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Business as usual?

Business and culture collide in Frankfurt

sunny 70 °F

This morning I woke up around 5:30am to leave for the train station in Bonn.
Bernd dropped me off in time to catch the 6:30am train, arriving in Frankfurt around 7:40 (going over 200km/hr!). I dodged another bullet this morning as I got off at the Frankfurt station, but few people got off which was strange since I thought that Bernd had said that it was the end of the line. I looked at my watch at it said 7:30. My ticket said we would arrive in Frankfurt at 7:40 and the train had left a few minutes late so I thought that it was odd to have made such good time. I jumped back on the train just before the doors closed. For the second time in two days, my gut feeling came through, as that had been the Frankfurt airport stop (which is quite a ways outside the city itself). The Frankfurt airport is called Frankfurt Au Main and my ticket said it was from Bonn to “Frankfurt (Main).” Clearly more than a bit confusing.
I hadn’t had time to eat breakfast in the morning, so after arriving at the real Frankfurt stop, I walked around for a while mulling over different sandwiches. As luck would have it, the last stand in the row, Mr. Clou had pretty decent salads.
It was no omelet, but it’d fill me up better than a sandwich with one sliced tomato, and one slice of cheese. Bernd had recommended I get a taxi to the training facility, but I had about an hour to kill so I decided to walk. Most of the walk was along the River Main and was pretty scenic and quiet early in the morning. I had to start hoofing it pretty fast to get to the training on time, but it was well worth it.

The training was on facilitation with one of Bernd’s colleagues, Lothar Gurjahr, at Nestle’s IT department. As a company, Nestle speaks in English, which is why I was able to attend the training. Lothar lived in NYC for a year and a half and in Englad for 3 years as well, so his English is nearly native. He lives in Hamburg and several years ago had a friend who ran a marathon. He was overweight and when his friend suggested he run with him the following year, he agreed. Since his daughters heard him agree, he was compelled to follow through. Ever since, he has run a marathon every year and lost a ton of weight. He started training for an Olympic triathlon this year, but a knee injury has him sidelined at the moment.

For introductions, we had to pair up and then introduce our partner to the group. My partner was Pavan, from Hyderabad, India and we became fast friends. He had been working at Nestle in Germany for 2 years and is married to an Indian woman he met here. Back when he lived in India, he used to travel spontaneously with his friends, heading to the train station not knowing where they were going and taking the cheapest ticket they could find. However, due to India’s size, he didn’t travel to other countries much. Now that he is in Germany, he has enjoyed traveling throughout Europe. He couldn’t find many good Indian restaurants in town, so he started learning to cook when he moved here. He took classes in German for a while, but then got too busy. He hopes to restart soon. He loves cricket and found a group of Indian guys to play with last summer and is looking forward to starting up again this spring. (Apparently, they had a long winter this year and there was still snow on the ground as recently as two weeks ago.) When I complemented him on his English and asked if he had begun learning it at a young age, he actually told me that he didn’t know any English until after he graduated from school, but that he had been quite enthusiastic about learning once he started and picked it up quickly. He does most of his work on SAP at Nestle and was taking the class because he frequently facilitates phone conferences between the sales and marketing folks and the IT developers.

Overall, I was blown away by how international the group was. Of the 10 people in the training (including me), 9 countries were represented (2 were from India, 0 from Germany). Isabella had moved from Brazil just 6 months ago, there was a Ukrainian woman who moved to the Nestle offices in Sweden, a Russian guy and a woman from Barcelona. The facilitation training itself was pretty helpful, but talking with everyone about cultural differences was unbelievable. Isabella thought it was funny how young adults in America were so eager to move out of the house. In Brazil, you live with your parents until you get married (even if you have the money to move out). She had lived for short periods of time in both Vail and West Virginia, and admired how young Americans move around the country “on a whim,” just to be independent. Her favorite place she’s been was Croatia and she highly recommended it. She also forwarded me a list of things to see in Frankfurt that someone had given her when she moved here.

The woman who had moved from Barcelona 5 months ago had a few funny quips on adjusting to the business world in Germany. Germans come to meetings with all of the information read beforehand, their opinions mostly made and actions decided upon. They tend to love precision and detail (hello C’s!). She and others were more used to coming to a meeting to discuss the information and action steps. A meeting seems unnecessary when the decision has already been made. She also loves to travel and her favorites so far are South Africa (for the wildlife) and New Zealand (for the laid back attitude, even among business people). She was giving Pavan and I tips on what cities to visit in Spain and Portugal as well.
We went to the Nestle cafeteria for lunch and saw several dozen young children. The Nestle folks weren’t aware of any special event going on, but Lothar talked about “girls day” in Germany where young girls go to work with their fathers to learn more about male dominated fields. Only recently have they started to expand the program to boys as well. Lunch wasn't bad. Nice cafeteria-style type selection...

When Lothar heard us sharing travel stories during a break, he told us about the two required “holidays” to help you be a more effective facilitator. First, go to the Arab world to a bazaar to learn to negotiate and be flexible. Then, go to Thailand to learn how to say no with a smile. He also proclaimed his love for English because of its pragmatism. When people use English consistently use words incorrectly, they find their way into the dictionary and become correct! Apparently, Germans had convened a government committee a few years ago to look at what updates the language might need, but they got nowhere. Everyone had questions for me on proper uses of a few words. Apparently, it is common to call a projector a “beamer.” They got a kick out of it when I told them that people in the states would think they were talking about a BMW.

Another interesting cultural point Lothar brought up was how often times facilitators set ground rules, one of which is that “only one person can speak at a time.” He described this as disadvantaging certain people (such as southern Europeans and South Americans) whose cultures thrive on this kind of dialogue. He is a trained negotiator and has to be especially careful when dealing with cross-cultural negotiations, because setting that as a ground rule can give one group the upper hand and damage his standing as an impartial party.

I couldn’t have asked any more from the day. While traveling is certainly fun, you learn about a country on a whole different level when you are immersed in the business culture there.

After the training, I had to rush to check in at the hotel and get an internet connection quickly so that I could get to the Conscious Capitalism open space. It would have been nice to have more participants from other chapters and from the Conscious Capitalism LinkedIn group, but the discussions and engagement among those that did participate exceeded my expectations. Near the end of the forum, my internet was giving me trouble and I couldn’t hear the discussions. I tried to fiddle with it for 15 minutes or so, but then with only the closing left to go, I gave up.

There was still a bit of sunshine left in the city, so I printed out the map from Isabella and hopped on the 12 train that they had told me would go right into the old town. I got off at Brandt-Platz, which is the heart of the Frankfurt’s banking district, the biggest financial center in Europe after London. They had told me I had to get my picture in front of the giant Euro symbol, which was hard to miss.
The sun was setting and my goal was to see as many of the historic places on the map then head up to the top of Main Tower to watch the sunset and get a bird’s eye view of the city. I ended up getting carried away with all of the stops and was too far from the tower to get there in time, but walking down the river as the sun set was a nice consolation.
The river was absolutely packed with what looked like mostly locals, out enjoying the warm weather and the scenery at dusk. I found a plaza that was lined with restaurants and made me miss having Kristine with me.
IMG_0768.jpgCity Hall (Since the 1400s)

City Hall (Since the 1400s)

These were normally our favorite places to find in a city, where I would finally let us sit still long enough for dinner and wine and people watching.
It wouldn’t have been quite the same doing it alone, so I grabbed a Frankfurter (When in Frankfurt!) at this cool little stand among the restaurants.
I got it with sauerkraut and a “green herb sauce” that everyone seemed to be getting. Sure felt authentic!
Here was a cute little wine bar on the plaza.IMG_0777.jpg

Old Nicholas Church

Old Nicholas Church

Cathedral of St. Bartholomew

Cathedral of St. Bartholomew

I found my way back to the banking district
and headed home on the 12 tram (again, I surprised myself by getting on the tram going in the right direction and getting off at the right stop, despite having no idea what the name of my stop was and not being able to find any of the streets we were passing on my map). The hotel lobby had WSJ magazine with Carmelo Anthony on the front!


Helped me feel a bit at home. P.S. Melo has a vision board!
I’m supposed to go to the training tomorrow then I have a ticket to catch the train back to Bonn, but since I’m in Frankfurt where the nearest airport is anyways, I’m contemplating flying somewhere for the weekend. Prague? Vienna? Budapest? Can’t decide what I should do. I haven’t been sleeping much since I’m sightseeing well into the night and then journaling before bed, plus waking up before dawn 2/3 days and it might be nice to have a relaxing weekend in Bonn, but this might be my only chance for more sightseeing.

The training doesn’t start until 9am tomorrow, so I’m going to try to wake up early and go for a run. Maybe I’ll be better able to decide in the morning. Another amazing day!

Posted by atbrady 18:10 Archived in Germany Tagged st. church of cathedral old frankfurt business paul's main romans nicholas bartholomew hauptwache

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