Unfiltered dispatches by our vagabond intern, Andrew Santis, who is studying and working abroad.
Frankfurt Day 1
I’ve never travelled as much as I have in the past month, and I love every part of it… except the actual traveling part.
Traveling, especially with three items of luggage, can be difficult, tiring, irritating, etc. Getting to Frankfurt from London was such a hassle, I cringe just remembering today’s travel ordeals. First, I missed my train in the morning. This was my fault for leaving my flat later than I had to. What followed was really out of my control. There was a 30-minute delay on the later train to Brussels, and then even more delays on the train from Brussels to Frankfurt. The Deutsche Bahn train service pulled a fast one on me when the conductor told me I had to change trains at Cologne because the train I was on wasn’t going all the way to Frankfurt today.
At Cologne I changed trains. Remembering a map of Germany I saw before I left from New York, Cologne and Frankfurt are not far away. I estimated the high-speed train would realistically get to Frankfurt in about an hour. The train took almost three hours to get to Frankfurt. I was freaking out on the inside because I couldn’t communicate with anyone. I was most concerned about my mom, who I hadn’t spoken to since I left London, and my Airbnb host because I told him I would arrive at 9:30pm. It was not past midnight and I couldn’t figure out how to use a public payphone at the train station. Instead of making a risky decision of getting to my Airbnb host’s home without anyone being there and then not knowing what to do, I took the safe route and stayed at a hotel near the station. After establishing communication with my family in New York, I sent my host an email explaining what had happened. Turns out he had just walked in and was still waiting for me. I felt really bad. But in my situation, I think I did the right thing because exposing myself in the middle of the night with a bunch of bags in an unknown city (and still traumatized from my robbery in Paris) was not worth it. Communication is key in these situations, and being unable to do so is really going to be a test for me these next five weeks.
Frankfurt Day 2
After I finally settled in my Airbnb home this afternoon, I made my way to the city to get some touristy sightseeing done.
There are many ways to get to the city from where I’m living. The two main ways are the tram and the train. The tram is the nearest to my home, but it makes many loops to get into the city. The train is a 15-minute walk down the main road, but is two stops from the heart of the financial center. I opted to walk, but got on the tram because I had bought a day pass from the train station earlier this morning. There is no machine where one has to scan his/her ticket to get on the tram. People walk right in and take a seat. I’m assuming a transit officer gets on at random stops to check tickets, similar to the select buses in New York. I wouldn’t be surprised if fare evaders get on the trams on a daily basis.
Unlike Amsterdam and London, the actual city center was very quiet. The streets were empty and businesses were closed. When I got to the southern bank of the Main, I found people sunbathing, picnicking, bike riding, jogging, or walking with family. At the town square, called Römerberg, there were many crowds of people walking through the square or eating at the cafes.
The cafe and restaurant menus were all in German, but since German and English are a bit similar I can tell what some words mean but not all. I was surprised because I remember restaurants in Paris and Amsterdam had the English translations written in small print under the respective language or had a full English menu near the door. None of that here.
A major observation I made is the number of homeless people there are here. I would say it’s one of Frankfurt’s major problems. I saw this last night at the train station, but even more today at parks, plazas, and streets. My only rationale behind this prevalent number of homeless people is that it’s summer, the season when the highest amounts of homeless people are on the streets.
From a distance, the city skyline gave me the impression that Frankfurt is a major metropolitan city. Once in the city, I realized it’s not that big. There are still a few areas I didn’t get to today, but for the most part I feel it’s not like London or New York. I think I will have to come back during the actual work week to see this city come to life.
Frankfurt Day 3
Today, branding played a trick on me.
This afternoon I went grocery shopping for the week, going to three supermarkets to get familiar with store layouts, the different supermarket chains in the city, and most importantly to compare products and prices. At the first supermarket, called REWE, I spotted a Philadelphia container with the word “Joghurt” on the front and a picture of a cup of yogurt. I couldn’t believe that Philadelphia sold yogurt in Germany, and wondered why they weren’t selling it in the U.S. I thought maybe it was because Philadelphia couldn’t stand a chance battling powerhouses like Chobani and Yoplait. Nevertheless, I was curious to try Philadelphia’s yogurt. I ended up buying the yogurt at the second supermarket I went to, Hit Markt, for about fifty cents cheaper.
When I got back home I made myself a sandwich with the cold cuts I bought and finished my late lunch with the yogurt. First I got a cup and filled it about half-way with the granola. Then I opened the container of yogurt. When I used my spoon to scoop some yogurt, I instantly noticed how dense it was. The texture was not yogurt-ish at all. Weird. Perhaps this is how German yogurt is supposed to be? I went for a second spoonful, and placed the yogurt inside my cup. Now for the taste test. Two seconds after the yogurt came into contact with my taste buds, I knew I wasn’t eating yogurt… I was eating yogurt-flavored cream cheese. In fact, I couldn’t even taste the yogurt; it was mostly cream cheese. And how did I fall for what I believed would be great-tasting yogurt? I blame the Philadelphia brand. Philadelphia is a brand that I trust and enjoy back in the states. Its signature product has never failed me. I also believe the country of origin effect (COOE) played a role. COOE, a concept I learned about in my global marketing course this past month in London, is a phenomena that describes how consumers’ purchasing behavior is influenced based based on where the product is made or has its origins from. Next to the German brands on the shelves, of course I was going to choose the American product. Why wouldn’t I? In my mind, yogurt in the U.S. is a more specialized food product than in Germany. Regardless of the reason, all I kept going back to was realizing how strong a brand can be. I really thought Philadelphia made yogurt. This showed me how power a brand can have over a person. So next time you go to the supermarket, anywhere in the world, don’t just rely on the brand; read the labels. You won’t want to be eating spoonfuls of cream cheese for dessert like me.
Frankfurt Day 4
My plan for today was to visit Palmengarten, a botanical garden here in Frankfurt, for about two hours and then walk to the national library to work for the rest of the day.
It didn’t quite work out that way.
After figuring out the public transit system, I finally arrived at Palmengarten at around 2:15pm. Upon entering the garden, I let the paths take me throughout the grounds. It was very peaceful, and I was alone with my thoughts. I noticed an area near the “dancing fountain” where people were lying on the lawn chairs, and I told myself to come back there once I was done walking through the entire garden. At around 3:30pm, I returned to that area and lied down on a chair. By 4pm, the start of my “shift”, I decided to stay and work from the garden until my laptop battery ran out. Just yesterday Brian [Erickson] was telling me about living in the present; my spontaneity was definitely taking his advice to heart.
I left Palmengarten at 6pm, which was the official closing time. For some reason, there were still people walking into the garden. I would have loved to stay, but I had to find a power source to keep working. It took about a half hour to find the national library. The one thing I was worried about was not getting a WiFi signal because libraries usually require one to have a library card in order to access the WiFi. I was going to play it by ear and see what would happen. When I entered the library and made my way towards the actual library area, an employee stopped me and said something to me in German. When I told her I didn’t speak German, she angrily told me to follow her and told a young man sitting at the information desk to help me. Turns out this library is a research library and I had to pay to access the space. The young man at the desk handed me a library card application which I had to deny because I was only going to be in Frankfurt for a few more days. What he did tell me to do was to go to the cafe area to work. I did, only I wasn’t able to find an outlet or access the WiFi. I had to go.
This is definitely one area that I anticipated would be the most troubling about working remotely. Despite the fact that Europe has more WiFi hotspots than the U.S., they are still hard to find. Additionally, the hotspots, usually provided by T-Mobile or Telekom, require a username and password which are, I’m assuming, for existing customers. This makes my Airbnb home the only place I can be sure to have internet access. It’s a shame because I’m unable to work for long periods of time out in the city and giving “working remotely” a new twist. This is something I will definitely have to continue dealing with in the coming weeks.
Frankfurt Day 6
It keeps getting hotter and hotter here in Frankfurt. The thermometer hit 32°C today. That’s 95°F.
I don’t know if it’s because Germany is really big on the “going green” initiative, but air conditioners are far and few in this city. The one place where it was insanely hot was the tram. The only “cooling” came from the hot air blowing in through the half-opened windows. The subway stations were also hot, but because the platforms aren’t packed like in New York they aren’t that unbearable.
At Grunenberg Park, all I saw were shirtless men and bikini-clad women sunbathing on the lawns. Other people I saw were riding bikes, jogging, picnicking, reading a book, or sleeping. It feels like people here have a lot of free time on their hands. I guess they have nothing better to do than spend a day or afternoon at the park. Could it be because there is a high unemployment rate for young adults? Or maybe it’s just the city’s lifestyle?
Returning to the city center to observe people during the weekday turned out to be just like Sunday. The city was quiet yet again, but I managed to see more people this time around. I could tell who the professionals were (the men were dressed in white shirts and black slacks). It was after 3pm when I walked past the Main Tower and Commerzbank building when I noticed workers on a mid-afternoon break of coffee or drinks. Some were walking home and others running errands. I past the city’s main shopping mall, where there were a lot of people going into the stores and leaving with one, two, or even three large bags filled with merchandise. The economy must be good if people are spending. Still, the city wasn’t alive as I thought it could be.
To be honest, this city is deceiving. Frankfurt looks like a major metropolitan city from the outside, but in reality there isn’t a lot to do. I’ve done a majority of the “things to do in Frankfurt” as suggested by TripAdvisor (with the exception of a number of museums), and have run out of places to see. Now I understand why my Airbnb host told me on my first day to visit a nearby city if I had the chance. He must’ve known I would get bored after a few days. Maybe I will take his advice and leave the city tomorrow.
Frankfurt Day 7
Today marks the end of my first week working remotely for CB from Germany.
When I started at CB last September, the concept of working remotely baffled me. How was it possible that a company lets its employees work from home or from anywhere they please? Wouldn’t the bosses be worried that their workers won’t be productive? In my mind, a worker wouldn’t be able to get anything done at home because of the smallest distractions (say doing chores around the house or watching TV) or even laziness (sleeping-in an extra hour or two). For me, being in a foreign country would be especially more distracting because of the endless amounts of sightseeing and “touristy” activities to do in each city.
The keys to avoid distractions are discipline and time management. You can’t be disciplined without managing your time, and vice versa. Having a project timeline and a weekly schedule certainly helped me keep on top of my work tasks and gave me a good idea of how much time I roughly (and oftentimes realistically) had to spend on each every day. Google Calendar allowed me to post my schedule for my colleagues to see so they also knew what I was up to. The amount of work I had for this week was manageable. I wasn’t stressed about it; I was more worried I might not be able to get the deliverables in my the end of the week, especially when more work started popping up throughout the week.
Mondays were my unofficial “status call” days, and I decided to work my entire weekly schedule around that. I did my sightseeing in the morning (which would be the early AM hours back in New York) and return home right before 4pm for my call (which was 10am in New York) and work eight hours straight. It worked well on Monday, but the following days I began to wake up extremely late (almost at noon) and ultimately shortened my sightseeing time by half. This was definitely a downside.
Interestingly, communication with the CB team was not an issue at all (except for when I wasn’t in a wifi zone). Skype and FaceTime Audio were both fantastic tools to call and speak with my bosses. Today, though, I couldn’t get a hold of my team due to a holiday not celebrated here– the 4th of July. I felt powerless and somewhat desperate because I really couldn’t do anything from another continent, so I had to postpone the my tasks for next week.
I would have preferred to work in different locations every day, but the lack of free wifi zones and outlets was a problem I couldn’t overcome. I would have liked to work outdoors in the afternoon until the sun set at 9:30pm, but I was forced to work indoors from the kitchen (and later in the week from my room) because my host kept the room that led to the patio locked.
Frankfurt is a deceiving city. As the financial capital of Germany, and of Europe, one would expect for this city to be like London or New York. Not in the slightest. I hate to say it, but Frankfurt was a let-down. The city is small, there isn’t a lot to do or see (by Wednesday, I had competed all the major sightseeing), and the city is dead during the work day. Very strange. The neighborhood where I lived was a beautiful residential area outside the city center, and I would definitely live there if I could. But I can’t see myself working in Frankfurt. It’s too boring.
See more photos of my journey on my Instagram account: https://instagram.com/andysanty94/