Hi, I’m Hermann, some people call me “Hermann ze German”. I’ve lived and worked overseas since 1982 and, except for South America and Australia, have lived and worked in all parts of the globe.
I’m a general manager (FG) for Lufthansa Cargo, with a heavy emphasis on sales and business development.
In the 34 years I’ve been with the Lufthansa Group, having started on the ramp in Frankfurt, I’ve worked in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Colombo, Kathmandu, Frankfurt again, Karachi, Seoul and, since 2005, been posted to Johannesburg. In my current assignment I look after all of LH Cargo’s destinations in Africa and travel heavily throughout the continent.
In my experience, adjusting to overseas life is a lot easier if you:
- Have an interest in foreign cultures, people and their unique differences
- Are not a perfectionist and can live with 80%, or sometimes even 60%
- Have a good sense of humor and can laugh at life and challenging situations
- Have a partner/family that supports you and also loves the gypsy lifestyle
- Oh, and a strong, healthy digestive system also helps!
From the many interesting and sometimes comical experiences I’ve had in this time, I wanted to share two anecdotes that stuck in my mind, mainly because of the tremendous juxtaposition they presented, as well as the deep impressions they have left upon me.
Anecdote 1: Visit to North Korea
In June 2004, I traveled to North Korea together with my then superior, the Asia VP Martin Schlingensiepen. We had been invited by the North Korean government because of their interest in developing a commercial cooperation with the passenger side. They contacted me in my role as Logistics Chairman of the European-Korean Chamber of Commerce. The General Secretary of the Chamber at the time had lived in North Korea for a number of years. So, to cut a long story short, we ended up on a flight from Beijing to Pyongyang, operated by Air Koryo, the national carrier. The aircraft was an IL62 passenger aircraft, in incredibly good shape, clean, well-maintained and the service was excellent.
Arriving in Pyongyang was quite a strange experience. I was accustomed to working and living in Asia, where your cellphone was an extension of your hand, so turning over the device seemed a bit concerning. But the immigration officer put it in a neat little cloth bag, gave us a numbered tag and, for our 4-day visit, off the grid we went!!!
Since we expressed our interest in all aviation matters, we had access to the entire airport and saw the slightly antiquated fleet of AirKoryo: a mix of Ilyushin, Tupulev, Antonov and Chinese Yak40 aircraft. There were no Boeing, Airbus, Embraer or Bombardier in sight; this due to the strict embargoes imposed on the country. Most of the aircraft were in a semi-functioning state, though many appeared to be used for spare parts in maintaining other aircraft in the fleet.
While visiting the tiny, but clean warehouse, I noticed a pallet stack and on closer inspection found three 96-inch LCAG pallets. I pointed this out to our guide, who was quite surprised and I noted the ULD numbers. When back in my office in Seoul, I punched the numbers into the ULD tracking system and, sure enough, there had been a cattle charter from Hanover in 2002 and the pallets had been left behind.
Before leaving Pyongyang, I pointed out that the ULDs should be returned to us and, four weeks later, the ULDs were handed over in Beijing to LCAG and reentered our system.
During our stay, we experienced a range of events, from bizarre and comical (the filled bath tub due to lack of running water in the government “lodge”) to scary and depressing (security agent stopping me from a daily run); but definitely too much for this blog, so maybe more another time.
Anecdote 2: Hindu temples and ebooking
I worked in Kathmandu, Nepal in the mid-1990s. This beautiful Hindu kingdom in the mountains was a mystical, gentle and calm place, quite in contrast to the bustle, anonymity and efficiency of Germany (or almost any relatively “modern” nation at this time).
During a customer visit in Kathmandu, I had met with a cargo agent to discuss electronic links between our systems, a kind of early version of ebooking which, at this time, was definitely a highly sophisticated futuristic topic. The agent’s offices were in the old part of the capital in a two-story building, next to a Hindu temple. After my highly technological and future-orientated discussion, I stepped outside of the building and walked directly into a religious ceremony. Just minutes before, the head of a water buffalo had been cut off and the still pumping blood was being sprayed throughout the temple.
The warm, sticky fluid covered everything and left the surrounding area in an ankle-deep pool of blood. Within seconds I had gone from the 21st century to a mid-evil one; what a shock and what an experience. And it was one of many that was repeated often and in various personal and professional situations. There is no job at headquarters that can match this incredible cultural dynamic, which is why this gypsy expatriate lifestyle – as hard as it can be in many indescribable ways – is also so hugely rewarding.