If you follow my blog, you’ll know that the line between my business and personal lives is often blurred – that is, I see the two strongly impacted by one another. In a recent posting, I wrote about my oldest son’s departure for his “Gap Year”. Last month my husband and I treated ourselves to a spring break trip to visit him. We landed in Berlin, drove to Magdeburg and began a 10-day adventure. For a parent (or at least this one) one-on-one time with a child is precious. Add one-on-one time coupled with a new experience shared with your child is, well…the words a ‘privilege’ (P) and ‘a gift’ (G) come to mind. This trip was a P&G for me and one about which I hope you enjoy reading.
I tried to be present every moment of this trip. I turned my phone off; ok, I did not have international WI-FI unless I was in a hotel so I won’t take full credit for unplugging but I did focus on the details around us instead of finding the closest coffee shop advertising ‘free WI-FI’. I held my son’s hand on occasion as we walked down cobblestone streets. We let him order a beer – and drank one with him – as he is of age in Europe. I was intentional about not defining the trip’s brand, but experiencing it as it happened – different: mayonnaise with fries, not ketchup; exciting: the Garmin lead us up a one-way street and into a pedestrian zone; and inspiring: the stories of hope and strength that resonate from the horrors at Auschwitz.
Magdeburg is in the former East Germany. Our son’s host family shared their story of returning home the day before the wall went up and going to bed ‘able to visit friends and family anywhere’ but waking up ‘stuck behind the wall’. Since the fall of the wall they have prospered but are forever impacted by the years of comparative isolation. They rejoice in travel, capitalism and access to endless, good coffee. We had a traditional German breakfast every morning: fresh breads, cheeses, meats, jams and jellies.
We rented a car and drove south to Poland (P). When we crossed the border from Germany (G) and arrived in the small town of Rzepin, the smell of wood-burning stoves was everywhere. Sharing a border with Germany, I assumed my German would come in handy in Poland. That was not the case. English is the second language in Krakow. I worked for hours to memorize niceties in Polish, such as ‘thank you’, ‘good afternoon’ and ‘do you speak English’. The language is tough to learn and more than once I would stammer as I tried to pronounce what felt like 6 vowels or consonants in a row. Everyone we met was polite, encouraging and helpful. I asked the waiters to bring us ‘what the locals eat’ and had wonderful beet soup, pierogi (P), smoked goose (G) (for breakfast), duck and a wonderful assortment of side dishes.
Poland and Germany sit next to each other like Illinois and Indiana but have such diverse and rich cultures, landscapes, customs and foods that they could be separated by thousands of miles. What a waste it would be to try and force one’s brand on the other. What a loss if pierogi (dumplings) were taken over by Knuedel (German dumpling). Both cultures are so wonderfully unique and provide such a rich experience. I made a note to think (and blog) about the importance of brand protection when considering a business acquisition. When we take our time to identify, communicate and protect the unique aspects of a business like we do for a city, region or country, we get the best of both worlds and have the opportunity to recognize and discuss what we can learn from each.
As we left Germany for the U.S. we had a short German breakfast and a long parent-child hug. We’ll see our son via Skype each week and stateside in June. He won’t be the same kid. His brand development is in progress and will be impacted by his experiences abroad and in college. My hope is that he will surround himself with people interested in understanding – not changing – it.
– Becky Sharpe, President & CEO