Keeping in touch… Bernie Schaar

As part of the 25th anniversary celebration of the Hans Joohs Sister Cities Exchange program, the Sister Cities commission has asked past visitors to update us on their lives. Here is a letter from the 2002 Hans Joohs Sister Cities Intern, Bernhard (Bernie) Schaar.

Dear friends in New Ulm,

I am writing you from Berlin, Germany, where I have ended up 10 years after my stay in New Ulm. For those that remember Heritagefest, my name might still be familiar, for all others, let me introduce myself.

Born in Ulm and raised almost 30km away in the small town of Laichingen, I found out almost by accident, that I was eligible for something called the Hans Joohs Sister Cities exchange program.

It was 2001 and I was half way through my studies of international business and had a couple of months between the end of the German portion of these studies and the continuation in Madrid, Spain. I had spent time abroad before – lived in Belgium, spent many vacations all around Europe, did a language course in Ireland – but I had never been to the US.

To make a long story short I applied for the trip and after several rounds of telephone interviews I was informed that I was bound for New Ulm, Minnesota as an intern for Heritagefest from June to August 2002.

While in New Ulm I experienced such amazing and surprising moments, such as: my first ever radio interview; becoming a part-time German teacher for the Sister Cities summer children’s German camp at MLC; giving presentations and speeches for various New Ulm organizations; participating in the “Adopt a Highway” activities; driving a tractor at a local tractor pull; serving as a judge at the “Miss New Ulm” contest; driving a vintage car in the Heritagefest parade; spending afternoons or weekends on one of the many lakes or rivers around New Ulm; traveling to the Twin Cities, Iowa, Mount Rushmore, Appleton and Milwaukee; serving as an interpreter for German or Austrian bands who were in New Ulm for Heritagefest; fetching ice cream for lunch for me and the ladies at the Heritagefest office; having dinner and drinks at Turner Hall; visiting the local fire station; getting a tour of the jail and police department (and actually getting out again); visiting with Mayor Arnold Koelpin, members of the Sister Cities Commission; the Chamber of Commerce and with many others who opened their doors to me.

I was incredibly lucky with my hosts and though some of them may no longer live in New Ulm, I want to express a very big “Thank You” to all those who welcomed me and made my stay so enjoyable in any imaginable way. Special thanks to my hosts: Tom Paluch, who introduced me to the Concord Singers and was a great host all around; Lloyd and Lori Turner, who did a great job making me feel at home seeing that I was so far from my home, including their two sons who spent hours with me on the water when they found out I liked water sports; Dave and Karen Christiansen who joined in and helped out when one of my hosts had to leave town to care for some personal business, they made me feel welcome at all times and also introduced me to events like the Brown County Fair’s demolition derby; Ron and Connie Wendinger, who opened the doors to their hearts and home and who made me feel great and at home even when some occasional homesickness kicked in; and last but not least, the one and only Jack Minch who took me to MLC where I spoke to some of the classes, the Schell’s Brewery where I sampled a selection of their good beer, ate some really good food at Swanny’s in Courtland, the Harkin Store, Minneapolis-St Paul and the St Anthony Falls area, and toured the Mall of America where I was introduced to the Hooters girls.

There were many other people besides the host families who made sure that I felt well and welcome in New Ulm: Kathleen Backer and Leo Berg from Heritagefest; Mayor Arnold Koelpin; Bernd Lehrke with whom I got to speak German; Mark and Diane Hempel from the Sister Cities Commission who kept me informed as to my weekly schedule. I could continue the list of people I met and who were so generous to me, but that would make this text far too long.

Let me tell you what has happened to me after leaving New Ulm and how I ended up in Berlin, 600 km away from my hometown. 2002 was an important year for me as it actually set the foundation for many things to come. After returning from New Ulm, I moved to Madrid to continue my studies in international business. I shared a flat with people from several different countries. There was always a reason and/or opportunity to celebrate or just do “fiesta,” as the Spanish would say, at home, or in one of the many clubs and bars throughout the city.

In 2002 I met a French girl named Maud who later became my wife. After finishing my studies in 2004, I stayed in Spain and joined BBDO Consulting, the marketing consulting branch of the global advertising group BBDO. In 2007 a group opened the Spanish office for a US consulting firm called Prophet Brand Strategy. Once again my life changed dramatically. Gone were the days of the Spanish fiesta as the global consulting business took over.

In the long term this busy lifestyle was not sustainable, so in 2008 I decided to settle in France. This move allowed me to see my fiance more often. I was still on the road almost every other day but at least when I came home at night there was someone there waiting for me. Many days I actually could work from home, seeing that Prophet does not have an office in France.

In 2010 Maud and I were married on the German-French border in a region near Strasbourg, half way between our two hometowns.

After three years in France, my employer acquired a small company in Germany and asked me to move there and become part of their German team. We decided to take on this new challenge. In January 2012 we moved to Germany and its buzzing capital of Berlin. For this last year we have been exploring this new life and I’m quite happy being here. There are no more language barriers and no more working at home but rather in an office full of young, dynamic colleagues. I’m also once again enjoying the German interpretation of freedom using the autobahn where there are no cops to fine you for going over the speed limit, seeing as there is no speed limit!

So that brings you up to date since my days in New Ulm. I’m living here in Berlin with my wife Maud, looking forward to whatever comes our way. Maybe there is another trip to New Ulm in the future for the Sister Cities might have some special celebration to mark the 25th anniversary of the Hans Joohs Sister Cities program.

Auf Wiedersehn


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