A Travellerspoint blog

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.
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:
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.
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.

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.

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.
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.

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.
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.

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.

Kind of like Amsterdam or Venice, most of the fun of Bruges is just walking around the canals and enjoying the sights.

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?
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.

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.

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.

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.
I’ve also got to hand it to Leuven for having open-air (and free!) urinals! I could get used to this!

We also passed through their main square, Oude Markt.
In one of their first weekends in Belgium, there had been an open-air concert in the square that they raved about.

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.

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!

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.
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.
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 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.
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.

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!

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.

After we ordered, the little old Italian guy who owned the place went to fresh cut our ham. You would have loved him Kristine.
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)

Dinner came, and it was simple, but actually very good.
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 05:11 Archived in Germany Tagged germany bonn working values konzepte conscious capitalism barrett sig Comments (0)

Have you ever seen this before?

Cultural differences and a rant on mostly inconsequential observations

sunny 60 °F

The day began with a delicious scramble
then I went into the office.

Most of the day was spent finishing up translations. I was really fascinated by their training on “Working Across Cultures.” It talks about research by Geert Hofstede in which he characterizes culture along 5 continuums.

The first characteristic is Power Distance, the extent to which the less powerful members of society accept that power is distributed unequally. In cultures that score low in this characteristic, everyone is believed to have equal rights and superiors tend to be accessible. Change tends to happen in a gradual evolution. For cultures at the other end of the spectrum, inequality is accepted and seen as necessary. Superiors have certain privileges and aren’t very accessible, so change tends to happen by revolution.

Second is Individualism. Does the society tend to have a “we” consciousness where relationships have priority over tasks and fulfilling obligations to family or other groups is paramount and the main fear is that of shame and “saving face.” On the other end of the spectrum is the high individualism cultures, where there is an “I” consciousness which leads to a focus on fulfilling your own obligations (and those of your IMMEDIATE family) and the greatest fear is guilt and losing self-respect.

High Masculinity cultures value performance and have a need to excel. They tend to polarize and covet what is big and fast. Decisiveness is paramount and successful achievers are celebrated. Compare that to the low masculinity cultures that focus more on quality of life, serving others and striving for consensus. There tends to be more sympathy for the unfortunate and intuition is highly regarded.

Another characteristic, which Lothar had mentioned in my training last week was Uncertainty Avoidance, the extent to which people feel threatened by uncertainty and ambiguity.. One side is more relaxed and less stressed, emotions are not readily shown, dissent is accepted and conflict and competition are seen as fair play. These types of cultures have less need for rules than the other side, whose anxiety makes conflict a threat and agreement a prerequisite for moving forward. These cultures have an inner drive to work hard, a need to avoid failure and feel much more comfortable with plenty of rules and laws.

The final characteristic is Long Term Orientation, the extent to which a society shows a pragmatic future-oriented perspective vs. a conventional historical or short-term point of view. Is the culture concerned with absolute truth, tradition, stability and quick results? Or does it accept that there are many truths and take a pragmatic point of view while accepting change and persevering?

Through his research, he then scores each country on these 5 characteristics so that comparisons can be made (and preparations can be made if you are traveling or dealing with other cultures). For example, Germany and the US score similarly on the lower mid range of Power Distance, high on Individualism (although the US is off the charts high), in the upper middle range of Masculinity and at the lower end of Long Term Orientation. The biggest difference (as Lothar had mentioned the other day in the training session) is uncertainty avoidance. Germans score quite high, while the US has a much higher tolerance for uncertainty. Evidence is apparent words we have borrowed from German, such as angst.

At first Germans and Americans will get along well because many Germans speak good English and they’re always on time. Germans tend to appreciate American drive and energy and are charmed by our friendliness. Over time, this “honeymoon period” (where I definitely still am – LOVE the direct feedback, although Bernd describes himself as a sort of hybrid) may give way to frustration when the Germans seem rigid and authoritarian to the Americans, while the Americans seem superficial and unreliable. It then gives tips for interacting, such as preparing for a presentation, where Germans will want as much background information as possible, even if it doesn’t seem immediately relevant. They’ll prefer to carefully consider the past and present before forming a plan. They will be skeptical of American optimism about “potential markets” or “the promise of new developments.”

Also, while Americans tend to get right to business as compared to most cultures, they are in the opposite role with Germans, who find even brief small talk to be a waste of time. You can even see this in the German translation of small talk, which means “empty chitchat.” Germans keep their work and personal lives very separate. Along those lines, Germans are very direct in speaking up when something bothers them or giving criticism. This is considered to be a sign of an open and honest person. Konfliktfähigkeit,” a willingness and ability to engage in conflict, is greatly admired. When you criticize someone, it is seen almost as a compliment because it means that you take them seriously. Contrast that to the US, where for the most part we avoid open confrontation and give indirect feedback that requires reading between the lines. I could go on and on (and I pretty much did), but it was fascinating stuff. There were also comparisons to India and Poland.

Usually there are only a few people who work out of the Konzepte office, but today a dozen or so of the freelancers were in the conference room strategizing about what kind of new trainings they can put together. Bernd had told me that the day’s focus was on trainings for the health industry, but he wasn’t in the meeting and when I talked to a few of the people during a break, it sounded like they were asking me about programs that companies have in the US focused on employee health. When I talked about subsidized gym memberships and blood pressure screenings, she clarified that they were more concerned with mental/emotional health, or what we would probably call engagement and fulfilment. It was really too bad that the meeting was being conducted in German, because I would have loved to have been a part of it. One of the perks of having a meeting at the office was having a fancy catered lunch!
The melon and prosciutto were my favorite! Using little zucchini slices instead of crackers was a cool idea too (Though this would probably really disappoint Kristine).

Because I didn’t do any sightseeing or picture taking today, when I got home, I decided to spice up this post with a few observations of things I have noticed that I have never seen before, which gets back to the original headline (before I went on a tangent about culture). So if its just me and you have seen these things in the states before, let me know.

First, a German keyboard. It looks deceptively harmless because at first glance, everything seems to look familiar, though you may notice that their special characters ö, ä and ü have replaced a few punctuation keys on the far right.
As you start typing, however, you’ll realize that they decided to make one change just to piss you off. They switched the y and the z. Now if they decided to totally rearrange the keys to make more sense for them, I would understand that. But to make just one switch seems silly to me. Anyways, I’m luckily using my laptop most of the time, so the only time I’ve had to deal with this was when I was using that internet café in the airport on my first day.

Moving on, I may have mentioned Sambal Oelek already, but if not, here it is.
I put it on my eggs every morning, and its pretty delicious. I think I mentioned that Elke shutters every time she sees what a large scoop I take to put in my eggs or mix in with my chilli.

This one was kind of cool. We have tomatos on the vine and we have cherry tomatoes, but in my 2 years in the produce department at Wegmans, I never saw cherry tomatoes on the vine.

Eggs. How many eggs do you want? A dozen? Too bad. You can only have a pack of 10. What, 10 is too many you say? Would you like half that? You’re out of luck. You’d have to get a half dozen.

I’ve seen this elsewhere in Europe and might have even mentioned it on blogs from past trips, but I have to say I really think this is a great idea. Most toilets have 2 flush options. A little one and a big one. I’m sure you can figure it out. Seems like a smart little environmentally friendly way to only use as much as you need.

This one cracks me up, though it kind of makes sense. Have you ever seen tomato paste like this?
I guess I can’t blame them. If tooth paste comes in a tube, why not tomato paste too?

Wait a minute, nevermind, they don’t put tooth paste in a tube!
It’s a good thing this toothpaste has a picture of a tooth on it, because I never would have been able to tell. It looks like some kind of face lotion bottle and has words that look like revitalizing on it. To top it off, the toothpaste that comes out is kind of watery and is a creamy pink color, both of which would have made me think it belonged on my face. I had to try it to check, but I was nervous. It may or may not be toothpaste. Certainly not minty like in America.

These are just AWESOME. The little metal bars can be raised or lowered to pull little pulleys in the ceiling and raise or lower the lights themselves. Wish Home Depot carried these bad boys.

Fridges here are much smaller. I was showing Bernd and Elke pictures of our house the other day, and they immediately commented on how enormous our fridge was. They laughed that theirs had been a bit cramped for 3 people, but I took the blame, because most of the space was taken up by my veggies (despite the fact that I have maybe a quarter of the amount of veggies that I usually keep in the fridge at home).

I’ve been meaning to look these up and find out what they are, but they seem like some kind of cream cheese or something. For something of that consistency, tubes don’t seem like such a bad idea. I wonder why we don’t use tubes for food products in the States?

Light switches. Damn. I finally adjusted to not thinking every door was ajar, but I cannot get used to light switches for bathrooms being outside the bathroom. Every time I walk in there and out of habit start to shut the door and reach for the light switch in one motion. And time after time I have to reopen the door fumbling around the corner blindly trying to find the lightswitch.

Last but not least is 16 wheelers. Big trucks at home tend to be all sheet metal. On a very rare occasion the back doors might be canvas. Every once in a while you’ll see those pepsi/coke trucks that have doors along the entire length of the sides that roll up. Here, I have yet to see a truck that wasn’t completely enclosed in canvas (except for the back doors for some reason). Maybe because their winters aren’t as bad? Not sure on this one.

Yesterday, Elke had dug up an old coupon from when they cancelled their gym membership to the gym that had denied me. It was a coupon for one month free and it specifically said that it was transferrable. So around 6pm, I ran over to the gym. The people at the desk ignored me again, so I just walked in and started working out. The weights section wasn’t much, but it was nice to get a workout in. Halfway through, one of the fitness instructors looked at me funny, probably because he didn’t recognize me. He left and came back with another person, who obviously didn’t recognize me either. The person he brought back came up to me speaking German and eventually got across in English that she wanted to see my pass. I told her it was in the locker room and started to head over there and she told me not to worry and to show it to her after my workout. So as I was walking out, she took a look at my coupon. I’m not really sure why, but apparently it wasn’t acceptable. Oh well, glad we figured that out after I was done!

For dinner, Elke made steaks! She was very nervous about the portions because she kept commenting how they were much smaller than American ones. It didn’t matter to me though…she cooked it perfectly and it was incredibly tender. I tried to get cooking tips, but mostly she gave credit to the US beef. America! She finally let me help, as I mashed carrots and potatoes for this fancy little weight watchers dinner.

Usually, when traveling to Europe, I don’t shave just to see how long my scruff will grow. Because this was a business trip, I cleaned it up a little bit by shaving my neck and having as proper of a beard as I can grow. By tonight I had had enough of it. Probably the most ‘stache I’ve ever had (though its still laughable). I hesitate to show the picture in the bottom left, because when my facial hair gets long I usually mess around and shave it into different things but this one looks absolutely ridiculous.

Posted by atbrady 04:40 Archived in Germany Tagged germany cultural bonn product differences windhagen Comments (2)

A history lesson straight from the source

Museum of the History of the Federal Republic of Germany with Bernd

sunny 60 °F

Today (Wednesday) was a national holiday that split up the week nicely. Since it was a holiday, Bernd and Elke were up eggs for breakfast. My two egg omelettes had overstuffed them on Sunday, so both requested just one egg apiece. I was going to make a two egg omelette and split it in half, but Elke wanted mushrooms, scallions and cheese and Bernd wanted fewer mushrooms and wanted cherry tomatoes added in. So instead, I made the first one egg omelettes of my life. I wish I had taken a picture before I served them. Unfortunately, they were so darn thin that even on half power, Elke's cooked through almost immediately. Bernd's turned out a bit better by turning down the stovetop below halfway and cooking for literally no more than 10 seconds. In the morning, I continued to refine some of the marketing and online materials that Konzepte has as well as their English language training programs.

Around noon, Bernd took me to the Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Museum of the History of the Federal Republic of Germany). I had been really looking forward to this museum since I first researched the things to do in Bonn and Bernd had expressed interest in going as well.

The museum began with a brief overview of WWII. Here was a Nazi party rally. I'm not sure I've ever seen so many people in one place:
And a Bomb England board game for kids:

With this kind of propaganda, you start to understand the remarkable influence that the Nazis were able to command and in many ways, the brainwashing that they were able to carry out, starting with the kids.

Seeing this uniform from one of the concentration camps gave me an eerie reminder to the movie "The Boy in Striped Pajamas" and started to choke me up, in addition to seeing a cloth of Jewish stars to be cut out and sewn on to their clothing.

What I found especially interesting was that guards at the concentration camps were forced to state their name and rank on video. They had parts of the video playing at the museum.

They did a really nice job at the museum of using real artifacts and rubble to give you a peak into life at this time.IMG_0997.jpg
Bernd told me about unexploded bombs like this that would be periodically found throughout Berlin after the war and that he would regularly pass streets that were closed off to deal with these bombs.

He also told me about Kindersuchdienst, the Children Retrieval Service run by the Red Cross. In the mass confusion as people were fleeing from the Nazis and later the Red Army, several children were lost or separated from their families. At the end of the hourly news on the radio, there would be a public service announcement where a few children would tell all they could remember about their family and hometown, hoping to be recognized and reunited with their family. Amazingly, this continued through the mid 1960's. Here's one of many card catalogues of several thousand misplaced people:

This was another incredible picture. As Germans went through the rubble that had been their cities and their homes, salvageable bricks were saved and organized to be used to rebuild the cities. Talk about recycling! Everyone pitched in to the effort. You have to think such an experience contributed to the determination and efficiency with which Germans conduct business, even today.
To be able to get food vouchers, you had to pitch in to the cleanup and rebuilding efforts daily.

On the way to the museum, I had asked Bernd about the founders of the country that had written the constitution. It was fascinating to think that their constitution had been written in the lifetimes of many Germans alive today (especially in comparison to ours which was written centuries ago). It was written in a museum in Bonn, simply because it was the only building still intact that was large enough to house the assembly. Several Germans were hesitant to move forward with drafting the constitution because they were still holding out hope that Germany would be reunited. Here's a picture of all who participated in the assembly. Notably, there were a few women.
When you create a new country, you need a new flag. Here were several finalists:
When Germany was reunited, it simply adopted the constitution of what had been West Germany.

Heres the original chairs from the first assembly hall. visitors could sit in the chairs and watch videos about certain issues and vote on them, but they were in German, so I couldn't really participate.

Here's a look at the border between East and West.

On June 17th, 1953, a strike in East Berlin led to a widespread uprising all across East Germany.
In thinking about the spreading of such a movement in just 24 hours, it's pretty remarkable to consider how fast it spread through word of mouth and Western radio broadcasts alone (without the help of TV news coverage, social media, etc that aided uprisings like the Arab Spring). Here's one of the tanks that was brought in to suppress the uprising. It was so heavy that even after gutting it, they had to cut it in half AND add additional supports to keep it from making the floor collapse.

After dealing with the formal splitting of Germany, the museum turned to the developments on either side of the border. First was a room dedicated to the West...Here was a famous toy from West Germany that I had to include only because I knew Kristine would love him.

This was one of many remarkable photos from a slideshow depicting German cities after the war, then after 10 years of rebuilding:

When we got to see some of the gadgets, cars and pop culture pieces of the day, I saw this car and remarked that it looked like a airplane cockpit. Bernd said thats exactly what it was. After the war, the company had switched their manufacturing operations from planes to cars, without changing the design too much.

The room depicting life in the East was equally fascinating. When looking at some posters about the youth groups in East Germany at the time, Bernd commented that it seemed so obvious to West Germans that the Hitler Youth organization had simply been replaced with a similar structure that revered the leaders of the Soviet Union.

Bernd recalled paying a months wage on this tape recorder, which could record songs from the radio using a microphone. He laughed remembering the terrible audio quality from such a process.

For a past birthday, Bernd had had the museum rented out and his guests had been given a private tour of the museum. It was remarkable for him because he related the room about life in the West with great childhood memories, while memories of the East brought distasteful and fearful memories. At the same time, one of his secretaries, who grew up in East Germany, had quite nostalgic memories in the room depicting life in the East.

Onward in the museum, we came upon the beginnings of the Berlin Wall. I had long wondered what would lead to such a monstrosity, and here was the answer. East Germans had been fleeing the "workers paradise" (as Bernd sarcastically called it) to the West in droves. Eventually, the Soviets put up barbed wire coils to demarcate the line between East and West.

Neighbors and even families were separated with no way to cross over. In time, the barricades became larger and larger. A few brave young men took a train through roadblocks to cross the border in the first days of the barbed wire wall. The Soviets responded with more barbed wire.


This was an iconic photograph from the period, where a photographer noticed an East German soldier pacing uneasily near the barbed wire border and eventually snapped a picture as the soldier jumped over. What a decision in must have been to leave family behind and risk death, and yet you can imagine how that single decision dramatically would have shaped his life from then on. Had he waited a few more days or weeks, the wall would have been built up to the point where such a jump was impossible.

As the walls reached higher, it was not uncommon for families to climb ladders just to wave to friends and family that they had been separated from. There were no phone lines, no mail and certainly no border crossings to ever see them again. This street in particular had been split down the middle. Other photos showed some families climbing out of windows to get over the barbed wire barricade and escape to the West.

After years of denying the existence of the war, these trials started to uncover the extent of the atrocities.
This is what led many young people to start asking questions and demand that the events be recognized and documented so as to prevent it ever happening again.

Moving on to the reunification, here was the original document signed to reunify Germany:
And the ensuing celebration in Berlin...
Here is a section of the wall, of which Bernd assured me there would be plenty more opportunities to see when we get to Berlin.
When the wall came down, East Germans flooded into the West and were each given 40 Marks as Begrüßungsgeld, or greeting money.

After the museum, we sat down in the museum coffee shop to chat for a while. It was truly incredible to get Bernd's perspective about living in West Berlin "on an island." Bernd told me that his father was a German soldier and after the war, had been given advice to avoid the French and British and instead to seek refuge with the American forces. From this experience, his father developed a deep reverence for America and passed it on to Bernd, who has always been fascinated with America, getting the chance to house an American exchange student, then live with that student's family to be an exchange student himself and later going to grad school at Michigan. We also had an interesting conversation about how much land Germany had given up when post-war lines were drawn and how the surrounding countries each claimed chunks that cut into what had once been German territory. The Germans had accepted this willingly as retribution for the war, which was pretty remarkable considering all of the wars that have raged in the middle east and elsewhere over similar situations.

As we were leaving the museum, we noticed a special exhibit about The American Way, subtitle "Die USA in Deutschland" which made me do a double take until I realized that it meant THE USA in Germany.
We were headed back home to Skype with my parents and didn't have time to walk though, so I'll have to come back. Regardless, it was funny to see so much American pride so far from home. There were even US flag scarves and books in the gift shop.
It would be fascinating to see. All this and the museum was free!

After Skyping with Bernd, Elke and my parents, I was had a bit more work to do. Around 6, I went for a run. Near the beginning of my run, I ran past a park not far from home and decided to switch up my workout. After all, I hadn't ran 3/4 days in a row since my marathon training and I needed a change of pace. So instead, I used the playground to do pushups, pullups on the bars, dips between the benches and inverted rows on one of the railings. After a circuit, I would jog up the steep hill nearby, then repeat. I'm still trying to figure out what I can do with the seesaw haha. I ended with a few sprints up a smaller hill. Overall, it was kind of fun!

I got in home in time for a quick shower before dinner at 7:30. We each heated up some leftovers (I laid claim to the chili con carne, so no complaints here!)
We had a great dinner conversation. Bernd cited the fact that there is no German translation for "serendipity" and after explaining its meaning to Elke, it was funny to note that Germans probably didn't believe in such a thing and how culture can influence a language. On the topic of translations, we also had a lengthy discussion about how translations aren't always so straightforward as we tried to find the English equivalent to the German phrase which roughly translates to "he cooks with water." Eventually, I was able to determine that "he puts his pants on one leg at a time" was our phrase to describe someone who may seem superhuman, but is really just like the rest of us. To top it all off, we ended the night watching Bayern Munich own Barcelona 3-0! Elke had the closest guess with 3-1 Munich, while Bernd had been least optimistic, with a 3-1 prediction in favor of Barcelona and I was in the middle, guessing 2-1 Barcelona. Too bad there is such a long layoff until the final game at Wembly stadium in England...I'll be back at home. It would have been awesome to be in Germany for that game.

I felt extremely grateful for the day. To learn about the recent history of Germany from someone who lived it was truly a once in a lifetime experience.

Posted by atbrady 12:02 Archived in Germany Tagged history the of germany berlin world west wall east war ii republic federal bonn cold 2 nazis Comments (2)

Two Day Work Week?

Getting down to business in Germany

sunny 50 °F

This morning I woke up and made myself an omelette for breakfast. Bernd opted for bread and cheese and Elke had to get on the road to go to Frankfurt for the day. Bernd and I went in to work together, stopping along the way to grab lunch, a few rolls with either a slice of cheese or a slice of bread. When we parked, I got an education on parking passes in Germany...
You're actually expected to carry around a little clock in your car and when you park somewhere that says it has a certain time limit, you have to set the paper clock to show the time that you parked there.

The woman that waited on us was pretty cold and when she finished preparing our order, she set it on the far end of the counter without saying anything and moved on to do something else. We were sitting there for a while before Bernd asked her about the rolls and without looking up or saying a word, she pointed toward them. As we were walking out, Bernd commented that she was Polish and that this was quite acceptable customer service in Poland. As we were walking back to the car, he pointed out a new trend in Germany, guerilla knitting, where people just start knitting around fixed objects in the streets as some kind of amusing joke. I had seen this around but had not thought much of it. It was kind of funny.

On the way in to work, Bernd talked a little bit about cultural and business differences from Germany to America. First, he described Americans as peaches and Germans as coconuts. While Americans were gregarious and opened up easily from the get go, Germans were much more reserved and "hard to crack," but once you did, they were quite soft and very loyal. He explained it from an evolutionary perspective...Americans had always been exposed to new people coming into their country and had to adapt to this kind of changing environment and ability to build relationships quickly to get along. He also mentioned how loudly Americans talk compared to Germans. On the other hand, Germany was much more crowded separated into many small sovereign entities for much of its history, where each group had to be wary of newcomers and other groups. As I had noticed already, Bernd talked about the straightforward and blunt nature of Germans, which I had found to be quite refreshing. He also joked that the highest compliment a German will pay is when you ask them what they thought about something they'll say "I can't complain."

We got in to the beautiful office, which had been a farm house and was now broken up into a small office park.
I got to meet Claudia, his receptionist as well as Dunja, a partner and Micheal, a manager. Dunja, Michael, Bernd and I went into the conference room to start the manager's meeting. After some introductions, I dove right in to my Conscious Capitalism presentation (making sure not to talk too loud - as I often do when I'm passionate about something). On my first day in Germany, a newsletter I subscribe to happened to have an article about the management crisis in germany, that basically detailed the low engagement numbers from a Gallup survey. Bernd had also sent me research a few days ago from a company called Edelman, a PR company that has been putting out a "Trust Barometer" survey for the last dozen years or so. A lot of the information was on leadership and culture issues that damaged trust as well as data on how to build trust dovetailed nicely into my presentation, so I had included slides from both of these sources in order to have some information that was directly applicable to Germany. They all seemed to be really engaged in the concepts, asking numerous questions along the way.

Afterward, Bernd was extremely positive about the information as well as my presentation. He commented that he wished I lived closer in town so that we could work together more closely. He also said that when the notion of hiring some more young trainers into the company had come up in the past, he scoffed at the idea and didn't think that they would have much to add, but that after my presentation he realized that there must be other young people out there who are passionate and able to make an impact. He even suggested that we collaborate on putting together some trainings and presentations in the future and suggested I come along with him to a meeting next week with a potential client because he was impressed with my knowledge and passion. Overall, I was pretty blown away by the praise considering the fact that he had told me how hard to please Germans can be. After the presentation and some discussion, we dug into lunch. Bernd took me on a walk around the grounds of the offices on a nice little trail with streams and little waterfalls.
One of the companies in the office park makes little glass animals as art and had them sprinkled everywhere along our walk. Kristine would have loved some of these little guys...
He also said that the grounds were built at a time when a romanticism movement made old structures and ruins fashionable, so several buildings had been built on the grounds to look like old ruins.

After lunch, they had to deal with some of the more day-to-day management issues and since it wouldn't be very relevant to me and they could get through their business faster in German, Dunja gave me a flash drive of files of presentations and trainings that they give in English to go over the content and edit their English. Its actually a win-win because as I'm helping them, I also get to learn about some of their trainings on leadership and change management and some of the assessments and frameworks that they use. I haven't got to it yet, but I even get to go over the "Working Across Cultures" seminar that I had wished I could attend when Lothar told me about it.

The day went by pretty quickly, then we left for home. On the way, we Bernd drove to the top of a nearby hill where a giant mansion turned hotel stood. there was a great view of the Rhine and Konigswinter (where the Konzepte office is) down below. Back when Bonn had been the capital, this mansion had been used for international meetings and conferences.

When we got back onto Bernd and Elke's street, all the garbage cans were out for garbage day tomorrow, which made me realize that somehow I had been here for a week already! I also learned the rest of the story about Bernd's frustration with garbage day. Apparently, each bin is collected by a different company and some bins are picked up every week and some every other, plus it changes seasonally throughout the year. For example, the bio material bin gets picked up every other week in the winter, but every week in the summer for yard clippings and things. To add another layer of complication, two of the four bins need to be facing out to the street because they are dumped by hand while the other two need to be facing the opposite direction because they're dumped automatically. He laughs at how German it is to over-engineer something that should be much simpler.

Once we were home, I decided I would try to go to the gym that was around a mile away to see if I could buy a two week pass. When I got there, I waited for a good couple minutes while two girls talked idly behind the desk, ignoring me. Eventually, one of them acknowledged me and I explained my situation. She said she would have to call someone and then called someone else after. Apparently this wasn't going to be as easy as I hoped. Eventually, she said that she would take my number and have someone call me tomorrow. I thought it was kind of ridiculous (since I would be paying them they wouldn't be incurring any additional expense) and I told her I would pay for a full month if that was the issue. I would have pressed further, but in the interest of not perpetuating American stereotypes, I let it go and went back home. I should have just walked right in the gym since they were ignoring me anyways. After that debacle, it was 6:30 and I was now running short on time until dinner at 7:30, so I mapped out a quick out and back route of 12km (probably 8ish miles) and hit the road. I'm usually terrible at pacing myself, but as I turned around, it was 7:00 on the dot and when I got back, it was 7:29. Not too shabby. Along the route, there was this awesome sign:
Nicht Hallerbach Mädchen? (No Hallerbach Girl?)

For dinner, we each had our favorite leftover from the past few days. For me it was the chili con carne with my new favorite hot sauce mixed in. Elke still gasps every time she sees how big my scoop of hot sauce is. After dinner, Bernd wanted to watch an old black and white horror film he had just bought, having originally seen it many years ago. Then we got to talking about movies and eventually I mentioned Saturday Night Live, but they didn't know what it was. When I explained, Bernd was reminded of some sketch comedy in Germany and put it on. The sketches are very quick, probably 10 to no more than 30 seconds, and they feverishly translated as much as possible. Some of it didn't need translation. It was pretty funny. Eventually, we turned in for the night.

On day two of work, Bernd had to go in early to meet with a client, so I made breakfast before heading to the office. I went through a bunch more training translations and even few neat teambuilding games that I might try out. As I'm going through their materials, its kind of funny to notice where the languages differ. For example, many german words are composites of two english words, so when they translate it, they put a dash in between them even though no dash is necessary. Bernd and I also talked a bit about what happens when there are several words in English that mean roughly what there is only one word for in German (or vice versa), but choosing just one of those words doesn't capture the idea and changes the essence of the sentence. There have been plenty of instances where the literal translation is essentially correct, but it just doesn't sound right in English.

When lunchtime came, we headed back home to eat then work from home in the afternoon. Around 6pm, I still hadn't been called by the gym, so I asked Bernd if he could call since their English had been shaky. After quite a long time on the phone, he was told that the minimum signup period was 6 months and that they didn't do free passes or day passes or week passes or anything like that. Kind of silly. So I was off on my running route again, getting home just in time to shower and have Babi Goreng. They have been on weight watchers for a month or so and it's a weight watchers recipe with pork, chopped up carrots and chinese cabbage and what I think was German Ramen noodles. The best part was the sauce. It was basically soy sauce mixed with tomato paste, two things I would never think to combine, but it was a simple delicious combo that I'm going to have to try out.

After dinner, we watched Round 2 of the first semifinal champions league game...Borussia Dortmond vs. Real Madrid. Having won the first game 4-1, Dortmond could lose and still move on. Whichever team had the most total goals won, but if they were tied, then the tiebreaker was most goals scored as the away team. So if they lost 1-0, 2-0 or 3-1, they would move on. If they lost 4-1, they would have extra time and then a penalty shootout. All they had to do was avoid losing 3-0. Both teams had an incredible amount of quality chances that really should have been goals, but 80 minutes in, it was still 0-0, and looking good for Dortmond. Then Real Madrid scored 2 goals in quick succession. Another goal and they would have moved on. It was a frantic few minutes, but eventually they prevailed. One German team is through to the finals and barring a complete collapse, Bayern Munich will secure their spot in the finals tomorrow as well! By the end of the game, it was 11pm, so I caught up on a few emails before turning in. Tomorrow is a national holiday, so my 2 day work week is in the books!

Posted by atbrady 17:39 Archived in Germany Tagged germany bonn working konzepte conscious capitalism Comments (0)

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