Please tell us about what activities you do together with Germans in Moscow
I write a newsletter for German speaking people, called MosKultInfo (Moskauer Kulturinformationen). The newsletter contains a lot of information about the capital Moscow, other Russian and former Soviet towns and landscapes, about Russian culture, music, literature, architecture, painting, about religion, customs and popular art. There is information about exhibitions, concerts, cinema and theatre. I have a blog http://www.moskultinfo.wordpress.com, in this you can find articles of back issues. I send the newsletter once a month by email to my readers. Contact: [email protected]
I lead walks through Moscowâs charming places. Everybody knows the Kremlin or Red Square. I want to show the silent places, beautiful narrow lanes, interesting courtyards, churches and monasteries, old houses and market places to individual groups. I offer walks for example through Zamoskvorechye (Samoskworetschie), the Ivanov (Iwanow) Hill, the Golden Mile or the market in Preobrazhenskoye (Preobrazhenskoye). You can find my excursions on moskultinfo.wordpress.com.
On the eve of Easter or Christmas I organize Origami Parties. We like to fold some figures like Easter bunnies, flowers or Santa Clauses and stars for decoration.
I think Germans love all of Moscowâs parks, especially Gorky Park and the new Krim embankment. The Kolomosnkoe (Kolomenskoje) Park with its beautiful churches and the Great Palace in Kolomenskoye. Also of great interest to many are: Kuznetsky Most (Kusnetzkij Most), the Novodevechi (Nowodewitschij) Monastery with its charming cemetery. I especially like the Martha and Mary (Marfio-Mariinsky), it Convent is a lovely place in the centre of Moscow.
Which aspects of Russian culture are most attractive to Germans living in Moscow?
The famous ballet companies, the unique density of high skilled classic orchestras, the interesting nightlife, the collections of old and modern art, the circus, the banya.
Do you enjoy living in Moscow?
Yes, I enjoy living in Moscow because it is exciting and varied; I have found a niche to work here in a German school and kindergarten, and in my leisure time I can engage in a large number of activities.
What are the main differences between German and Russian business/law cultures?
Well, there are a lot of differences. The main one in my experience is personal business relationships, which in Russia are essential if you want to be successful. Personal trust plays as large a roll as legal formulations in your contracts. That means you have to be present and in permanent contact with your clients and potential partners. Efficiency and reliability plays a very large roll for building up strong and tough teams. Without a strong team you canât be successful in Russia.
What are the main differences that you have noticed in terms of living here?
Living in Moscow means living a very intense life, and every day is full of surprises. You can find a lot of help; where to go, how to spend your time, but you also have to fight every day so as not to lose time. Later you will learn that Russia is really large and living in Russia is not the same as living in Moscow.
Is it important for a German businessperson to live in Russia in order to understand the way of doing things here?
That is absolutely essential. There are many things here that canât be understood from a distance and from outside. As I mentioned before, success in business in Russia means personally contacting people here, every day. And one important additional issue: you have to speak Russian. The language is not only a means of communication; this is a matter of culture and getting to know the people. These things cannot be learnt though translations.
What do you love and hate about Moscow?
I love Moscow for the challenges I can find here every day, and for the large spectrum of the people I can meet here. This is the living and working place of a lot of my friends, and they are mostly very proud of the changes that have taken place in Moscow over the last 20 years. I hate the traffic jams and sometimes still the anti-service behaviour and the bureaucracy.
Where do you go in Moscow; what do you do, when you want to be reminded of Germany?
I visit every event of the Wirtschaftsclub Russland e.V. That gives me not only interesting input; but also though real networking new ideas are generated, as are meetings with colleagues from Germany. But sometimes I also love to visit a German restaurant, my favourite is still Paulaner Brauhaus at Paveltskaya.
What is the German Womenâs Group?
We are a relatively new group, only founded in October 2013. When I arrived in Moscow one and a half years ago, I was looking for the IWC and a German-speaking womenâs group. I became member of the IWC and found lots of national women organisations like the British, French, Scandinavian, Dutch, etc., but unfortunately no German group.
When I asked around I was told that this is because the Germans are very well organised at the âGerman villageâ close to metro station, Yugo Zapadnaya. That is where many Germans live and where the German School and the Kinder-garden are. Lots of sport and social activities are organised by this community.
But if you decide to live in the city centre, you donât have kids or your children are at other schools, you have the IWC to meet other expatriates, but sometimes it is just nice to communicate with other women from your own country or speak in your native language.
At our first meeting, almost 6 months ago, we were 16 ladies. Now, at our monthly meetings, we are almost 40 and we have about 80 women on our mailing list.
What sort of things do you do in your meetings?
We welcome new German-speaking women who are new to the city and help them, in the beginning, with all the questions they have. We try to match them with other newcomers. When you arrive here it is hard to find your way around, itâs a big city with a very different language. You donât know where to get things that you need.
Also we share our experience or knowledge, some of our ladies live in Moscow for many years and they are very helpful and support us, ânew onesâ.
During our meeting, we present various activities for the months or invite guests, who want to support the group, but sometimes we just enjoy the coffee and breakfast and the chatting.
What sort of activities do you do in your group?
We meet every second Wednesday of the month from 10.00am-12.00pm, here at the InterContinental Hotel on Tverskaya, and everyone that speaks German is welcome. You donât have to be a German citizen, we have Austrian and Swiss women, and other nationalities in our group, you just need to speak the German language.
We visit galleries and museum every month. We have two lovely Russian ladies, that are very qualified and fluent in German and they guide the tours.
Every Friday morning we go walking in a different park in Moscow. We have a book club, which meets in peopleâs homes and share books in German. We do cooking classes and music events, such as going to concert rehearsals of the Moscow Symphony Orchestra. We have two art clubs, run by artist members of our group and we do day trips outside of Moscow.
Recently we held a dinner with our partners, followed by a networking event in the Presidential Suite at the InterContinental Hotel. And there is a lot coming up, this is just the start. Hopefully there is something for everyone and we are always open for new ideas.
How do you finance all of this?
At this point, we donât have a membership fee â if there are costs involved with a particular event, everyone who attends pays individually.
The InterContinental supports the group by letting us use their facilities and everyone that attends the meetings pays a small amount. We are still relatively small, we donât have any overheads, and we try to keep a low profile. But already we feel the need to find somebody who can help us with IT. Somebody who will create a web-side that would make communication easier.
What are your plans?
I think September is going to be a busy month. After the summer we will have lots of new people. It would be great if new people can get to know about this group and join our activities. I hope we can make people feel comfortable in Moscow, not lost.
For more information about the German Womenâs Group, contact Susanne van Alphen on: [email protected]
What brought you to Russia?
When I was 27 I went travelling and ended up in New York fighting for survival. After 15 months in New York I ran out of money but I made my way. Five years later I had a lot of money and I didnât know what to do with it. Only six months later I lost everything again because of 9/11. Then I took a job in Spain at a IT start up, but the investors didnât come through and so after nine months working and another 3 months paid vacation, I was unemployed again. I went out of my apartment in Tenerife, looked at the sea and thought: âwhat should I do?â Just then an old Lithuanian friend who I had known in New York phoned. He had left there for the same reasons as I had. He said he was in Moscow and said that I should come to Moscow, because Moscow âis rocking, lots of business, lots of girls, lots of parties, you will like it.â Two week later I flew to Moscow. That was in 2003.
What was Moscow like for you in 2003?
Everything was horrible; it was a real contrast to sitting in Tenerife where it was nice and sunny. My next move was going to be Barcelona or Paris, maybe Buenos Aires, but not Moscow. After all, it is cold there, and you can get killed in the streets. I made a stop in Berlin for a day to get some winter clothes, because it was 15 degrees below in Moscow. Moscow was exactly as I expected, dark dirty and ugly. The people looked angry and frustrated. My friend really helped me out, he tried to show me the city, he had his own security and a driver, and at night he would change clothes and show me round the bars and clubs. But I still didnât like it because the people seemed so unfriendly. Even the people I met made no effort to speak English. I decided to leave and never come back. Two days before I left I met a girl. She was not only an incredibly smart and beautiful woman, she was also a ballerina. I thought of her a lot, and then we started to send each other emails and messages. She came to visit me, and I stayed on for another half a year in Tenerife. Financially I could have stayed another year there, I had earned quite a lot of money before and I had cut my costs. But the day came when my landlord asked me if I wanted to sign a lease for another year, and I finally made up my mind and decided to go to Moscow.
How did you find work?
I looked for work but nobody wanted to have me, for two main reasons: I didnât speak Russian, and secondly I previously always had high-level positions. My background is advertising and the Internet, and I always worked as head of departments, I knew the business and the technology. Although I wasnât paying rent, Moscow was expensive. Then I had an idea. In America I had a company that used to outsource work to India and other places, so I decided to do the same thing, to set up own company here. The good times returned, I was able to find clients and earn good money, everything was fine. That lasted for about 5 years, then the market dried up and the programmers became too expensive. But in that time I had organised myself, had a work permit and all the permission I needed. I still have an advertising business and that is going OK, although it is not as profitable as before.
How did you get involved with bars and clubs in Moscow?
At the same time as running my business, I started helping managers in bars and clubs in Moscow. I am a musician as well and familiar with the club scene from my New York and Tenerife days. This started as a part-time job, then it became really profitable, and I started dedicating more and more time to it. Then the parties became bigger but I didnât earn any more or less money. At one stage I was the director of Pashaâs, (now Papaâs) and tried to bring it up to the level of western clubs. I noticed, for example, that it was only 60% full, and people were standing for 15 minutes to get a drink at the bar, things like that. I was even short-changed once, and all of this made me realise how much better the place would be if the bar started to work properly. So this is more than just promotion.
You must have noticed a lot of changes since you have arrived in the world of nightclubs. Are they still getting better?
Nightclubs have changed a lot, they were definitely livelier before, in terms of what you can see and what you can experience. This was exciting for foreigners and also dangerous. There were all sorts of stories about people being overcharged and threatened, some of which are really frightening. Now things are more civilised and the clubs are getting more and more up to a European level. But that means that they are less exciting and interesting for some, but they have got cheaper, at least for excusive clubs. The deposit for a table has come down from â¬5000 to â¬1000 for example.
So that means it is not so profitable for the clubs and more are going down now?
I would say that 99% of the clubs are not profitable. The club owners are doing it because they are rich and want to look cool to their friends. There are probably only about 5,000 rich guys in Moscow who have the sort of money that you need to go clubbing regularly. Only 5% of these are foreigners. I have a large database of people who I organise parties for and they can spend between â¬100-â¬250 a night, but the people who go to the exclusive clubs can spend a lot more.
Expats seem to be less wild these days. Why?
In the old days, there wasnât so much pressure on them from the head office of the company they worked for. Russia is one of the fastest growing markets, but head offices donât seem to understand that Russia isnât going to grow in the same way as other countries are, and a lot of people have been replaced because of that. When I arrived, the Russian market wasnât very important, then it became important and the pressure on these people increased dramatically. Russia is becoming more and more like a normal European country these days, not so much room for wild people. Parties are becoming more normal as well.
Are you going to carry on doing parties?
The parties I do are completely different. I have changed the way that I organise them. For the first one or two hours I make sure that the music is low so that people can talk, because that is the reason that many people are there. I think that this is extremely important; you want to meet other foreigners to share their opinions about what is happening. I remember when I first arrived, for the first two weeks I didnât go out without a security guy, I laugh at myself for that. If you donât meet other foreigners, you never really get to find out what life is really about here. Not just get drunk and dance the night away, although that is fun.
Are you getting bored with Russia?
No thereâs no time for that. Just when you think that things are going well you trip up on something, get a bloody nose, pick yourself up and carry on. I have been here for 10 years and this keeps on happening time and time again. I am married here, with a child. I find myself in a position where I have to stay in Russia. Things are still exciting here and there are still a lot of things I want to do. I have some ideas for Internet start-ups, and I have some investors lined up. But I donât want to do that because I want to spend more time with my family.
I love the nightlife side of what I do here, but itâs not a business, although I know some investors who want to start a high-end nightclub with me. But I have to explain to them that it is not easy to make money. Some people think they are doing really well, but I think it might have something to do with how much cocaine they have in their noses. So I will carry on with the parties, itâs great for networking and it makes money. I enjoy meeting people, I enjoy and socialising. Itâs fantastic.
One thing I have to say about the German community. We have about 20,000 Germans here, and one thing I canât understand is why so may of them live in the German village at Yugo Zapadnaya. They have their own shops, restaurants and beer houses. I canât understand why people go to another country and donât integrate more.