A Travellerspoint blog

Exploring Bonn and gearing up for Berlin!

Road trip tomorrow!

sunny 80 °F

As I was cooking up my omelette this morning, Bernd worried about my cholesterol but I assured him that it was off the charts low. Little does he know that these 3-egg omelettes are dwarfed by the 5- and 6-egg omelettes I usually have at home!
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When Bernd headed off for the management meeting, he told me to take the afternoon off since I was no longer giving my presentations to the management team. In the morning, I went through the English version of their website and put together a little report of changes and suggestions. As it was a beautiful day and I still had a few museums to see in Bonn, I heeded his suggestion and put the top down for the drive into Bonn.

I parked at the museum behind this lovely Ford and wondered why the folks at Ford never brought it to the states…
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The USA in Germany exhibit started right after the end of the war. It talked about the publicly displayed posters that America and the other allies saw as essential to the “re-education and denazification” of the German civilians to show the atrocities that had happened right under there nose (since many pleaded ignorance of the extent of the crimes)
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This flag was pretty cool. The 7th regimen brought it with them when they landed in Sicily in 1943 and carried it with them as they made their way up through Bavaria (southern Germany).
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Here’s a picture from the regimen walking through a German town after the war.
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In an effort to keep Germany weak and prevent future aggression, the US and other allies began an “Industrial Dismantling,” confiscating many tools and machines, many of which ended up in countries like Greece that had suffered heavily under German occupation. In what had developed as a theme from my visit to the permanent exhibition of the museum, many former Nazis essentially buried or disregarded their past and were allowed to live normal lives without ever paying retribution. One such example was Wernher von Braun.
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He was arrested in 1945 and later went to the US with other German rocket experts as a part of “Operation Paperclip” to work for the American missile program. He later received great acclaim for his leading role in the US space program.

Next was an exhibit on the blockade and subsequent airlift. From June 1948 when the soviets blockaded the roads to Berlin in an attempt to get the US, France and Britain to relinquish their claim to West Berlin, until May of 1949, 270,000 planes brought in over 2 million tons of food, coal and supplies to West Berlin.
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You can imagine that planes had to take off non-stop to bring supplies to an entire city. At the peak of the airlift, there were more than 1,400 daily flights to and from Berlin…not quite a “plane a minute” (which was the catchphrase at the time), but close!

In 1944, the US pressed for free trade worldwide at a conference of representatives from 44 nations. In what came to be known as the Bretton Woods Agreement, the delegates agreed on a system of exchange rates with the US dollar as the reserve currency (as it was freely convertible into gold at the time). The Americans made sure to get West Germany included in the system as soon as possible.
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Eventually, the US recognized the potential in West Germany and stopped the industrial dismantling of Germany. With memories from the war still fresh on their minds, France and the UK wanted Germany to stay weak, but eventually were convinced by the US to support German reconstruction.

In 1949, the city renamed a street after US General Lucius Clay who had organized the airlift and in 1951, the West Berlin Airlift memorial was erected, and dubbed “The Hunger Fork.” They even had a picture of President Clinton at the 50 year anniversary of the airlift.
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A funny little piece of US organized propaganda was the “Amerikahauser,” or America Houses that were started in West German cities to make Germans familiar with western ideals of democracy, culture and society. They became an important part of America’s “re-education” policies after the war and were an important part of the cultural life in West German cities.
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I’ll admit I was wondering why anyone would go to such a place, but apparently they were successful. They said that the library, film screenings, lectures and exhibitions at the America House in Berlin regularly drew large crowds and that there were over 14 million visitors per year at the America Houses across the country during the 1950s.

Former President Hoover suggested that German students be provided with an additional meal during the day and they came to be known as “Hoover Meals.”
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Other programs, such as the supplies provided in the “CARE USA” program contributed to the image of the USA as a benefactor in the hearts and minds of Germans. They event went so far as to say that “recollections of American support shape the collective memory of the Germans for decades, extending into the present day.”
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In many ways, I was proud of what the US did to help Germany rebuild, but I couldn’t help but question our motives in doing so, especially, when I read about the “Building a Better Life” exhibition in West Berlin in 1952 that attracted significant public interest when they set up a model house without a roof and allowed visitors to peer into its rooms as an actor-family demonstrates the comforts and technologies of the “modern western world.”
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In some ways, the museum itself wasn’t sure what to make of these opportunistic exhibitions. For example, such exhibitions were obviously beneficial to American companies, but it also talked about how it was an important instrument of the Cold War to show western superiority over the socialist economic model. Overall, they did a nice job presenting an unbiased approach.

In the 50s and 60s, West Germany and West Berlin clearly recognized the US as a protector and significant driver of the economic upturn. German businesses and industries gained from technology and management methods in the US. They really highlighted the symbolism the Berlin Airlift as a milestone of German-American bonding and Kennedy’s Berlin visit in 1963 made him (and by extension the US) an icon in their hearts. Their ideal image came to include the American suburban ideal of the time…a house in a nature-setting on the edge of town crowned with a “Hollywood garden swing.”
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The growth in West Germany was dubbed an “economic miracle” as more and more this ideal became achievable.

Pop culture became heavily influenced by America as well. Jukeboxes brought by soldiers after the war played American music, James Dean and Levi’s Jeans became part of the ideal as well.
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Levi’s even made it to East Germany. East German-produced jeans wouldn’t cut it, so the regime even had to import US jeans to meet demand. Jeans and an American military jacket became one of few ways that East German youth could project their individuality.
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Looks like the standard dress code for an attendee of any rally in the US against the war in Vietnam, no?

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Though Reagan gained media attention for his “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” speech in June of ‘87, but for Germans the end of the division still seemed far off at the time. They did have a cool little artifact that was a polished chunk of the Berlin Wall that was signed by Gorbachev, Bush and the German Helmut Kohl in 2009 at the 20 year anniversary of their respective roles in the Berlin wall finally coming down.
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In 1994, US Army units in Berlin lowered the flag for the last time.
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Though that was the end of a chapter of our direct influence in Germany, there is obviously still a strong link in todays world. They traced the events of September 11th and their effects in Germany, including 11 Germans that died in the Towers. Their empathy was evident in this child’s drawing:
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I thought that it was pretty significant that children over here were moved as well.

There have also been disputes, such as a conflict over the looming “Second Iraq War” in 2003, where their foreign minister Joschka Fischer at the time was at odds with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s plans and famously replied “Excuse me, I am not convinced!”
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There was similar sentiment among many German citizens as well (which probably isn’t all that much different than the mixed feelings among Americans at the time)
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Despite disputes, there is quite clearly an American influence in Germany. A story that made headlines on German TV was that of Konny Reimann and his family who emigrated to America.
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Apparently, there are numerous advice books on how to successfully resettle in the US and many who wish to leave Germany forever still see the US as an ideal destination.

Also, I was unaware that “mortar-board caps” and gowns were an American tradition, but they noted that this business school in Germany had an “American Style Graduation Ceremony,” and also that the American business school model is spreading in Germany.
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Since Germany is much more progressive than the US, with their public health care, free college educations, worker’s councils and higher taxes, they pretty much universally had a sigh of relief when Obama became president after Bush was so at odds with the German (and European) model.
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Overall, it was fascinating to take a look at the American influence abroad. As I mentioned the museum did a great job of showing all sides of the story, which is pretty rare for many American history museums that are on our own soil. Mostly, I just enjoyed seeing the German perception of America. They even had some interesting public opinion polls scattered throughout the museum that provided a snapshot in time of things like which country they trusted most (out of US/UK/FR/USSR) or whether they had a favorable opinion of different countries at different points in history. It was funny to see US flags and merchandise in the store too!
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After I left the museum, I headed over to the Arithmeum. Perhaps I built it up too much in my head, but when I walked past, their walls were luckily all glass so I could peak inside. It didn’t look as interesting as I imagined, with basically just a bunch of old typewriters and stuff, so I decided to skip it. Instead, I decided to walk to the Poppelsdorf Palace.
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I really regretted not checking this out the first time I was in Bonn, as this view must have been incredible when all of the trees were still blossoming. On my way down the long park leading up to the palace, I passed by a little bookstand where an old guy brought a book and searched for a new one. Even in a presumably academic university town, this was a peculiar little cultural oddity.
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The palace had been turned into a museum that I wasn’t necessarily interested in, but I enjoyed checking out the architecture of the building itself.
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A half hour or so later, as I headed back through the park to the center of town, there was now two people using the little stand-alone library/book-exchange. Kind of cool that people actually make use of it. I can’t imagine this ever working in the US.
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Next, I headed to the Beethoven Haus (WHERE HE LIVED?), but unfortunately it was closing in 30 minutes so they wouldn’t let me in.
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It was getting late and I was getting hungry, so I headed back to my car. On the way, I passed an ambulance and a police car. It’s not just in the Jason Bourne movies, the police really drive BMWs!!!!
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I looked at some souvenirs along the way too, but those German beer steins are like 50-80 euros. Even this mini one that was smaller than a shot glass was 20 euros ($25-30). Craziness.
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Earlier in the week, Bernd and Elke had mentioned the movie Berlin 1-2-3 and insisted that we watch it before going to Berlin. So after dinner when Bernd asked what I wanted to do, I suggested we watch since tomorrow we leave for Berlin! It was created as a satire of east/west relations through the story of an American Coca-Cola exec running the operations in Berlin. When he walks into the office in the morning, everybody instinctively stands out of habit from the days of Hitler. He pleads with his assistant to get them to stop, but his assistant says “That’s the problem with democracy. They didn’t used to have a choice and now that they can choose, they choose to stand!” His assistant can’t kick his habit of clicking his heels from his days in the German Army and claims to have been stationed in a subway, where they so rarely let him above ground that he never knew of all of the atrocities committed by the Nazis. Anyways, there are all kinds of little cultural nuances that get poked fun at throughout the movie. I definitely got a lot more out of it having Bernd there to clue me in to some of the jokes.

The general story line is that the Berlin exec’s boss sends his daughter to live in Berlin with the Berlin exec and his family. When the boss comes to visit, the Berlin exec finds out that the daughter fell in love with (and married) an East Berliner who has been brainwashed as a communist and has a clear disdain for capitalism. They plan to run away together to Moscow before her dad comes. The Berlin exec crafts a plan to play along with their runaway and tells the husband to go back, but sends him over with some American propaganda so that he ends up being arrested and tortured and kept awake until he’s in a state of delirium, eventually falsely admitting he was an American spy just so that they would stop torturing him.

The Berlin exec’s wife is outraged and gets him to pull a few strings using Coke and his attractive secretary as bribes East Berlin officials to break the husband out of jail. As a spy(and now a fugitive too), the husband can never go back to East Berlin or the Soviet Union. Hilarity ensues as they try to reverse years of communist ideology and turn him into a gentleman and a capitalist. It turns out that in between filming this movie and its actual release, the Berlin wall went up, so the movie was a complete flop because nobody could laugh about the situation. When the walls came down, it was rediscovered and became a cult classic. I was really glad that Bernd and Elke recommended it!

Near the end of the movie, Elke got home from her trip and discovered why the clueless bachelor’s couldn’t use the microwave...their microwave has a special feature to have a “grill” element, where coils on the top of the microwave heat up and somehow that had been turned on, melting the tupperware lids. Whoops.

After the movie, Bernd told me a great story of the Brandenburg gate, which was highlighted often in the movie as the gate to pass from East to West and decades later came to symbolize German division and later the reunification. He scoffs at the way many museums say that the wall going up was a surprise. Everybody in the West knew it was going to happen because hundreds of thousands of East Germans and East Berliners were coming to the West every year through Berlin, the best place to cross after the rest of the inner-German border had been heavily fortified. When he was around 10 years old, he and a friend knew that the wall could go up any day and decided that they were going to go touch the gate while they still could. Berlin is a huge city and it was quite a ways from his house, but they nevertheless hopped on their bikes and made the trek. They were successful in their quest until they realized that the whole way there had been slightly downhill and they had a long uphill climb to get back home. Not long after, the wall did indeed go up. How cool is that? To me it was an iconic example of the fearlessness and adventurousness of young boys across the backdrop of one of the most significant historical events of the last 50 years. Just an incredible story…it could be its own movie or at the very least in a museum with their actual bikes and a picture of him and his friend.

Bernd printed out a few maps of Berlin for me and showed me where our hotel was, which looked to be right in the center of the city! By this point, it was pretty late, so after I did some research on the top things to see in Berlin, I packed up for our road trip tomorrow morning. So glad to have seen the movie and heard Bernd’s story to drum up some excitement!

Posted by atbrady 05/18/2013 18:28 Archived in Germany Tagged history in palace germany museum berlin usa german bonn beethoven haus 123 poppelsdorf Comments (0)

Back to Business

Pitching to SIG

rain 60 °F

This morning, Bernd had left for Berlin for the day and Elke was headed out the door for a few days in Hamburg, so I was on my own. Luckily, Elke had thought of me when grocery shopping over the weekend and there were plenty of eggs for breakfast. It was a beautiful day, so I headed out to the office with the top down.
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On the way there, the radio station was playing a Spanish song. I had to laugh at being in Germany while listening to a song in Spanish. Finally a language I could somewhat understand! At first, I thought that it was unique that they were so open to songs in languages that they may not fully understand. When we’re winding down at the end of the night and Bernd is playing various records, he often plays songs from France, Italy or even Eastern Europe. As I considered it, however, I gave the old US of A a bit more credit because to some extent, the only culture we are geographically close to is the Mexican and Hispanic cultures of Central America and the Caribbean, and in many ways, we have embraced the musical influences of their culture as well.

In the morning, I had some more time to work on tomorrow’s SIG presentation. I had already intertwined their history and desired culture to Conscious Capitalism, so now I had to integrate some of the slides Bernd had sent over from a past presentation about the Cultural Values Assessment from Barrett. I may have mentioned that last week I received an email from Gallup with a timely article about disengagement among German workers, so I was able to integrate some of those findings as well as the findings from the Edelman research on Trust that Bernd had shared with me. It was a lot to go over in one presentation, but I tried to organize it in a logical way. I started with the Edelman and Gallup research to identify the need for intentional management of culture, then presented Conscious Capitalism as the ideal to strive for. My hope was that this would naturally lead to the question of “How do we start the journey to that ideal?” where I would then come in with the Barrett tools as a concrete way to measure and manage culture. I tried to stay on as high of a level as possible to fit it all in, but there was an extensive, EXTENSIVE appendix for further information.

Bernd’s general approach for SIG was that they had just developed their Vision, Mission and Values and were planning to formally introduce them at the management conference coming up in June. They had asked Bernd to be the keynote speaker at the conference, but he was unable to attend. Since they seemed to be such an interesting prospect, however, he offered to sit down with an executive to give ideas and do what he could to help, in hopes that it might strengthen the relationship and lead to some future business. So the general objective was to provide them with as much value as possible in the presentation.

Next to the Konzepte office is another “office” turned barn for horses. Since it was such a nice day, I could see people walking the horses around outside through my window and could hear them neighing happily. It was an interesting dynamic to have this stable right next door.

There hadn’t been much in the fridge, so I didn’t bring anything for lunch during the day other than an apple. I worked until about 3 then planned to head into Bonn to grab some food and check out the few museums I hadn’t had a chance to explore. One was the Arithmeum, which I think I mentioned explores the intersection of technology with art and design throughout history. I also wanted to check out the special exhibit at the German History Museum I had went to with Bernd last week. There was a Die USA in Deutschland exhibit that had made me do a double take until I realized that Die was just “The” in German. When I looked online, however, both museums were closed on Mondays, which was a bummer. Nevertheless, I had some other errands to run in Bonn. For one, my camera’s memory card had been filled up late in the day in Brussels so I needed to find a camera shop to buy a new one. In addition, the blossoms around Bonn had blown me away as I wandered around last weekend, but it had been hard to get shots of them at night. So I decided to head to Bonn anyway, despite the fact that I couldn't get to the museums.

On my way out of Konigswinter, I passed a grocery store and figured it was as good a place as any to do my shopping, so I walked around and found some veggies I needed for eggs in the morning, restocked my stash of nuts and grabbed some ham and cheese for lunch as well as a few other miscellaneous things. Shopping in any unfamiliar grocery store takes quite a bit of extra time to wander through all of the aisles and having things in different languages may not have hurt me in the produce section, but elsewhere it only added to the confusion. A few things I noticed along the way. McDonalds has capitalized on their UBIQUITY to create their own line of condiments.
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Also, they don’t refrigerate their eggs in stores here. On top of that, I’m not sure whether they had eggs left over from Easter or if this was just a normal occurrence, but they had dozens (or rather half-dozens and 10 packs) of colored eggs.
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I had spent probably 45 minutes to get just a few things and as I went to check out, my credit card would not work. The cashier didn’t speak any English, but I thought she said something about MasterCard, so I tried my other credit card but that wouldn’t work either. It was the only checkout in the whole store, so the line started to grow behind me. Eventually a few of the people in line were able to help a bit with translations. Apparently they only accepted debit cards. I had one of those too, but it wouldn’t work either. I Was apologizing profusely to the people behind me, but they all seemed to be understanding (or at least pretended to be, which I still appreciated). The guy behind me eventually offered to pay for my groceries then have me follow his car to the nearest ATM to pay him back. I was blown away by his generosity, but when he explained where the ATM was, I decided I could make it there on my own. So I had to withdraw money and then come back to finally get my groceries. At this point I was beyond starving, but had to get to Bonn at a reasonable time to get to the camera shop, so I ate on the way.

When I got to Bonn, I found the camera shop with relative ease and then set off to the shopping district and main plaza in all of its blooming glory. I passed one tree whose blossoms had shrivelled and fallen to the ground. Then I passed another that was now completely green. Unfortunately, my window of opportunity had closed since I had been in Bonn just a week ago. I walked around for a bit anyways, noticing that German college students weren’t much different than American ones, packing the quad (not sure if they call it that in Germany) to sunbathe, read, relax and of course play Frisbee.
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I also walked through a couple swanky parts of Bonn with some really nice houses.
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Passing a Starbucks on the main square, I remembered how Bernd had told me of the struggles of Starbucks in Europe. We hypothesized that their main value proposition in America of offering a place for friends to meet, relax and enjoy themselves simply was not unique in Europe. Virtually any café or restaurant offered a similar relaxed atmosphere where you could stay as long as you wanted. Bernd called to tell me that he had landed, so I headed back home so that we could have dinner together. When I got back home, he showed me a pocket-sized introductory German book he had bought me in Berlin. He had noticed my interest in the language and in trying to pronounce German words and read signs and I so appreciated the gesture.

For dinner, we headed up some leftovers from the freezer. I had curried chicken that was really good and made myself a salad as well, using the extra curry sauce as dressing. We had a bit of a debacle heating things up in the microwave. The tops of the containers were totally melted and we couldn’t figure out why. After all, they were the exact same containers we had used to heat up leftovers several times before. It remained a mystery…

After we ate, I gave him a rundown of the research I had done on SIG and showed him what I had come up with for the presentation. He really liked that way that I used their mission, vision and values to fit into Conscious Capitalism and the Barrett tools. He offered a few suggestions, and I worked on them as he DJ’d some records before we turned in for the night.

The next morning, I got up early to go for a run before we headed to SIG. On my way, this little boy was walking to school and heard me coming and ran with me for a block or so which was cute.
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On the way to SIG, which was in Linnich, a small town about an hour away, it started to pour. Bernd introduced me to a German expression that translates to “the clouds are breaking apart.” I read my new book on the road, which began with pronunciations for each letter in German. Bernd and I both had a few laughs as he coached me with my pronunciations along the way. We also had an interesting conversation about how language not only results from, but also perpetuates larger cultural trends. For example, we talked a little about the book “When Cultures Collide” that was the basis for their cultural awareness training that I enjoyed reviewing last week. In Sweden, collision would be too brash, so they translated it to “When Cultures Meet.”

At SIG, we first met with an old colleague of Bernd’s that used to be one of the Konzepte freelancers and was now heading a training department there. They spoke in German, so I continued to read my Intro German book and also grabbed a few of the SIG marketing materials in the lobby to browse through. I also snapped a few pictures in the lobby. Here was their values
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as well as examples of some of the products that use their carton technology
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I had been completely oblivious, but Bernd later noted how the values were made to look like one of the cartons, which was pretty cool.

When it came time to give our presentation, the guy was a bit strange. We thought that he might be sceptical as to our true motives to come all the way here just to offer advice, but gradually he opened up and seemed genuinely interested in what we had to say (though he was still a bit of an oddball). He was actually very interested in the Cultural Values Assessment, so our meeting went for close to an hour and 45 minutes as we explained it in greater depth and offered up a few examples. Not only was it a good sign that the meeting went so long, but the types of questions he was asking made it seem as if he was already sold. He asked some good questions about the best way to introduce the assessment to managers and then the rest of the team and then how to roll it out. Bernd even floated the idea of getting Richard Barrett to be the keynote speaker for the conference, which could be neat as well. Overall, the meeting couldn’t have gone much better. I only wish that I would be around to watch and assist as the relationship develops.

During the meeting, they had spoken of the worker’s council, so I asked Bernd about it on the way home. It was basically like a union in Germany, except that employees didn’t have the option of whether or not to join…once the company reached a certain number of employees, they had to have a workers council. As the company grew larger, they actually had to pay the salaries of a certain number of people (based on # of employees) who no longer had to work “for the company,” but instead whose sole responsibility was to lead the workers council. Quite an interesting arrangement for management to adjust to.

Tonight for dinner I made another small salad and heated up some more chilli. This time, we put the Tupperware in warm water to get the food out and heat it up on a plate. Tomorrow I was scheduled to introduce the Konzepte folks to some of the other instruments and ideas I’ve been learning about such as TTI’s job benchmarking and Growth Curve systems and also the “6 Sources of Influence” for habit change from the Change Anything book that seemed like it could easily be the foundation for one of their training programs. However, many of Bernd’s clients have been going through tough times and cutting back dramatically on their training budgets and as a result, Konzepte is in a tough spot. The thought of downsizing had been looming on his mind if a few big proposals they’re currently working on didn’t come through for them. After looking at the numbers recently, however, it became clear that he wasn’t going to be able to wait. The company was set up mostly through a network of freelancers, but there were some salaried employees that he couldn’t afford to keep. Unfortunately, a feature of their contract was to be given 6 months notice. This feature that was expected to protect employees ironically ended up hurting them because Bernds hands were tied and he couldn’t wait it out on their proposals and instead had to give them notice. To wait to hear if their proposals would be selected could be months, at which point he would be paying another year’s salary. Since there were clearly more pressing issues to discuss at the Konzepte management meeting, my presentations were tabled. After that tough discussion of everything that had been weighing on his mind, we had another low-key night of music and some wine before calling it a night.

Posted by atbrady 05/18/2013 11:44 Archived in Germany Tagged history museum german bonn konigswinter arithmeum linnich Comments (0)

Antwerp, Brussels and a run-in with the Gestapo!?!

Drug trafficking...at least it makes for a good story!

sunny 80 °F

We woke up this morning and Chris made everyone a great breakfast! When he moved to Belgium, he started experimenting with making his own bread to save money, and I was pretty impressed! Not only did we have scrambled eggs on a homemade roll, but he had even made some banana bread!

Belgium actually has 3 official languages. In the northern part also known as Flanders, (where I'm doing all of my traveling) Dutch is the predominant language. The Southern part is traditional Belgium and speaks mostly French. A few parts on the far eastern border speak Germany. There is also Flemish, which is considered to be a dialect of Dutch, but Chris said its pretty different. Although Brussels is technically in the northern Flanders region, they mostly speak French there. Got all that straight? The north and south regions are apparently pretty distinct. Had I known, I might have tried to go to a city in the southern part, since we are right near the border in Leuven.

The plan today was to try to fit both Antwerp and Brussels in to one day, so we didn’t waste any time and took a look at train tickets. A round trip ticket to Antwerp was only 8 Euros (around $10), plus it connected in Brussels, so it made more sense to take the train than to drive. On the way to the train station, we passed the Stella Artois factory. Despite the fact that Stella is positioned as a fancy beer in the US, Chris said that at any bar in Leuven or nearby Brussels, if you ask for a “Pinch” which translates to “little pint,” you get a pint of Stella for just a euro or two. It's the most basic, unappreciated beer here, which was funny. Because InBev bought Anheiser Busch, the HQ for all of AB-InBev (including Bud and BudLight) was here as well.
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When we got to the train station, we got stuck behind these girls that were complaining (in Dutch, but Chris knew enough to roughly translate) about having bought the wrong ticket and they were taking forever. We were already cutting it a bit close, and by the time we bought our tickets, we saw our train coming to the station had to get from platform 1 to platform 10 in the next 20 seconds or so before it left. I insisted on paying for the tickets to pay for their tour guiding, especially after they paid for dinner AND put a roof over my head last night. We made a mad dash and somehow got on the train in time.

It was a beautiful day and Antwerp is a beautiful city. Here's the Cathedral of Our Lady, the biggest church in Belgium.
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Chris and Kelly had only been here once before and hadn’t been all that impressed, so they undersold it a bit. They ended up realizing that the weather had been miserable last time they were in town and it had affected their perception of the city, so they were actually pleasantly surprised as well.

Here’s Grote Markt, the main square
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and the Stadhuis, or Town Hall, which was quite pretty with all of its flags
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As we walked around, there was actually quite a few people out already, mostly sitting at cafe's having "breakfast." There seemed to be two choices for breakfast in Belgium. Having beer with your breakfast, or having beer for your breakfast. They're pretty serious. We even saw one pair of old guys having beers for breakfast, one of whom was napping. Chris pointed out what he had noticed across Belgium, that EVERYONE sits on the same side of the table, facing out to the street. Whether they want to be seen or they're people watching themselves, any cafe you walked past had half its chairs empty because nobody wanted to sit facing the cafe. Sort of makes you wonder why they bother with all those extra chairs.

We also saw a ton of boy and girl scouts out and about around town.
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Chris said that some ridiculous percentage of young people are in either the girl or boy scouts. I can’t remember exactly, but it was well over 50%.

Again, it was great to have tour guides. Chris had printed out a map because they weren’t as familiar with Antwerp, but they still knew all of the places to go. Outside a castle was this very strange statue, which seemed dirty, though I’m hoping it wasn’t.
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We saw a few people taking a funny picture of them looking up and pointing at the guy’s junk like the other people seemed to be doing, so naturally Chris got a funny picture of Kelly doing the same.

Walking around, we stopped inside the Cathedral of Our Lady that we had seen from afar and dominates the skyline of Antwerp
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and passed by Steenplein!
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They even knew about the Vlaeykensgang, which they called the “secret garden,” which was a pretty little street off a main road that was easy to miss because it looked like someone's private entrance. It was peaceful there and there were plenty of postcard worthy photo ops.
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I felt better today because having only ever been here once before (and in the rain), Kelly was taking almost as many pictures as I was.

By now it was around lunch time, and Chris and Kelly had a nice little place in mind that they had been before because it was one of few places they had been able to find that accepted credit cards. It was just off the main square and was a cozy little place. When we got there, however, they noticed that the name (and presumably the ownership) had changed since they had been here a few months ago. We decided to give it a try anyways. I had a Niçoise Salad, Kelly got a Caesar Salad and Chris got a burger. We all ended up being surprised with what we got. On my salad, the Tuna was fully cooked and at first I thought I had ordered the wrong thing, but it ended up tasting great so I was happy.
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Kelly was surprised when her caesar salad came with chicken and tomatoes but no croutons and no caesar dressing, and Chris' burger came with an egg on top!
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Adding to our amusement, the owner of the restaurant had a heated and extended argument with our waiter. Not in the back room, but literally right in front of us. I tried to be discrete taking a picture.
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Every time we thought it was over when the waiter would leave to go serve food or take care of other things, they would start back up again as soon as he came back. Unfortunately, we didn't have a clue what it was all about, but it was entertaining nonetheless. On top of it all, with the new ownership, credit cards were no longer accepted. We had the cash, but had to laugh at the whole experience. In the end, however, the food was pretty good and we were all happy.

At lunch, Kelly had asked about what sights I had uncovered in my research and if there was anything else I wanted to see in Antwerp. I told them about the St. Anna tunnel, which goes under the Scheldt River on the Western border of Antwerp and apparently offers a great panorama view of Antwerp from the other side. They had never heard of it and were interested, so I was excited for them to at least experience something new during the day. They said that every time they come to a city, they find a few new things to explore. I have yet to repeat any European cities and have too many new ones on my list to repeat, but maybe one day I'll know the feeling haha. Anyways, we had to take a never-ending wooden escalator down to get to the St. Anna tunnel itself. Probably the longest escalator I've ever been on. Then we turned the corner and there was one more.
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I can't read Dutch, but as far as I can tell, we were 31 meters (over 100 feet) deep.
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The tunnel was over half a kilometer (more than 1/3 mile) long. Bikes whizzed past us. If we were in the States, I'm sure you'd have to walk your bike and there would be no rollerblading, scootering, skateboarding, or fun of any kind.
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Up until 1950, you had to pay to cross, but now its free. While there were plenty of tourists, it seemed that most of the bikers were commuters who lived on the other (presumably cheaper) side of the river and worked in Antwerp.
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It was a pretty neat view, but there wasn't much else going on on the other side of the river. After we crossed back to the other side, we stopped at the flea market at the top of the escalators. I was able to buy a Trappistes Rochefort glass like the one my beer came in last night. There were also several vendors selling records. Bernd and Elke would have loved it.

I was pretty exhausted by this point, and yet we had a whole new city to explore!
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When we got to Brussels, it didn't take long to figure out that there was something special going on that day. The streets were especially crowded and people were everywhere. By pure luck, we were lucky to have taken the train, because finding a parking spot would have been a nightmare.
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We eventually discovered that it was the Iris Festival (the Iris is the city's mascot flower), a giant street party with concerts and various hippie exhibits set up. For example, there was a Swiss Family Robinson looking treehouse in the middle of one of the plazas that had band members scattered throughout. It's tough to see the band on there, but they were at all different levels which was pretty unique.
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It turns out that the whole contraption was built to harness wind and solar power so that it wasn't plugged in to anything. All of the power for the speakers was generated by the thing itself.

Brussels is the capital of the EU (not officially, but its where all of the EU government happenings take place), and is a beautiful and clean city. There are lots of parks, and on this particular day, the festival and the sunshine made for thousands of people out and about and enjoying thousands of lounge chairs scattered throughout the city for the festival.
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On the right side of this garden, you can see another hippie exhibit (idk what else to call it) where many of the trees had been guerrilla knitted around and there were long strands of cloth hanging from the trees with info and statistics and such.
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There was even one tree with dozens of headphones hanging from it, but everything was in French, so we had no idea what they were protesting.

Most of the things to see in Brussels are museums that I'm not particularly interested in (Art Noveau - whatever that is, Rene Magritte - whoever he is, Musical Instruments - I'm fairly comfortable with my level of knowledge of those) and it was a beautiful sunny day, so I was happy to walk around and enjoy the city. Chris and Kelly took me to see the main sights...the Grand Place or main square
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On the left is the Hotel de Ville, which somehow means town hall...
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every other August in this square they cover the square with flowers to make beautiful designs, "Le Tapis de Fleurs" or flower carpet - see google image search below...
(https://www.google.com/search?q=le+tapis+de+fleurs&aq=0&um=1&ie=UTF-8&hl=en&tbm=isch&source=og&sa=N&tab=wi&ei=ifqRUZPJIMfgOt-UgeAH&biw=1310&bih=611&sei=kPqRUez3BYnFPcvlgNAK)

We also passed the Mont des Arts, where all of the museums are, a relatively high point in a very flat city (and flat country)
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At the square outside the Palais Royal was a giant concert and street fair. The band on stage was playing some kind of polka/folk music and EVERYBODY knew the words and was dancing and having a great time. It wasn't the first time Chris and Kelly had heard this style of music...the first time they heard it, they didn't think that there was any way it could be popular until they noticed that everyone seems to know the words to them. It was here that I was introduced to the greatest innovation in festivals since the hot dog stand...the open air urinal.
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Gone are the days of waiting in line to use a port-a-potty behind a dozen women. With this urinal, you're in, you're out and you're on your way. I'm going to be really disappointed at the Lilac Festival back in Rochester in a few weeks when I inevitably find that they haven't latched on to this genius invention.

Not to be forgotten, here was the Palais Royal itself.
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The king must have been pretty pissed at all that racket out in his front yard. I had seen some beautiful pictures of the inside of the palais, but unfortunately, the royals actually live there full-time, so it's only open for tours two months a year.

Last on our list was to see the Mannequin Pis, or peeing boy. It's a famous fountain in Brussels that has been around since the early 15th century. On the way was Chris and Kelly's favorite belgian waffle stand. They had been building up the waffles ever since I arrived. Chris said it was much different than the breakfast waffles we're used to in the states. It was much thicker and sweeter, and unquestionably a desert. There were dozens of stands on every street, each had a couple dozen waffles out with all different kinds of toppings to entice you: berries, chocolate, whipped cream, nutella, etc.
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Interestingly, every stand also advertised that their waffles were just 1 euro, but when we got the bill for a waffle with whipped cream, it was 3.50. Kelly told me about her friend who had ordered one with berries and nutella that had been over 7 euros. So they really take advantage of you on the toppings, but oh well. The waffle was absolutely incredible. I'm not one for candy or sweets, I could give or take chocolate, but those waffles were unbelievable. If Kristine was here, she'd have one for every meal and would never want to leave Belgium. They were that good. Finally a tourist trap that lives up to the hype.
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While eating, we had moved out of the way of the hordes of people at the waffle stand and after devouring the waffle, we kept walking down the street for maybe 10 steps Chris asked if I wanted to see the peeing boy. I said sure, and he pointed left. I looked around and there seemed to be a small crowd taking pictures, but I didn't see anything. After a solid couple seconds, I finally noticed the peeing boy. The thing was probably 6 inches tall. It was really funny what a big deal everyone makes out of this tiny little guy.
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By now it was around 6:30 and we were all exhausted. We began to head back to the train station, but not without taking in the sights along the way.
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Here's more of those ugly little trees that seem to be everywhere in both Germany and Belgium and get cut back every year and end up looking awful without leaves. At least these guys grew the trees into a fence, which was kind of cool and probably looked nice with some greenery.
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We also passed by the beautiful cathedral Notre Dame du Sablon, but by then it was too late to go inside.IMG_1226.jpg

Boy did it feel nice to finally sit down on that train. They were telling me about all of the Visa troubles they had had trying to get Kelly's visa approved. Apparently Chris had to fly back to the states at one point because a lady at the consulate had told them the wrong forms to fill out and on top of that, the lady had been fired because it wasn't the first time she had done so, which further slowed down the process. After around a 45 minute ride, we got off in Leuven to a huge crowd of activity. Chris explained that the university had many commuters and that most kids don't have classes on Friday, so they party hard on Thursday night, then head home on Friday and come back around this time on Sunday evening. We stopped back at their apartment very briefly. They invited me to stay for dinner, but it was almost 8 and I had a long drive home yet. After carrying around my Trappistes Rochefort glass all day long, I set it down when we got back to their apartment only to hear a loud crack. I was so pissed. Chris had a glass that he had gotten for free and insisted that I take it, which was super nice. He's apparently been planning to go to the store to buy all the glasses from his favorite beers to send home with his parents when they visit in a few weeks. Luckily I asked them where the nearest gas station was, because Chris had to come with me since gas stations were closed and when they're closed, they'll only accept special credit cards that have a chip inside, so he had to pay for my gas and then I wired him the money on PayPal when I got home. I had such a great weekend and was glad that I remembered that they were living in Belgium. They have traveled to all of the cities in Belgium and assured me that I had seen everything that was worth seeing in Belgium, and all in a weekend. I certainly couldn't have done it without experienced tour guides! It was great to reconnect with Chris and to meet Kelly and I think that Kristine would get along well with Kelly too. I told them to make sure they told me when they were back in Rochester so that we could have them over for dinner.

With a picture from the balcony of their brand spanking new apartment complex (they are the very first tenants and the whole rest of the street is made up of other complexes still under construction)
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and of their apartment itself, I was off.
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As I was leaving Belgium, there was a beautiful sunset...
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When I crossed into Germany, my phone could work again so I called Elke to give her an ETA and make sure that they didn't wait up for me because I had a house key and I knew that both had traveling to do the next day. I was also starving, so I grabbed some nuts and cheese at the gas station just over the border. At this point, there was a little over an hour to go. I got back on the autobahn and was glad to be back in the land of no speed limits. I was cruising at probably 140, which at 85-90mph is fast, but I there were plenty of cars going faster. And then I heard a siren. I winced and peaked up at my rear view mirror and sure enough, the cop was right behind me. I assumed that I had missed a sign that had set the unlimited speed limit back to 120kph, but was frustrated wondering why I had been pulled over when there were countless cars zooming past me at 180+. I dutifully pulled over and he barked something out at me over the loudspeaker. Naturally, I had no idea what he was saying, but figured maybe he wanted the car in park, so I did that. Then he barked out something again and I raised my hands to try to convey that I didn't know what he was talking about. Moments later, he showed up in my window and I tried to roll it down, but for whatever reason it wasn't working, so he opened my door and started barking something at me in German. I quizzically said "English?" and crossed my fingers and hoped he'd be able to speak some. He then told me to pull up to the next parking area and that they would follow me there. Once I parked, he told me that he was with German customs and asked for my passport and registration papers. You aren't supposed to keep the registration papers in your car according to Bernd and Elke (because if the car is stolen and someone has your registration papers, they can apparently claim ownership), but Elke had given them to me just days earlier and luckily, I had brought them along in my backpack. I told the cop that they were in my backpack and it was in the trunk, and he let me grab them. When I got out, I noticed that his partner had got out of the police car as well and was shining his flashlight on me.

The first cop was definitely the bad cop and the partner was the good cop. He laughed and asked if we're supposed to pull over immediately in America and I told him yes. Apparently, its SOP in Germany to pull to the next rest area because they have little to no shoulders on the road (and probably because everyone is going so fast too). The bad cop then cut back in and started grilling me on whose car I was driving, where I was coming from, where I was going to, the purpose of my visit, etc. In the tension of the moment, I almost said that I was here for work, but that probably wouldn't have been good for my legality/visa type issues. The bad cop started asking me about having drugs or weapons that I was carrying over the border and started to shine his flashlight around the car and the trunk. I told him that I of course didn't and he asked (but it wasn't really asking, more of an assertion) to search the car. So he told me to wait with his partner while he searched the car. He looked in all the compartments, under all the seats, behind a door panel and tore through all of my clothes in my backpack in the trunk. Once I knew what he was looking for, all of the tension faded and I was kind of amused by the whole situation. So if you've been paying attention from yesterday, you might remember that I told you how nice it was to have no border crossing customs whatsoever within the EU. You might also remember that I told you that the fastest way from Leuven to Windhagen cut through a little sliver of the Netherlands that juts out from its southern border. I asked the good cop if there was anything I had done wrong to get pulled over. He assured me that I hadn't done anything wrong except that I was a young guy driving a BMW and headed the wrong way from the Netherlands. He laughed that they had not expected me to be an American since I had German plates and all. After the bad cop was finished (and clearly disappointed to have not made a drug bust), he reluctantly handed me back my papers and sent me off on my way. It probably didn't hurt that I had google maps printed out on the passenger seat that had directions from Leuven to Windhagen, supporting my story. As I drove away, I laughed realizing that they had never even checked my person. I could have had a stash of Amsterdam's finest in each pocket and they never would have known. It was a good thing that Bernd and Elke weren't hiding anything in their car!

After that little excursion, the rest of the trip was pretty uneventful. I got home after 11 and headed for bed. Bernd is waking up at 4am for the first flight to Berlin tomorrow, and Elke is traveling as well, so I'll be on my own with a few of the secretaries at the office to prepare for Tuesday's SIG presentation, which Bernd and I will discuss when he gets home tomorrow night. All in all, quite the adventurous day!

Posted by atbrady 05/14/2013 01:33 Archived in Belgium Tagged antwerp st. of river cathedral netherlands tunnel lady belgium our german brussels markt anna grote customs leuven gestapo scheldt Comments (0)

In Bruges!

Apparently thats a movie. I haven't seen it...

sunny 70 °F

When I woke up this morning, I remembered that I had used the last of the eggs yesterday and realized that I had never gone to the store as I had planned. It was probably a good thing, because I just wanted to get on the road, so I grabbed a can of tuna and an apple got ready to go. Just then, Bernd came down and had printed out a bunch of maps for the driving directions to Leuven, which was really thoughtful. He also wanted to check and make sure nothing was wrong with the car as per our conversation about me driving slow the other day. I assured him that while the engine struggled going up hills, I didn’t think anything was wrong with it other than the driver. He insisted, and ended up filling up the tank. It wasn’t necessary, but it was very kind of him. His concern over the engine may have been a ploy to fill up the tank. While he was off “checking the engine,” I decided I might as well eat now instead of on the road. When he got back, I headed for Leuven. I was a bit disappointed to be missing the Saturday morning ritual with Bernd and Elke at the diner in Bonn and the soft-boiled egg I was going to try, but maybe we can find a place to get a soft-boiled egg next weekend in Berlin.

Driving through the EU is so simple. They no longer have border control between countries within the EU, so while you can see where the border control stations used to be, it's as simple as crossing a state line. There is a little jut out of the Netherlands along the route, so I’ve actually been in 3 countries today.
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When you first enter a country, they put up a nice sign of all of the standard speed limits (in a town, on a country road, on a highway, etc.) Its pretty nice to have a standardized system. Another curiosity was that every once in a while in both the Netherlands and Belgium, there would be evenly spaced arrows on the road, then a sign like this:
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It would show you what the proper spacing is between cars by how many arrows were in between you and the car in front of you. Apparently riding up behind someone is against the law.

When I got to Leuven, I found Chris’ apartment surprisingly easily, save for some construction that made me have to park a few blocks away. I got to meet his wife Kelly and see his apartment, which is brand new. They are the very first tenants. Its basically one big room, but they did a nice job using the entertainment center to separate a little crevice for their bedroom. Chris is about halfway though an 18 month assignment over there through his program at RIT. It’s actually really neat because RIT students in his program have been doing successive 18 month internships out here, so there is a collection of pots, pans, utensils, etc. that get passed down and added to with each tenant. Although he’s doing an internship, since its through RIT, he is on a student visa, which is easier to get. The downside is that because of that, Kelly could only get a visa that piggybacks on Chris’ visa as a spouse. This means that she isn’t able to work. To stay busy, she’s been training for the Brussels marathon to try to qualify for next year’s Boston Marathon with some friends. They also have been traveling all over Europe on weekends and vacations to maximize their time there, so she does a lot of trip planning and travel blogging. I’m so jealous of their little 18-month arrangement! They’ve been to Paris several times, all over Belgium, and countless other places. I was lucky to have caught them on an off weekend, because the next 3 months they have plans to go to Italy when Chris’ parents visit, Ireland with other friends visiting from home and more destinations than I can remember. We didn’t linger for very long before getting back out on the road.

It was a beautiful day, so Chris and I busted out the owners manual to figure out how to pack away the roof for the drive to Bruges. It proved to be pretty easy once we knew where the right levers were. As we pulled out, I asked them which way to Bruges and they had no idea. I had assumed they knew their way there but they had only been by train and they assumed I had printed out the directions. We ended up taking the scenic route, spending a lot of time driving through Brussels rather than passing it on the highway, but the sun was shining and the top was down and it was hard to complain. Brussels is a deceptively large city and at one point, it seemed like the road we were on would never get us back to the highway. We considered abandoning our plans and just doing Brussels for the day, but Kelly encouraged us to push on and I’m glad that she did.

The ride was a nice chance to catch up with Chris. When he first came to Belgium, he bought Rosetta Stone to learn Dutch and studied every day for the first few months. But every time he tried to use Dutch, they could tell he was American and would respond in English, so it ended up being an exercise in futility. He’s enjoying his time out here and they’re making the most of their time with all kinds of fun travelling planned, but he’s looking forward to coming back to Rochester. He really enjoys his internship and is going to see if he could work remotely from Rochester. He said they’ll probably move into an apartment for a few years before buying a house, but Kelly is from Canandaigua and they’re both pretty set on ending up in Rochester. Chris found a soccer league to play in while he is here, and told a funny story about how the team gave him a hard time before the first game making sure he knew the rules and knew it wasn’t American Football. After the game, they had been impressed and told him that they all thought he was “going to suck.” We were trying to figure out that last time we had seen each other and assumed that it was probably at the canoe club during the summer after freshman year of college, which is somehow five and a half years! Unfortunately, with the top down and Kelly in the back, she wasn’t really able to be in the conversation, but she seemed to enjoy the sunshine regardless.

When we finally got to Bruges, it was a bit difficult to find a parking spot and in one instance, we were that annoying car crawling down a mostly pedestrian street. Once we found a spot, we got out of the car to discover what may have deterred other cars from parking there. It was a photography studio with a lot of creepy naked pictures, blown up into poster size. Not really ones that you could convince yourself were artsy either. It was bizarre to see all these giant pictures in the shop window for all to see. Certainly wouldn’t fly at home. Most creepy of all was this naked family. There’s a limit to how close a family should be in my opinion. Not sure exactly where the line is drawn, but its way before you get to posing for naked pictures together.
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Thank god they at least covered things up in this picture.

Anyways, none of us had change for the parking meter, so Chris walked into the little grocery store on the corner. It was taking forever, so Kelly and I walked in. What happened was that Chris was caught behind this lady who was doing her grocery shopping for the week. For whatever reason (not sure if it's a cultural thing or was specific to this shop or this lady), this lady didn’t pick everything out and then go to check out like you might expect. Instead, she told the owner what she wanted and he would walk around and get everything for her. It wasn’t just the meats or things like that that needed to be wrapped up, but also the apples, bananas and vegetables that you would thing she could just grab. Regardless, it was a cute little store that was well merchandised and had an impressive amount of variety.
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It was great to have tour guides around Bruges. Its one of Chris and Kelly’s favorite cities in Belgium and they knew all the places to hit. I didn’t even need the list or the directions I had written out last night. Bruges has a very relaxed vibe and looks a lot like Amsterdam, with countless canals and bridges, with plenty of postcard-worthy photo ops.
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It was a bit early for a beer, but Chris still had to take me to the “Wall of Beer” Bar. It was a bit off the main strip and the entire alley to get to the bar was lined with thousands upon thousands of Belgian beers.
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Chris explained that each beer made in Belgium also has a special glass that is made for it. Each beer bottle was displayed with its own glass. There was an impressive amount of creativity that went into the glasses and each one was truly unique. Chris has been on a quest to try as many as he can and started to tell me about a few favorites he recommended trying. The beer that seemed to be most popular at the bar was Kwak, which came in a glass that looked kind of like those long thin glasses you can get in the Caribbean and were served with a wooden stand for stability. Apparently its called Kwak because if you drink it too quickly, it bubbles up when the little ball at the bottom empties and it makes a kwak sound and spills all over you.

It was about lunchtime, so we went to the Friteria 1800, which has Kelly’s favorite fries in Belgium. Fries are huge here. They are served with EVERYTHING and there are street vendors that just sell fries. They also eat them with mayonnaise instead of ketchup. Chris was laughing that he had been eating pretty healthy back at home and working out but that it is impossible to do here. This was the selection of things to eat at the friteria. Usually you can go to a restaurant and at least find a few things that you at least recognize, but that was not the case at the Friteria. Even with English translations, it was tough to tell what a “Kip Nugget,” “Mexicano” or “Bitter Ball” was. Chris could offer translations of different meats, but most didn’t say what the meat was. I ended up getting a couple kebabs of mystery meat that I think may have been pork.
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Kelly had saved us a seat upstairs right at the window overlooking the Markt (the main square in Bruges). Quite the view for a little hole in the wall. I’m no fry expert, but I had a few of Kelly’s to see what the buzz was all about.
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They seem pretty much the same as American ones, although the homemade sauce Chris had was very good (I didn’t go for the traditional mayo). Chris and I then headed off across the square to the Belfry to climb to the top. I also love this flag. It's the flag of Bruges and I would have bought one if I could have found it.
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Kelly stayed behind at the Friteria to enjoy the view and the free wifi. It was really funny to me that the restaurant had free wifi, but you had to pay 50 euro cents to use the bathroom. Kelly also mentioned that she and Chris had tried climbing to the top of the Belfry before but that the stairway got so narrow halfway up that she got claustrophobic and had to turn around and tell Chris to take good pictures. As we were walking through the courtyard to buy tickets, Chris was surprised because the line usually extends well into the courtyard. Soon we found out why…it was unfortunately closed. In the courtyard however was a funny little one man band playing what looked like grill covers (or inverted steel drums), plus bells around his ankles, PLUS a didgeridoo. It was bizarre but I had to give him points (and some change) for uniqueness.
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Kind of like Amsterdam or Venice, most of the fun of Bruges is just walking around the canals and enjoying the sights.
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They even knew this one walkway off the beaten path that gave a great view of the city. Did I mention how nice it was having personal tour guides?
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I felt like a nuisance slowing them down to take pictures every 5 minutes, but Kelly assured me that she is the same way when they’re in a city for the first time. I was able to get a few nice pictures of them and they took a few of me, which is nice since I’m in barely any of the pictures from this trip since I’m a littler lonerman.

As we were walking around Bruges, Chris was telling me about having seen construction projects where the entire house is torn down except the façade, which is propped up then built around to maintain the scenery that makes the streets of Bruges so beautiful. So even though all of these houses look centuries old, many of them are quite modern inside. No sooner did he finish his story that we turned a corner and saw one. Very neat.
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In the interest of trying to have them experience at least something new, we wandered over to a castle on the water that ended up being a fancy restaurant that they wanted to come back to. On the way back, we passed through the Begijnhof, a small community where nuns used to live and cultivate the garden. There was was a small wedding going on. The couple and the half dozen guests were surrounded by thousands of flowers. They couldn’t have timed the wedding day any better. There were literally hundreds of flower beds like this. We all thought that those tall flowers were a funny little cross between a flower and a palm tree.
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On our way out, I finally got a good picture of one of several dozen horse and carriages we had seen roaming the streets throughout the day. Kind of like their overpriced, tourist transportation instead of the Venetian Gondolas.
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EVERYTHING shut down at 5pm as we were clearing out of Bruges. Chris even said that the Belgian workweek is 38 hours long so that people can have 2 hours a week to leave work to go grocery shopping since nothing is open past 5pm. We hit the road to head back to Leuven (a much quicker trip this time around), stopping at home for jackets before going out for a walk around Leuven then to dinner. Leuven is a beautiful little town in its own right.
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I’ve also got to hand it to Leuven for having open-air (and free!) urinals! I could get used to this!
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We also passed through their main square, Oude Markt.
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In one of their first weekends in Belgium, there had been an open-air concert in the square that they raved about.

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The Stadhuis (town hall) in Leuven was pretty incredible as well. One of the most intricate buildings I had seen. We passed by here again after dinner and it was breath taking when lit up at night, but the phone pictures didn’t do it justice.

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The took me to De Wiering, which is their favorite restaurant to take guests to in Leuven. There was a bit of a wait, which is surprisingly rare in Europe, despite the fact that everyone stays for hours, so while we waited, Chris gave me the rundown of beers. I ended up going with his favorite, Trappistes Rochefort. There are a handful of “Trappist” beers that are actually made by Trappist monks and are known for being especially strong (even by Belgian standards.) This particular Trappist beer was 10.8% alcohol, almost as much as a glass of wine! It was also unbelievably good, and of course had its own custom glass to top it off!
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I had been asking about typical Belgian food, and it turns out that they are crazy about stew, so that’s what I had to have. It was a pretty satisfying, hearty meal.
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The table next to us also had some foreigners and it was interesting to watch them try to converse with the waitress in English. You see this all over Europe…two people who don’t speak the same language and instead revert to trying to speak English, despite the fact that it’s neither person’s first language. We’re so lucky that almost everyone has at least a basic understanding of English, because we would be screwed otherwise.

After driving for the whole day (and getting a bit lost), I hadn’t let them pay for gas so they ended up paying for my dinner, despite protests that I owed them for being great tour guides. Chris asked for the bill in Dutch and explained that the literal translation for the check/bill at a restaurant is “the reckoning.” Love it.

After dinner it was dark so they took me on the scenic route all around town before heading home. They’re my kind of travellers! All around Belgium, people tend to put a lock around their bike wheels so that they can’t be ridden off but don’t find it necessary to lock it to anything stationary. The exception is in Leuven, where a bike that isn’t locked to anything ends up in the river courtesy of the students. We passed by one such unfortunate bike on our way home.

A few blocks before their apartment, I had to take a picture of Asstraat.
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It may have been the Rochefort, because this seemed a lot funnier at the time. After a lot of walking, we were all beat and turned in for bed.

Posted by atbrady 05/12/2013 14:24 Archived in Belgium Tagged down top road netherlands trip belgium markt begijnhof bruges belfry leuven convertible flanders Comments (0)

First Work Week in the Books!

...and an adventure planned for the weekend...

sunny 55 °F

This morning I had my requisite eggs before heading in to the office. On my way, I got a picture of that magical sign that makes me giddy on the autobahn.
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Most of my day today was spent researching SIG, the company that Bernd and I will be presenting to next week. I think I mentioned earlier that this company had recently came up with eight values and was starting to take a look at corporate culture. They were planning to unveil them at their annual management conference, and a former Konzepte trainer who was now at SIG recommended that Bernd give the keynote on the importance of corporate culture. He was on vacation and couldn’t give the speech, but saw a business opportunity and told the guy putting the conference together (not the former employee) that he would sit down with him to give him some ideas on culture. After my presentation early in the week, he had been sufficiently impressed to ask me to come along and help put the presentation together.

Reading about the history of the company was interesting. They make the machines that make the kind of cartons that you might find chicken broth or orange juice in. They were the first to create a recloseable spout top and also the first to create the screwtop integrated into one of these packages. They had a number of different ventures in other realms of packaging that had been spun off over the years. At the very beginning, they had even been involved in making railroad cars and weapons!

They had put together a vision, mission and values that all sounded great and actually aligned well with Conscious Capitalism. As I started to pull the presentation together, I worked in Concious Capitalism and while explaining each of the four pillars and examples of companies that embody them, I also pulled out quotes from their vision, mission and values that aligned well with that specific tenet. For example, an excerpt from their vision read “succeed through mutually beneficial cooperation with our customers,” and their mission included “a systems solution that cares for the environment.” These aligned well with the stakeholder integration tenet. The final line on the vision/mission/vales page of their website said “We reward our shareholders by maximizing their returns in parallel with meeting our wider responsibility.” It seemed like a home run! I also worked in a plot of their values on the Barrett model, where their 8 values mapped to levels 3-6.

As I started to put their presentation together, my guess was that while they may aspire to these lofty goals, since this vision/mission/values were new, they probably weren’t living them fully, so I used a Barrett worksheet to get them to start thinking about what behaviors the company exhibits (or doesn’t) that embodies their values.

Last night, Bernd had told me about speed traps in Germany. Apparently they have cameras all over the place that will take your picture and send you the bill for 10-15 euros for being even a km/h over the speed limit. I’m conditioned to look for cop cars, but not cameras, so when I followed Bernd home from work, I was extra cautious on the way. When we got home Bernd was concerned that something was wrong with the car and said that I was going so slow he was afraid the bugs were going to start hitting the BACK windshield, which I thought was hilarious.

After work, it was time for the weekend tradition of heading into Bad Honnef for dinner at La Bruchette with their friends. Elke was headed home from a training and was going to meet us there, but ended up getting home in time to head there together. Only Gunthar could come this week, so I’m afraid I’ll never know his brothers name. Gunthar wanted us to know that we were lucky he was there because he had just got a brand new big screen TV delivered and only had an hour with it before dinner.
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Well, its officially asparagus season! Its so funny how nuts everybody gets about asparagus. I guess because we can get it year round, we don’t value it as much, but asparagus season in Germany is pretty much only May and June and it's a huge deal. The restaurant had an entire specials menu of asparagus themed dinners!
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I was really tempted to get the salmon I had last week because it was incredible, but I decided to buy into asparagus fever and got some ham and asparagus dish. Bernd got the same and Elke got asparagus soup. Last week, the people next to us had some strange looking dish and Elke had explained to me that it was vitello tomato (sp?). Its veal with tuna sauce and she ordered it for us to share.
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After we ordered, the little old Italian guy who owned the place went to fresh cut our ham. You would have loved him Kristine.
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I also remembered to get a picture of the awesome faux pergola over the bar since this is probably my last time at the restaurant (as we’ll be in Berlin next Friday)
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Dinner came, and it was simple, but actually very good.
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Elke unfortunately had to realize at dinner that I was halfway through my stay in Germany, which didn’t seem possible. I practiced some of my German vocab and pronunciations for fork, spoon, knife, etc. and they were impressed at how much I had remembered from a few days ago (though the pronunciations still need a lot of work). Gunthar also couldn’t believe that I had made to Cologne and back by myself. Apparently getting back from Cologne is complicated, but somehow I made it without any problems. Gunthar had walked to the restaurant, but we drove him home and in the spirit of learning German I asked Bernd and Elke how to say “Nice to meet you.” It was such a long and complicated sentence that I couldn’t even muster an attempt. Bernd said that Germans generally don’t really say nice to meet you, maybe partly because it was such a cumbersome sentence in German. In the car, Elke also mentioned that she had gotten great gas mileage on her drive back from the training earlier in the day, 8.51 liters per 100km, which is apparently how they measure it here. Good luck with that conversion.

When we got home, I talked back and forth with Chris Maloney for a while. I had originally planned to fly to the cheapest of Prague, Vienna or Budapest this weekend, but had considered Belgium as well. Not until mid-week did I remember that Chris was living in Belgium. It probably made more sense to do Prague, Vienna AND Budapest on another trip as they were relatively close together, while Belgium was much closer, plus you can’t beat knowing a “local!” I had thought about driving late at night on Friday to make the most of the day on Friday, but it was too late and I wasn’t up to it. The first Saturday train wasn’t until the afternoon, so I decided to wake up early to drive to Leuven, which is only about 2hrs 15minutes. It’s a college town just on this side of Brussels where Chris lives with his wife. I spent a couple hours looking up all the things to do in Brussels, Antwerp and Bruges and downloading a high-resolution map of each from Google images. This is cheaper than buying a map and its actually pretty convenient to have on your phone too if you remember to do it while you have internet. Packing and off to bed and looking forward to another adventure!

Posted by atbrady 05/09/2013 05:11 Archived in Germany Tagged germany bonn working values konzepte conscious capitalism barrett sig Comments (0)

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