Oct 11, 2015

work week

What a week!

Work is honestly quite draining. The language is the first problem. The office was apparently for many years only staffed by Germans and most of them are Schwabish, which is a particular dialect of German. It has only been in the past few years that they have hired more foreigners, so the management is still not quite used to the imperfect German, let alone my level of German. I work all day listening to German, responding in German, and reading German, and all of this takes a lot of energy and focus. It's exhausting on top of everything else, like trying to make sure I am doing the right things in the right way.

The office is divided into a few teams. I am on the "planung" or design team, which has five people including me, and two bosses, Herr J and Herr L. The team leader is Apo, our Greek friend. Magda is from Poland, a mother who lives nearby, probably in her mid to late 30s. Cherkez is Romanian, in his 50s, hired a few weeks before I was, and Rafa is my Mexican friend who has been working there many years and who just got his German citizenship.

The office is located in a little village called Kernen, of all about 6 square miles and a regional population of about 15,000. It's one of the big wine-making villages in the area, and lies at the base of a valley covered in vinyards. German urbanism is really different from the sprawl of American in that there are really no suburbs as Americans have, big, low density settled areas. Instead, you jump nearly immediately from countryside and farmland to densely packed individual family homes and rowhouses. So on the twenty minute drive in the morning, I go from basically downtown Stuttgart, through an industrial band, countryside open fields of corn and farmland, and then back into the old village with narrow, winding streets, churches older than the American revolution, and wineries.

The office I work in is actually a converted winery: the owners, Herr and Frau J, live upstairs and the offices are downstairs. The design team actaully works upstairs too, in a small room with windows on all the walls and old exposed wooden columns and rafters. In sharp contrast to the white, stark, open minimalism of my last office with Prof W, this office feels more like a BetterHomes&Gardens photo shoot combined with a wealthy and ecclectic aunt's house.

The kitchen has sleek glass covered built in appliances and cabinets, but there's a watering can in front of the window framed by the grape vines covering the building, and a sign hanging that says in English "Save the Earth, it's the only planet with wine." The bathroom has a small framed advertisement from the 1920s, hanging guest hand towels, and expensive modern design porcelain fixtures.

There is a nosy family beagle who is included on the company website as "security" who wanders through and searches my bag for food when I forget and leave it on the floor.

The kitchen is also usually stocked with pastries from the local bakery, and there is a dangerous drawer and candy bowl filled with candy upstairs.

Despite these homey trappings, however, the atmosphere is pure business. When the bosses are here, we refer to each other as "Herr Lopez" or "Herr Perkins." This a place for business first and foremost, not for experimentation, abstraction, or theory. Deadlines, budgets, and projects are all real. My coworkers are friendly- the rest of the office, not so much beyond the pale courtesy and formality of most Germans.

It's a cultural change for me: less about "German" firms and more about the universal differences between high concept competition driven offices and ones actually doing production drawings. In many ways, it feels like I am back at DWL.

This week I have been working on a small urban real estate development of two residential buildings and an ancient restaurant on a site in the same village. It feels good to be working on floorplans, checking sizes of things, calculating square footages and balancing apartment sizes with numbers of units etc.

Unfortunately, everything is taking longer than expected to do, and my work days are longer than I expected. My typical day last week had my alarm going off at 6:45 and me out the door at 7:30 (which was the time I used to get out of bed). More or less it's an hour commute to the office with Rafa picking me up in the morning by his place, and driving in togther, compared to the 30 minute commute to my last office. I take a half hour lunch, and end work between 5 and 6, and then I am usually back home around 6:30. Between the longer than expected working hours and the long commute, I am on par or worse than my overall working & commuting time at the last office. For now. I need to work on this because technically I am not supposed to work more than 40 hours a week. Fridays are suposed to be half days, but so far, they have been full days.

Anyway, one step at a time. Stück für stück as the Germans say.

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