Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Fake Roman Ruins

 In Vienna's famed Schloss Schonbrunn (the palace on the west end of town)....there's this nifty thing in the far remote part of the gardens there, which most people end up missing.  It's a fake Roman ruins.

Yeah....fake.

It's generally referred to as the "Ruin of Carthage".  In actuality, it was planned and erected in 1778.

If you were looking for it....it's on the far southeast point of the gardens....maybe a thousand feet from the magnificent fountain in the backyard of the palace.

The Hapsburgs tended to be a bit obsessive over art, culture and anything Roman in nature.  So it simply made sense to build this fake ruins into the garden.

I would imagine as guests and visitors came up....there'd be some story told by the Hapsburg escort and they'd indicate how this piece relates to this Roman story, and that piece relates to another story.

I stood there for around five minutes observing the planned ruins.  It had to require an awful smart guy to sit there in 1778.....plotting the design and intended impact of the ruins.

Anyway.....if you get to the palace.....ensure you take ten minutes to walk over and check out the ruins.

Vienna and Public Transportation

Traveling across Europe, you occasionally come across methods of improvement that most people simply miss and never notice.

In Vienna....they run a slightly different method of public transportation.  I came to note on day one of my trip....that the subway stations are fairly clean, without beggars, and you don't have homeless guys continually around the stations.  There's a simple reason.

At the top of the stairs or escalator.....there's a machine to buy your ticket.  Then you turn around, and face the stairway or escalator....seeing this blue-colored validation machine.  You have to validate your ticket.  And after that.....you cross this mythical line.  Once past that line....audit checkers can stop you at the stairway or escalator....in the subway station....or on the train. No valid ticket?  You get fined.  You act hostile...they call the cops and you get real jail attention.

Over the week there, I noticed the audit folks on several occasions....once even at the bottom of the escalator....waiting on me and asking me to show the ticket even before I got on the subway car.  That's a bit different from the German or Dutch methods.

It forces you to have a valid ticket and a purpose for using the subway tunnel.  Just going down to stay warm or urinate for the pleasure of it....as some do....won't happen in a Vienna.

I kinda wondered how many audit checkers are on the payroll in Vienna.  There's probably dozens, and they probably roam their territory seven days a week.  In return, I have to say that I rated the Vienna network of subway traffic one of the better ones in Europe....not just for service and clean conditions.....but freedom from the beggar crowd or nuts.

The German Labor Ministry Episode

The German Labor Ministry has announced that it's funding a study over employees being stressed out during off-periods (weekends, after-work, and leave periods) when the boss calls them to ask questions.  The general belief by some government political folks....is that across the spectrum....Germans are all stressed out.

Around sixty-six thousand Germans are on stress-disability.  This is generally interpreted as a worker who has gotten various doctors and mental health experts to sign off on their paperwork and declare that this employee cannot function anymore within the work-place.  Up until 2005.....it had lagged along with forty-odd thousand people on such retirements.  They've added twenty thousand more over the past decade, and there is some fear that the number will continue to grow.

The anticipated outcome of this funded Labor Ministry study?  Basically, they will find some conclusion that warrants a law that says no employer can call their employees after work, on weekends, or while on leave.  The anticipated outcome?  It'll fix all this stress-related chaos and early retirement.

Bogus thinking?  Yeah, but this is an American saying it....not a German.

I've come to note over the years that in each German office or shop that you come to deal with.....people tend to have bordered off their private area of expertise.  Instead of having six people who all know a bit about each other's area of requirements, with written instructions on how to do things....Germans divide their work up and forbid anyone else in the shop or office from knowing the various processes of doing a requirement.

This kinda guarantees that you become essential and important...even when you aren't there.  So when your three-week period of leave comes up in June....you can imagine the hectic nature of the office when two or three issues come up and they need to answer a problem today.  It means the boss calls you up while you sit on a beach in southern France, and asks six stupid questions about paperwork, where it's filed, how it's done, and the general process (which you seem to have never written any instructions down anywhere).  Imagine that.....utter dependency....and no way around calling you.

I worked with an American back in the 1990s who had a German warranty issue with some refrigerator.  He contacted the local salesman who he'd bought the item from and wanted some action.  The salesman was eager to help....but the lady who did all the major warranty paperwork wasn't there (on vacation).  No one else in the shop dealt with this stuff.....so for ten days, my associate waited patiently for the return of this gal (this was before smart-phones and e-mail).

Yeah, there's a problem here, but just simply making a law up out of thin air, and telling bosses they are forbidden from calling or emailing someone while they are on off-time.....is pretty bogus.  Will the same political figures figure in a waiver for themselves.....so they can't call or email their ministry employees?  I kinda doubt it.

My general bet is that the German Labor Ministry will toss up a law and settle back to ten years, then discover another forty-thousand Germans have applied for early retirement because of stress-related issues.  At that point, they might admit that these phone calls and emails from the boss.....really weren't the key issue to stress.  Then what?

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Historic Building in Bierstadt

Down on Venatator Strasse (10) in Bierstadt (a "burb" of Wiesbaden).....there's the historic Evengelische Church.

If you were looking around for historic building in Bierstadt.....it's one of the top ones....built in 1733 time period.

They aren't exactly open on frequent periods.  Basically, it's Friday afternoons (1400-1600) that the door is swung open, and on the last Sunday morning of each month for services.

Wowereit Resigning

Klaus Wowereit, is the mayor of Berlin....at least until the disclosure today that he will resign in the near future.  For the German news, it's likely to be the most talked about event of the day and likely to carry over into the weekend.

As mayors go in Germany....Wowereit is about the only mayor in the country who is nationally known.  If you throw up a picture of the guy....probably seventy percent of the German public would recognize the guy and identify him.

His politics?  SPD.

He's been the mayor of Berlin since the October 2001 election, putting him at roughly thirteen years in the position. Around the city of Berlin.....the sixty-year old guy is respected and generally liked.

What most were figuring five years ago, was that he was in a great position to move up and be a national candidate for chancellor (for the SPD party).  That didn't happen.  Part of the dilemma is that the Berlin Airport mess has touched his involvement in the construction situation.  While not the project manager.....he just kept grinning at photo opportunities and kept talking about the soon-to-open airport (it'll be a minimum of five years after the original completion date that it will open, and might even go to ten years).

The selling point of Wowereit?  He was openly gay.  News journalists wanted to always bring this up....whenever his name got tossed around in topic discussions.  Beyond that, no one can really talk up volumes over his accomplishments....other than thirteen years as Berlin's mayor and always a favored political figure in debates.  He generally took clear positions, and didn't antagonize anyone within his party or the general public sentiment.

Where does he go?  I'm guessing that he'll write a book or two.

It's an odd deal.....if he'd been the mayor of any other major city in Germany, and never been connected to the Berlin Airport issues.....he'd likely have ran as the SPD candidate against Merkel in 2013.  Opportunities in life come and go.....sometimes, you reach a monumental point in your career....yet have a hefty anchor holding you down that you aren't really responsible for.  This is the problem that Wowereit had and can't escape.  (photo: Welt).

Hessenpark

 About thirty minutes northeast of Wiesbaden is the Hessenpark.  If you find Neu-Anspach, it's about two miles outside of the town and numerous signs will lead you onto the park.

It's an odd deal.  Somewhere in the 1970s....Germans were tearing down old houses and storefronts at an alarming rate to replace them.  Folks got peppy and invented various laws and regulations that made it more difficult (citing historical concerns).  To get around this situation....you could donate the house to the state.

The state in turn....would bring in some old-fashioned carpentry experts....dismantle the house....and reassemble at this area near Neu-Anspach.  It's hard to say if there was some kind of real master plan in the beginning.  They wanted to preserve history, and there was going to be a cost associated with this deal.

In the beginning, it was laid out with different sections of a "village", and today....there's roughly three villages in the park.

As you arrive, there's ample parking, and you basically walk around 500 feet to enter the free area of the park.  There's a number of storefronts laid out....selling brooms, cheese, etc.  If you want coffee and cake, there's a shop for that.  And there's a restaurant with a decent menu.

There are a number of displays, and if you were into history....it'd make for a good four-hour afternoon.  Kids?  Well....I have my doubts that any kid under ten years old would find this interesting.  There is a kid's upscale playground deeper into the park (the section where you pay around eight Euro to enter). About sixty percent of the park lies in the paid section, and if you time this around 4PM (they stay open to 6PM in the summer), then you pay half-price.


Teenagers?  If they have an interest in history and architecture.....it might make for a good afternoon trip. Otherwise, I'd leave them at home.

There are three things which you might want to taken note of.....as you walk into these buildings which were erected originally in the 1700s/1800s.  First, the ceilings weren't that high.  They didn't waste space.

Second, the kitchen was the all-in-one room for eating, leisure, entertaining guests, and family moments.

Third, you see an awful lot of master carpentry efforts in almost every house....something that you rarely see today.    

I should note this.....around the backside of the whole park is this collection of sheds with rails, boards, and leftover pieces.  Yeah, it's kinda obvious that after the houses were taken down and reassembled....there were some things left over, and they just didn't want to thrown them away, so they just kept those pieces around.  Guys....you know....always end up with leftover pieces when assembling something.

There is a fair amount of walking....especially over cobblestones.  So be aware of that fact and wear appropriate shoes.  I also wouldn't go on an extremely cold day because it's all outdoors.  And if you have height issues about narrow stairways....avoid the windmill climb to the third floor.  It's a good place to go on a summer or fall afternoon (avoid rainy days).


ARD's Ikea Check Show

Last night (Monday) came a curious piece off Germany's ARD network (Channel One, a state-run TV network).  It was roughly an hour-long piece over Ikea.....the put-together furniture company from Sweden that has numerous stores in Germany.  It was entitled: Ikea-Check.

It's ARD's investigative journalism game.  Basically, they went at several different angles.  Ikea's management was flexible and allowed filming within the stores, interaction with customers, and even allowed ARD to travel outside of Germany and personally visit one of the plants which supply the furniture to the store.

I would generally say that most Germans have visited an Ikea, and most working-class or middle-class families have at least one Ikea item in their house.

It's generally hard to slam Ikea.  Their instructions on putting items together.....are simple and easy to understand (proven by several customers).  Quality-wise.....for what you pay....it's a decent deal, which ARD's reporters tended to agree with.  But then it came down to this odd diversion near the end of the show.....going off to another country and pronouncing inhumane working conditions and low-scale pay.  The hint here, was that Germans were supporting a totalitarian regime in place and the residents of this eastern European country.  At least ten minutes of the piece were devoted to that angle.

The number of Germans watching the Ikea-Check?  First, virtually no one under the age of twenty-five watches state-run TV, period.  Then you mix in this fact....from the adult population....documentary news pieces just aren't appealing.....so you can chop off another couple million potential viewers.  So out of eighty million potential viewers....I'd take a guess that around one million Germans watched Ikea-Check.

The curious statement which they left in the documentary piece was this interview with a eastern European manufacturing manager.  It went along the lines of: If I don't take advantage of this opportunity to make cheap furniture for Ikea....someone else will and they will find the employees to do the job.

He's kinda right about this.

A shocking documentary?  No.  In fact, there's really nothing in the entire piece which I found to be that interesting.  I've put together Ikea furniture and know that it's a decent quality (at least as long as you don't take it apart and assemble a second time somewhere else).  I also know the pricing is pretty decent.  And I'm fully aware that you can't manufacture cheap furniture like this in Germany, Austria, France or any high-cost European country.  If you want to pay 150-Euro for a high-quality cheap looking chair....fine, but if I could manufacture the same chair in Estonia for 25-Euro and sell it to you for 36-Euro, would you prefer to pay 150-Euro over 36-Euro?

Yeah, there is all of this civil or human rights stuff, but frankly.....when a guy works for a living and only brings home 1,200 Euro a month from his 1,900 Euro salary....with taxes, pension and healthcare cost eating up a big chunk of his salary....what idiot from ARD is complaining in a documentary about the small bucket of money left for a guy to pay rent, heat, gasoline, clothing, and essential items of life?  There's a bigger story here, but I doubt if ARD will ever cover that.

On the Topic of Water

I went to a local wine fest two weeks ago in the Wiesbaden area.  Oddly enough, they offer free water for folks who might be getting a bit dehydrated.
There's three choices.....kinda like wine selections: Taunus water, Schierstein water, and Hessen water.  You'd think all three would taste the same but that's not the case.....each has a slightly different taste.

A catchy thing?  Yeah....I stood there for a minute....trying to figure which I'd try first.