An interesting week for me. Once again I’m out on the road on my own, This week found me in the heart of Germany, the city of Bamberg. A truly gorgeous medieval town, with its ornate bridges and nestled hilltop castles.
I took the train over here, which for all of my complaining last week, is truly my favorite way to get around. Rolling along through the country sides of Germany is very relaxing. Just staring out at the hillsides, the rhythm of the train lulling into peace. Unlike driving out here, I don’t have to worry about traffic, and I can get work done. I can surf the web, talk on the phone (though in hushed tones to be polite).
And, unlike flying, I’ve got plenty of space to do it. I can get up, walk around, go to the food car. Currently I’m in a saloon seat. This means I have my own table in front of me, with power outlets even. Wow. And also, unlike planes, there is plenty of space between the seats and a nice wide aisle.
Riding the train typically very smooth as well. You just show up with your tickets in hand. No security, no arriving an hour before departure. For a 4pm train, you can walk right up at 4pm and hop right on. Find somewhere to toss your bags, and have a seat. And when we get there I hop off. No powering down my computer, no having trays in the upright position, no “paying attention to all cabin crew instructions and posted plaqards.”. Piece of cake.
And, like everything else in Germany, traveling by train is often very efficient and orderly. Little stress, never any cancelations, and always on time. Today for instance, the train union is apparently on strike, and the trains are still running flawlessly. And the Germans really do think of everything. Just look at this luggage conveyer belt system to help people carry their luggage onto the train platforms that lead to the airport. Ingenious. The even still offer lockers, and have train cars specifically for bicycle passengers. Those guys literally ride on, and then ride righ back off. Awesome.
I’m currently back on the train returning from Bamberg, having just finished out the week at the clinic there just a few hours ago. It’ll be a good 5 hours to get back over home to the west side of southern Germany. But, as I came straight from the Army base, I’m oddly actually still wearing a suit. Whenever I’m on the road, particularly when making a visit in the role of manager, I always wear a suit. If I can look like I know what I’m doing I figure I can fake the rest, ha ha. However, it has been very interesting in how different my experience has been this journey from the train ride that took me to Bamberg.
Coming here I had a sweatshirt and jeans on. I thought the ride was fine. But now I’ve got on a custom tailored suit, silk tie and cufflinked shirt (byproducts of the 6 months Rachel and I were in Korea). However, I’ve had doors opened up for me, someone hang up my suit coat, and was douted on at the café. It truly has been fascinating what a difference it makes.
In the states I think the mystique of the white collar business exec evaporated a few decades ago. Plus, with further pushes for casual dress in the work place, the only folks wearing ties these days are lawyers. Perhaps this cast system, so to speak, is still perceived very strongly here in Europe. I know in Asia if I walked in somewhere with a sharp suit on people would fall over themselves with civility. You just don’t see that in States anymore. At least not on the level I’ve seen today. Would you give up your seat on a train to someone wearing suit? Hell no. Well, happened to me today already (I politely declined). Interesting the subtle social differences that occur between cultures.
Bamberg itself, was a neat town, filled with its own unique cultural attributes. Now the downside to older towns (which is basically 500 years or greater in these parts), is that the roads are very windy, and very narrow. Frequently you’ll come to a junction, like in a city wall or something, where only 1 car can squeeze. Kinda neat the first time you come across it, but I couldn’t imagine this being my daily commute. The drive from the hotel to the clinic was a roller coaster of fluctuating peaks, valleys and tight near u-turn curves in the road. One could easily see horse drawn carriages navigating these narrow cobblestone streets a millennium ago.
Outside some of the most charming castles and bridges you’ll find in Germany outside Heidelberg, Bamberg is also known for its beer. Sure, what German city isn’t right? Well in Bamberg they have something very unique called Rauchbier. Rauchbier is an ancient style of beer brewing that results in a very smokey after taste. In fact locals often call it smoke beer. Seriously after my first sip I could have sworn I tasted smoked sausage on my breath. Fascinating.
There are two breweries/restaurants in Bamberg who serve the Rauchbier. To give you an idea of age around here, the restaurant we went too which had the date of 1678 proudly displayed on their glasses is considered the “new” brewery. Hilarious. The other brewery dates back to the 1500’s (and even has its own wikipedia page). Seriously, …now that’s old.
A funny thing about ordering beer in Europe is that typically you just ask for a style of beer. In the states you would say something like Miller Light, Bud, or Cores. Well, in Germany its practically an assumption that a restaurant makes its own beer, or at least serve the local brew. So when asking for a beer here you just say “Light,” “Dark” or Wheat,” (pronounced as Crystal, Dunkel or Hefa) and then they bring you their version of that style beer. Crazy eh? Yah, in 14 months here, I‘ve never once specifically asked for a beer by maker, only style.
In the Rauchbier restaurant we went to, Schlenkerla, you only had 1 option though, the smoke beer. So, hilariously, you just ask for “ein beir,” and they bring you what they got. The only thing easier than this is how you order beer in Oktoberfest. There you just hold up a count with your fingers (don’t forget your thumb is one, holding your index finger gets you two). There they assume all you want is beer, and they only have one type. Makes it easy, assuming you like their beer of course. In Oktoberfest, you *can’t* not like the beer. But this Rauchbier is, uhm, interesting.
I would say it would go great with a meal, assuming you’re eating meat (which is about all you can get in Germany). It’s not real drinking beer though. After one or two, you’ll be done. But he”y, not all beers are for guzzling. And this idea of having a beer that paired to go with certain foods is interesting. I know Sam Adams has been pushing this idea for several years. Obviously it works for wines. Makes sense for beer.
Now, drinking new kinds of beer wasn’t my only purpose in town (I’m heading up to Belgium next weekend, so I’ll have plenty of time for that). The site visits I make to the various Army health clinics I support keep me busy from 7am to 5pm all week long. After that I still have to do daily write-ups and track e-mail threads that require my attention from across the other 35 US Army clinics in Europe.
However, this week outside my typical duties I also had to take some Army mandated training, which was pretty thought provoking for a few reasons. Basically the class was my annual required Sexual Harassment and Assault awareness. While certainly not how most folks would want to spend three hours of their life, I did find the Army approach to this difficult material interesting.
One of the most fascinating aspects of working for the Army this past year was seeing how it has tried to transition its own culture. This is the US Army, these soldiers are all rock hard, battle tested vets, …right? Well, the exponential spike in suicide the Army has seen in the last few years as really forced them to look themselves in the mirror, and ask themselves if the John Wayne mentality is what is best for force readiness. Trying to introduce an environment where it is OK to not be OK, is like trying to force raindrops back into a cloud.
They’ve canvassed the hospitals with suicide prevention posters, and they’ve pushed training on everyone on how to recognize warning signs. “Be a battle buddy,” and commercials saying its “OK to talk about it” running in loop on the Army stations. They’ve even tried to change the stigma of soldiers serious psychological concerns as not being weak, but having “emotional bleeding.” I’ve touched on this subject in blogs past as well, and this same culture of machismo has lead to a historically over-tolerated and under-reported environment of sexual harassment and rape.
The training I attended went right after this culture with a sales pitch of “respecting your fellow warriors.” While admirable, I find it paradoxical that the same soldiers are told to embrace their inner animal on a daily bases as they prepare to go to war. These same GIs are marinated in testosterone and locker room mentalities every waking moment. I can see the problems a young male soldiers fresh off a Nebraska corn field would have then trying to restrain himself in mixed company.
However, one new take I did see the class take that I do think was a step in the right direction was in transitioning the responsibility of sexual harassment and assault prevention from the potential victim to the potential witnesses. The new approach is about getting bystanders involved, and empowering them to intervene. “You are either a leader, or a follower, …there is no in between” the instructor said. Fascinating. They played a disturbing video about how herd mentalities in crowds, and even a hilarious one about how subjective we are to peer pressure in elevators.
The take home message is that sexual harassment and situations leading to sexual assault often involves groups, and if those groups are soldiers, it is their job to do something. I like this approach a lot. And I’m glad to see Army is taking adjusting its own John Wayne culture seriously.
One student in my class asked the instructor about how the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ (DADT) will affect this training. Great question. As a vast majority of these discussions was about male-on-female situations, with gay soldiers now not legally required to hide their orientation, it won’t be long before male soldiers could receive harassment themselves. It was commented that some male soldiers would say that just seeing to male soldiers hold hands would be harassment to his own puritan sensibilities.
The instructor said that since public affection (even hand holding) is not allowed in uniform this would be a moot point. But how about, another soldier asked, those bug post-deployment reunions you see at the ship yards and military air fields. You see soldiers kissing their wives while in uniform everywhere. What happens when the first male soldier comes home to his husband?
The instructor just rolled his eyes. Very interesting…
I give the Army credit for coming a long way over this last year in their frank, and sincere approaches to handling soldier suicide, sexual assault, and now gays in the military. But big Army’s culture took hundred of years to develop, and this transition will take time. Like a few more generations. Still, it’s a start.
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