Between Germany and Dubai: two worlds, two mindsets | Part I

Germany and Dubai pics

I frequently travel to Dubai and Germany. Many of my personal and business relationships are located in these two places. And I found myself explaining one place to the other on many occasions.

In a certain sense, Germany and Dubai cannot be more different. Trying to make decision in life and business while trying to keep their two realities in mind at the same time is not easy. Being half German myself I consider acting as a bridge between the Arab and European realties (or German and Gulf realities) as an interesting challenge.

Germany to me, is the expression of an aging society that has reached a level of stability, to the degree it can sometimes feel suffocating. Everything is already ‘designed’, built up and organized. It is the land of endless discussions about reforming the economy and the welfare system. It also is a country that doesn’t seem to welcome people with open arms. Yet on the other hand, one keeps hearing from people that once a German person accepts you, you have a friend for life (excuse the cliches while I try to make my point).

A year ago, a German guest of mine who visited me in Amman gave me a book entitled ‘Shrinking Cities’. Our German neighbor in Amman, who is a water engineer and expert, told me that there now is a discipline in Germany that deals with DOWNSIZING the infrastructures of towns that are starting to have LESS inhabitants (for example how do redesign a water pipe to carry LESS water, etc).

A German business magazine a few years ago was dwelling on the virtues of ‘less’.

Now switch over to Dubai. It is nothing but the expression of the explosive growth of wealth and population of the Arab world. When I went there the first time in 1995 it was already impressive, but it was a fraction of the size of today’s Dubai. Even for someone who frequently visits the city, the growth is mind-boggling. Dubai is a blueprint being realized. Everything has the be the biggest, tallest, best, etc. The airport is multiplying in size every few years. And Dubai is serious about building the tallest tower in the world, Burj Dubai. The construction is already in full swing.

In 1996 I stood on a viewing platform in Berlin looking over what was then Germany’s (and Europe’s) largest construction site: the re-building thew Potsdamer Platz district in the middle of the city. The number of cranes was unbelievably impressive. But when, a month ago, I looked at Dubai’s horizon near the Burj Dubai project, the number of cranes dwarfed whatever I saw in Germany a decade ago.

Switch back to Germany. I was strolling with my family down the traditional market streets of Heidelberg last summer and looking over its skyline of carefully preserved red-brown roof tiles, punctuated by the old plazas its church. Suddenly, the images of Dubai’s ‘ancient egypt’ themed Wafi mall and Venetian themed Mercato mall suddenly flashed through my head, and could not help but feel overwhelmed by the ‘realness’ of Heidelberg and the ‘artificiality’ of Dubai.

It is not just a matter of urban growth or mall vs. traditional shopping streets. It is also a matter of mindset. I was talking to my Berlin-based brother the other day. He was telling me about intricacies and intrigues of German health insurance, pension system and trade unions. It felt like an impenetrable maze that bogged people’s thinking down. On the other hand, when you talk to a business person from Dubai it is all about the newest projects and limitless business opportunities. In Germany they are forever debating how to divide the cake. In Dubai they are creating a new cake seemingly everyday. Internet City, Media City, Knowledge Village, Relief City, Medical City, Festival City, Educational City, The Palm I, II, III, The World, Madinat Jumeirah, Dubai Land, Business Bay.. the list goes on and on and on..

Ordinary Germans hear about Dubai. Mainly it is presented to them in glossy travel magazines and TV shows as a luxury destination of the ‘rich and famous’. Burj al Arab is an icon everyone knows. Mix that with some ‘exotic’ Arabian flavor and you have the Germans hooked.

Yet I know that the modest, utilitarian Germans can get a negative shock when they encounter Dubai’s endless shopping malls. Is life just one big shopping experience? Germans have a special relationship with nature. Keep a nature-hiking-loving German too long in an air conditioned mall and they might get depressed. Of course Dubai also market its desert and water experiences very well, and one must point out that the old areas of Dubai around the Creek and the gold market do offer an alternative to its artificial environments. Now wait until Germans see Dubai’s newest destination: Dubai Ski, offering a -3 degree skiing slope environment in the Middle of the Arabian desert.

To be continued..

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12 Responses to “Between Germany and Dubai: two worlds, two mindsets | Part I”

  1. Nader Says:


  2. mozzy Says:

    I hear you man. I am myself half german and actually you don’t have to go far to Dubai to see huge differences.

    Daily I am encountering questionings about the differences between Jordan and Germany and usually I cannot really answer and if I would answer with my full heart I would not be finished by the end of the day with summing up the differences.

    The cultures, education, way of life, way of thinking; everything is way different.

    However also the topic of growth is happening to some extend here in Jordan. When I think back to 1998 when I first came again to Jordan it was a pretty different look over the skyline than today. The infrastructure is improved on a monthly basis in Amman and on a daily basis outside. Amman is growing very fast. There are areas that just popped out suddenly in summer.

    I also had to notice the shrinking of german cities; some villages in east germany are even almost completetly empty. Mos of the people are either going to the west where you can find more jobs or even outside of germany to east european countries where life is cheaper and you can find a lot of jobs. There is actually currently even a boom for construction workers to go to Switzerland because they can’t find better jobs in germany.
    My home town (Schwerte near Dortmund near Collogne) even is shrinking. In the past 15 years around 8000 people have either just passed away or left the town and the birthrate is extremely low resulting in a shrinking population.

    There are lots more differences, especially in the way of life, how the poeple live their daily life here and in germany, but they are way to many to write down here ;)

    Finally I just wanted to say that I really liked your post and ikt feels kinda cool to know that I am not alone with my thoughts.

  3. salam Says:

    “and could not help but feel overwhelmed by the ‘realness’ of Heidelberg and the ‘artificiality’ of Dubai.”

    This sums it all and I agree to every word.

  4. Carsten Agger Says:

    What you write concerning the artificiality of Dubai reminds me of the British city Milton Keynes, which was essentially built upon an empty field in the late sixties/early seventies.

    It’s criss-crossed by a no doubt very functional grid of motorways, all numbered, eg. H3 and V7 (for horizontal and vertical) with intersections for each app. 1 km so you can locate all neighbourhoods in a grid cell near some H or V.

    The centre of Milton Keynes consists of shopping malls, public buildings and parking lots.

    It seems completely artificial, wholly devoid of any history or spirit; it is like the setting for some dystopic ‘1984’-style science fiction movie. Architecturally, it is as we humans may be losing ourselves
    in the midst of all our modern functionalism and commercialism.
    Maybe it’s some of that which we see in Dubai (which I never visited) too?

  5. Philipp Magiera Says:

    Germany might be a shrinking society, and far from the age group distribution of Jordan, but it is nevertheless not a coutry of recess, downsizing and dying towns (see e.g. on

    Having not lived in Germany for almost five years, I sometimes feel that the discourse in Germany is very self-centered and that the fact that Germany is still successful and not so ugly either is something often omitted in the discussions you describe. When I talk to friends in Germany about his, I often have to tell them “look, but this and that is really great here!”. Especially compared with most other places on earth…

    Dubai struck me as well as completely artificial. I would not be able to live there, a place where everything seems to be copied and imported, and everything older than 20 years is considered a historic landmark. A joke!

    It frightens me that Jordan is trying to copy this model, with the big Gulf and Saudi investment companies ready to create the same artificial worlds here as well (e.g. Saraya Aqaba). Investment first is Jordan’s new motto, but who takes care that this development preserves what is naturally and historically beautiful in Jordan?

  6. Hakim Says:

    Visiting Dubai and the UAE recently, I couldn’t help but wonder where is the soul of this town? It had none. Yes everything is glittery and the whole town is one giant shopping mall. Huge steel structures are trying to kiss the heavens, but alas, the heaven’s are not heading the call and they seem to look in a differnt direction.

  7. mozzy Says:

    To Philipp:
    Sometimes it takes an outsider to show the people what is great in their country. I experienced it a lot of times here and there, that people who go frequently to germany but never really live there pointed me some things out that I would’ve never really noticed.

  8. Tristan Says:

    “__Insert most developed western countries here__ to me, is the expression of an aging society that has reached a level of stability, to the degree it can sometimes feel suffocating. Everything is already ‘designed’, built up and organized. It is the land of endless discussions about reforming the economy and the welfare system”

    I have this exact thought living in Australia, it feels like a good place to live your life if your happy with things as they are. But, as you said, everything (or most major things) have already been done.

  9. Andres Klein Says:

    You’re not off the course !
    When I moved here from Canada my dream was arriving to a country free of tax, but I didn’t realise what I am going to miss
    the nature is quite unbareable, legal system is in favour of some individuals no social systems in place, no proper education for kids, crappy hospitals and all in all very artificial

    I would vote avoiding to re-locate in to Dubai, cost of living has soared sky rocket (like burj Dubai) and income dived toward earth

    we desparately look to put our things to gether and get rid of the country … not even worth the visit … beware and stay away

    by all means.. viva Canada

  10. Malcolm Thomson Says:

    A thought provoking post which I can identify with, after four years in the UAE and before that twenty years in Germany.

    The Germany I moved to was that of Helmut Schmidt. I admired what looked like a liberal, progressive and relatively egalitarian society. I watched Germany develop. Re-unification was a blessing, but grossly mis-managed. Dynamism faltered. Entrepreneurial spirit was stifled. Reforms sorely needed a decade ago are still not implemented.

    Now Dubai may be, as some have said, Disneyland as imagined by Albert Speer. But the UAE is a nation ‘im werden’. How can we help, with our experience of downsizing, greening and cocooning ‘advanced’ societies, to prevent the potential which here truly exists from degenerating into farce or worse? I would dearly like to know!

  11. Nasir Khan Says:

    I am in Dubai from the last 3 years , but i am still not satisfied by my career where it is going , as a real estate consultant in Dubai a place where the busines is booming and at the same time the real estate business is getting dirtier and dirtier becoz you have tell so much lies about the owner ships of the properties to those who are mainly Europeans , and they by their hearts are so clear and straight forward people that i can not avoid telling them the truth about the future of the property boom in Dubai , indeed this city is growing very fast but still i have this idea that people over there in Gernmany , Switzerland or any other European country are more setteled and satisfied , but i am still not sure either to switch over or to continue here in Dubai . I wish i could have a clear picture to spend the rest of my life in peace. if some one have some suggestions on this matter of mine please do give me your opinions through my email ; i will be thank full for my life time : Nasir Khan, Dubai.

  12. abdi rakib Says:

    dubai rocks i wish i lived in that area not usa which i live in

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