The Wolfsburg Art Museum exhibits multiple installations by Hans Op De Beek, still on until September 3rd, and very worth visiting (even for me, who is not very much following such art installations normally). I liked the multiple levels of space and time, wondering through while walking along. You may enter through an installation called "The Collector's House" and then continue into the main exhibition hall, descending a staircase. It is rather monochrome and dark down there, and time stands still in a way. I really had no sense, of how long I was walking through the alleys, and there is also no obvious way out. You have to find the hole in the fence.
After more than a week working in Wolfsburg and a wonderful weekend trip to Potsdam and Berlin, I am on the way back to Beijing. Germany is a place where life is easy. Things work efficiently, the environment is clean and people are friendly. For a moment I hesitated at that thought: Germans friendly? They did neither have this reputation nor I have them in my memories like that. But they are. Even in the North, where they are said to be "cold" and serious, I found them quite humorous. So either they have improved or I changed my benchmark. These days I am already happy, when people don't spit at me and fart strait into my face or shout into a mobile phone. But I take it with ease. Actually, I always take it with ease. That's because of my stoic personality, which is sometimes mistaken as inter-cultural tolerance.
The normal hassle on the transfer from Terminal A to Terminal B in Frankfurt was brightened up by a Lufthansa ground staff whom I asked whether there is a post office box on the way?
"Give it to me", she replied.
I gave her some postcards and she said: "I will post them tonight on the way home".
She seemed happy that someone is still writing postcards and then blushed a bit and said: "I promise, I won't read them"
How sweet. I guess, in other places they would not get to the mailbox but be strait away posted on Weibo (the Chinese alternative to Facebook - actually it is not a real alternative, because Facebook is blocked in China). I passed by long corridors of "Beauty Free Shops" (my not really funny but true alliteration of Duty Free Shops) and finally made it to my terminal. There is nothing more triste than these large airports. It feels like downtown Hong Kong: mall, toilet, food, mall, toilet, food, mall toilet, food etc. All branded, sterilized and standardized.
The advantage of a Business Class flight is more legroom. And the Air China planes are specially nice. The seat nearly unfolds into a bed. But the disadvantage is to be surrounded by a certain kind of business people, which are not just dead boring but also actively expose that by starting a conversation. With the reform of the German education system and dropping it to down to international standard many German managers now also have serious intellectual shortcomings. It is really hard to have an interesting conversation with them. The other dominant group in the cabin are Chinese new rich who are watching cartoons, chewing on their nuts with open mouth and smiling through rotten teeth like the dogs they are. I am not looking forward to see (and hear) them having dinner!
I will have a busy second half of the week in Beijing and then teach a course in the Tongji-Mannheim University EMBA Programme. It was nice to see my colleagues in Wolfsburg, some of them again, some the first time. It was not enough time to see them all, and I missed out on a few old friends also. I am sorry. I will come again.
Ulrich Wickert, one of the most popular news anchors in German television, once when he was asked what he likes most, answered: "French wine, French cheese and French women's legs". And then, when he was asked what he dislikes most, he said: "German wine, German cheese and German women's legs".
I was somehow reminded of this quote sitting over breakfast in the dining hall of my hotel in Wolfsburg, being surrounded by a group of mid aged (actually about my age) German woman who must have come here for shopping in the so-called "Designer Outlets". But they seem to be traveling also internationally, as they were talking about their "Australia tour" and many others showing off to me where they have been.
I see these woman traveling the world as an integrated part of the German National Defense strategy. Nobody would ever dare to invade or attack a country where such women come from. They are the modern form of maintaining the Cold War "Balance of Threat Strategy", not with nuclear weapons but with an enormous potential of retaliation. As Germany is a core NATO member, I would be really careful as Syrian Air Defense shooting down Turkish planes in the future. You want us to send you a tour bus strait into Damascus? - Wom!
With many hardware and systems manufacturers diversifying into the service industry, I could think that these women could make a substantial part of the business of companies like Krauss Maffei and Rheinmetall in the future. And it makes it easier also, because unlike a battle tank, combat helicopter or submarine a tour bus would not need parliamentary export clearance. Well, not yet!
"Lebensabend" is the German word for the "Autumn of your Life" which is the phase of retirment from professional work and enjoying the fruits of a lifetime of work. It is the last stage, where it all has to make sense somehow. And everybody has a different view on what "make sense" finally means. It is also the time in which people do not tend to take on a challenge or inconvenience and it is also not supposed to be challenging or inconvenient, because life will be over soon anyways.
Returning to Germany, this feels to me like the place where "Lebensabend" begins for everybody just after taking the driving license at the age of 18. Things are so convenient. The challenge (for those who still have a challenge at all) here is how to get from 99.999 % to an unreachable 100 %. And the discussions about it are quite philosophical, if not esoteric. But also like it is with some old people, they get grumpy and complain a lot: this does not work, this is not clean, this is too noisy, too stupid, too lazy, too unfair.
I find it would be very complicated to return to Germany for more than an assignment one day. It becomes like Kurt Vonneguts: "A man without a country". One day you just feel like a guest anywhere and home is where you open your suitcase. Then we just become many "One man countries". There is nothing wrong with that, I guess.
Do you know the feeling, when you visit a place you were very familiar with a long time ago? While your mind is redrawing the map and match it with your memories, you get surprised how much you actually forgot. Sometimes you say encouraging: "Oh, so many things changed here". But not much really changed. It is just that you forgot a lot and always told yourself (and others) the same stories.
You meet people which have stayed over all these years. Children have turned into adults. Young people have turned into middle aged ones. The former middle aged ones are now close to retirement. Some got old, some died. The pretty daughter of the baker is not pretty any more. The soccer player from the kicking ground is now the soccer coach at the kicking ground.
The first time I came to Wolfsburg was 14 years ago for an interview. When I asked in the office in Munich how to get there, I was told:"No clue. Fly to Warsaw and then take a taxi". When I then moved there, I arrived with all my belongings packed into a Daihatsu. This must have been the strangest car ever entering the territory of the Volkswagen City (it was actually the strangest car in the parking lot of the Munich BCG office also). I left the region again in 2003 for China and now returned after more than 8 years for a business trip.
It reminds me of the feeling going back to your old school and meeting the old teachers. The formerly young ones are now in the middle of accomplishing their career. And the professional authorities of the past are now spending their last few years before retirement. In a corporate environment, where leadership changes sometimes abruptly make losers out of winners and winners out of losers, these "dislocations" can be sometimes quite severe. Still the more professional merits people have, you can see that they are less dependent than the ones which have been purely counting on personal connections and "mentors". And also those who have to many Volkswagen branded bones in their skeleton, tend to suffer personally more when these bones are pulled out one day - specially when one of them was the spine.