Jan 30, 2011

An American Open Water Swimmer in Germany

The 'American in Paris' theme resonates as I recently traveled to Germany for work meetings and to meet with new colleagues.  Along with that came my first international search to discover places to swim.

This aquatic adventure expands further the dynamics of my journey to swim the English Channel and the many challenges that come with this commitment.

Apprehension of doing not only work in a new environment, not knowing where I was going most of the time, speaking barely any of the native language while still being comfortable with their cultural fundamentals coupled with pressure of meeting colleagues for the first, exchanging experiences, seeking collaboration and cooperation with a focus on developing new global business made finding a pool to let my mental exhaustion drift away One Stroke At A Time. In my professional life I solve clients challenges in sustainability, energy and environmental management systems. Akin to those old advertisements from the German company, BASF, my focused services do not 'make the product itself per say, but improve the quality and environmental management processes that make the product better'.

What does this have to do with swimming the English Channel you might be asking, plenty.

Like life, school or sport - seeking approval from your colleagues, wanting to be accepted as part of the team, a peer or expert in this case, wanting to offer something that will further the effort, win, get a new client. Doing this within the context of not knowing the language as well as English adds to the adventure and uncertainty. Thus being able to listen carefully, relax, be patient and allowing the activity to develop in front you while you keep the end goal in focus, never letting it out of your sight. Swimming long distances, especially in cold water, is like this. Your senses distract you at times from the goal, many hours of dull, mundane stokes, discomfort, pain at times all contribute.

These challenges are the same as any new cultural or educational experience. Being resilient to the challenge to understand that one miss-step is just that, a single event but to keep going. Both my excitement of returning to Europe for business and swimming here added much to the experience.

While I was 'on my toes’ professionally from sun up to well past sunset, I still had to find time to swim. So I was up at 5-5:30 a.m. well before anyone at the hotel. Packing my swim gear, work clothes just like home the night before. A new challenge faced me, with blurry morning eyes. WHERE IS MY COFFEE? Eating what Americans would consider odd foods for breakfast that seem more like lunch (meats and cheese) is a way of life. Great fresh organic foods and fruits come as well. What I found most challenging was trying to find small healthy snacks, my beloved bananas to take to the office. Since I each many smaller meals throughout the day, eating larger meals less often is very hard, I simple run out of energy.

All of these details were eventually figured out, I swam each day and was able to be relaxed and get the real work done.

I only wish it was summer and I could be outside in a wonderful alpine lake like those near Mondsee area outside Salzburg, Austria! Crystal clear cold and what scenery with a mere 8k across, perfect workout!.

Alas, its winter and the lakes are not open yet so the pool was what I had. A recently made friendship with a wonderfully kind German Expat and talented swimmer named Silke Jansson, who works for Siemens in South Barrington, Illinois (just south of my hometown) led me to a pool very near the global offices of my company just north of Frankfurt in Bad Vilbel. I had previously done Google searches for pools and discovered that in Germany this gets you spa and water park facilities. After Silke helped, I then discovered the best phrase to use is 'sport pools' and then I got somewhere. I also learned that in Germany they don't call pull buoys' and fins by these names or it could have been I was being incomprehensible. They are called, utensils? So I have now dragged my 'utensils' 10,000 miles round trip just to swim.

I ended the week as expected with reduced mileage only getting in 25,000 yards but the experience of swimming in a new land, finding a pool, getting to and from, finding the lockers all with little German language skills lacking on my part was fun. I didn't end up in the women's changing room. They have the same challenges we do, warder aerobics classes interfering with lap swimming, some share lanes and some swim in circles. They have water exercise classes for seniors and these pools are very warm.  I felt just like this past summers US 10k Open Water Nationals with water waters temperatures in the 80's, ouch.

Friends in far places!

Along the way I took side trip to Salzburg, Austria to see an old friend and business co-worker Armin Stein and his family. Jennifer, my wife, was able to come along for the short weekend preceding my business and we had a wonderful time, dinners with our wonderful host and sightseeing in Salzburg which probably could be one of our top spots in the world. We organized some new business possibilities so the trip was productive.

Jennifer and I enjoy Salzburg and the hours of walking. This below picture is taken looking down from the 'sound of music' theater (Felsenreitschule – formerly the summer riding school for the Lipizzaner) where the Trapp family sang in the movie. Today it is still used for opera and music festivals such as the world famous Salzburg Mozart festival. One they are building a retractable roof over it. For those Americans that readily don't know, Austrians are indifferent to the commercialized 'sound of music' tourist business and being a proud and private culture don't really care much for Americans Hollywood impressions this has left, except of course for the tourist revenue coming from visitors.

We left Salzburg on Sunday returning to Munich where Jennifer was heading back home and I continued by bullet train to Frankfurt to find my new pool, hotel and next weeks work.

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