Welcome to Beirut

Once upon a time, Beirut was dubbed that it has been the "Paris of the Mediterranean". This goes back to the time before the tragedy of a vicious 25 years lasting civil war from 1975 to 1990. It left 120 000 dead and lead to over a million Lebanese leaving the country. It is no surprise, you find Lebanese presence nearly all over the world today; often with multiple passports, well educated and with extremely professional and entrepreneurial spirit. Professional opportunities are limited in Lebanon today, and still many leave or at least keep a multinational spirit. Today there are an estimated 2 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon. That makes about every second person in the country a refugee. Some had the means to find new homes, but many of the less fortunate live in tents in refugee camps for example in the Beqaa valley, close to the Syrian border. Today, you can drive with no problems to Damascus. But refugees are hesitating to move back, partly because the Syrian government does not encourage such moves. The refugees take, of course, any job they can get, and the unemployment among Lebanese is about 40 %. A lot of indicators would suggest the security situation should be bad in Lebanon and for example the US travel advice sound hysteric as always. But you will meet the most friendly and hospitable people in Lebanon. Still, the situation is fragile, even though on an improving trend. Lebanon is a beautiful country, and should there be stability any less corruption, I guess that it may have a great future. These preconditions are moving slowly in the right direction, and there is hope this may continue.

On the bright side, Lebanon is beautiful, has the most hospitable people with extremely good humor, excellent food, and multicultural and open society. This alone is already enough to make me visit again soon. Welcome to the re-emerging "Paris of the Mediterranean*.

Obviously, Beirut is the backdrop of multiple thrillers, one of them “Beirut” set in 1982. Below is the trailer.

And there are at least two price winning Lebanese movies, which are a must see. Please find trailers below.

Search for the middle of the world

Searching the middle of the world is a very legitimate calling, I find. Stories of such searches have been told in many ways. For some, like Jule Verne, it is an expedition to the geometric center of the globe. For others, like Ursula Priess it is the encounter with stories and people in Istanbul, as she wrote in “Mitte der Welt: Erinnerungen an Istanbul” (The Middle if the World: Memories on Istanbul). I have visited this beautiful and magic town for a few days and was unfortunately only able to browse through her book before departure and not to read it properly, similar to also just scratching the surface of the town. I will for sure read the book upon return to Germany and blend it with my impressions. Luckily I read Orhan Pamuk’s “Istanbul, memories of a city”, which is a Turkish memoir which I liked a lot.

My main task here this time was to understand the economic momentum concerning the construction material industry. It is research done regarding the Zukunftskonferenz of B+L GmbH in July 2019, in which the future of residential and non-residential construction output will be forecasted and discussed. The basis of this. are quantitative models which have been developed for over 20 years. For cases with big question marks and large political interference, we conduct fact-finding trips and meet and interview industry insiders in the country. And this is what brought me to Istanbul.

Since the attempted military coup in July 2016, Turkey has been in the light of scepticizm. As one of the three main factors for driving construction output is people's confidence in the future, this is not helpful. When the Turkish Lira lost value against the US$ by about 30 % in a crash in mid-2018, this was also an expression of this sentiment and was driving inflation up to around 20 % today. The bank lending rates are also about this high (20%), which does not combat inflation, because other stimulus activities overcompensate this. One effect is, that nobody borrows money to buy residential property. Those who would have the money to do so, rather deposit it in the bank, where they get a higher interest return than they would ever get by renting out. And currently, if you need a home, renting is the much better deal. Even the potential demand for residential units is high with a young population of 80 million, the low confidence and bad financing situation brought construction to a shrieking halt. For developers, now it's a "wait and see game" which the ones with the deeper pockets are likely to win. For office buildings in Istanbul, some talk about a utilization of only 2/3. And walking through the places, this seems plausible. I spare you the photos of abandoned construction sites and homes for sale and offices for rent. But I do post some pictures of the bright sides I encountered below. The brightest though were the people I met, which will be for obvious reasons not represented by photos. Turkey is one of the most friendly places when it comes to its people. And I do wish them well.

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RIP Andreas Nikolaus (Nikki) Lauda (22 February 1949 – 20 May 2019)

Back in the days, when I became who I became, life was simple: fast cars, pretty girls, planes, guns, hunting, crossing deserts, climbing mountains and dreaming of adventure. There was a lax oversight, no significant speed limits, and the forest was deep; while the police were far. "Talent" was not a sickness back then. If we had it, we were encouraged to make the best out of it. No doctors drugged us to stay calm. That's why youth was a roller coaster of unbelievable happiness and tears. And role models, who were they? Jaque Ives Cousteau, T.E. Lawrence of Arabia, Manfred von Richthofen, Vasco da Gama, Richard Feynman, Alexander von Humboldt ... an endless list of characters. Two of them were Nikki Lauda and of course the unforgotten James Hunt. I often came in touch with the Nikki Lauda spirit during my time working for the Volkswagen Group in the Wolfsburg Headquarter. Yesterday, he peacefully passed away, aged 70, after reportedly having struggled with health issues since his nearly fatal accident in 1976, from which he reappeared on the race track after only 42 days recovery. There is of course much more to say about Nikki Lauda, but I will leave this to the people who really can. In memoriam, I took two hours out from reading papers today and watched the movie based on the rivaly between him and James Hunt - back when men were still real men and women were still real women.

Two touch downs in Malta within 8 Minutes

Touched down in Malta twice today, as the first landing was aborted. All went safely, but a good reminder that it always is necessary to close safety belts tightly and stow away things that can fly around in such a procedure, or others. 

First attempt to land in Luqa...

First attempt to land in Luqa...

... and the second one a few minutes later.

... and the second one a few minutes later.

Germany and France: international field trip of The University of Hong Kong

I had the pleasure to invite a group of 30 MBA students from the University of Hong Kong over for a comparative field trip Germany and France. We visited companies and institutions like Hessischer Rundfunk, Porsche, Mercedes Benz, the Multi-Generation House of the Gebrüder Schmid Foundation, EUROCORPS, the E.A.S.E training factory, an institution of the European Parliament, a Vinyard, BASF, HPP Consulting and the German Central Bank. We had excellent speakers and guides in all these venues and everybody, including me, learned a lot. On weekends and public holidays we strolled through cultural and historic places, and shopped down the Middle Rhine Gorge diving into medieval history. The weather was extremely changeable, but we were resilient to the showers and treated ourselves with great food choices. Now I am looking forward to read reflections and project reports due on May 19th. I am really eager to learn different perspectives and thoughts on my home region. 

Kloster Eberbach

Kloster Eberbach

On the way from Oberwesel to Schoenburg.

On the way from Oberwesel to Schoenburg.

Schoenburg Oberwesel

Schoenburg Oberwesel

View into the Rhine Valley.

View into the Rhine Valley.

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La Petite France, Strasbourg

La Petite France, Strasbourg

A building in Strasbourg

A building in Strasbourg

Entrance to a fort of Ligne Maginot.

Entrance to a fort of Ligne Maginot.

Students exiting an infantry combat stand at Ligne Maginot after an underground hike (photo with permission).

Students exiting an infantry combat stand at Ligne Maginot after an underground hike (photo with permission).

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Malva color change

Yesterday I picked Malva to make tea. Tastes nice and the color is yellowish at first. Then I added some lemon to make it more refreshing and surprise: it immediately turned pinkish, more resembling the malva flowers. I repeated it on a white kitchen towel, and see the difference below. I tried to grasp the kitchen chemistry behind it by strolling through Wikipedia while drinking the tea, but remained unsuccessful. Does anybody know what happens here and why the color changes? Is it any drop of pH (I can try that tomorrow) or is it something else in the lemon? 

Malva tea made of fresh flowers: before adding lemon

Malva tea made of fresh flowers: before adding lemon

The same malva tea after adding lemon. 

The same malva tea after adding lemon. 

Malva tea and GDP

About from an annual GDP growth rate of 5% people appear to become wasteful. I have seen it in East Germany after the 1989 reunification, when people were running to Aldi to buy fruits, while tons were rotting on the trees. I have also seen it in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore, now Malta. I came back from a walk with a few branches of Malva to make some tea at home. On the way I met a neighbor, let's call him George. He became excited when he saw my Malva branches and told me, that when he was a child, they ate the flowers with honey. "Do you want some, George?", I asked him. No thanks, I got some Coke in the fridge. 

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School of International Studies (ZIS) at Technical University Dresden

It was a pleasure to follow the invitation to give a guest lecture at the School of International Studies (ZIS) at the Technical University Dresden. It is the 4th year I received the honor to speak on different topics, taking the perspective of a practitioner in a school which has a far broader scope than this. This time it was on Opportunities and Risks along China‘s One Belt One Road Initiative. Again, I specially enjoy the discussions with the excellent students there and last but not least the friendly atmosphere in the faculty. At first sight, the small red brick building hosting the ZIS does not let you anticipate what a great reach this interdisciplinary center at the TU Dresden has. I had the pleasure to flip though a folder of alumni, and the little place is actually like the spider in the web of a global network reaching into institutions like the World Bank, OECD, Central Banks, major corporations and German and international diplomacy and even NATO. I am not surprised, knowing the students and the quality of teaching they receive.

The little brick building housing the School of International Studies (ZIS) at the TU Dresden.

The little brick building housing the School of International Studies (ZIS) at the TU Dresden.

I also always enjoy strolling through the old part of town. Dresden was infamously and entirely destroyed by British and American air-forces dropping fire bombs and performing area bombardment on mainly civilians, refugees, wounded and even own prisoners of war. It set the scene of Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse Five”. Today Dresden is beautifully rebuilt, including the Frauenkirche.

I also always enjoy strolling through the old part of town. Dresden was infamously and entirely destroyed by British and American air-forces dropping fire bombs and performing area bombardment on mainly civilians, refugees, wounded and even own prisoners of war. It set the scene of Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse Five”. Today Dresden is beautifully rebuilt, including the Frauenkirche.

Hamburg

Hamburg greeted me with extremely nasty weather. Still, I walked around a lot and was introduced by a friend to the new development of the "Hafenstadt". It is quite a colossal development and, given I dislike retro-design, I always find it difficult to match the new and the "old" of the Speicherstadt. Given the weather, I opted to visit the museums and my favorite is always the maritime exhibition, which brings me back to the time of my university studies and own travel. I guess that's what always happens when you love the subjects you studied: each visit you dig some level deeper. And then I found in the Arts Hall (Kunsthalle), another painting in parallel to Vermeer's Geographer. It's Corlenis de Man's "Geographers at work". I still favor the Vermeer though. Unfortunately, the photo exhibitions at the Deichtorhalle was just under construction for the next exhibition. After three sustained days of rain, I took the train back to Frankfurt. But I enjoyed being in the north. I even went “shopping” at my one and only clothing store, which is Ernst Brendler and got a woolen Troyer. I really needed it.

Alsterarkaden at Binnenalster seen from the Town Hall in Hamburg.

Alsterarkaden at Binnenalster seen from the Town Hall in Hamburg.

Tourist boats pausing in the rain in Binnenalster.

Tourist boats pausing in the rain in Binnenalster.

Speicherstadt Hamburg

Speicherstadt Hamburg

Coffeeshop and “museum” in Speicherstadt Hamburg.

Coffeeshop and “museum” in Speicherstadt Hamburg.

Coffee roastery in Speicherstadt.

Coffee roastery in Speicherstadt.

Headquarter building of “Der Spiegel”

Headquarter building of “Der Spiegel”

Not quite the case

Over the years I was the subject of a few business cases, and also found it useful to build up an own stock of such cases for my teaching in postgraduate business programmes and Executive Education. The case method goes back to the law school of Harvard University where it was introduced in the 1870s. The approach to derive common principles from cases in a system where case law in place, appears reasonable. In 1920 the Harvard Business School introduced cases as a method to train management students. Normally, to “crack it” the students have to put themselves into the shoes of a business leader and derive a suggestion for action, using the information given in the text and also applying a framework or “theory”.

Especially, in cases where I was the subject myself, like in “Shanghai Volkswagen: Time for a radical shift or gears” (2005) it strikes me how oversimplified the students propose their suggestions. Sometimes, when I google on the web, I find sample solutions and interpretations which really make me laugh. For example one was praising my strategic foresight of a decisions, while in reality it was 3 in the morning in a meeting room and I wanted to get my team to get some sleep before the board meeting on the same day.

Also, the in cases, which I published myself with colleague I can well imagine what really went on in the manager’s mind and this had far more dimensions than we can state in this format. And I can imagine, most other case have the same issue, specially those written by pure academics who never actually decided anything of substance. There is normally more than one solution, the situation is more complex than stated in the case and the information is given, is not sufficient to come up with a real proposal which would work outside the textbook.

There was some critique to the case method, that there should be more of a philosophical undercurrent included in decision making, for example by Donham and Whitehead in Business Adrift. Also, in 2016 a paper by Todd Bridgman, Stephen Cummings, and Colm McLaughlin is "Restating the Case: How Revisiting the Development of the Case Method Can Help Us Think Differently About the Future of the Business School". And of course Minzberg commented critical and others. Still the Harvard style machine kept running.

I use cases only for introductory purposes and to have some “lab environment” of an isolated problem. That’s useful, but not sufficient. After that, I immediately switch to real-life examples, where finding and analyzing information available and useful is part of the assignment. I was never a big supporter of frameworks anyway and I honestly have never seen any complex problem, which can be solved by for example by a blabla-Matrix. It may help to structure initial thoughts or communicate with people who have been trained in the same jargon. But it’s unlikely to deliver an intelligent and holistic solution.

I find business problems extremely interesting to solve. But cocking by the book does not appear to me being the golden bullet, specially when you look at the books the management profession has. I fully agree that learning by doing and dealing with real-life problems is a good element in business education. But is that really what we are doing with these cases? It looks pretty 1920s type of analysis to me. And “doing”? What do you mean? A presentation is not the kind of “doing” I normally experience.

Anyway, now I have to think about a teaching note for a new case which will be published soon. They always come as a package. I am always a bit puzzled when Professors need teaching notes. But they come as a package. It’s a bit like you need a recipe to make a pizza. Hope they grow quickly into cooking gourmet meals. Don’t slide into hot dog. Enjoy.

From the sketchbook of my mind: The launch of the Santana 3000 in 2005 and the many other things which became the “Shanghai Volkswagen Case”. I really like this one, but of course there is much more to it than ever has been written.

From the sketchbook of my mind: The launch of the Santana 3000 in 2005 and the many other things which became the “Shanghai Volkswagen Case”. I really like this one, but of course there is much more to it than ever has been written.

Sunshine after rain

There was a teriffic storm in Malta. My plan to enjoy an earlier start of spring there, than in Germany, did not succeed. There were even biblical scenes of fish bashed out of the sea onto the roads. Some of the offshore fish farms broke open in the wild sea. Back in Germany, I spent most time in the National Library in Frankfurt and stroll through the museums from time to time, when I need a break. I closed my Facebook account, as it became too repetitive and actually a bit boring. Those missing me there, can follow here on my website, which I will revive a little in the months to come. I kept the Instagram account though, and if you visit this website from a PC browser you can see this “snaps” in the right hand column.

View from home, when there is sunshine after rain.

View from home, when there is sunshine after rain.

Tizian and the Renaissance in Venice

Just back from Milan and visiting the Pinacotheca di Brera, I ran into Tizian again in the exhibition of “Tizian und Renaissance in Venedig” (Tizian and the Renaissance in Venice) in the Städel Museum in Frankfurt. Then went over to the Schirn Kunsthalle to see the sculptures of Gironcoli exhibited there in a single room. At least it let me put Murphy by Samuel Beckett put on my reading list, which was taken reference to.

Frankfurt seen from crossing the “Eiserner Steg” bridge coming from the Museum bank side.

Frankfurt seen from crossing the “Eiserner Steg” bridge coming from the Museum bank side.

Westerwald weekend

Even in the mornings the grass still has its white iceing, spring is around the corner. It was a short winter after an endless summer of 2018, and it feels like only now the new year has really started. It is time to get out in the forest and this weekend I went back to my home turf, the Westerwald. It is a region, said to have chilling winds, but that every little sunshine pierces the heart. So, what can be a better place to go for greeting the first mild and sunny days? I also visited the Archeological Institute and Museum at Monrepos. Back being a student a student, I was involved in Paleolithic excavations with a research group around Gerhard Bosinki. This was the cradle of this museum and I was extremely happy to see, it is in such good shape and very active. 

Geese migrating back North from Africa (Westerwälder Seenplatte). Just the sound is already magic.

Geese migrating back North from Africa (Westerwälder Seenplatte). Just the sound is already magic.

The future of work - Fu.Se (Future Series)

The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and the Adecco Group, together with a wide list of sponsors, has produced an interesting format to discuss the future of work in the view of AI (Artificial Intelligence). It is coined Future Series (Fu.Se). This is not exactly my field, but as I am watching some aspects of it for the future of the the construction supply industry at B+L GmbH, I followed the kind invitation to the kick off in Milan on February 13-14. I never go to conferences, but as this was introduced to me as an action oriented “anti-conference” I got interested. I specially enjoyed the podium discussion between Guy Ryder, the Director General of the Internation Labour Organization (ILO), and Alain Dehaze, the CEO of the Adecco Group, on the need to renew the “social contract” in the new context. Alain also was in the Global Commission for the Future of Work, which published a report I found very comprehensive and insightful (click here to download). All over it was a colorful mix of industry leaders, public institutions, advisors and researchers, which made the breakout sessions extremly interesting. With Brad Smith, the President of Microsoft, using an analogy how long it took from the invention of the automobile to the time it shaped the streets, he convinced not just the car parts of my brain (which are many) that AI’s take off point is about to come changing work life extremely significant. I also enjoyed hearing about the research on the “gig economy” by Judith Wallenstein from BCG, which she conducted as the European Head of the Henderson Institute - the think tank of the consultancy. Just a day later, I received the compilation of results and action items of all parallel break out groups. The only remaining question now is not what to do, but how to do it and when? I am looking forward to that.

One of the breakout venues: the library in the Microsoft Building in Milan.

One of the breakout venues: the library in the Microsoft Building in Milan.

WeWork like "Regus for hipsters"

Had a short trip to London for meetings and the chance of catching up with friends, visit Tate Modern and the photography center in VA. People were busy: some just coming back from Davos and others under the impression of the hilarous Brexit discussions in the UK’s House of Commons. We were looking for an easy way to host a meeting on the construction industry ourlook and tried out the WeWork co-working space in the Aviation House. It’s like “Regus for hipsters” a friend said. I was suprised that, according to the receptionist, about 2700 people are working there. The common spaces were rather noisy, and I would not be able to do concentrated work there. But most are of course in private offices or on hot desks. They advertise the possibility of “networking”. I would not know how to do that, why and with whom. So, it was not really a selling point for me. It was lifely. Some were playing ping pong, others relaxed at the soccer table. From 4:00 p.m. you get free flow beer. It must be hard work, spending the money of business angels. Nobody touched the chess game on the table. But I was happy to see it was available.

“There is a Barista here from 8:00 a.m”, they told us. This confused me, because I did not listen carefully and thought: “If they need a ‘barrister’ already in the morning, they must be in trouble.” But now I know that a ‘barista’ is not a lawyer, but the one operating the coffee machine. English is not my first language. They also said, they have ‘superfast internet’. But this must have been another misunderstanding, because they showed it using a WLAN connection. They called it ‘Wifi’. So, I assumed ‘Wifi’ is for WLAN, what ‘barista’ is for the one making coffee. How ‘superfast’ can that be? On data security standards, there was no information available. On the toilets there was mouth wash, but no towls.

I may sound a bit cynical, but honestly I kind of liked WeWork. The meeting room was good and easy to book. Some people were using it to teach courses, like ‘web design’ (the ‘barista’ of making a website). And for that, I found it perfect. I would not host a very serious meeting there though, where anything is confidential, because all is glass and transparent. Also, at the reception people have to sign in with a photo on an iPad, which I found rather strange - but understandable from their side. There was no information on what the photo is for and when it will be deleted. So, I was a bit shy about it and I could understand, if this puts off people entering the premises. Perhaps take some dark sunglasses for the check in procedure. Being called ‘guys’ at receptions, maybe a thing we have to get used to. Even the airport security called me ‘guy’, later that day. It must be just one of these anglo-saxon things like baseball caps. I am getting over it.

Chess game available in the common area of WeWork Aviation House, London.

Chess game available in the common area of WeWork Aviation House, London.

Sunday walk: Grosser Feldberg, Taunus

Having a Sunday long walk is a nice habit, such as having a short walk after lunch. From Frankfurt, you can get with a short 20 minute drive into Taunus. Alternatively there is a frequent train connection and even a tramway, both bringing you to good starting points to begin a walk or even a hike. My favorite stopover for lunch or coffee is Anita’s Fuchstanz, a hut serving rustique but excellent food and cakes.

View from Grosser Feldberg into Taunus

View from Grosser Feldberg into Taunus

View from the highest point of Grosser Feldberg into Taunus

View from the highest point of Grosser Feldberg into Taunus

Up here is still snow, even in Frankfurt it feels like a crisp spring day.

Up here is still snow, even in Frankfurt it feels like a crisp spring day.

Memento mori

Cemetraries are some of my favorite “hangouts”. They provide solitude, good perspective on many aspects of life, memories, tell stories and also say a lot about the local culture by how people treat their ancestors. Military graveyards additionally remind us of the nonsense and horrors of war. There is many of all this on the Capuccini Naval Cemetary. But what is special for me, is that here lies Henry Ernst Wild who survived the Shackleton expedition and then died of typhoid in Malta.

Capuccini Naval Cemetary, Kalkara (Malta)

Capuccini Naval Cemetary, Kalkara (Malta)

"Wenn wir Glück haben, endet es am Strand"

Today is my 53th birthday and I spend it on sunny Malta. In the morning, I went running at the sea and stopped at my favorite cliff at Fort Ricasoli. Living at the sea, is nice. Yesterday, after a horse ride along the northern rocky coast and dinner in a hut at Golden Bay, I was introduced to a German poem by Bernd Begemann called “Wenn wir Glück haben, endet es am Strand” (If we are lucky, it ends on the beach). It was inspired by watching an old and nearly anachronistcally elegant Maltese couple which came to enjoy another day’s ending here quietly together.

“ […] Wenn Wir Glück haben
endet es am Strand
du hältst meine Hand
und wir sitzen dort im Sand
auf unseren Campingstühlen
mit einem guten Gefühl
das die Zeit überstand
wenn wir Glück haben
sind wir zusammen […] ”

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Silkroad at the door step

Malta's night temperatures drop to 6°C currently. Even I caught a cold, which does not happen often. All are hugging their water kettles and drink tea. You may laugh, Malta is made for summer. Though I do like the winter here. It's more quiet. Today while going for a walk I noticed a Chinese ship calling in the docks for maintenance. The Chinese New Silk Road is closer than you may think.

View on the Malta docks from Senglea

View on the Malta docks from Senglea

New Year Walk

Like every year, also 2019 started with a long walk. This time it was from Kalkara to Marsaskala, along the rocky coast and back; a bit more than 20 kilimeters. As of the strong wind from the New Year's night, the sea was rolling on the roks with high swell and in its typical turquoise color for sunny days in Malta. There is no better way than starting a new year like this. 

The long stretch of rocky coast from Kalkara to Marsaskala. 

The long stretch of rocky coast from Kalkara to Marsaskala. 

Coastal watchtower

Coastal watchtower

Sea rolling in on the watchtower

Sea rolling in on the watchtower