Today we were driven by Frau Heusner to the Duisburg Hauptbanhof (Hbf) where we met Malte and Jörn for our day-trip to Düsseldorf, capital of the state of Nordrhine-Westfalen. We will be visiting several German companies and government agencies during B.E.S.T. starting today with the Deutsche Bundesbank and Vodafone Deutschland. I managed to leave my camera´s memory card at the Kanu-Club so we shopped for one in the station while we waited for our train. Finding a Handymarkt (cell phone store), I was able to ask for one in basic German but couldn´t locate a suitable replacement. So no pictures today, I´m afraid.
We wedged ourselves into a crowded regional train and settled in for the 20 minute ride to Düsseldorf. On board was a group of French schoolchildren including one who was reading George Orwell´s Animal Farm in German; I could make out a bit about das Schwein Napoleon. At the Düsseldorf Hbf, we changed over to a tram and set out for our first stop of the day: the regional branch of the Deutsche Bundesbank located in the Berliner Allee (Allee = tree-lined avenue).
The Deutsche Bundesbank is the German central bank which was responsible for German currency until the adoption of the Euro and the creation of the European Central Bank. Today the Bundesbank is responsible for carrying out European Central Bank policy in Germany, for issuing Euro currency within the country, for acting as a bank for bankers and the German government, and for maintaining proper levels of reserve currencies. The Bundesbank is widely respected for its past policies and is viewed as a financial leader in Europe and in global markets.
We were met at the Bundesbank office by Prof. Dr. Cassell from Uni Duisburg-Essen and were soon joined by our host at the bank Dr. Harald Loy. Dr. Loy works as an economist and speechwriter in the office of the bank president. He led us to a conference room on the 17th and highest floor of the bank and proceeded to give us a two-hour overview of the bank and its handling of the financial crisis. During breaks we could look out at the impressive views of the city below including the bridges over the Rhine and several skyscrapers and catherdrals. Forgive me, but as a business student, I be quite remiss if I didn´t explain the economic importance of the bank. Two hours allowed Dr. Loy to go into quite a bit of detail, but I'll try to briefly summarize the important bits.
The main issue facing the bank and the Euro-zone today is the debt crisis in Greece. The Greek government is nearly bankrupt and has been forced to cut many programs including national train service! European Monetary Union (EMU) nations are required to uphold strict financial guidelines in order to maintain the value of the Euro, however the Greek government's financial records appear to have been heavily doctored in order to allow the country to join the EMU. If the real data had been known at the time, Greece probably would not have been allowed to join, but it is too late to turn back now. European Central Bank policy forbids government bailouts, but something must be done to stop the crisis. If Greece were to leave the EMU, the results would be disastrous for the country. For example if Greece readopts the drachma, rapid deflation could drive down the exchange rate with the Euro and harm Greek investors. Import prices would increase, wages would suffer, etc. While a cheaper currency might be advantageous to Greek exporters, few strong firms actually exist which could take immediate advantage of this benefit. It's a pretty grim situation.
For more info see the following site: http://www.bundesbank.de/index.en.php
Following the lecture, we ate what Jörn called an "opulent" lunch of shrimp kabobs, roasted pork in gravy over potato cakes (fancy hashbrowns) and a panna cotta dessert with wild berry sauce in the Bundesbank´s dining room. If I haven´t mentioned it before, we have been served Mineralwasser mit Kohlensäure versetzt (club soda) with every meal. It hasn´t gone over well with the group, but it´s better than nothing. Today we were served "Medium" water with less CO2. My favorite combo so far is Apfelschorle or apple juice and club soda which is common on most menus.
After lunch we said goodbye to Dr. Loy and Dr. Cassel and headed across town on the tram to visit the headquarters of Vodafone Deutschland. Many major international firms have their German offices in Düsseldorf, especially those in the telecommunications sector. after navigating past all the BMWs and Corvettes parked in front of the building, we arrived at Vodafone´s HQ and were given security badges with our photos on them.
The building, with its ten-story lobby and a McLaren Racing F1 car from a sponsorship deal, was quite imposing and Vodafone has begun construction on a new, larger campus just down the street. We were soon taken to a conference room and offered fruit, coffee, and top-shelf club soda and apfelschorle.
Vodafone´s representative for our group was Ms. Mavie John, a Brazilian/German national who found her way to Vodafone from a competitor about 10 years ago. She ran through the usual company statistics: Vodafone is the second-largest telecom provider in the world by customers and even claims a limited presence in the U.S. through Verizon. When pressed on the nature of the agreement, Ms. Johns responded, "We have stocks. Full stop." In Germany, Vodafone Deutschland is neck-and-neck with Deutsche Telekom. The company provides a number of services from cell phones to internet connectivity and claims 37 million German customers. Ms. John said she is a very critical person, but has nothing bad to say about the company which has given her every opportunity to succeed and advance.
When our visit was over, we traveled via the tram to the Altstadt (Old City) and walked around the old buildings and shops. I stumbled into the quaint Basilica St. Lambertus just as an afternoon service was starting. My religious German is a little weak, but having spent the better part of ten years in Catholic schools, I could make out the basic gist of the proceedings. The German singing was nice, aided by what appeared to be an impromptu choir of nuns at the far end of the nave. At the end of the afternoon, we avoided an impending rain shower by ducking into the famous Uerige brewery for a beer. Uerige brews one of Düsseldorf´s top Altbiers, darker old brewing-style beers similar to pale ales. Düsseldorf has a old rivalry with Duisburg with each city proclaiming its beer the best in the region; we´ve decided the only fair thing to do is try a few of each over the course of the summer.
|View of Düsseldorf and the River Rhine from the Rheinturm (Source: Wikipedia)|
Around 6:30 we returned to the Düsseldorf Hbf and prepared to return to Duisburg. I bought a Currywurst mit Brötchen from a stall. Currywurst is a German fast food staple consisting of a pork sausage covered in a curry/ketchup sauce and served with fries or bread. It is popular in the Ruhr and especially Berlin where there is even a museum to the dish. Other students tried the Pizza Hut which was similar to home with the exception of a few unique regional toppings such as corn.
Back in Duisberg, the guys split off to find a real meal while everyone else returned to the dorm. We eventually settled on a Spanish-style steakhouse chain called Maredo. I told Ryan how to ask for the restroom: "Wo is die Toilette, bitte?", but he flubbed it pretty badly. The waitress just stared at him and said flatly, "Yeah, the bathroom's down there to the left..." We ate cheaply: some pork kabobs and tomato soup with sour cream and a glass of rioja crianza.
Blayze, Ryan, and I returned to the Kanu-Club around 10:30. I made some tea in our kitchenette and wrote until around 11:30. Intensive German language classes begin tomorrow so I'll need my rest. Guten Abend!