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..