A Travellerspoint blog

Arrival and Adjustment to Stockholm

sunny 65 °F

At Stockholm Arlanda Airport, we were able to catch up with Bernd to ride the train into Stockholm, then share a taxi to the conference venue, which is actually quite a ways outside Stockholm. First impression: Stockholm is expensive! The train trip was only about 20 minutes but cost 130SEK (Swedish Kronor), or about $20. Then the taxi was about 30 minutes and 800SEK ($125). Apparently Stockholm has the highest tax rate in Europe (which probably gives it the dubious title of highest taxes in the world overall) at north of 60% when you include income tax, sales tax, etc. The sales tax alone is 25%! When we got to our hotel, the Sanga Saby, the first strange things that I noticed was when I was given a room key that was a blank white piece of plastic on both sides (no swiping – the door can sense your key is near) and the goofy way that they make the beds by folding the sides of the sheets and comforter under themselves rather than under the mattress or letting them hang at the sides.
Our Room!

Our Room!

We had a few hours until dinner and wandered around the property. It’s a beautiful place and right on the lake but truly in the middle of nowhere. Tommy wanted to do his meditation by the water so I went for a walk down the road to our nearest neighbors…

I also checked out the fitness center, which is pretty limited in terms of workout equipment, but has a nice sauna and a sweet hot tub with water right at the surface of the lake water.

Lakeside Spa!

Lakeside Spa!

We read for a while in the sun before catching up with Bernd for dinner. Tommy and I both had Char and asparagus, which was delicious and similar in flavor to salmon, though it was served in epically small portions.

Thanks for putting me on a diet, Europe. Later in the evening, I got a workout in. The entire building must be kept at 85 degrees. At first I thought someone left the door to the sauna open. I’ve never sweat so much in my life. It wasn’t just a lack of air conditioning…it hadn’t been a very warm day. Regardless, it was nice to have some semblance of a fitness center as I likely won’t see many during the rest of my travels. After my workout and some reading, I was about to go to bed when I realized that it was just a few minutes until midnight. I noticed how light it still was (since we’re so far north and just a week from the summer solstice) and decided to walk back down to the lake to capture it.


You easily could have walked around without any lights…plus, the sun would be coming up in just 3 and a half hours! Pretty neat, although I can’t imagine dealing with the opposite during the winter time.

Posted by atbrady 10:00 Archived in Sweden Tagged stockholm sweden sanga saby Comments (0)

Travel Brain

Why adventure is so magical (and addicting)

semi-overcast 60 °F

When I mentioned to a friend that I was about to embark on another travel adventure, I excitedly exclaimed that I was aiming for “complete sensory overload.” I’ve come to realize that this is one of my favorite parts of the travel experience. I had recently done a personal branding exercise with that same friend and came up with my belief statement … “I believe that every moment has the potential to be breathtaking.” While I’m still not satisfied with the word “breathtaking,” I think it definitely captures the essence of how I try to live my life. I truly believe that every person that passes through my life—no matter who they are, how old they are or how quickly they pass through—has something to teach me, if only I’m open to learn it. Subsequently, I believe that in every moment and every experience I have something to learn, but to do so requires cultivating the right mindset, looking for the possibilities and sometimes shifting your perspective (Watching the film “Celebrate What’s Right With the World” or reading Mindset by Carol Dweck are a great place to start). I have always had a deep love of learning, as evidenced by words like growth, challenge, adventure and wonder showing up in the passions and values I’ve articulated over the years. However, it wasn’t until the last few years of my book-a-week marathon and diving into Positive Psychology that I was able to clearly articulate why. While all that probably sounds like a great and noble way to live, I’ll be the first to admit that it is sometimes a struggle to be deeply engaged in the moment. Which brings us back to why I love to travel. With travel, it’s so easy—almost too easy—to maintain a constant state of wonder. Not only the novelty of having never experienced the sights, sounds and smells, but also the subconscious acquiescence that you are unlikely to experience them ever again.

Being a brain science nerd, I can understand why “complete sensory overload” leads to the present moment awareness that makes “travel brain” so enjoyable. When we experience novelty, our brains are jolted out of their comfort zones because novelty could often mean danger to our ancestors (To see a wonderful example of this, watch the children’s movie “The Croods”). When our brain is in this state (or if we are able to cultivate a mindset of wonder), it takes in a much larger amount of information in an attempt to keep us safe by being highly attuned to our surroundings. More information leads to more time to process and making sense of all those inputs, which can actually slow down our perception of time. On a related note, part of the reason that children can so easily maintain a state of wonder is that they lack time perception and will thus stop and stare to watch a squirrel scurry by or notice anything that is different than normal. This makes their days all-absorbing and may be related to why time seems to go by faster when we age…because we think we seen it all and have nothing new to experience (or so we tell ourselves).

So as I step off the plane to Stockholm, I can immediately sense a shift in my mindset. Every ounce of my awareness is looking for something I’ve never seen before, trying to identify what makes this place unique and looking for funny cultural quirks all as I try to piece together a construct in my brain of what this place—and its people—are and what they have to teach me. I even forgive Norwegian Airlines’ sorry excuse for a meal for a quote on the bag that helped prepare me for the shift: “’Is there any adventure more exciting than meeting new people and finding out what lives within them?’ –Sonja Henie.” No Sonja, I’m not sure there is.
Let the adventure begin…

Posted by atbrady 11:16 Archived in Sweden Tagged travel of sweden plane trip beginning brain Comments (1)

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!

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…

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)

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).
Here’s a picture from the regimen walking through a German town after the war.

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.
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.
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.
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.

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.
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.”
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.”

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.”
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.”
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.

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.
Looks like the standard dress code for an attendee of any rally in the US against the war in Vietnam, no?

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.

In 1994, US Army units in Berlin lowered the flag for the last time.
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:
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!”
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)

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.
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.

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.

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!

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.
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.

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.

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.

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.

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!!!!

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.

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 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.
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.
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.

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.

I also walked through a couple swanky parts of Bonn with some really nice houses.

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.

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
as well as examples of some of the products that use their carton technology
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 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.

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.
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
and the Stadhuis, or Town Hall, which was quite pretty with all of its flags

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.
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.
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
and passed by Steenplein!

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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
I can't read Dutch, but as far as I can tell, we were 31 meters (over 100 feet) deep.
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.
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.
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!

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.
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.
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.
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.
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
On the left is the Hotel de Ville, which somehow means town hall...


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...

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)

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.
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.


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.
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.

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.

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.
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.

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)
and of their apartment itself, I was off.

As I was leaving Belgium, there was a beautiful sunset...

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 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)

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