Klaus Hnilica
Thursday June 1st, 2017

An Outrageous Summing-Up!

He had promised himself that this was going to happen: when he, ’Colonel ’ Vatter – two “t-s”, please – would turn seventy, and if by then he would still be clear-headed, – then he would write a summing-up of his life in front of the entire family clan Vatter, especially in front of his wife Cornelia, his daughter Conny and his son Corni! And since, even in early childhood, he had been given the nickname ’Colonel’, the ’ruthless summing-up of his life’ was a foregone conclusion.

Or rather, it was ’some kind of summing-up’! Just like you also have double accounting!

Basically, it was a dry listing of ’positive’ and ’negative’ assets, including a subsequent ’balancing’, just like on a scale, that was now determined!

Without qualms and totally self-critical, he was going to list under ’positive assets’ everything that he had managed to accomplish in his life and how he had left all losers behind. And, naturally, under ’negative assets’, he was going to list everything that others had failed to accomplish! He was going to list their failures in the most precise and unbiased way, just like all diligent book-keepers traditionally knew that was their duty!

Basically, in his opinion, every upright man should make such a list when he nears the end of his life in a neutral and humble way! A balance sheet of life where you focus as clear as glass and judge your success and other people’s failures.

Even your own family could not be left out of such a balance sheet, provided you wanted to include them.

But then, everything had to be dug up and put on the table. Even if you only had the dining room table – because no other table was big enough. Naturally, this was a nightmare for his much-loved Cornelia: because said dining table was overflowing with stone-hard breakfast eggs, tough steaks, burnt schnitzels, half-cooked chicken legs, mushy beans, hard milk-rice and many, many more ’delicacies’ from her kitchen!

But then, after a short hysterical spell of screaming, she would certainly have calmed down and understood that such a balancing only made sense if it was carried out with the highest possible degree of honesty.

And if on this ’dinner table of life achievements’ space would have become really scarce – since perhaps Conny and Corni, too, would have bashfully added their ’failure packets’ – then he, the ’Colonel’ would certainly have been quite willing to place his ’palette of successes’ underneath the table. After all, there was plenty of space and Conny and Corni would have had an ideal opportunity to learn in a very pedagogic way how the German proverb ’modesty is a virtue’ can be both strikingly demonstrated and lived in practice! And they would have experienced themselves what our Federal Chancellor had recently said when she had talked about ’our values giving us a sense of feeling at home’…

Initially, he had actually believed that this kind of ’life balance sheet’ might well also have been written as an ’interim balance’ focussing on special phases in life. For instance, even as early as on his fiftieth birthday, such a balance could have been written – especially if you looked at his unparalleled career!

But unfortunately, at the time, his well-loved Cornelia had run amok and had, out of the blue, demanded a divorce. Just because, again, she had made an elephant out of a mosquito, this time named Marianne! Mind you, it had been Cornelia herself who had introduced this Marianne to the family. Against the wishes of the ’Colonel ’!

My God, how she had idolized the much younger Marianne! The two were inseparable! And every shopping tour with her had been celebrated like a glimpse of paradise. Cornelia could and would simply not see that the golden Marianne was bringing nothing but discord into the harmonious Vatter family.

Actually, at the time, he, the ’Colonel ’ himself, had to get active and show her once and for all where the limits were that she could not trespass. However, she needed to be shown those limits all the time. It had been really bad – there were days when – hard to believe though it might be – she needed three limits in a row!

Eventually, the ’Colonel ’ had been more than happy when Cornelia finally saw that this Marianne person had to leave. And instantly! However, the idea Cornelia – in some sort of somnambulant shock – had come up with that they needed a divorce, was quite over the top and called for medical treatment. Of course, the ’Colonel’ was more than considerate and thus, to make matters bearable for her, refrained from the aforementioned first ’interim life balance report’ when he turned fifty: After all, among the ’negative assets’, one would have had to write Cornelia’s less than beautiful desire to get a divorce, while, at the time, he would have had to write his advance into the concern management among the ’positive assets’. That would have been the only way for such a documentation to make sense, rather than just becoming a stale re-interpretation of the truth.

But, naturally, he did not want to thus punish Cornelia! She was desperate enough as it was!

The children, too, had been against the idea. Well, they hardly had anything noteworthy to report under ’positive assets’, which would have meant he alone would have appeared there …

No – it had really been quite a good idea at the time from which all parties concerned benefited to refrain from this first ’partial life balancing’. After all, for him, a ’Colonel’ such an omission was definitely bearable!

Following the logic at the time, another chance for an ’interim balancing’ would have been when he had turned sixty! In fact, he had been quite prepared to do so and had already collected and listed loads of material. But then this excruciating data theft became fashionable, where illegally gained information about diverse Swiss accounts had been offered to the German finance system. Since ancient times, the entire world had parked their dirty money on these accounts. And suddenly, everybody who owned perhaps a million or two more was called a tax fraud – and worse!

Naturally, the ’Colonel ’ had to be the shining model for his children Conny and Corni and, by being one of the first who reported himself to the authorities, demonstrate to them that tax fraud was just something you did not do! And that, if your slate was clean, you never had to be afraid that the legal authorities who suddenly started to move all over the place might come after you.

However, when suddenly, one week before his birthday, the finance authority officers had invited themselves for a kind of ’pre-birthday-party’, his much-loved Cornelia opined that, this one time, it was probably a good idea to limit the celebration to the immediate family. Since her nerves were already very tightly strung, the ’Colonel’, naturally, agreed without hesitation. When expressing his gratitude in a few words, he refrained from even the slightest hint at a ’life balancing’. With his tendency towards honesty and unadorned truth, such behaviour would only have stirred up unwelcome dust from his environment. Not to mention the immense problems that the very fragile health of his extremely old mother and his even older father would have caused. Neither of them had long survived the subsequent debacle of the European Financial World – they had each lost too much money …

But now, on his seventieth birthday – the ’life balancing’ was finally going to happen!

At least a short version thereof!

All that would have been inconvenient had now more or less been omitted or made itself obsolete: for instance Cornelia, who, five years ago, had separated from her ’Colonel’ and was now living in Belgium with a musician. Allegedly, Conny was doing well with her family in the USA and Corni was in an important bank director in England.

Well, the problem was actually that now, although nobody was in his way, there was also nobody he could have told about his grandiose successes. Except the two drunken nephews and the cross-eyed cousin he had not talked to in thirty years! And, of course, Marianne, with whom he had now lived for six years, because she had never given up her habit of breaking down all obstacles that blocked her path!

Marianne, however, although she was a wonderfully attractive lady, had not the slightest bit of understanding for his, as she called it, almost ’sickly chronic self-indulgence’: on the contrary, she herself wanted to be admired! And all those silly memories from the past were things she certainly could not have cared less about!
But if he, the ’Colonel’ felt that he needed to give a life balancing, then why did he not himself write down his great life achievement. Quasi as a last will for the entire Vatter family. And now he also had time, didn’t he?

With these words, she pressed a brand-new, lockable, leather-bound note book into the hands of her ’Colonel ’ – hands that were overflowing with age spots. She added a quick kiss on the dried-up wrinkles of a forehead that already reached to the nape of his neck.

If, however, this was too much of an effort for him, whispered Marianne, then he could feel free to tell his entire life balancing story to Inge the cleaning lady who, as always, was going to care well for him: since she turned off her hearing aid most of the time anyway, it was a good idea to tell her about his great life on a daily basis –and in the process, he could include all his small, big and even bigger indecencies in detail! Wasn’t this a great way to spend the day for a man in his prime! And – without catching air – she happily told him that now, in a real hurry, she had to be on her way to the airport, since she was flying to the Algarve with their daughter Carola to play golf! Even from the already open door, she managed to send an entire salve of the hottest kisses towards her ’Colonel ’ …

(Translated by EG)

Roland Dürre
Monday January 23rd, 2017

Inflation in Local Traffic

I did not pay too much attention to the latest Deutsche Bahn price increase at the time when the schedule changed from summer to winter. I just had made a mental note that the “Deutsche Bahn increases its prices for long-distance travelling by 1.3 per cent on average”. That is what the SZ, too, had written.

The Shuttle Munich-Nuremberg Today on Arrival at Nuremberg.

But it turns out that was a myth!

On Saturday, I wanted to go to Augsburg with three other persons. So I ordered a Bayern-Ticket on the internet. My eyes almost pop out: it now costs 25 €. A very short time ago, it was 23 €. That means it is more expensive by 2 €, which is an increase of around 9 %.

Well, I can survive that, can’t I? But then comes the other surprise: all travellers sharing my ticket (up to four are possible) used to cost 5 € per person. Now they cost 6 € per person. That is 20 % more.

Consequently, the Bayern Ticket for our small group is now 25 € plus three persons à 6 €, which is 25 € plus 18 €, in sum 43 €. Well, that is no less than the price I occasionally pay for two long-distance DB tickets to Sylt (for instance in February).

Formerly, I paid 23 € plus 3 persons times 5 €, which was 38 €. Consequently, the price for the four of us increased from 38 € to 43 €. Well that is 5 € more, which means an increase of 13 %.

I also admire the “rounded prices” they so easily come up with. To be sure, cents are inconvenient and more and more shops simply round the sum when you purchase products. But simply obscuring the first digit after the comma – after all, we are talking 10 cents, that used to be 20 Pfennige – is a little strange to my way of thinking.

Incidentally, there is also an inflation on special tickets for all kinds of things: with and without local traffic in transport associations, for special regions, between cities or for a maximum distance. This is how they make everything more complicated. And if you include the basic moon prices and the similarly introduced low prices (special offers in long-distance travel), then the price policy of Deutsche Bank gets more and more bizarre.

This is how empty the shuttle looks at 4 p.m. – I always carry my chrome book.

However, I only get annoyed once in a while and later continue going places by train, because, for me, there is simply no alternative to railways. Consequently, I am also going to Nuremberg and back with the Bayern Ticket today after having paid my 25 €. After all, the train is a good place to sit and answer all your emails and write all your articles. That is something you cannot do when driving a car.

Basically, driving a car is out of the question for me these days. According to social research, the majority of our people are embittered. I, too, would be bitter if I had to spend one or more hours behind the wheel of car each day. I prefer going by train and enjoy seeing how google waits in front of the A9 traffic jam. It is my morbid delight in the failure of a stupid system.

Going by bus would be an alternative to going by train. But that is not my idea of travelling. I am a little spoiled because of the mostly rather empty DB region trains and do not enjoy being squeezed into narrow busses that are often forced over the streets of this republic in self-suicidal mode by their drivers. Besides, meinBus and flixBus had to cut their networks considerably and drop quite a few connections from their list of destinations, because the venture capitalists who own the companies no longer felt like permanently making up for the deficit.

So here is what I will do: I will continue to go by train and hope that the density of train services with the resulting mostly empty trains will remain the normal state of affairs. …

Incidentally, the German railway is not the only company where these enormous price increases can be observed. You can also find it in public institutions and quality food, as well as with some everyday articles. And in real estate.

Yet now I hear that, allegedly, the inflation rate is still less than 2 %. Basically, I do not believe they lie to us on purpose. But I certainly do not believe the 1,X % – and I think they are not really interested in telling us that our savings dwindle. Which also means that the chasm between the rich and the poor continues to grow. We already have ample opportunity to see the consequences and can speculate on more of them to come.

(Translated by EG)

The shuttle to Munich on January, 23rd, 2017 at Nuremberg Central Station, platform 12.

Roland Dürre
Tuesday January 10th, 2017

BICYCLE Culture – an Interview with Roland Dürre

I basically know Franziska Köppe from the EnjoyWorkCamp. It is a very nice barcamp promoting a new understanding of work that is held annually in Stuttgart. Franziska interviewed me about my bicycle enthusiasm. The result is something that is very important in my life – which is why I revised it a little bit and then saved it in my IF blog, as well. However, I tried to leave those parts that came from Franziska as they were in the original version.


Active Mobility – Promotion and Request

January, 3rd, 2017 – Are car drivers the coachman of our times? Mobility is undergoing change. Since the 1950ies, the automobile industry has been strongly promoted – especially by politicians. The sector is said to be “system relevant’”. It is closely linked to many providers, as well as with traffic planning and lobbyism. But is that “system relevant”? Start-ups and the crowd economy, as well as cultural changes with respect to the behaviour of not only our young generation threaten conventional business models. I talked about bicycle culture and his own contribution towards our future mobility with the entrepreneur and mobility activist Roland Dürre.
(introduction by Franziska)


The Interview

Franziska: Hallo Roland, please introduce yourself to our readers. Who are you and what exactly do you do?

Roland: I do not know who I am. It feels to me like I am a human being, an activist, a blogger, a coach, a maker, an entrepreneur. I love life and my family. I try to be courageous and to very much enjoy what I do. After my retirement from the InterFace AG, it is – even more than before – my task to hand down experience and, if possible, to help others – especially younger persons – to become happy and successful. I am grateful for all the beautiful things I experienced in my life and will be happy if this gratefulness will further increase during my remaining years.

Franziska: One of your passions is riding your bicycle. What is the meaning of the word BICYCLE culture for you? What connotations does it have in your life?

Roland: Both culture and RIDING my BICYCLE are beautiful things. They go together well!
But let us look at what car culture brought us. Driving a car, I am totally isolated from everything that is outside my car. Other people become anonymous objects in other cars. I actually know people who, conscious of their own isolation when sitting behind the wheel of their car, use swear words they would never use in their normal environment. That is something I can easily understand.

Riding my bicycle, I am used to greeting cyclists I encounter. When standing at a red traffic light, I often start a conversation with persons riding on the bike next to me. I try to be considerate. As I see it, pedestrians should always have right of way before cyclists. But then, cyclists should also have right of way before cars.

Riding my bike, I see more that is happening around me. That is true both if I am on a bike journey in foreign countries and in Germany. Social contacts are quickly established. Riding my bicycle, however, I also see how many animals, such as toads, cats and dogs are killed by cars. It always makes my heart bleed.

Consequently, I see a correlation between driving a car and being ruthless and inconsiderate. Whatever is in the way of a car will be killed. Carbon dioxide is emitted, fine dust produced – and it all happens just because people want to be comfortable. It is normal to have 1.400,000 million fatalities world-wide, because you cannot do without a car. But the truth is: you can! I experienced it in a self-experiment. And you definitely feel better without a car.

Here is a cultural provocation: Car drivers are the coachmen of our times. Coachmen were not very well-liked, because whenever any of the common citizens were in their way as they drove through the narrow streets of the cities, they used their whips to beat them out of the way. In those days, coachmen were considered “scum and riff-raff?!

BICYCLE culture – a quiet and clean world with happier and healthier people.

Franziska: It is probably true that most of us – especially those living in big cities – consider mobility as something that has to be connected with a car. Mind you, not too long ago, it was a matter of course that people went by bicycle whenever they had to go somewhere that was more than five kilometre away. Let us return to bicycles. What kind of world would come to mind if you were permitted to dream BICYCLE culture?

Roland: A quiet and clean world with happier and healthier people. From a change in mobility concepts, progress in other areas of life would automatically develop. One of the things I like to say is: If someone cannot even get a grip on his or her mobility, how are they supposed to get a grip on their entire lives? After all, you cannot get anywhere without the “desire and ability to live a responsible life”.

Roland Dürre on his way from Salerno to Pisciotta

Franziska: So far so good. Except that the reality in everyday life does not look quite so blue and rosy. You already said it: That is one of the reasons why you are actively promoting “active motility”– AktMob, as you call it  ..

Roland: That is true. I know many streets in Munich where it is no fun at all to ride a bicycle. And on my big tours, it also happens time and again that I have to struggle through a street where I am really afraid I might die.

Mind you, AktMob is not just about riding a bicycle. It is about any sort of mobility that is not horse-drawn carriages, combustion motors or electronic cars. All that matters is that you are moving under your own steam. Be it with roller-blades, skate boards, hiking or using the

Franziska: In the traffic sector, cars as individual means of transportation have been promoted since the 1950ies. It was based on the political concept of the economic boom in Germany. Unfortunately, even this short time was enough to make our cities inhuman. Strange as it may seem, pedestrians and cyclist no longer belong to traffic in the cultural sense. Especially a look at kindergardens and schools every morning shows how absurd this sometimes is: children are driven by car because, due to all that traffic, it would be too dangerous for them to walk. How grotesque is that?

Cars as status symbols in the economic boom world.

Roland: What a good example! Cars were, indeed, not just an object that took you from A to B – especially for men. As soon as you had a driver’s licence and a car, you were at long last grown-up. It is certainly not totally wrong to call a car a phallic symbol. And sitting behind the steering wheel of a vehicle, men in particular feel omnipotent. Can you imagine anybody not liking that feeling?

But even more than that, the car was a status symbol in the economic boom world for Germany and the world where everybody was recuperating. The car is perhaps the best metaphor for bought happiness as a substitute for needs not being met.

When we were still young men and had no cars, we always got the impression that the beautiful young girls clearly preferred the men who owned cars – while they looked down their noses upon us non-car owners.

But the car was also a symbol for freedom – like the cigarette. And it was also a new private space – in the US, for instance, they say that there were several years during which more than half of the children were made on the backseats of cars. Even the Kinsey report said so. And these motorized vehicles certainly also were a nice thing when it came to our laziness. Well, and that such a god-like vehicle – especially when its marketing was also optimal and emotional – won over everything else is rather clear, isn’t it?

The critical mass – riding bicycles together

Franziska: With activities “We Are Traffic”, there are so-called Critical Masses on a monthly basis, both in Germany and world-wide. Cyclists make use of §27 of the StVO, which says that, as soon as they are more than 15 (critical mass), they may drive together. I am quite happy that this movement gets more and more popular in D-A-CH. For instance, it was a peaceful and joyful event for 3,290 cyclists last November in Germany. This year in July, the number had even increased to 13,371 [source: Daniel via itstartedwithafight]. Everybody can join – even if they only want to ride a short part of the way.

© Radlhauptstadt München – cyclists’ night 2016 [picture taken by Andreas Schebesta

Roland: I rather like Critical Mass! In particular, I appreciate the movement because it seems to be truly grass-root. And I am convinced that the only way to cause change is “from the bottom”. Politics and administration are paralyzed by lobbyists and their own rules and have neither a chance nor the desire to try anything. But – without someone trying something, nothing will happen!

Franziska: And yet you can find some bicycle enthusiast among the politicians, too. For instance look at your hometown. The city of Munich aspires to being called bicycle capital. This is also due to the commitment of Wigand von Sassen, who has now been responsible for the city bicycle campaign project since March 2009. Since they started with intense bicycle promotion, there has been a considerable increase in the relative number of cyclists among the total traffic. For instance, there are regular bike checks where you can have small repairs for free. In October, you had the cyclists’ night, in September the RadCouture… This is a lot of commitment in favour of BICYCLE culture. It shows a lot of courage and stamina.

But let us think in more modest terms. What can every one of us do? You do not always need grand gestures.

Driving a car – nothing but a bad habit?

Roland: It is definitely time for something to happen. However, I do not think the higher percentage of bicycles is due to an “intense” promotion of bicycles. In fact, I think that more and more persons discover that there are better ways of being mobile than using a car and also that a car eats up a lot of money. I see all those many cars as a prosperity reserve for the future where many of us will feel more “tightness”.

Driving a car is nothing but a bad habit. Basically, it is necessary for us to be willing and able to change our habits. Smoking is a good metaphor for the process. It is not easy and for many smokers unthinkable to become a non-smoker. And then you can do it against all the odds – and you will quickly feel a lot better.

Currently, I myself am a good example for how hard it is to change patterns you were used to and actually liked. On regional trips up to thirty kilometres, I only go by bike. But unfortunately also for short distances. So my personal mobility program is now “get off your bike and back to walking”. I want to do more hiking. And it is very hard for me to give up the old habit and not automatically mount my bicycle, even if I only have to go a short distance.

Franziska: It is certainly not easy to change behavioural patterns. When I was still an employee, I found it easy to mount my bicycle every morning and ride to the firm. To this day, it is not a problem for me to take the bike when I have business meetings (except if they are too far away, then I use public transportation).

It was easy for me because I knew I had to be there no matter what. But ever since I work in my home office, I find it very hard to mount the bicycle every day – just because I want the exercise. The requirement of having to go from A to B is missing. That makes it more natural for me to do my hiking round through the vineyards in the evening. It gives me peace to ponder and structure the day’s ideas.

Now I integrate this exercise into my working day. On the one hand, I offer public network meetings. We call it Walk to Talk. We meet at a green place and see what topics everybody brought. And then we run through urban greenery for 90 to 120 minutes.

I particularly delight in the fact that the people I coach, my mentees and my supervision partners appreciate this way of talking just like I do. That means that I can enjoy this exciting discourse surrounded by greenery (“Gehsprächs” im Grünen) between four and six times each month. But I would not object to it becoming more.

Incidentally, I would recommend this format to everybody – especially as a welcome deviation from meetings that far too often happen in closed rooms and sitting down. Which brings us to the topic work world = life world.

You have been an entrepreneur for a long time. What can a boss do in order to promote a BICYCLE culture? What are the important factors?

BICYCLE culture in the mobility and health management of enterprises – not an easy task for the boss

Roland (laughs): That is not at all easy. I am sure the most important factor is that you do not offer business cars as an allegedly attractive part of the salary. Unfortunately, I did it up from 1984. The InterFace AG has far too many so-called “business cars”. And it is not at all easy to take away acquired rights.

Services such as bicycle racks with roofs and/or showers in the basement are to be recommended. And you have to be a good example yourself. You have to infect people with your own enthusiasm for bicycles and for riding bikes.

Franziska: Riding bicycles is, indeed, catching. The last time I made that experience was when, in the company I last worked for, we founded an everyday cycling group. It worked like a bus line. The experienced cyclists offered to ride alongside the beginners. In no time, we had an ad-hoc bicycle repair shop and organized (after work) bike tours. Through joining in, I learned about shortcuts and secure routes to work, as well as all kinds of bike tricks.

It filled me with pride to notice how much I already knew after some time and how I could advise others. That was a huge motivation boost towards also surviving the wet-cold rain days with temperatures around the freezing point. There are considerably more dry days than rainy days. And as soon as you are on your way and have ample rain protective gear – the rain does not matter anyway. That is also something I only found out through riding my bike on a daily basis. Mind you, this is still not considering all the many natural panoramas and the intense experience of the seasons of the year.

In your experience, what is it that makes active mobility in everyday life hard or impossible? What – perhaps small – helpful advice can you give to overcome those obstacles?

Roland: Many things come to mind. There is, for instance, the wrong belief that children and heavy objects can only be transported by car. That is not true. Children are happier on the bicycle than in a car. Shopping is a lot easier if you take a bike trailer or a cargo bike instead of a car. Even two bike panniers will go quite some way.

Regularly taking a look at your mirror and your weight, perhaps even at your blood pressure, will soon convince you that it makes sense to exercise more often.

Franziska (laughs): Correct!

Let us get back to entrepreneurial thinking. Since many employees are determined by numbers, data and facts, I am often expected to ask about it. What advantages do you see for the boss to consider “active mobility”?

Roland: Well – it has been proved that persons who exercise regularly in fresh air have considerably fewer sick days. Isn’t that something to convince you? They will also arrive at work in a better mood and more emotionally balanced. And riding a bike also gives them an enormous amount of creativity.

Strong together – AktMob promotes active mobility in everyday life.

Franziska: Early in 2016, you had the AktMobCmp in Unterhaching in order to bring active persons around “active mobility in everyday life” together. In 2017, you will organize evening events and the next AktMobCmp is also currently being organized. What are the topics you will discuss there? Who were – and who are – the participants?

Roland: The invitation addresses everyone who thinks in terms of taking responsibility for our future. The way we think about mobility directly reflects on our way of life. AktMobCmp is a BarCamp – which means we do not know the topics and sessions in advance. This openness, however, makes it possible to get many nice and tangible results on the personal level.
AktMobCmp 2016 — BarCamp for active mobility in everyday life.

Franziska: In other words, you organize and moderate the ActMobCmp as a BarCamp in order to provide space for everybody’s topics. What is special about this particular event format?
Roland: The Barcamp format is characterized by the persons who come organizing their meeting and their sessions according to their individual needs. There are no invited presentations that have been selected by a committee. Everyone is allowed and supposed to contribute. The organizing team only has the role of host who makes it possible to meet at all. The social control is with the participants. I already experienced several times how a session that was abused for marketing purposes was empty in no time.

Franziska: And then there are sessions where humans are made to work intensely and productively in order to solve a shared problem. That is what I like about BarCamps. Especially if the organizers believe in the self-organization and self-control of the participants practiced in those anti-conferences.

For you, this belief grew over the last few years because you experienced it yourself. Because this AktMobCmp is not the first BarCamp you have organized. You are one of the fathers of the PM Camp movement that brings together people all over Europe who exchange ideas on project work. What fascinates you about the BarCamp idea?

Roland: The great thing about BarCamps is that you discover many new things. After all, all the participants are willing to open up and share their knowledge. As a general rule, all participants will go home happy and richer. What you experience will continue to have an effect on you. You have made new friends with whom you remain in contact. This is how, on BarCamps, humans and movements are linked and thus gaining more and more strength.

Franziska: I know exactly what you mean! Since some of my readers are BarCamp newcomers, can you give a few examples?

Roland: Well, there are movements such as eye-level (Augenhöhe),  intrinsify.meEnjoyWork with EnjoyWorkCamp, entrepreneurial democrats (Unternehmensdemokraten), common good economists (Gemeinwohlökonomie) and many more, all of whom I met at BarCamps. Along with those who support and promote them. This is how I made new friends at BarCamps, for instance  Nadja Petranovskaja, Dr. Andreas Zeuch, Dr. Eberhard Huber, Gebhard Borck, Dr. Jens Hoffmann, Maik Pfingsten, Dr. Marcus Rainer, Dr. Niels Pflaeging, Roger Dannenhauer, Dr. Stefan Hagen and many, many more.

We, too, first met at a BarCamp (EnjoyWorkCamp?) didn’t we? You will find posts, podcasts and videos of all these persons online. Reading those will automatically make you understand why you need to connect yourself with others and do things together.

Franziska: I think the first time we met was at the Dornbirn PM Camp. But our first really intense discussion was during the “EnjoyWork” initiative. Consequently, I find it even more exciting to have gone into more detail about a few topics we share. Many thanks, Roland, for the exchange of experience.

I wish you well and for your ACtMob to be a huge success – and a good bike-chain at all times.

Roland: Many thanks – it was a true pleasure!

(Translated by EG)

Some more links:

Guido Bruch commented on my article
#Digitalization – The “Ethics” of IT and “Artificial Intelligence“
(#Digitalisierung – Die „Ethik“ von IT und „Künstlicher Intelligenz“)
Here it is:

In the book “Silicon Germany”, the ethical dimension is discussed. Here is an example: a child runs onto the street from the right side. On the left, an elderly person is walking with a walking frame. Humans behind a wheel would decide either at random or consciously whom to run down if they cannot stop their car in time. But then, what to tell a machine to do? Should we always protect the child and thus select (and this with Germany’s past?) or should there be a random generator? I think this is what it is all about.

But I am sure these are all just theoretical questions, since the number of potential accidents is probably small. The topic would probably solve itself. Have there ever been these kinds of accidents?

Another question is what the car manufacturers will do if the request changes from country to country? For instance if some Golf countries say they want to protect the natives at all costs and instead sacrifice foreign labour?

Many thanks to Guido. His article gave me many associated and emotional ideas:

The problem is that a program that is supposed to follow a balancing ethics has to have an evaluation matrix with calculable rules that can evaluate the value of human life through a well-defined systematics, covering all cases in several dimensions.

In other words, you would suddenly have to evaluate and classify the age and gender, but also the education, function and social responsibility of a person and much more. And thus you would have to reach a “personal value number” that makes it possible to calculate the relation between an individual and the set of all humans. Similar to the mathematical value “bigger than“ for whole numbers.

(In theory, you will then not have room for “equal” or “equal-same”, because that would probably mean you need a random generator, after all.)

If you continue in this way, then you will also have to think about such a relation as “bigger” in terms of a set of humans at any time and decide about one of them being the most important and one the least important.

Totally mathematically. To me, this entire discussion seems absolutely useless, even if you will find it in the book Silicon Germany.

Incidentally, this has been regulated for persons living in the FRG a long time ago. We have a constitution that clearly states that all men are equal. Consequently, an absurd metric that would algorithmically determine the “value of a person” is not permissible.

So what “ethical” definitions should a machine follow?

Here is an example:
Guido writes – and immediately doubts – that one might come up with the idea of always saving the child. Then the first question would, of course, be: what to do if you have to decide between two children?

Quite apart from the fact that this would define a two-class society: children versus the rest of society. But then, how do we define “child”? By age, size, weight, maturity? And what about a mother as part of the “rest” if she is nine months pregnant? Perhaps she is two persons – one child and one rest? I also think the “rest” would vehemently oppose this kind of regulation.

Incidentally, the dilemma is very old. What to do if, shortly before the birth, they discover that the mother would die giving birth to a baby that might live? And that the mother can only be saved by killing the baby? This is a mental experiment that actually happens in real life. And, of course, you can extend it by telling people, for instance, that the mother has two more small children (and a husband…). Can this kind of thing be forced into a series of rules that a machine could work with? Of course, the answer is: no!

Here are a few examples with which I would like to show the absurdity:

Who is worth more?

  • The Federal Chancellor or the leader of the German Soccer Team?
  • A CSU county representative or an SPD federal representative?
  • An entrepreneur or a politician?
  • A German or a Frenchman (depending on where)?
  • An integrated citizen with white skin or a dark-skinned asylum seeker?
  • A young man or an elderly lady?
  • The person sitting in one car controlled by a robot or the person sitting in the car controlled by another robot coming from the opposite side?
  • Or, to be cynical: robot A has been installed by BMW. Potential accident cars are another BMW and a Mercedes. Should he ram the BMW or the Mercedes?

You can produce these examples in huge quantities. But to what end? Except in order to demonstrate how it does not make sense at all?
Let me give you a few seemingly harmless examples: cat against dog, which is of higher value? The strangling dog or the pedigree animal owned by the opera star? Or – just to top all absurdity: what should the car roll over if there is a choice between the “common German toad on its way” and a “run-away Greek tortoise”?
(Please note: when I ride my bike, it always hurts me to see all those run-over toads and in Greece all those run-over tortoises).

Most persons propose you could use a random generator for these decisions. After all, it would not really be activated very often, would it? This sounds rather pragmatic. Why not?

Incidentally, the great Isaac Asimov solves the problem quite easily in his SF work: as soon as a robot threatens to do damage to a human, the system will block itself following the three robotics rules, thereby being destroyed once and for all. But he, too, soon discovers that his proposal has a glitch (incidentally, it is from the 1940ies).
The glitch is:
What are the characteristics by which a computer identifies the human being? At one time, this seems to be the dialect of the Solaris “spacers“. Aurora “spacers” seem to have huge problem with it. And the same is true for the “settlers“. And consequently, the Solaris robots start killing intruders – even if those intruders are humans.

🙂 Here is what I propose: why don’t we take the Bavarian dialect as a determining factor whether or not someone is human? Even the big Bavarian party might want to make this idea part of its program…

However, when it comes to autonomous cars, the “laws of robotics” will not help either. It can only work if the car is driving empty :-).

No, the ethics commission for autonomous driving is nonsense – just like most ethics commissions and discussions.

To be sure, I would wish for an ethics commission for drones and war robots. However, the result of those commissions seems as clear as the fact that those who have all the power would ignore it anyway.

Another ethics commission I could easily imagine is one that answers the question if it should be allowed for private institutions (concerns such as google, amazon …, but also lobbyism as practiced in many sectors, up to private armies employed by some enterprises) to get such power as has never existed in society, in extreme cases even including psychological and even physical violence. In some cases, there should probably be a discussion about a violation of the “federal monopoly of violence”.

Except that it is absolutely clear to me that the result of such a commission could only be a clear “NO”, which would, however, be likewise ignored.

Ethics will not help when we try to solve our problems. Especially not if it is supposed to be generated by a commission. What we need is human wisdom. I always like citations by Bertrand Russell:

» All technological growth, provided said growth causes an increase, rather than a decrease of human happiness, will give us growth in wisdom.«

And, unfortunately, ethics will not at all help us to become wiser. On the contrary: it is more conducive to distracting us from wisdom.

In particular, ethics will not at all help with “autonomous systems”. It is my personal consolation that, as far as I know, there has not been a single event with track-bound traffic where “mental experiments” such as the trolley dilemma, ever happened. Consequently, there is no need to worry too much.

Perhaps the following ideas will help:

Railway tracks are made of iron. In the iron age, they were used in order to transport persons and products from A to B. The autonomous car is a result of IT. Consequently, it is a little more modern, quasi running on “tracks made of software and computers”.

And in doing so it makes use of an infra structure that was the only one to have established itself on a world-wide scale: flattened ways in concrete, also known as street network. That is why it can not only transport humans and goods on tracks along the line between A and B (A and B being fixed stations), but also between X and Y (X and Y are now variable end points that can be reached via street).

And in former times, the railway was twice redundant. First, it had to set a recovery for a “basically impossible” error. For cases when this failed, a second level was generated in order to avoid the maximum accident even for a twice “impossible” error.

Consequently, it is our task as engineers to guarantee the highest possible degree of error free roads. We should create a first “redundancy” that covers the “impossible error”. And then we should create an extra safety level, as the railway used to have it.

This is how you make errors as unlikely as possible. That is the mission!

The ethics discussion is intellectual onanism. It seems to me that politics try to deflect our attention from relevant and very uncomfortable questions about digitalization (incidentally, I ask those questions in my presentations). This is how it is abused as election campaign instrument. Politics want to make the citizen believe he has a high competence and responsibility. The goal is to win as many points in the electoral campaign.
(Translated by EG)

There is only one instance when I remember an ethics commission coming up with a reasonable result. A few decades ago, there was a lot of discussion about the §217 (abortion). At the time, the ethics commission had the idea that abortion should continue to be illegal, but that there should be no punishment. As I see it, this was not a bad idea. After all, it also became the basis of the new abortion law.

But do you really need an ethics commission for this kind of thing? In his “Dreigroschenoper”, Bert Brecht says:

You must not punish too severely those who acted illegally! 
This will help the persons concerned, because there is no punishment. But it will not help with the decision making process. Because it will always happen in the hearts and heads of the parties concerned.

The Federal Minister of Transportation and Traffic, Alexander Dobrindt followed the mandate of the Federal Cabinet and his Chancellor and constituted an Ethics Commission . Among other things, it is supposed to clarify whose liability it is if an autonomous vehicle causes an accident – the driver’s or the manufacturer’s.

After all, it is quite possible that one of those crazy autonomous computers will cause an accident because they made the car speed! Who will then get the ticket – or even the complaint?

However, the ethics commission is also supposed to find out if there are ethical norms which the autonomous vehicle has to adhere to in conflict situations. The former Federal Constitutional judge Udo di Fabio will preside over the commission. The minister gave the “Wirtschaftswoche” an interview about it.

11348857_10206989802848252_348583267_oEver since my first seminar with Rupert Lay in the early 1980ies, ethics has been something that interested me very much. As I understand it, ethics is also concerned with moral dilemmas. One of the fundamental examples is the Trolley-Problem (Trolley-Problem).

Let me cite a Wikipedia Article:

Due to a wrong switch stand, a freight train is threatening to collide with a stationary train full of passengers. A worker discovers the threat and moves the switch in such a way that the freight train will end up on an auxiliary track where it runs into a group of maintenance workers, all of whom die. How accountable is the person who moved the switch?

Welzel is said to have asked this question in 1951. In the following years, up until today, many “mental experiments” of this or a similar nature were formulated. One of the most acute, at least one of those that impressed me most, is the following:

A doctor has ten patient waiting in his medical practice. Every one of them is at death’s door because one of his inner organs (a different one for each patient) is completely destroyed. In order to get well, they all need an “organ donation” immediately. But there is no chance that any organs will be available.

By chance, a healthy person enters the practice. He has all the organs the doctor would need in order to save all his patients. Should the doctor kill the man in order to save all the other ten?

Well, the example brings the topic to a culmination. Regardless of it ethically being absolutely within the scope of consideration to kill one person in order to save ten, most people will consider this solution completely inacceptable. Why? Perhaps because then nobody would ever again dare to go and “see the doctor”.

To me, this seems the real purpose of moral: we want to make things we are afraid of impossible. Things that we want to avoid at all costs. Consequently, those are the things where you have to say: this is a no-go! The very idea is a taboo.

For me, this “mental experiment” is so valuable because perhaps it teaches us what lies behind morals (You do not do this!).

The public television channels, too, are now concerned with ethics. On October, 17th, 2016, the ARD broadcast the TV experiment “Terror – Your Verdict“. And then they asked the audience to decide how the film ends (guilty or not guilty for the pilot with the ethical dilemma). However, the critical voices I read afterwards were not really enthusiastic about the experiment.

Incidentally, I find the doctor example a lot more realistic than the one with the trolley. I imagine that doctors will actually once in a while be faced with this sort of dilemma, for instance if, after a catastrophe such as the Bad Aibling train crash, they have to decide what patients to help first. Even if this, too, is a lame example.

Let us go back to all those mental experiments with trolleys, trams, freight trains, etc. They are all rather exciting material for an intellectual discussion. But for practical application, it all seems extremely useless to me.

All those constructs originate in examples with traffic that is bound by tracks. However, I never heard of a single event where something like this happened in reality. Which means that no worker in transportation world-wide ever was confronted with this kind of situation. So we actually discuss and work intellectually and ethically with pure mind games.

In week-end SZ edition, you can find a well-written “digital” article about the Bad Aibling train accident. Twelve persons were killed and 89 wounded on the morning of February, 9th. The digital article is titled
Chronologie eines vermeidbaren Unglücks
(Chronology of an accident that could have been avoided).
I strongly recommend that you read the article by clicking on the link.

This shows that reality looks totally different. Especially if you have an accident situation. We learn that:

  • With those electronic signal-boxes that are technologically up-to-date as far as DB standards are concerned, the station inspector would have been notified of his first ok-signal a lot more sternly: at least by a thick, red, sparkling arrow. However, there is no such display at the Bad Aibling signal-box, because the technology was older. This was a safety risk the Deutsche Bahn had long been aware of. An internal guideline would have recommended as early as in the 1980ies that the relay signal-box should be updated. If the signal-box had been “digitalized” to meet the “current state of technology”, there might have been a good chance that the accident would not have happened. A complete digitalization would probably have prevented the entire accident. Maybe we should discuss if that is ethical?

What else do we learn?

  • Shift work is not a good thing! 
The station inspector had started work at 5 a.m. The way from his family residence on a farm to his place of work at Bad Aibling – ten kilometres west of Rosenheim – is forty-five minutes. Due to a storm the German Weather Service had announced during the night, the station inspector had probably left home even earlier than usual. This makes me assume that his alarm clock will have rung around 3.00 a.m. In other words: he cannot have had a very long night. 
Shift work is always a problem. It is detrimental for your health. There are many studies that prove this fact. And whenever I sit in an S-Bahn train early in the morning (with which I mean before 6.00 a.m.), I only see grey faces (except those of the young girls and boys who enter at Ostbahnhof on their way home from the “Kunstpark Ost”). And all those people are not really at their best at this time of day. At least I am not. But here the good news:  
Computers (digital systems) do not mind night shifts!

We also learn that you should not play computer games when working.

  • Computer games are dangerous! 
At 5.11 a.m., the station inspector starts the video game “Dungeon Hunter 5“ on his smartphone. In the virtual role play, he is hunting monsters and villains as reward hunter. It says in the railway service regulations that station inspectors may use their smartphones at work when it is necessary for their job. Games are explicitly forbidden. And everybody will immediately say that, of course, computer games are not allowed at work. 
But is that realistic? Who abides by the rule? After all, we get more and more standby work places. The best example is the extremely well-paid job of the pilot. They are top earners and their job is tough. Shifting work schedules, night shifts, climate changes, etc. 
Except that they told me that the average pilot of a long-distance flight of around eight hours only has two five-minute intervals during which he actually has to work hard. So what to do during all the other hours? Drink? Well, that is something you are not allowed to do. So the only thing you can do is play. I also remember well all the fairs I attended where the bored personnel enjoyed playing solitaire on their PCs – and I freely admit that I, too, had a time when I was solitaire addicted. Mind you, this is not because of the game addiction. Anybody can get game addicted. Instead, it is because this game was probably the reason why Windows ever became great. The good news is again: 
Computers (digital systems) do not play! They focus on their work!

That is why I believe we should – first and foremost – get digitalization well under way in order to make life healthier and safer.

Except – the cars of the future are now supposed to solve these problems by using programs – at least that is what the ethics commission thinks. And they have to decide which cyclist is to be victimized if in a situation (mental experiment!) there is a choice between killing one or the other cyclist. Let us assume the one cyclist is a man riding without a helmet. The other cyclist is a woman wearing a helmet. Should the system decide that the woman will be overrun because – due to her helmet – she has the better chance at survival? Or the man as punishment for not wearing his helmet? Or should they base the decision on gender or age? Or on what social responsibility the man or the woman has …

To me, this all looks like nonsense. Consequently, I do not appreciate the Dobrindt ethics commission. As likely as not, it is just another small piece in the mosaic for the next election race with which the Big Coalition wants to show what important topics it – as the only administration world-wide, just like with data security – has been tackling so courageously and prudently, thus having a particularly responsible position in digitalization. Even if such a position is actually far from reality in current times.
Someone once said: all politicians talk digital change and throw terms such as block chain and big data around. Yet they have no idea what those terms mean! Just like they want reforms but no change (reform is violence-free change). And innovation is promoted, but nobody promotes destruction. Except: innovation is basically nothing other than creative destruction. I always get the impression that politicians who hear stories of bloggers and blogs always secretly contact the block warden in order to prevent things from happening.

If at all, I would wish for an ethics commission in the ministry of Frau van der Leyen. Such a commission could relate how ethically desirable the use of fighting drones and robots  is, for instance, for freely killing humans. The problem that the internet runs following the motto “the winner takes it all” and the question if it is ethical that some day a concern like google might determine the world alphabet are perhaps useful commission topics. Why not for the Ministry of Trade and Social Relations?

(Translated by EG)

Roland Dürre
Thursday September 8th, 2016

HELLO WORLD – An Open Letter – #PEACE

Symbol of westeuropean peace movement

Symbol of west european peace movement.

A short time ago, I had a great conversation with someone I hold in very high esteem and learned to love. I want to recruit him for our project PEACE. A day after our conversation, I sent him a letter – here is what I wrote.

My dear friend!

Now that one night has passed since we met, I would like to thank you again for yesterday’s conversation.

You asked the right and important questions. That is of high value. Because you will only find solutions if you have asked the right questions.
Here is my attempt at giving a short answer to your wise questions about the project PEACE (why and how):

For me, PEACE is the general metaphor for the opposite of what, in my opinion, is wrong in our society.
All over the world (with very few, rather dubious exceptions), an economic system that manipulates people is pre-dominant. It puts “shareholder value” and the increase of wealth for the acting agents over all else in unprecedented consistency. War, too, serves as a means to this end.

This system could not care less about the well-being, the physical and emotional health of the humans and also about our planet. I can prove this for many sectors, also due to the special insights I have gained through my network.

Among my sources – just to give an example – are discussions with managing directors of a very relevant pharmaceutical concern I cooperate with in a research project. And if I then take a look at the current evaluation of the newest pharmaceutical projects (one out of 23 is labelled green, few orange and more than half of them are labelled red), I know exactly why that is so (see yesterday’s SZ).

Unfortunately, this is true for many (perhaps even all) sectors, be it healthcare in general, food, energy, finances (banks and insurances), raw materials, merchandize, cars, communication, technology … Of course, it goes without saying that the weapons industry is also among them.

And (unfortunately) this is no conspiracy theory but can be proved by facts.

The EU, too, unfortunately, is (now?) a very undemocratic organization. It is dominated by the concern interests and, when all is said and done, you can even say that they were the ones who founded it. Just like the EURO is not a political product but one that was demanded by “business”. Yesterday, an EuGH decision, again, proved this (see yesterday’s ZEIT).

However, I do not wish to start a discussion about all these wrongs. I would rather talk about terms such as reform, revolution, change, modification, innovation, evolution, transformation. Those are also the terms my presentations are based on, no matter if they are about digitalization, leadership or entrepreneurship.

These are all difficult terms: in my book innovation means “creative destruction”. Reform is violence-free change. Everyone calls for reforms – yet nobody wants change. And change always means violence.

For the project PEACE, I use the term: transformation. Perhaps it is my goal to create a communicative concept to counterbalance the “non-peaceful” concepts. And I definitely do not want it on a religious level. In other words, I am not a missionary.

Instead, I want to give emotional and rational incentives for thinking. My intention is to inspire people. I would like to plant the idea of contemplation and activity. I am thinking of a snowball system that allows people to find autonomy without dogmata and drugs – that would be nice.

I kindly ask your forgiveness for my heart brimming over and consequently my goals being rather high. It is partly because – at least that is how I perceive it – I already managed to do quite surprising things in my life. Things I myself would never have believed possible.

On the other hand, I see myself as a rather humble person who can also live quite well with small success. After all, first and foremost, the journey is the reward!

But: not noticing and doing nothing is out of the question.

In my role as a mentor, I only support people in “homeopathic” doses. And I am happy whenever I can make others a little happier and more successful. And then I am very content and happy myself. The same is true for “my start-ups”..

My main personal goal is to live in gratitude.

Many heartfelt greetings and let us remain in contact!

(Translated by EG)

2036_500Through my friend Thomas Michl, the call for a blog parade on #FutureVision2036
 by Yasemin Akdemir came to my attention.

I do not wish to speculate about what the world might be like in twenty years.

Because since Hans Ulrich of St. Gallen wrote his theories about “Change in Management”, we know that “the future cannot be predicted”!

And it is not at all my style to come up with courageous outlooks.

But I will gladly relate to you what I would the world to be like in 2036!

First and foremost, it would be important for me to see most people being wiser and more peace-loving all over the world.

When I say wiser, I mean that humanity should increase both in its mental concepts and behaviour and that it should push the ever-present enmity into the background, both externally and internally.

Peace in my definition means that more and more persons manage to live in harmony with their own existence, also by appreciating their own value. The only way external peace can grow and prevail is if people like and appreciate themselves and thus find their own inner peace. It is the only way to make the many beloved enemy concepts disappear and also the only way towards successfully living in peace with nature, other people and other social systems.

Apart from this, I would wish for more neutrality and less moralism, for example also when it comes to sexual prudery. On the whole, the importance of religion should dwindle. How can anybody claim something to be the absolute truth that has been constructed by humans? For example, I also would not wish that children are still injured and maimed in 2036 for “religious reasons”.

There is a great sentence by Frederick II. Of Prussia: “Let all people become happy in their own chosen fashion” and it would be nice if this sentence were still true in 2036. But not the “violation of religious feelings” should be illegal. Instead, the social discrimination of “infidels” by “believers” and the attempt of those believers to “religiously reform” those infidels should be against the law.

In 2036, we should no longer misinterpret peace as a state of affairs where all that is possible is permitted. The meaning of the word must be replaced by an understanding of peace in the sense of “being able and willing to live your life responsibly”.

It would make me very happy if, over the next twenty years, people learned how to become independent of marketing and external control. And maybe they could understand that their most valuable commodity is time. And that we can enjoy our life at the moment in joy – without having to think about it too much. How about a little more sub-consciousness and, to make up for it, less cerebellum?

In 2036, we would like to live in a “fear-free” space. Fear grows between your ears and has nothing to do with really threatening situations and a healthy respect of dangers. It would be nice if, by then, we no longer think we have to define ourselves by our looks, property, success, money….

There is actually one concern of mine for 2036: can we live our lives in harmony with our environment? I would like to be able to breathe the air in the cities even if I am a pedestrian or ride a bike. In order to achieve this, we would have to understand that “individual mobility” it not a concept of the future if it is based on heavy vehicles. Nor does it matter if said vehicles are powered by a combustion motor or an electric motor.

And, in 2036, I would like to live in a society that accepts that I am a human being of flesh and blood who has the right to enjoy his body with lust, which would mean that I am entitled to enough physical exercise in everyday life. And I mean in a way that does not just make me a means to an end. I want to be able to rollick and romp even when I am grown up.

In 2016, I no longer wish to be manipulated by marketing and ruled by lobbyism. Instead, I would like to be what we were created to be: agreeable mammals equipped with a little bit of ratio who can live their lives autonomously.

Another prevalent principle of our economic activity should be “sustainability”. This means the economic cycles would have to be organized and practiced in such a way that the principle #nowaste has highest priority. This is also true for energy – just like with everything else, this has to be done by using “smart technologies”, but also by every one of us limiting ourselves to the necessities.

We humans are not here to serve the economy – instead, the economy should serve us. Instead of a global “predator capitalism”, we need a functioning regional “common-good economy” in 2036. Even if said common-good economy might be a little less efficient – which, incidentally, I do not believe it would be.

Many of our habits have to – and, as I believe, will – change drastically. This will be true both for mobility and the production of goods. One possible solution might be the increase of „shared economy“, individually promoted by “less vanity and egoism”. The success recipe of the future will be “less is more”. “Growth as the solution to all problems” was yesterday (and even then, it was utter nonsense).
Consideration will also have to prevail whenever we actually do something. And we will permanently have to ask ourselves if we really need all the things we buy.

So what I wish for 2036 is an enlightenment 2.0 that we take seriously and develop diligently. It should also be the formative factor of all our lives. And I am and will remain optimistic that, with courage and joy, we will get there. Among other things because we support the new “digital world” and nice blog parades.

(Translated by EG)

Roland Dürre
Saturday May 14th, 2016

Letterbox Companies and More of the Same … (Series) #4

Come and work for me – make me rich!

The following experience of mine is one I consider a display of particularly bold behaviour. It will be the last article of my series (Serie) on corruption for the time being. But it was definitely a very attractive offer and it was by no means easy to say no.

What happened did not happen as long ago as what I related in the other three articles. My memory is of it happening early or in the middle of the 1990ies.

At the time, we were a respected and also well-known supplier of support and service for products of the best hardware and software producers. We provided service and support their customers in the name of the producers. As a general rule, both parties behaved like good partners, which made for nice “win-win” situations.

During those days, new enterprises with special software solutions in the service and security fields grew like comets, both in the USA and other countries. And, of course, it was our goal to service different producers and all varieties of technologies. After all, we wanted to have a broad range of products on the market and thus remain independent from individual producers.

One day, as a total surprise, a famous and very successful technology provider called us, asking if we were interested in servicing exclusively their products in huge parts of DACH (Germany, Austria, Switzerland).

Es ist immer schön, wenn das Bargeld in der Kasse klimpert.

It is always nice to hear money jangling in the box.

Of course, this sounded fantastic. Today, I know that you always want to be sceptical if you get this kind of offer, because in entrepreneurial reality, miracles just do not happen (or if, then very, very rarely). And if they happen, there is (always) something (very much) wrong. As a meeting point – surprise, surprise – they proposed the lobby of an airport hotel.

We were curious and wanted to test the chance by all accounts. So we agreed to the appointment. And it was all true. The Europe support head of the enterprise welcomed us very kindly and hospitably and told us convincingly why he had chosen our enterprise as a candidate for a future partnership. He offered to hand us the service for his products and customers exclusively for a very attractive region. The necessary training of our colleagues for his products was offered for free, we only had to provide the time. It all sounded like a new and wonderful partnership.

Then came the glitch. Our business partner pointed out that, with such a model, we would have no sales costs and could still realize excellent prices. After all, all the orders would come directly from and be paid for by his enterprise. Consequently, it would be only fair and in no way against our interests if we paid a 10 per cent sales fee for all the turnover with our new customer. We would get invoiced at regular intervals from a sales enterprise in Switzerland and all we would have to do is pay on time.

We asked for time to consider and drove back home. And then, with a heavy heart, because the turnover we missed was absolutely relevant, we rejected the offer. Incidentally, the company in Switzerland was also some sort of letterbox company. Who knows where the money ended up.

During my rather long professional career, I witnessed quite a few very definite kick-back transactions. Mostly, persons from the middle management of rather famous and also German enterprises expected a “little back” from their service providers – and received it, too. Mostly, this was also done through letterbox companies. But I never knew such a bold procedure as the one I just told you about.

(Translated by EG)

I took the picture from Wikipedia. 
About bank notes: Hermann Eidenbenz for the Deutsche Bundesbank. Coins by various artists for the German Federal Republic – bank notes: edited by the Deutsche Bundesbank. Coins: edited by the Federal Republic of Germany, PD-Amtliches Werk.

In the country of horse-trading …

After previously having written in my last two articles (1 and 2) about what generally happens, I will now continue this small series on corruption by relating to you two things that actually happened to me. Here is one example of what I experienced.

As most of you know, I founded an enterprise more than thirty years ago and was its managing director and board member.

Even as early as in the 1980ies, cars were highly subsidized in the FDR as business vehicles. Since in those days it was a matter of course that everybody went places by car, we offered our employees to get a so-called business car as part of their salary if that was what they wished. If you buy a “business car”, you save the entire added value tax, you can deduce all (!) costs, such as the purchase of the car, repair parts, tyres, additional gadgets, insurance, maintenance and repairs, service and the entire cost of gas as normal business expenses. This is how you can economize on the entire added value tax and more company taxes (income, trade).

Calculated over the entire life of a vehicle, you can save an enormous amount of money in taxes, even with a medium-size car. The sum is considerably higher than the money the employee has to pay in taxes for “money-worth advantages”. Especially if the employee has only a short way to go from his home to his work place. And “prudent” employees usually have a short way from their home to the work place, even if sometimes only on paper.

The subsidized profit (difference between the added value tax you saved and the tax the employee has to pay for “money-worth advantages”) can easily be divided between the employee and the enterprise, which means both sides will profit from the car-industry subsidy. And since in those days I was still rather naïve when it came to driving cars, I used the incentive “you will get a business car” frequently when looking for new employees.

Thus, the number of business cars grew as massively as the number of employees in our firm. After a short time, the term “small fleet” was actually adequate when we talked IF cars. And it kept growing in size (10, 20, 30 …). If you have a fleet, the car salesperson will come and talk you into a fleet contract, pointing out the many advantages of same. So I also signed said contract.

Auch die Rückseite dieses Scheines hat manches Herz erfreut :-)

The opposite side of this bill, too, has delighted many

Well, now I believed that, since we had a fleet contract, we would get the cars cheaper than private buyers. But as it turned out, this was not the case. Again and again, I heard from friends who had “privately” bought a car, that they had been granted a higher individual discount – after long and intense negotiations, but still – than I got for the fleet. This annoyed me.

Additionally, the fleet contract salesperson made all kinds of promises, but the service was abominably poor. Consequently, I sometimes changed suppliers, once even the brand. The negotiations were always a disgrace, because the salespersons always used their entire sales repertory in an offensive way, which, to me, was very disagreeable.

And when I absolutely refused to continue, the super salesperson came to see me. He entreated me to remain with him as a supplier and with his brand. Everything was going to get better. And he also offered me a special extra treat, one he only offered to his very best customers:

He offered to pay 5% of the value of every car I would buy in the course of the fleet contract into an account of my personal choice!

I was shocked and replied that I had no account for this kind of purpose. His reply was that he could help me when it came to starting such an account – preferably abroad. Did he mean a letter-box company?

This was a time when InterFace had high growth rates. We always renewed our car fleet early and consequently ordered 10 cars for the year. I am sure that the total value was more than 250,000 DM. Consequently, the 5 % he had offered would have easily equalled 12,500 DM. Well, that was 12.5 times the bill you see on the picture – and in those days you actually got quite some material for this kind of money. And it was all tax free and would have had a tendency towards growing in the future. …

I declined, because for me such behaviour would not only have been bribery, but also fraud against my partners and employees. Today, I am very happy to have refused the then very seriously made offer. I will not tell you the brand and the supplier, because I assume that this was not usual business behaviour but the individual activity of one person. But then: who knows?

(Translated by EG)

I took the picture from Wikipedia.

Roland Dürre
Monday April 25th, 2016

The Masters of Reforms.

Here is what happened before I wrote this article:
Currently, I have much-loved visitors from China. Yesterday, Sunday (April, 24th), our visitor wanted to see the Federal Talk Show “Anne Will“.

Well, there is nothing you will not do for your guests, is there? So we watch “Anne Will” together. The show is about the current EU politics and its relationship with the partner Turkey. Particular attention is given to Erdoğan, the twelfth president of the Turkish Republc (whom I personally see more as a dictator). The guests are mostly the usual candidates … (here is the link to the Show).

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan 2015

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan 015

A Great Reformer?

Initially, it is quite boring. Then Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is praised by one of the guests as a great reformer.

What annoys me about this statement is that all the other guests not only agree, but that this also gives the dictator a better reputation in the assembled circle. As a counter-argument, you get the question why he now “abolishes all his (good) reforms”?

Before talking reforms, maybe you should think about the definition (Begriffserklärung) of “reforming”. So I first look up the term reform in Wikipedia.

The first item given in the listing says that reform is:
“The planned and violence-free change of prevailing circumstances“.

To me, this looks like a halfway valid definition. And alas – it is totally unbiased. It does not say anything about being “positive” or “good”.

Neither does the definition ask about the purpose of change. Consequently, a reform is still a reform, even if, for example, it introduces a (good or bad) dictatorship or a (perhaps just as good or bad) democracy.

The actual Wikipedia article on reform does not look very convincing to me. All it does is give examples for reforms out of history; political reforms in current Germany and church reforms. It also suggests that a reform only deserves the name if it causes a modification that brings considerable change.

It seems that the only way of realizing reforms in a democracy is legislation. Reform means introducing a new law. So where does the constant cry for new reforms come from? Since we do not have the strength to remove old legislation, it means we demand new legislation all the time. And that is exactly what happens both in the counties, on state level and in the EU at an inflationary rate.

For me, the history of the German Railway is a good example for studying reforms and the consequences thereof. Initially, they merged all the county railways to become the Deutsche Reichsbahn (DR). This generated one of the world’s biggest enterprises and the biggest job provider world-wide. The advantages were easy to see: now they could build “standardized parts” in huge amounts. This “reform” probably also made the organization rather capable. Allegedly, the German Reichsbahn actually was more punctual during the first years of WW-II than the DB AG and its competition are today.

After WW-II, the Deutsche Bundesbahn (DB) in West Germany succeeded the DR. In addition to the GDR taking over the Deutsche Reichsbahn, the Deutsche Bundesbahn was privatized and converted into the DB AG, along with it being divided into many small railway societies and an extension by “private” competition.
One could easily have a long discussion about the purpose of these reforms.

But back to the Anne Will Talk Show.
Initially, when the Erdoğan reforms were mentioned, I had to think of Adolf Hitler. After all, he was not only the greatest warrior of all times (GröFaZ), but also the greatest reformer of all times (GröRaZ)? After all, many reforms and the resulting legislation that is still valid today have been initiated during the Third Reich (labour, maternity protection, relationship between church and state – including the church tax, protection of cultural goods and much more).

Here is Turkish history as I learned it:
When I was a child, I learned at school and during my socialization as a citizen of the FRG that Turkey and the Turks are very friendly-minded towards us Germans. In military terms, Turkey has always been a good partner. The fear of the Turks as we had it in medieval times is no longer appropriate. To be sure, Turkish internal policies are a sensitive issue, because the separation of church and state is never an easy thing with Islamic countries. Luckily, however, the secular heritage of Atatürk (Mustafa Kemal Atatürk), who was the father of all Turks, was protected by the generals of the strong armed forces, which in doing so also guaranteed the Turkish democracy. And, of course, they also taught us that Turkish labour was also an important factor for the German economy. This was about it when it came to information about the NATO country and then still soon-to-be member of the European Community.

Well, perhaps Erdoğan and his reforms did bring some change.

(Translated by EG)
I took the picture from Wikipedia Kremlin.ru.
Встреча Президента России Владимира Путина с Президентом Турции Реджепом Тайипом Эрдоганом в Баку