My First International Business Trip: Germany

Sunday, February 19, 2012

So, as the new International Media Relations Manager for Destination DC, it only makes sense that my job description would require some international travel. For my first business trip abroad, the Capital Region USA delegation (which includes DC, Maryland and Virginia) embarked upon a sales & media mission to Germany, our second largest source of overseas visitors next to the UK. The mission: to meet with select media and pitch stories about DC, and train tour operators on ways to sell the Capital Region experience to potential visitors.

I have to admit that while in the car on the way to Washington Dulles International Airport, I felt like I was in a scene straight out of “Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion” where they dress up in business suits and tell everyone they’re business women. I guess that even though I’m 32 and I’ve been in public relations for almost a decade, the thought of traveling with a suitcase full of business suits and high heels makes me giggle a little. Like I’m pretending this is what I want to be someday when I grow up. I guess I don’t feel old enough to be doing what I’m doing. Or maybe it’s that this was the dream I always dreamed of and I can’t believe I’m actually living it. Yes, I pinched myself a few times while checking into my flight and exchanging my currency.

Monday, February 20, 2012

My nine-hour overnight flight landed in Frankfurt at 6:15 a.m. Luckily, the plane was virtually empty so I had the entire row to myself and managed to sleep a little. I collected my luggage and made my way to the taxi stand. {Insert important travel tip here}: Always wear your seatbelt in Germany! I had heard rumors about the German Autobahn, the motorway system. However, I was completely unprepared. My taxi driver averaged 180 km/hr and weaved in and out of traffic. I had to close my eyes and white-knuckle it most of the way to the hotel.

Frankfurt is the largest financial center in Europe. This is very evident by its downtown skyscrapers and the overall business feel to the area. It is also a major transportation center in Germany as it is home to one of the world’s busiest international airports, one of the largest train terminal stations in Europe and has one of the most heavily used autobahn interchanges in Europe.

I checked into the Frankfurt Marriott located downtown in the Westend building, the tallest hotel in Germany. I promptly closed the black out drapes, set my alarm and went right to sleep for the next 4 hours. When I awoke, it was around noon. I got ready (in my business woman’s suit) and went downstairs. I found the hotel’s cafe where I ordered soup and a sandwich. And practiced my German: “danke.”

View of Frankfurt from my hotel room

The flag of Germany just outside my hotel

Looking up at the Frankfurt Marriott

Frankfurt Marriott

At 2 p.m., the president of our representative office in Germany, Claasen Communications, picked me up from the hotel and drove me to a media appointment in Darmstradt. Then, we went to the Claasen office so I could meet their fantastic staff.

Claasen Communications office

The staff at Claasen

Me at the Claasen office

We returned to the Marriott to meet the rest of our delegation and after a few more meetings, we went to dinner in Frankfurt at Villa Leonhardi. This was built in 1806 and was the home of a wealthy family of merchants. Over the years it was re-built and today is an Italian restaurant. The menu was written in both German and English and we noticed they used the word “lauwarm” or “lukewarm” to describe many dishes. Lukewarm rabbit. Lukewarm seafood. Lukewarm cake. It just isn’t a culinary term Americans would typically use. Or a way you’d want your food prepared necessarily. But, this became something of a running joke since it showed up on almost every menu we saw. Must be lost in translation….

At Villa Leonhardi

My dinner prepared table-side

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

I woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. I was so disoriented that when I placed one foot in the bathtub, it slipped out from under me and I did a slow-motion fall….which would’ve been terribly embarassing had anyone seen it happen. Fortunately, the only evidence was a giant bruise on my leg. As I limped to breakfast (in the business woman’s secret VIP lounge), I spilled my hot tea across the table. I blame jet lag.

Today, we spent the morning conducting training sessions with tour operators. And fortunately, my morning bad luck streak did not seem to last. All went very smoothly. In the afternoon, we checked out of the Marriott and took taxis to the Frankfurt Central Station train terminal. We boarded our train for the two-hour journey to Hannover.

The Europaturm or telecommunications tower in Frankfurt

On the way to the Frankfurt train station

A vendor at the Frankfurt train station (this just seemed SO German)

Silhouette of the name of a major German newspaper at the train station

Matt (President and CEO of Capital Region USA) and me on the train to Hannover

The Town Hall of Hannover

Wiener Schnitzel

The giant baked potato

Check out the size of this potato! It looks more like a subway sandwich. And how about that vat of sour cream? 😉

The view from the hotel in Hannover

Thursday, February 23, 2012

We were up very early to check out of the hotel and take the 7:30 a.m. train to Dusseldorf. It’s cold and rainy and overcast today. And early! We made the mistake of boarding the train at the wrong end of the platform. So, we had to walk through five train cars or so, with all of our luggage, to get to our seats. A man had a container of sliced apples on the edge of this tray. My colleague’s luggage accidentally bumped the tray and the apples fell to the ground. I happened to be walking immediately behind her and walked right into it. She kept on walking since she didn’t realize she had bumped his tray. I stood there with apples at my feet as the man cursed at me in German in front of the entire car of commuters. I apologized profusely until he said, “You’re not sorry!” I said, “No, really. I am!” And when he wouldn’t accept my apology, I rolled my suitcase over his apples and continued on. Someone needs coffee….

Our train to Dusseldorf arriving at the Hannover station

Two and a half hours later, we arrived in Dusseldorf. We conducted a training session with a tour operator and then we went to lunch at this charming little Italian restaurant down the street from their office. (Funny how much italian food we’re eating in Germany…). I can’t recall the name of the restaurant but I’m pretty sure it was La Bora on Huettenstrasse. A barking dog greeted us at the door. The food was incredible and it was entertaining to hear an Italian man speaking perfect German.

No sooner had we arrived in Dusseldorf than we were back on the train en route to Frankfurt. No overnight stay. No time to explore. But from the little bit I saw, I’d love to revisit Dusseldorf again in the future. In Frankfurt, we checked back into the Frankfurt Marriott. I immediately had some media appointments and then we ended the mission with a big farewell dinner party with many of the media and operators we had met with, and a few new faces. I departed the next day for the return trip to Washington, DC. It was a whirlwind of a trip but certainly a success.

An ad in German for the American film “Bridesmaids” (Hannover)

An ad for Germany’s Next Top Model (Dusseldorf train station)

Next stop, Toronto….