Closing Credits, Good-Byes, Sequel Preparation

I left Switzerland with a bloody lip – from biting it that is. The Swiss bureaucracy showed it best side once more, as a farewell gift to me. But why dwell on it. My co-workers gave me a nice send-off, expressing their regret about my leaving. I handed off my projects to a few co-workers. As much as Switzerland was not the place for us to be, work there was good and I enjoyed it .

At this point I want to thank you to my co-workers and my management team in Switzerland. I wish them and the company continued success and that they never lose the fun in their work.

I want to thank my friends and family who stood by us during the past 3 months. It’s been a difficult ride, but there were quite a few who showed concern and provided cheers and comfort. Thank you all.

We are now working on what this next chapter in Minneapolis is going to look like. I will continue writing this blog, because i think that there is interest in how we are going to negotiate the next 9 month until 2010 ends. As is the preceding years in our lives, it’ll be a wild ride with surprising twists and turns and ups and downs. So we’ll fasten the seat belts and enjoy the ride.

More soon from the Global Nomads

Cheers Markus \m/

Extra, Extra & Correction

Yes I admit it I have not provided to the minute updates on The Tree*

This shot was taken on Friday early afternoon. Even here in Switzerland, Spring is about to spring.

Correction:

In a previous blog entry, I talked about the Council of Konstanz. During that entry I inadvertently extended the council duration by a few years. The correct number is presented to the watchful public in form of a plaque on Konstanz. The council actually lasted only 4 years from 1414-1418. My apologies.

Show here is the seal of the Konstanz Council

The Family – Cent’Anni

This past Friday my cousin in Germany invited to celebrated his 50th birthday. Over the years he’s built up a pretty vast circle of friends that along with the family means that a big party will be thrown. This was the case on Friday as well.

I took a rental car and – still under the Porsche impression of the night before – did 170 miles in 2h flat. Every time I have the opportunity to attend family gatherings, I get this sense of comfort and coziness. It’s like falling into a fresh down comforter, that envelops and protects you. Although my family is not super tight, I love them with all my heart. Like any well-functioning family we have our dysfunction, too….but they are not the topic today. Because as Michael Corleone reminded his older brother Freddo:”Don’t ever go against the family in public…ever!”

The festivities tool place of the club house of the local football club. (He actually had the nickname Maradona, when he played for his company team umpteen years ago in Mannheim) They had a Brazilian Barbeque set up outside, cakes (my cousin’s wife make insanely good cakes, always has), cheeses and all kinds of other dishes. It was great to see everyone again and to update each other on our respective lives. Since I usually have pretty big intervals between seeing my family, it’ always a shocker to me how time just slips away. For example, I remember how I held my niece Lea n my arms and had her napping on my stomach – now she is turning into a teenager in a few month and my cousin and I will have to split a bill for the Rottweilers to protect her from teenage boys that are clearly far worse that we ever were. Or my cousin’s little brother-in-law Frank, who I remember when he was maybe 10 and wearing sandals and shorts. Now he is 6’9″ and married, a tank and just a really cool, laid-back dude, with a cool, short wife, who reminds me of Inga Humpe (of the New German Wave Band Ideal).

Lea and her friend Louisa, goofing off.

Anyway, it was great. After Lea and her guitar teacher played a few songs on guitars, Ute and I played just one song to honour my cousin’s birthday: Popmusik, by the Toten Hosen.

Family: Cousin’s father-in-laws, my aunt, my mom, my uncle, Frank’s wife Silke, Ute, Frank

not visible, my Italian branch an my dad.

The song is quite funny, although it constantly reminds the person who’s sang to, that he/she is now way too old to listen to pop music. The chorus, is easily picked up and we had the whole party singing along for the second chorus – cool.

Now, it’s Sunday night and I am getting ready to finish my gig in Switzerland. I will need to deal with City Hal in K’lingen and then my dad comes by tomorrow to pick me and my stuff up. Then it’s a few more days and I will be back home. I am so looking forward to ending this chapter and starting a new one.

Take care

Yours Markus \m/

Symphony in P-Sharp

To let you know right away, I just had my Porsche appetizer and I am high as a kite on the car I drove with. So today’s topic will evolve around sports cars from Stuttgart and my prospect of visiting the holy development halls next week. And yes this is my Mr. Hide side of last week’s gasoline consumption blog – I want to be complex , too…..!-)

I got an email today at noon from my friend who works at Porsche. She had access to a Boxster Spyder, whether I was interested to have some fun (with the car) after work. My response, needless to say, “When and where?”. I came back from work, when I saw Jasmin with a brand-spanking new Boxster Spyder in Aqua Blue Metallic and a black tarp (forgive me, but it is not a roof) for a head cover…the car was really designed for California backroads without speed limits. On second thought, I can absolutely see that the fun-o-meter could explode driving the road up to the Mount Palomar Observatory in SoCal, east of Carlsbad, CA…yes, no doubt.

The interior was held in the understated, spartan, black Carbon look. For seats we had the carbon racing shells with a hint of leather for seating surfaces …then she started the engine. To make a long story short two observations:

1.) Jasmin can drive that car.

2.) That car was built to perform and knows how to put out.

© 2010 Dr. Ing. h.c. F. Porsche AG.

Yeah I know this one is white, but please abstract with me here.

We drove over to Germany and got on the highway. Once we saw that first sign that indicated the end of speed limit we took off. I never experienced the beauty of the double clutch transmission, but I can see why it has so many fans – uninterrupted acceleration. Then Jasmin demonstrated the fine subtle differences between the Normal, Sport and Sport Plus driving mode. The sport mode is not really  necessary, the Sport Plus and the normal mode are fully sufficient, in my opinion. So there we were with the speedometer needle leaning more and more to the right. The piston sextett playing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and Markus smiling broadly (if it wouldn’t have been for my ears, I would have smiled in a circle. )

The care hugs the road like a rollercoaster car. When it’s driven, the engine works and moans and roars and screams like an animal, but also purrs like a lapcat as you enter speed limited viallages – at any speed a delight to the ears. What blew me away the most was accelerating from 50mph to 110mph – it’s like someone is kicking you with two flat feet in the back…actually, more descriptive, one enjoys a virtually wrinkle free face for a while.

It was great. I will not bore you with more praises and verbal salivations, but I am so looking forward to next week and so should you.

roaring, screaming regards

Yours Markus \m/

Swiss Discussion On Black vs White Money Bank Acccounts

One reason why the Swiss are drumming so much against the Germans these days may have to do with the disagreement on foreign bank accounts.

On February 1st a CD surfaced that apparently contains the account numbers and names as well as the deposits in these accounts that foreign account holders have deposited. To prove the authenticity of the information, the German equivalent of the IRS was given about 100 samples in which the back taxes amounted quickly into the billions. Not a bad extra payday when you are a country that can use a little extra cash. Here’s the crux. In Germany this caused a big debate whether the federal government should do business with people who can provide such information, especially when there is suspicion that the information may have been received illegally. In Switzerland, this caused a huge outrage, because the Germans demanded just like a few other countries, too, that Switzerland simply share the information on foreign account holders and their deposits in these accounts. What the Germans in essence want is for Switzerland to significantly water down its bank secrecy vow.

The Swiss banks and a lot of the conservative parties realized immediately that softening bank account confidentiality would be giving up the primary differentiating feature the country has over most any other nations in the world. The fear was and still is, that the account owners would pull their assets from the Swiss institutions and Switzerland would have nothing to administer.

The question that would be interesting to have an answer for is what percentage of all deposits are ill-gotten and what percentage have ben earned honestly. There are rumors circulating that from weapons traffickers to, African despots and drug lords everyone is using Swiss numbered accounts to hide black money and to launder it from there. Obviously, I myself have no idea, whether any of that is true or not. But I can see the attraction of a numbered account.

Since February 1st the discussion and the tone have changed.The German parties that showed so much outrage and indignation are all of a sudden showing very cold feet. The working assumption is that the data was stolen and the German government doe snot engage in business with criminals – although there is no confirmation where, through who and how the information was acquired. But the party that primarily gets its votes from the “wealthy” in Germany and that has been the king-maker in German government for years is objecting vehemently against buying and using the information, very much to the dismay and frustration of the ordinary tax payer in Germany.

In Switzerland on the other hand, the parties that have been outraged by the notion to soften the Swiss number account confidentiality are also changing their tune, due to pressure from most European neighbors and America. Although Switzerland got a short reprieve in this discussion through the Ghaddafi incident, the topic is hotly debated in Switzerland. All but one party along with some private banks have determined, that Switzerland needs a so-called “White Money Strategy”. Where deposits beyond a certain size and the income on these deposits are reported to the country the account owner resides in, in order to collect taxes.

However, the most right-wing party the Swiss Peoples Party is vehemently rejecting this notion. Why this party is flat-out rejecting any discussion on how to accommodate the interest of international Swiss bank clients and tax interests of the countries these clients reside in, is beyond me. The whole point of Swiss banks was that there wasn’t any fuss, they weren’t in the headlines and that’s exactly what the banks are experiencing presently. However, there also weren’t any confidentiality leaks at least none that ever made headlines.

From my point of view, the more Switzerland is clinging to its glorious banking past, the more the country is losing credibility. The banks haven’t been able to maintain the confidentiality, the world is more or less one big market place where information can travel from one continent to another in seconds, there is only one real option left – full disclosure. Switzerland may be able to negotiate leniency for the tax evaders in exchange for full disclosure, but I don’t think there is a way around that. Customer confidence has been shaken, especially those who had or still have assets to hide in Switzerland. We’ll see how this is going to play out over the next few months. Although there is always the possibility, that it will all be blown over by the next even bigger headline.

Take care

Yours Markus \m/

What’s up Doc?

I love this movie from the seventies with Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal. The movie is at times very chaotic which makes it for the viewer pretty entertaining. There is a car crash sequence, I like in particular. Barbra Streisand’s character is going through life knowing all kinds of tidbits of seemingly useless information, but somehow makes a living and enjoys life while causing chaos where ever she shows up – don’t crucify me for a one sentence synopsis of the movie.

The point I am dancing around to make is that I feel as I am playing both roles – the “change” generating Barbra Streisand and the stability seeking Ryan O’Neal character. Don’t get me wrong, I am at peace with the decision we made and more importantly, we are at peace with our decision to go back to the US. But fear of the unknown sneaks up on me every now and then. Needless to say, I am following the heath-care debate very closely, even more closely than last year, because now we have to self insure, which is going to be painful. Obviously this pain will vanish once I have a job again or once I can generate sufficient income from self-employed work. But until one or the other has happened, it will be painful.

But, it will all work out. My former boss Lars told me, that if you don’t try you can’t gain and my friend Joe told me that you plan for success and not wast time pondering a Plan B.

So that’s what I intend to do.

Let’s switch the gears a bit. I spent the weekend with my mates from university in Stuttgart. Let me say it was great. We are a group, that can get by not seeing each other for a year or two and then we met again and start right where we left of. We have all gotten a bit older. They all have between one and soon four children, so the discussion topics have changed a bit but we still have tons of fun. Of the  9 + 1 of us, I am the only one who has worked abroad the whole time since graduation. Most of my buddies got jobs in the automotive or aeronautical industry. The reason for 9 + 1 is that we are 9 guys and 1 girl. And that one girl has in my book the best job. A job that makes me salivate every time I think of it. Jasmin has completed with my friend Andy her PhD in Aerodynamics and after a few years working at Audi she is now working at the only company where I would start as a parking lot cleaner – Porsche – the R&D center in Weissach, the place where motorsport history has been written and where it will be continued to be written. The biggest benefit is that she gets to “test drive” any car in entire the model palette – honestly, that is just super awesome. I can imagine as some of you read this they roll their eyes or at least smile about my enthusiasm, but a Porsche 911T was my first toy car and I have been infected ever since.

The best thing is that I may get a tour with her during the last week in March – keep your fingers crossed that it will work out.

Jasmin and me at Jones’ place

Alright, I have got 4 more days of work and need to start thinking about handing off my work so that my team can successfully close on the project that we started together. Then I will be spending a few more days in Mannheim and get the Porsche tour (think positive, no Plan B) and then I will soon be on a plane to Minneapolis. You can probably not imagine how much I am looking forward to that day. But until that day is here I will need to provide a few more posts.

So take care until next time.

Yours Markus \m/

P.S.: I haven’t seen the sun in weeks. The weather here is all grey. So grey that there is absolutely no point of showing you guys the tree, since you have seen the tree in many different variations. So hold on tight.

Savior Vivre – Knowing To Live

Sitting here, listening to the soundtrack of my early formative years – vintage Van Halen, The Full Bug. Dave is going through his harmonica solo and I trying to find an entry into this blog post….hmm, well, mission accomplished.

So I figured, that I needed to share a few really good things with you. When I was waiting for my connecting train in Karlsruhe last weekend, I saw this bronze sculpture in underneath the tracks. It depicts an “old tymey” train compartment scene. There is a mother with her two children passing out snacks to them. A man who apparently tries his hardest not to be disturbed by the kids and the couple next to him.  Then there is another man watching the landscape go by. I can very much relate to that, I find it fascinating to watch the landscape go by. Depending on where you gaze it is all a blur or you can make out scenes that are out of sight quickly. Finally, there is the couple may be they have made out before their compartment was occupied by the fellow travelers or may be they’d like to make out. Sure, may be there is no making out on their minds at all and they just stare ate each others eyes, that’s possible, too. Eitherway, I love how the artist captured the light-heartedness of young love…and I love riding trains in Europe, especially when they are on time and running properly.

I figured you might enjoy the art at display in German train stations. But, what did I actually do this last weekend at my parents house?

Friday, I arrived pretty late so I just took it easy, talked to my parents and played on my dad’s guitar. On Saturday, I had a brilliant idea. I called my friend Ralph and asked him to go prowling through bike stores like we used to back in the day when we couldn’t afford the really hot stuff. It turns out that although we both earn money, we still can’t afford the really hot stuff….but we still like to browse and dream about them.

A few years ago, Ralph switched careers and is running now a gourmet import and whole sale business. His basement is like Disneyland to me (if he only had exotic bikes in there as well). Him and his wife import different coffees , chocolates, pasta, salsas from primarily Italy and sell them to small stores. And these stores are what gave today’s blog entry its title – I know, it’s been a long time coming.

These little stores appear to have sprung up all over the place in Germany. They are rather expensive, but since their overall concept is to provide full sensual satisfaction, they have  steady traffic all day. The picture below shows a cafe in Speyer, the old medieval town near Mannheim. The cafe is within walking distance to the Dome in the old town. These small cafe stores blend the best of good old-fashioned corner stores with the best of an Italian Caffe bar and add in knowledgeable, friendly customer service.Despite the tighter economic times in Germany, these places seem to flourish. They don’t offer a menu or much to eat, but you can always get a cafe, team or hit chocolate based beverage that’s freshly made from ingredients customers can buy at the store. In terms of engaging all the senses, there is on one hand the way the goods are displayed, but there is also as you can easily imagine the smell of fresh coffee, tea, chocolate and sometimes spices, too. Finally there are the sounds, that wooden floor boards make when walked upon. There is the quiet creaking, the rhythm of the music playing in  the background and the chatter of people in the store  talking to each, placing orders and other or choosing goods. When you enter a place like this there is an immediate transformation taking place, you unwind, you relax and anticipate subconsciously the reward that your are about to dispense to yourself for the next 20-60 minutes. And I think, that this is the reason why people pay 5 bucks for an extra dark Cocoa or a Latte Macchiato (means stained milk, Starbuck’s, eat your heart out).

Hm, I think this is it for today. Two entries in a single day, not bad.

Take care

Yours Markus \m/

P.S.: By the time I had finished this entry, my iPod had advanced way past Van Halen and I am now on Yello’s The Race.

European Cars And Their Owners

Since January 1st 2010, I have been driving quite a bit on European highways and in particular in the German Autobahn system with various cars. If everything goes well, I will be enjoying a quick excursion in Porsche 911 Turbo on Saturday. A friend of mine works at Porsche and SHE gets to choose cars from the whole product portfolio over the weekend. But that’s another topic for an entry next week.

What I have been noticing is that European car manufacturers are always so proud of their gas mileage and the environmental friendliness of their cars while at teh same time time boast the performance as well. They seemingly appear to have managed to marry the unmarriable – lead into gold. Yep, I am too guilty of always praising German automotive engineering to the highest heavens, too.

But what occurred to me last weekend as I was doing 90 mph in my Grandma’s Ford Fiasko – Fiesta, that is – is that gas mileage is always quoted for speeds of 56mph (90km/h) or 75mph (120km/h) at the highest. But there is no one driving 56mph on a European highway at least not voluntarily. People buy a fuel economic BMW, Benz, Audi or VW with a Turbo Diesel engine that could get at 56mph between 40-50mpg and 120g/km in CO2. But when you have a car like that has north of 150HP, you barrel down the left lane at +120mph and clearly kiss your mpgs Good-Bye.

So while academically speaking German auto manufacturers can design very powerful and fuel-efficient cars, they are drive for maximum performance and not for maximum fuel efficiency. As it turns out the driver can either get +40mpg at modest speeds or +120mph at lousy mpgs. In fact German cars very likely perform best in America when the cruise control is set to 75mph and one can drive until the tank is empty without ever changing speed.

For example, from K’lingen, Switzerland to my parents place near Mannheim, Germany it’s about 185miles and it takes me, if I hit it hard, about 3h, which averages to about 62mph (with a 3 sigma velocity of 40mph). But I am exhausted when I arrive. Because people here drive so fast with minimum distance to the car in front.

Then there is the whole aggression thing. If you are passing a truck on the left most lane and there is no one behind you as you start your passing process, you can bet your life that out of nowhere a super fast car doing +150mph will appear and flash you, gesticulate wildly and possibly even honk at you if he /she has to slow down to a mere 100mph.

At these speeds I am tempted to say that there isn’t probably much difference in emissions and fuel consumption between a V8 in America at 75mph and a German V6 TurboDiesel that constantly accelerates and decelerates  between 80-12mph. I will have to pay attention to that when I get “automotively” patriotic the next time.

Okeydoek, I am going to bed now so that I can finish my drivetrain layout tomorrow at work. No not for a more fuel-efficient and powerful car, but for a raw material lift with a spindle drive.

Cheers

Markus \m/

I’ll (We’ll) Be Back

Hey, it’s been a while since I posted something here…seven days to be precise. A lot has happened. First off, we’ll be back. Our experiment to move our lives to Switzerland will be over soon.  Now, at first look one could argue that it was one big failure and a waste of time and so on. But we disagree with that oversimplification. The opportunity to work here was great. However the circumstances under which one can lead a life in Switzerland are the opposite in many ways from the circumstances one can lead life in America. You remember the post about the engine wash I posted a few weeks ago. This is indicative of the many rules and regulations that infringe on everyday life. And while there are likely good intentions behind each and every of these boundaries, they can make life a pain. Add to that customer unfriendly opening times of public institutions and you have more inconvenience. These are the palpable obstacles. The less obvious , yet all the more surprising obstacles came from Switzerland and its populations directly – racism. There is a good deal of racism fueled by fear and for the better paid white-collar jobs envy. Switzerland has got the reputation of being the land of Heidi and peace, where fine chocolates put a mile on everyone’s face and coughs are immediately cured by sucking on a Ricola. When we made the decision to go to Switzerland, we were not able to turn anything u that would indicate the opposite. Some acquaintances of ours had told us two years earlier in a casual conversation, that they had lived in Switzerland and that the Swiss are very unwelcoming to foreigners. We didn’t take it very serious, because Switzerland has got a common border with Germany and is in the middle of the global economic community. We just couldn’t believe it. I am not going to verbally trash the country now, but it was very telling to me when two co-workers of mine here in Switzerland – one German the other one half-German, half-Swiss – told me that non of their friends were Swiss, they were all foreigners, too. I find that very sad, because until 2007 our circle of friends and acquaintances consisted of Americans, Minnesota natives. We spent time together, laughed, cried together intertwined our lives. From a purely egotistical viewpoints we gained insight into how Americans live life and also what distinguished Americans from Germans and their neighbors. We would have never lived for as long in Minneapolis if the people around us would have not welcomed us. ANd now we are gong back to Minneapolis. I’ll give one example that can give you some insight into Germany’s and Switzerland’s psyche. Last week I spent the weekend in Mannheim with my parents, in-laws and a few childhood friends. When I drove the three hours in my Grandma’s 50 HP car on the highway, there were big news on the radio: The Bundesrat (comparable to the US Senate) found and agreed that the sound and volume children make when they are playing inside or outside cannot be considered a nuisance anymore and thus  lawsuits cannot be filed anymore to prohibit and /or punish such noise anymore. I found this unbelievably dumb and actually inhumane and the debate a waste of taxpayer money. Because there are two facts: 1.) Children will make noise in different ways when they are playing. I did it, you did it and our parents did it and so did bazillions of generations before us. 2.) We all find noise of any kind bothersome sometimes.

A hard day at work or in school and you just want to unwind for an hour. Then there’s the neighbor kid playing football (not American, the one without pads, the rest of the world plays) against the garage wall. My neighbors would simply ask me to stop and I stopped. I played the next day and they’d ask again and I’d stop again. There was no talk of a lawsuit. It was what neighbors who know each other do – they talk to one another. Per the German secretary for family affairs this new found insight, that children make noise, will now have to be codified in the Grundgesetz (similar to the Constitution) and in various other laws. Laws are great, but they also often eliminate common sense and sensibility by leaving loopholes especially when they deal with the obvious. And I suggest that children making noise when they play is not something that needs to be codified in law, but that it requires children, parents and those bothered by children’s noise talk to each other in a civilized way to accommodate each other.

Having gone through the experiences here in Switzerland and having seen how life in Germany has evolved, I think I understand what some in America mean when they ask for a “Smaller Government”. And to them I say, you have not experienced big government, yet…not even close.

Well, it’s out now. We are coming back and yes we liked it so much better in Minnesota. We look very much forward to our next chapter in life and will make everything we can that it’s going to be a good one.

Before I say take care and bid you farewell for today, here is what the tree looked like yesterday. Winter has returned over the weekend, although it’s melting. So here you go:

Take care until the next post.

Yours Markus \m/