Culture and Commerce in Central Europe

Cantor (2018) claimed that culture began in the 19th century because up until 1800, the world was too poor to care about art, and as such, the triumph of capitalism created a mass audience for cultural development. The rise of management and economic pedagogy and eventually the division of labor allowed for discretionary income and the willingness to use downtime such as Sundays as leisure time. Eventually, holidays became more commonplace, facilitated by innovations in transportation that allowed travel to other countries and interaction with other cultures. Soon, multinational companies and trade ensued, furthering the intersection of culture and commerce and the need to for the state to cultivate it. “Without attaining a certain sophisticated level of economic development, we cannot have what we now think of as culture” (Cantor, 2018, p. 1).

Commerce has been positively affected as well as hindered by changes in cultural norms in Central Europe. Notable political events over the past few centuries have dramatically altered the destiny of commerce in the region, which has concurrently witnessed historic shifts in styles of governments. This evolution has had far-reaching effects on every aspect of the lives of the citizens. For instance, the importance of basic port access and control and their relation to the economic viability of the region changed greatly time and time again because history has proven that control over the goods transported via ports as well as control of operations are of key importance in both wartime and peacetime. This is especially true in Central Europe.

Both the culture and the commerce of Central Europe are world-renowned. Rotterdam, Netherlands, and Munich, Germany, were chosen for this SA because of their proximity, influence, and linkage to this booming economic epicenter, which also comprises the heart of world-influencing culture and political change. While these cities have rich recent histories of strong economic competitiveness in the international marketplace and are considered economic hubs, they also maintain and innovatively enhance their distinct cultural imprint. Truly, culture and commerce are intertwined and interrelated in this area of the world. As such, our group activities for this SA were undertaken based on these themes.

Cultural experiences included partaking in the local cuisine. A core component of the trip was to gain insight through experiential learning related to local food and regional cuisine. The food in both Rotterdam and Munich provides links to history, culture, common bonds, and social relationships.

Bavarian cuisine, inspired by the Bavarian dukes of the Wittelsbach family, was originally intended to be for the upper class, specifically for royalty. It includes bratwursts, German potatoes, sauerkraut, warm red cabbage salad, veal, and German pretzels. Popular images of Germany (bratwurst, lederhosen, pretzels, etc.) come from Oktoberfest, which originated in 1810, when King Ludwig I celebrated his wedding by inviting Munich’s citizens to eat and drink with the Royal Family. These foods became more widely available over time as commoners started making more money. Of course, trying new foods is an important part of learning about new cultures. Like experiences in any new culture, food is new, fun, and different while being part of discovery. In this same spirit, we had dinner at the Hofbräuhaus, founded in 1589 by the Duke of Bavaria, as well as the Bavarian-themed Augustiner-Keller, the restaurant housing the oldest brewery in Munich.

Generally, food in Rotterdam is high in carbohydrates, because foods high in carbs were needed for the working class during the formation of the country. Our South Holland food tour included De Rotterdamsche Oude, a Rotterdam-made cheese developed to compete with the Amsterdam-made cheese that was being served at De Kuip, a famous Rotterdam sports stadium. This Rotterdam cheese can officially be sold if it has been aged more than one year. Among other distinctly Dutch items, the group had stroopwafel (Dutch cookie made of caramel and waffles baked in a waffle iron), Dutch bitterballen (gooey meatballs with a crispy coating), and Dutch-seasoned French fries eaten on a stick, dipped in mayonnaise.

Germany has the strongest economy in the EU, and the southern region of Bavaria has the strongest economy in Germany. Munich, the largest city in Bavaria, is both a cultural hub, as the center of Oktoberfest, and the economic engine/high-tech center of Germany. The city boasts an advanced public transportation network and world-renowned infrastructure, which can be partially credited for its supply chain capabilities. President Eisenhower observed the German transportation infrastructure as a General in World War II and used it as an inspiration for the Interstate Highway System program of the 1950s. In Munich, culture is within reach, as long as you take advantage of their innovative public transportation system. Everybody had the opportunity to learn about the efficiency of the U-Bahn (subway) as a method of getting from place to place, and many of the students became proficient in navigating it. We also utilized trams, the S-Bahn (subway to the suburbs), buses, and other common modes of European public transportation.

Central Europe is known for its political history, and another aspect of this SA is political leadership as it relates to commerce, with a specific focus on historical sites where governmental actions have had major impacts on local and national economies. There are many rich, significant destinations in these cities that provided firsthand insight related to the history and innovation of commerce in each city. For instance, the Germans controlled and operated the Port of Rotterdam during World War II, which gave them control over the region’s goods and access to commerce

Walking tours of European cities provide an important means of learning about that region’s culture and methods of commerce. Our walking tours of the cities took us through the heart of the area affected by the bombs of WWII. 88% of the city center buildings in Munich’s city center were destroyed by allied forces at the end of World War II, and Munich chose to study old photographs and rebuild its old town area to replicate the original design, which includes all the relics of the city’s historic center that we toured.

The Munich Town Hall in Marienplatz, where the mayor and city council conduct business, suffered damage during Allied air raids in 1944, but was later rebuilt in the same style. We enjoyed the famous Glockenspiel, which plays twice every day. Ukrainian flags were draped over Munich’s Town Hall during our visit.

All but three buildings were destroyed in Rotterdam’s city center in the prelude to the war, when the Germans forced the Dutch to surrender after the Rotterdam Blitz. On May 14, 1940, the Germans launched a surprise aerial attack in the midst of official German-Dutch negotiations. In their desire to gain immediate control over the integral Port of Rotterdam, the Germans threatened to destroy Amsterdam next if the Dutch did not surrender. The Church of St. Lawrence is the only medieval building left in Rotterdam. Below, the St. Laurence church after the Rotterdam Blitz as well as well as how it looks today are pictured. The church was intentionally left intact by the Germans as an aerial landmark.

Throughout the city are reminders of the Rotterdam Blitz and the city-wide fire that ensued. Our tour guide pointed out the boundary markers that show the perimeters of the fire within the city (below). An example of Rotterdam’s attempt to rebuild in an international, modern architectural style is modern, is Markthal, a public venue built in 2014 that has been labeled the food mecca of the Netherlands. It contains 96 restaurants and 228 apartments. Because Rotterdam’s City Center was rebuilt with mostly office buildings after World War II, there tended to be a problem for businesses after the close of the workday due to the lack of activity. Since the 1980s, new venues have been built (including the iconic cubed houses, below) with apartments and residential accommodations in mind.

An enjoyable daytrip consisted of a visit to the little Dutch town of Delft and then the Windmills of Kinderdyk. Both are accessible by public transportation, but we utilized the official shuttle of the Rotterdam Excelsior soccer team. Delft resembles a typical Dutch town with its canals and quintessentially Dutch buildings, most of which are over 500 years old (see picture below). The New Church (“Nieuwe Kerk” in Dutch) was constructed in the 12th century and its tower was constructed in 1356, and several students climbed to the tower. William of Orange, who lived there in 1572, led the Dutch resistance in Delft against the Spanish in the Eight Year’s War, and was entombed there in a mausoleum in 1584. Delft is a quiet, slow-moving, quintessentially Dutch town that stands in stark contrast to the modern architecture and fast-moving style of Rotterdam and the ultra-touristy Amsterdam. The Windmills at Kinderdyk are 19 windmills built between 1738-1740 that were originally intended to pump the excessive amounts of water out of the local village into a reservoir. Water from the Rhine River in Switzerland has long been a problem for the Dutch. Today, they pay €250 per family in taxes for water management each year. It costs the country €5 billion annually to manage the water supply.

Our daytrip to The Hague and Amsterdam was facilitated by the former chairman of the Erasmus University Honors association. The Hague is the center of politics for the Dutch, and many consider it the global center of international law. We saw the finance minister, the minister of climate, and the social affairs and employment minister arrive at work to be interviewed, and a local Dutch citizen told us that the Prime Minister had arrived a few minutes before our arrival. While in the Hague, we visited the Mauritshuis art museum, home to the Royal Cabinet of Paintings, including several by Rembrandt. We then took a train from the Hague for a daytrip in Amsterdam.

Dachau Concentration camp was the first concentration camp in Germany and was a model for subsequent German camps as well as Josef Stalin’s gulags. It was initially constructed to hold German and Austrian political dissidents after the prisons became overcrowded in March 1933, and many prominent politicians were sent there. It eventually took in Soviet prisoners and also served as a concentration camp for more than 10,000 Jewish men. More than 4,000 political dissidents were killed there, which was against the Geneva Convention. After it was liberated by the Americans, it was used by the Allies to hold SS guards awaiting trial and as a military base until 1960. Its official records list 206,206 prisoners. Below is a photo to the gate to the Dachau Concentration Camp with its inscription, “Work Sets You Free” (below, right).

Germany leads the EU in automobile production and has been called the world’s automotive innovation hub (Germany Trade & Invest, 2018). “The entire value chain is based in this region, including everything from research and development through production to the supply industry.” BMW, Mercedes, Audi, and Porsche account for 80% of global sales of luxury vehicles. And with 835,000 workers, the auto industry is Germany’s biggest employer, responsible for a fifth of the country’s exports (Bloomberg, 2019). BMW (Bavarian Motor Works) is a German automaker known for quality vehicles and value-added components. The museum/showroom displays many innovative products (see below). BMW’s factory is located in Olympic Village, home of the 1972 Games.

A fun game that students enjoy is the try to find a pothole or bumper sticker game while traveling on the German autobahn. Both are rare and are quintessentially American phenomena. Students also noticed that there is no speed limit for cars, but trucks are strictly prohibited from driving over a certain kph on the autobahn. Many noticed during our ride to Innsbruck, Austria, that this is very unlike the interstates in Indiana. Innsbruck is considered a winter sports haven, and has hosted two past Winter Olympics as well as a G7 Summit. Its proximity to nearby industrial cities in four countries, facilitated by efficient infrastructure to and from the city, has allowed it to flourish. The city elected the first female mayor in Austria. The Hofburg Palace is a former Habsburg Dynasty residence and was utilized by Emperor Maximilian I in the 1400s. Innsbruck is called the “heart of the Alps”, and its proximity to four countries makes it a key cog in the regional supply chain.

The Netherlands employs the smallest percentage of its citizens in manufacturing of all European nations (European Union Eurostat, 2019) but serves as a supply chain epicenter. The Port of Rotterdam is the largest in Europe and integral to the continent’s supply chain. It handles more cargo than any American port. In hopes of making it the smartest port on earth, Dutch leaders recently put forth a comprehensive plan called Port Vision 2030. Automation and technology in the Port are constantly being upgraded. Automated cranes usually pick up and unload containers, and only 50,000 of 19 million containers are inspected in full, and unlike most American ports, it didn’t witness any backlog of cargo during the pandemic due to its technological innovations.

There are said to be 13.5 million active cyclists in the country out of a population of only 16.5 million, the most per-capita bike usage of any country. Emphasis on pedestrians and bicycle riders was apparent in our logistics. Unlike the other cities on the Study Away, Rotterdam gives precedence to bikes and pedestrians at all crossings, with the recognizable red bike lanes seemingly everywhere. In lieu of any specific stop signal, pedestrians and bikes assume the right-of-way, and as such the red bike paths are very noticeable. Reflecting Dutch culture, our Port tour was via bicycle. Each area is constantly being modernized, including full automation in the Container Terminal. One of three consumer products in the EU goes through the Port of Rotterdam at some point.

The corporate tax rate in the Netherlands is lower than that of neighboring Germany and France, and many attribute this business-friendly rate to the rise of Rotterdam as an affluent, global city during the past 20 years. Many multi-national companies thrive in Rotterdam as they take advantage of the city’s logistical amenities, including access to efficient water transportation. Water transportation is an important component of many harbor towns, and Rotterdam is no different. Erasmus University in Rotterdam features the internationally recognized School of Economics and School of History, Culture, and Communication. One means of getting to Erasmus University and around the port is by water taxi, which is free for all college students attending school in Rotterdam. We also had the opportunity to utilize water taxis.

The various SAs led by the faculty leader have been buoyed by Purdue’s fabulous Center for Intercultural Learning, Mentorship, Assessment (CILMAR) group since 2016. Their intercultural expertise provides university-wide workshops and cohorts for faculty and staff. Their understanding of and ability to teach pedagogical methods for the development of these trips cannot be underestimated. As the world becomes more global, Purdue University continues to be at the forefront, and CILMAR has led the way. Their programs facilitate not only the development of entire trips but also collaborations within trips, as was the case with this SA.

After a few years of starts and stops with global travel, this trip benefited from the implementation of a CILMAR program. That effort culminated in a wonderful day with students from Erasmus University’s supply chain club. Student teams were created from both programs to synthesize a solution to a current global supply chain dilemma. Students analyzed a case on Tesla’s supply chain risks and were tasked to provide a comprehensive consultative presentation addressing a multi-faceted risk assessment. This activity took place on the campus of Erasmus University, but the dinner gala at the SS Rotterdam (a retired ocean liner also known as “The Grande Dame”) was the capstone ending to a collaborative afternoon. The facilitation by CILMAR cannot be underestimated in the success of this event. Their inspiration, stick-to-itiveness, and insight truly made this memorable day possible.

We were additionally able to tour a campus of the Technical University of Munich (TUM), a public institution of higher education. Students were surprised to learn that students freely drink beer in classes, and that higher education is free in Germany.

The most memorable experiences on SAs are usually those that are self-initiated, as these side-trips and the memories they make tend to be the most special. While each student has their own version of these explorations, some representative experiences include a trip to a jazz club, a canal ride in Amsterdam, and additional trips to museums, as each student had their own unique memories of culture and commerce in Central Europe, thanks to Purdue University.