Sunday, October 26, 2008

Trip to Gummersbach

I arrived here in Gummersbach, Germany late last night. It was another long and tiring trip.

First, almost 13 hours flight (KLM air) from Manila to Amsterdam Schipol airport.
Second, a long walk at the airport, long but quick queu at the immigration, then 2 hours lay over for a connecting flight.
Third, nearly one hour flight from Amsterdam to Cologne, Germany.
Finally, about 45 minutes trip to Gummersbach, 56 kilometers from Cologne.

Audio and video entertainment at KLM air was good. While my seatmates were watching various movies, I contented myself with listening to rock music, then pop and later classical music, and rested and sleep. I lacked sleep before that flight.

Amsterdam´s Schipol airport is big and long. It was the 3rd time I set foot on this airport. The first was in 1987 when I attended a 3-months seminar in Amsterdam, the second when I went to London for a conference in June 2005. The airport´s tarmac and runway fields are very wide and well lighted.

From Schipol to Cologne is like a "show of lights" down below. I was seated on the right side of the plane, the city of Amsterdam could be in the left side as there was a very wide expanse of all lights below. The plane is small, only 4 seats per row, so it was flying low, and good for sightseeing at night. For the entire trip of nearly 1 hour, there were dozens of clusters of well-lighted areas and communities below, all the way from Amsterdam to Cologne. It's like a wide area of wild fires in California shown on tv. There was a portion that was dark, I suspected it could be a lake or a wide cloud that covered the view.

Cologne is another wide expanse of all lights city. The airport is not so big, but it is a steel and glass structure. After getting my luggage, a staff of the International Academy for Leadership (IAF), Martin, was waiting for me at the exit. He will bring me to the Theodor-Heuss Akademie in Gummersbach.

Germany's roads are smooth and excellent. I didn' see a single pothole on the roads. Martin was driving a van, but he was flooring the accelerator at 130, 145 kph. No speed limit in Germany, except in some busy intersections. This alone should give this country a good score in individual freedom.

Gummersbach is 56 kms from Cologne city proper, but we reached our destination in about 35 to 40 minutes. The akademie, operated by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Liberty (FNFL), is on top of a small hill. The dormitory is an 8-storeys structure. My room is on the 5th floor, and there is a good view of the small city below the hill.

The seminar I am attending here is on "Local Govt and civil society", Oct 26 to Nov. 2.
We´ll be 23 foreign participants, from S. Africa, Latin America, Asia and middle east, Europe (Turkey, Kosovo, Lithuania, Ukraine). I´m the only Filipino in this seminar. The IAF is conducting about 12 different seminars every year. Initially there were about 63 of us participants from many countries, including 2 other Filipinos, in the online seminar phase. The IAF choose the "top 24" among participants in the initial online seminar, and that`s how I got invited here.

Today the weather is good. But yahoo weather says the temperature will fall starting tomorrow and the next few days. Breakfast at the akademie is plentiful, but typical European food -- bread, various cheese and meat slices, fruits, fruit juices, coffee or tea.

The internet corner is spacious, and its free.
Our seminar will start at 6pm today.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Back to Germany

Two days from now, and a day after my birthday, I will fly to Gummersbach, Germany. I will attend a week-long seminar on "Local Government and Civil Society" to be sponsored by the International Academy for Leadership (IAF) of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Liberty. My route will be Manila-Amsterdam-Cologne (KLM air). From Cologne airport, a car will fetch me and bring me to the venue in Gummersbach, 56 kms. away.

This will be my 2nd visit to Germany. My first visit was 5 years ago, in October 2003. I came from Sweden for a 7-weeks international training on "Sustainable Agriculture". After the end of that seminar, I took Eurolines and travelled to visit a friend in The Hague, Netherlands, passing by Denmark and northern Germany. It was a tiring 17 hours road trip, but nonetheless lots of sight-seeing. After 2 days, I took Eurolines again and took a 13 hours trip from The Hague (left there close to midnight) to Munich, Germany, to visit another friend. We were very few passengers in that trip.

When the bus reached Stuttgart, there were only 4 of us. The bus driver made a phone call and several minutes later, we were transferred to a van and it will take us 4 remaining passengers to Munich. I sat at the back of the driver. I immediately noticed the speed of the van. While buses and trucks have speed limit of 100 kph maximum, cars don't have speed limit in many of Germany's "autobahn" or expressways, except in some congested intersections. The van was running at 125 kph on average, and I saw several cars whizzing by at probably 150 to 200 kph! I exclaimed to myself, "so this is the autobahn!"

My friend, Christian Beil, is a German lawyer. His wife, Astrid, is a Filipina. At Munich central station, the couple and their son were waiting for me. They immediately toured me around some interesting areas in Munich: the BMW plant, the Olympics stadium (about 1972 Munich Olympics), the city hall, other interesting places.

Christian lives in Miesbach, about an hour by car south of Munich. It's a tiny but cool city. It's near the ski resorts of Bavaria too. Christian brought me to a ski resort high up in the mountains. I enjoyed posing for pictures in the snow. It was good that there was a thick snowfall in late September or early October of that year in the mountains of Bavaria. From the mountains, we went to Tegernsee Lake, then another resort with sauna, a swimming pool, etc.

From below zero Celsius at the mountains, up to probably 70 or 80 celsius sauna in a matter of an hour or so, it was really weird! I was glad I didn't get sick then. In the evening, Christian would always have a few bottles of locally-brewed beer ready as we chat on many things.

At the end of our seminar in Gummersbach, I will visit again Christian and his family in early November. This time, they have 2 kids already. And this time, I will take the train, from Cologne to Munich. They will meet me again in Munich.

I am excited to see that city again, also Miesbach, the lakes and the ski resorts in the mountains!