wonders with his hands; a farmer with a 13-acre citrus and cork farm; a fit-out expert with an impressive portfolio; a cloud-cruising adventurer who has a plane for every mood; and a “crazy guy” whose funny bone never lets him down.
Now, that’s Jörg (aka George) Stobel for you - all rolled into one.
“I have a healthy ego and don’t need to be exposed in a luxury car or be flashed across the media,” the 56-year-old German expat understandably tells Gulf News.
But ironically, it’s just the gentleman next door, who has been an integral part of the community in Jumeirah, that we had set out to meet, the chance insights into his multi-faceted personality only embellishing his delightful tale.
A podiatrist (‘who’s that?’) arrives in Dubai
Away from the Jumeirah Janes who have long hogged the limelight in the community, Stobel has earned himself an enviable reputation of being Jumeirah’s “Jack of all trade, master of many”.
And it all began in 1996. “My second wife Barbara and I arrived in Dubai at a time when people in many parts of the world still didn’t know who a podiatrist was - they mistook podiatry for paediatrics. As a diabetic foot specialist in Germany, we had some patients coming from the UAE. It was at their behest that we decided to offer our services here.”
The upscale Jumeirah was a natural choice to set up base. As Stobel recalls, “I had no idea how the city worked back then. But I stated my requirements to an Indian property agent and she showed me around 40 villas. It was the last villa on the rounds that my wife and I finally settled for. It was a building (owned by the late Abdulla Mohamed Saleh) and was located opposite the Mercato Mall where the drive-through Starbucks now stands.”
Stobel, who stayed on the first floor and practised chiropody on the ground floor, says he was allowed to operate what was merely licensed as a beauty salon for men and women; it was only much later that a specialised category called chiropody came into existence and his Chiropody Centre was registered with the Dubai Health Authority as a poly clinic.
“At the time, we were the only independent chiropody poly clinic in the entire Gulf and customers stormed the place. Within six months of our arrival, the clinic had to get extra hands. Over time, the core team of four doctors who joined us continue with us till date.”
When the fishermen’s homes vanished
Stobel has fond memories of his 13 years at the villa. “Lunch breaks meant a quick trip to the beach with a bathing suit and towel in hand. I witnessed many changes taking place around me – whether it was the fishermen’s homes vanishing from down the road; the number of lanes on Jumeirah Beach Road increasing from two to three; or the Burj Khalifa springing up in the distance.”
The last person to live in his villa too, he actually watched it being razed to the ground when it made way for the modern-day construction.
As Stobel tried to keep pace with the changes around him, he moved his clinic to a smaller villa (No.780) towards Jumeirah Beach Hotel on the same road in 2007 and then to the Sunset Mall further down in 2017.
But on both occasions when he was looking for a new place, there was no question of moving out of Jumeirah.
“The speciality of Jumeirah is that it is a neighbourhood where many old Emirati and expat families work, live or both. I have known them for years and become close to them. Besides, Jumeirah has always had a distinct character and culture, just outside of old Dubai. One big reason I established my practice here was the fine visibility my clinic got when people drove past on Jumeirah Beach Road,” he says.
The speciality of Jumeirah is that it is a neighbourhood where many old Emirati and expat families work, live or both. I have known them for years and become close to them.
But what about the clinic’s current location inside a mall? Stobel says moving into a mall was also a conscious decision as it did away with the problem of parking. “We’re still in the heart of Jumeirah with plenty of underground space for our customers to park. And I can still visit the Kite Beach, take a sunset walk or swim, and even meet up with friends at the fishermen’s restaurants behind.”
‘Handyman’ and happy farmer
Stobel’s Chiropody Centre Poly Clinic at the Sunset Mall boasts of loyal customers, many of them friends, who come to him for a variety of problems like ingrown toe nails, nail fungal infections, warts and verrucae, callus, cornea and corns, bunions or to get custom-made orthotics. And invariably, it’s the expert hands of the foot doctor that they all talk about.
Stobel admits he is quite the “handyman” and doesn’t fix just feet, but also things around the house. “It’s a passion that I have managed to pursue, with the result that I run a full-fledged fit-out construction and maintenance business (in Phuket, Thailand) and have a team of 15 people working on various projects.”
Talk about Stobel’s handiwork leads to another revelation: He has a green thumb too. And pray, how does his garden grow?
“Well, I own a 13-acre farm in Portugal,” he tells you. “It overlooks a huge lake and we grow cork, orange and lemon trees. It’s a beautiful place and I hope to retire there someday.”
Cloud cruiser with a plane for every occasion
Now, if that weren’t enough, Stobel has other hidden talents too which he has assiduously nurtured. Once a celebrated Navy pilot in Germany, he quit the forces due to family reasons. “I studied to become a goldsmith master and a few years later, after leaving my first wife and daughter, took up medicine to qualify as a medical chiropodist or podiatrist.”
But as Stobel put it, he was infected with the “flying virus that lasts a lifetime”.
So two years after moving to Dubai, he took to the skies again – this time as an adventurer. He recalls how he would spend his weekends at the flying club at Umm Al Quwain where he engaged with an aircraft manufacturer from Ukraine and taught young Emiratis and expats how to fly. At some point, he began to visit the Al Jazeera Flying Club in Ras Al Khaimah too, taking his renewed passion to new heights.
“I am a cloud cruiser. I love the freedom that comes with it. In fact, I have different aircraft for different occasions: An F4U Corsair for aerobatics, an old Aeroprakt 20 that takes me 10,000 feet high and allows me to switch off the engine and glide in the clouds; a float plane that can land on my lake in Portugal and a sports cruiser for some quick travel in Europe,” he says.
The sense of disbelief as you take in those words doesn’t go unnoticed.
“Small planes are not expensive, you know,” he explains. “I picked up one of my two-seaters for as little as 28,000 Euros.”
And as if to justify his indulgence, he adds: “Cars are more expensive and lose their value quickly. I don’t spend on them. In fact, I still drive a 4X4 which is 25 years old.”
‘George Clooney sports a grey beard too’
It’s clear by now that Stobel is a man who can spring endless surprises. A neighbour you can talk to on and on.
“I am not the typical Dubai guy. I don’t do Friday brunches or visit the usual places. But yes, I love the desert and taught my daughter Juliana, who now lives in Liechtenstein with her husband, how to drive here,” says the now single father.
The Jack of all trades firmly believes life is an adventure and must be experienced full-throttle.
“I have a long way to go, I am just 56,” he reaffirms.
“Don’t let the grey hair mislead you. I may not be as handsome, but George Clooney sports a grey beard too.”