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Published: July 29th 2012
When I walked into the office of our Managing Director Andreas right the day after returning from Amsterdam, he asked me whether I wanted to go to Cape Town, South Africa, for a business trip, in two weeks’ time because he could not go himself. We had, together with our South African business partners, submitted a symposium at the International Congress of Psychology
, to be held in Cape Town from the 22nd
till the 27th
of July. The idea was that Andreas would be presenting together with them because he would be in South Africa some time around the congress dates anyway in order to do business with our partners. But two weeks before the congress, he realised that he had way too much to do and that there was no way he could fit the trip in. Although I was keen on going, I first had to check out whether my projects at work would allow me to go. I decided that it would be okay for me to leave on Tuesday afternoon and come back on Sunday morning. I would only have three days in Cape Town, but hey, that was better than nothing!
I left on Tuesday evening after work.
The city centre and beyond
... at the bottom of Table Mountain and Devil's Peak. View from Lion's Head.
My flight went from Hamburg via Munich and Johannesburg to Cape Town. Everything went smoothly. The only thing I found a bit confusing was that I had to pick up my suitcase in Johannesburg, although it was indicated on the tag that it would go all the way to Cape Town. But apparently all suitcases that arrive in South Africa from foreign countries have to be taken through customs and then can be checked in again.
I arrived in Cape Town on Wednesday after noon and was picked up by my hotel’s airport shuttle. The hotel was pretty much in the city centre, at Green Market Square, where there is a nice market with South African craft and arts products every day. I checked in at my hotel, unpacked my suitcase (yes, my suitcase had been searched, which clearly showed in the wrinkles in my suits) and had a shower. It was a beautiful day with a wonderful blue sky, against which the rocks of Table Mountain, the green meadows at its bottom and the coloured houses of the city looked wonderful. So I decided to walk to the congress venue, the Cape Town International Convention Centre, not far
from the Waterfront.
There I met with our partners Hennie and Fred. I already knew Hennie because he had attended our international client event in March (where he had held an awesome speech!), and I had showed him around Hamburg. It was great to see him again, and it was very nice to meet Fred, whom I had until that day only exchanged emails with. We had a coffee, then went to meet some other people and attend some sessions. In the evening, Hennie, Fred and I had dinner at the wonderful Five Flies restaurant
, housed across two buildings which are a National Monument. The food was extremely tasty, and we had some nice wine from the region with it.
The next morning, I went for a run in the Company’s Garden
that were in the old days there to grow vegetables for the crews from the trade ships coming to the city. Nowadays, it has many exotic trees and other plants and is a little oasis in the city centre. Between the Garden and the Green Market Square, there is St. George’s Cathedral, where Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu used to work and preach.
Hennie, Fred and I
View from Lion's Head.
spent the rest of the morning talking through our symposium and doing some work, then went to the conference. I had seen that Kristin, whom I used to work with at Aachen University, would give a talk at the conference as well, and of course I attended her presentation on the selection of air traffic controllers at the German Aerospace Center
. She lives in Hamburg, and we had met once shortly after my moving to Hamburg, but then never managed to schedule an appointment again. Instead, we had to fly to another continent. It was good to see her, and we agreed that we wanted to meet again soon in Hamburg.
I left the congress at 2 p.m., hoping I would be able to go up Table Mountain
. There is a cable car that runs up the mountain, but unfortunately, it was just under its annual maintenance and thus not running. It is possible to hike up the mountain. There is an altitude difference of around 700 metres from the bottom to the top of the mountain, so it takes roughly two hours to walk to the top. For getting there and back, one should allow some four hours and definitely not
... and to the left the rocks of Lion's Head.
start too late at this time of the year. It gets dark and cold at 6.30 p.m. I hurried up to get changed, got some food and water, and caught a taxi to the cable car station from where I wanted to start hiking. However, when I got there shortly after 2 p.m., the mountain had already disappeared in a big cloud, and it was drizzling. So I walked along the bottom of the mountain, enjoying the view of the city from there, and realising the interesting micro climate around the mountain. The wind was blowing from a different direction than in the city, and it was only at the bottom of the mountain where it was wet, the rest of the city was dry.
When I got back to the cable car station, I saw a tourist bus waiting there. It was, luckily, a hop on hop off bus tour going round the city. I joined the tour that took us down to Camps Bay and Clifton Bay, both sheltered from the wind, where the rich and famous live. Then we went on to Sea Point, where the wind picks up again. All the beaches were white and
Three Anchor Bay
... and to the left the rocks of Lion's Head.
beautiful and surrounded by palm trees. However, these nice conditions should not make you forget that there are lots of sharks in the water around Cape Town. We continued past a historic lighthouse that reminded us of the fact that an awfully lot of ships have sunk here during the last centuries. When we passed Cape Town Stadium, I remembered the Soccer Worlds that had taken place here two years ago. We went on past the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront
, named after the two basins the port consists of. First, there was the Alfred Basin, named after its builder, Queen Victoria’s second son. Once this basin became too small for the increasing trade, a second basin was built: Victoria Basin (named after Queen Victoria, of course).
We continued past the already mentioned St. George’s Cathedral and Company’s Gardens, passed Mount Nelson Hotel (the most traditional and certainly one of the finest hotels in the city) and then arrived at some museums: the Cape Town Holocaust Centre and the National Art Gallery. Parliament and Town Hall were the next attractions on our route. Then we were taken into District Six
, which is best known for the forced removal of over 60,000 of its inhabitants
... on the back side of Table Mountain.
during the 1970s by the apartheid regime. The plan was to develop a whites-only new area of the city, but it never happened, and so all the grass and weeds that have grown here since then constantly remind us of the wrong that was done here. Finally, the bus took us past the Castle of Good Hope, now a military museum.
When I got off the bus not far from my hotel, it was pouring down with rain, and I was glad I had not started walking up the mountain. On my entering the hotel, I bumped into Rainer, a former colleague of our managing directors. He invited me for a beer, and shortly afterwards, Hennie and Fred joined us, later on followed by Simon, who also works for our South African partners, and some others. Most of them left after some drinks, and Hennie, Rainer, Simon and myself went out to have something to eat. When we did not find a place we liked, we returned to the restaurant in our hotel and had another nice dinner.
On Friday morning, we were busy preparing our symposium once more, although we did not expect many people to be
Lion's Head I
Very rocky on top!
there because it was the last time slot on the last day of the conference. So we were rather surprised when we saw some 40 people in the conference room. The symposium went very well, I introduced the topic, then Hennie, Fred and I presented four different studies, and in the end, Hennie summed the results up, drew conclusions, mentioned implications and gave some inspiring hints for further research. We got the feedback from several people that they really liked our work, that we were innovative, that we really did things and not only talked about them, and that they found our ideas interesting. This was very positive, so we walked out all happy and had a drink together before Hennie and Fred had to go in order to catch their plane back to Johannesburg. Their office is in Pretoria, about 45 minutes from Johannesburg.
I went to the Waterfront and watched a most beautiful sunset. Table Mountain was pink, and there was a white “table cloth” (clouds) on it. I walked out on the pier as far as possible, then strolled past the shops, cafés and restaurants of the Waterfront. After one more nice dinner (with Malva Pudding
Lion's Head II
View towards the top.
as a dessert, a traditional South African specialty, as my colleagues had told me), I took a ride on the ferris wheel from where I had a nice view of the city, Table Mountain and the other two mountains, Lion’s Head and Signal Hill.
After that, I walked along the Waterfront and past the Convention Centre up the main party street, Long Street. I had asked some of the locals how safe the city was, and they had told me that in the city centre, one should just watch out for pick pockets a bit, but apart from that, there was no reason to be scared. There were professional security personnel on almost every corner. I was told that this was the case since the Soccer World Cup. So it was safe for me to walk to Rick’s Café Américain (yes, named after the famous café in the movie “Casablanca”), where I wanted to meet Felix who lives in Cape Town with his wife and little daughter. I used to work with Felix in the late 1990s, when we were still students in Bayreuth. It had been a few years since we had seen each other for the last
Lion's Head III
Flower and view towards the ocean.
time, so it was great to catch up. He also told me something awesome to do the next morning: walk up Lion’s Head.
This is what I did the next morning after checking out of the hotel. Lion’s Head is a rocky hill with an altitude of 669 metres. There is a trail that leads up the mountain. First, it is a really easy walk and not very steep. Then you have to start climbing. Expressed in terms of the rock climbing classification, it is definitely a 3. I took a taxi to the bottom of the trail. When I wanted to pay the driver, he said that he did not have change now and that I could pay him when he would pick me up again after my walk. I was surprised. He did not know my name or anything, but he trusted me. I was truly impressed, not by myself, but by him!
It took me a little more than 45 minutes to get to the top of the mountain, and I was rewarded with a most stunning view. Behind me was Table Mountain, towering over the city centre which was to my right. Straight ahead,
View towards Table Mountain in the sunset.
behind Signal Hill, there was the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, and to my left, I could see Camp’s Bay, Clifton, Sea Point, and Three Anchor Bay. Far out on the sea, I could see Robben Island
, which used to serve as a prison especially for political prisoners. Nobel Peace Laureate and former SA President Nelson Mandela had been imprisoned there, as well as the current South African President Jacob Zuma. The island was so safe because of the sharks in the water. Nowadays, it is a museum.
Far too early, I had to start the descent, went back to the hotel, and then took the shuttle back to the airport. I flew to Johannesburg and from there in an A380 to Frankfurt. It was my first flight on this rather new plane, and I loved it. At first, I was a bit bugged because the boarding procedure for this huge plane takes about one hour. But this changed quickly once I was on the plane. Everything is new. There is a bit more room for the legs than in other plane types. Each seat has a monitor with a touch screen in front of it, where you can choose between
Sunset & palm trees.
different movies, but also watch news and get information on connecting flights etc. But the best thing was that the aircraft had a camera installed on its top in the very back that allowed its passengers to watch the takeoff on their screens. When the plane finally took off, I was surprised by how quiet the engines were. I was wondering whether they were running at all, but they had to because we were taking off. What a great plane!
I arrived in Frankfurt, and it was pouring down with rain. Hamburg was not quite as bad, only grey, but dry. Now, this was our summer, where I just came out of the South African winter, where temperatures were about the same as in our summer, but the weather was better. Well, I guess there is a tradeoff for everything. People here have the bad weather, but they live in relative stability. In South Africa, on the other hand, there is this rather pleasant climate (yes, it is hot in summer, but still…), but there is always the uncertainty about the political situation and how it might develop. I talked to several locals, and they all see the threat
The Ferris wheel.
of something similar to what took place in Zimbabwe in the 1990s happening in South Africa. One of our colleagues, for example, sends his daughter to school in the US and will make sure she receives US citizenship, just in case the situation in South Africa worsens and the whites have to leave the country. Someone else told me that the problem was the bad educational system: Universities in South Africa are good, but to get an education that will allow you to attend a university, you have to go to a private school, which of course poor people can’t afford. They have no perspective, and apparently many of the politicians were more concerned with making themselves and their families better off than with improving the situation of the poor. Unhappy young people without a perspective can, as we have seen in Egypt and other Arabian countries, cause riots and eventually a civil war.
I could even feel that things were not perfectly alright while I was in Cape Town. People there are incredibly friendly, and I got the impression that it is heartfelt friendliness. But subliminally, I felt this slight tension in the atmosphere. I can’t tell where this feeling comes from, it was just there. I wish everything will take a turn for the better in South Africa, I really do. I can see what being thrown out of your home country can do to people. A friend of mine grew up in Zimbabwe, and when she had to leave the country in order not to get killed, it broke her heart. At least that’s my impression. I wish this won’t happen in South Africa, to all those friendly people I met there, to this incredibly wonderful city, to the country that I would like to go back to in order to see and learn more.
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