Monday, September 29, 2008

After the elections is before the elections

Yesterday, Sunday we Austrians were "forced" to early parliamentary elections, as the two coalition partners rather quarrelled than worked and split up earlier this year. This development paired with rather colourless election campaigns lacking real messages from pretty much all parties resulted in a shake-up of the political landscape with the coalition parties loosing significantly and the right wing gaining massively. Not really surprising that many of the coalition supporters who disliked the elections, showed that by not casting their votes.

The leader of the socialist party, who could defend though its "first place", sent out a very strange message last night by saying that he sees no way in a coalition with either blue (far right) or orange (centre-right) which leaves basically the same situation as we had so far, only with less seats in the parliaments - a coalition of socialist and conservative party. This option bears the massive risk of driving politics yet again against a brick wall and Austrians could be forced soon again to elections. A light at the end of the tunnel is a new leader for the People’s party as the first consequence appointed today. Lets hope this light is not an oncoming train! For sure the next weeks will be quite interesting as to what coalitions work out and whether we will see another season of "The Muppet Show" or some serious and meaningful politics.

Is this really what Austrian politics is all about? If so: Who is Who?

Not necessarily due tot the above mentioned election outcome Markus left the country early Monday morning for Poland, but a long-planned investor trip gives him the chance to get out of the circus. Lucky him! But lucky only in a certain aspect: this coming Sunday he is planning to overcome the half-marathon during the Sparkasse Marathon by Lake Constance and instead of ideal nutrition, relaxing and perfect preparation he is supposed to rush to meetings, taking care of the client and taking him out in the evenings. Not the perfect setting.

The events of the day on the other side of the Atlantic where the congress voted against the 700bn $ bailout plan for the banking system caused stock markets to reach new lows (the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped a record 777 points or 6.98%!) did not add much joy at all to Markus, his client or other players in the financial markets.

Looking towards the weekend: The target for this years half-marathon is no new personal best (1 hour 37min) but to achieve a time in the area of 1 hour 45min which could be quite challenging anyway considering unfriendly weather with approximately 10 degrees and high probability for rain. But so far the hope for a wrong weather forecast keeps a glimmer of hope alive!

Kerstin & Markus

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Like a virgin no more - Madonna in Vienna

Sunday evening Sandra and Flo arrived in Vienna for half a week with the main event: Madonna's first ever Vienna concert during her "Sticky and Sweet"-Tour on the Donauinsel. While we had to work both Monday and Tuesday, our guests had two fine days, whereas Sandra used Monday to fight an oncoming flu. She suceeded and was on top form on Tuesday.

In order to have enough energy for the concert, Flo made on Tuesday evening a fantastic pizza which was eaten away pretty fast before we got on our way. Having arrived at the venue we tried to find a decent spot close to the stage where we also had a chance to see the stage, but arriving at 1915 was obviously too late as many of the 45000 people where already there and so we were rather in the back, so only Markus did have a good view.

At 2040 the Queen of Pop, Madonna Louise Ciccone, came on stage and opened the concert with "Candy Shop", one of the tracks from her current album, "Hard Candy". The stage itself was full of technology, glamour, screens and in that respect impressive. Unfortunately it was not very high and therefore one did not see too much. The screens revealed to a certain extent how agile and fit the 50 year old still is. No way we could see details, which might have provided us of more age-evidence.

What was striking was that both older tracks as well as new ones have been performed in re-mixed versions, newly interpreted and they were not immediately recognized. This meant that the crowd had difficulties to get going and the atmosphere was rather cool, whereas the weather was ok - only 10 degrees, but dry. Only a rather genuine version of "Like a prayer" got motion into the crowd, but a humble attempt to integrate the crowd more with a 'sing-a-long' of one of her songs failed as unfortunately no-one recognized this song and so it was pretty much embarassing for both Vienna as well as Madonna and she seemed to be pissed off by that. What should we say? In a final attempt to make everyone happy the rather dancefloor-type of track "Hung up" has been performed in a heavy metal way that Rammstein or Metallica could be proud of.

Somehow expectation and performance did not match

Maybe the expectations were too high, maybe the way the gig was set up would have suited rather for an indoor performance with less people or maybe it just was not our day, but Madonna clearly did not impress us much and - before the gig we would not have bet a cent on us saying that after the concert - if we would not have been to the concert, we had not missed much. Let's stick to the albums which are great, but a Madonna live concert in a large arena: No, thank you! For impressions of the concert (actually mainly the stage) take a look at the our Picasa webalbum in the picture links.

Kerstin & Markus

Friday, September 19, 2008

London was Calling - It needed a shrink!

On Monday evening Markus left the rainy and cold Vienna again for probably one of the most vibrant cities in Europe, the home of Princes Charles, William and Harry, London, for a conference on Austrian companies, a management meeting and several client meetings until Friday. Having lived for almost 4 years by the river Thames, London became something like a second home to Markus and returning is always connected with nice memories. We are trying to come back at least once per year for a weekend, as both of us love the city to pieces. For 2008 our visit together is still pending actually!

Shopping in Carnaby Street is an integer part of any London visit

The conference, co-hosted bz the Vienna Stock Exchange and UniCredit MIB took place in the Courthouse Kempinski Hotel, just opposite Carnaby Street, one of the nice pedestrian zones and shopping streets in the West End of London. the hotel used to be, as the name says already, a court in previous times, and some oparts of the hotel have been kept pretty much unchanged. The most obvious examples were three cells (including toilets) which form part of the hotel bar, and which could have been used ideally for very private or detailed, undisturbed discussions between investors and some companies. Given the markets sold off yet again during the week (most of all hitting ImmoEast which lost 50% until Thursday close due capitulation of shareholders) such meetings would not have been a big surprise.

Ideal for very private conversations: One of the cells in the Courthouse Kempinski

Given the UK economy and housing market is structured in a similar way to the US market and after bancrupcy of Lehman Brothers, the takeover of Merrill Lynch by Bank of America and the bailout of AIG on the weekend also HBOS became a vicitim of the credit crunch and is most likely being eaten up by Lloyds TSB its not surprising that the mood in London's city was very depressed as the ghost of redundancies, job losses and recession were walking around rather than waiting behind some corners. Hence the management meeting on Thursday was a pretty much serious event with lots of measures having been discussed and taken in order to weather the heavy storm best.

Markets cost Markus' colleague his shirt..

As Markus moved to London in summer 2001, a time when job-losses, layoffs and depressed ewconomy was a big topic the last time it was not a complete shock, but the city presented itself very different to the past few times. Nevertheless, the mood did no harm to the beauty of London and the fact that Markus likes is looking forward to returning soon again. Obviously he can't wait to get back home again after 4 days away to spend some quality time together with Kerstin again!

Kerstin & Markus

Sunday, September 14, 2008

30 years of Flo - Too much? No way!

Friday night, after having finished a tough week at work - Kerstin's clients got busy ahead of the Austrian elections & Markus trying to sail through the turbulent times at the stock markets - we got into our car and headed west: Flo, Kerstin's sister's boyfriend has called for celebrating his 30th birthday on saturday in Bregenz. We did not hesitate a second once we heard about the plan and were quite excited to be back in Kerstin's home country. Having caught the "movie-virus" in the past weeks, we decided to make a short video for Flo as contribution to our present - a weight-bench in order to keep fit. We won't win an Oscar for sure, but it was fun anyway to produce it seemed that also Flo liked it!

We also brought along a surprise for Heidi, Kerstin's Mom: In the quest to renovate the house - this summer she got a new kitchen and a few things in the living room have been upgraded - we decided to buy her a slim Panasonic Plasma TV (the same make as we and also Sandra/Flo have) instead of her large, old & heavy TV set. Upon arrival Friday night we replaced the old TV with the new shiny toy and it took quite a while on Saturday morning for her to realise, but once that happened the joy was big!

As for the party: Just imagine 31 people in a flat with 80sqm on a day when it was raining all day long with temperatures of 15 degrees. The nice terrace could not be used and we had a cosy night inside with loads of food (critical voices call it a "sickness" that in Vorarlberg there is always plenty of food availabe), plenty of prosecco, wine, Mohren and vodka. The evening was very nice and full of laughter, we saw many pictures and nice birthday-present-presentations including a revival of TV show "1, 2 oder 3" and a poem recited by Kerstin, Heidi and the Meierei (Renate & Werner). The PlayStation has also been used heavily for Karaoke singing and as far as we could judge, not many tunes were hit correctly. By the end of the night/beginning of the next day at 0445 most of the food was gone (= eaten) and also the majority of liquids have been liquidated. "Well done" to everyone!

Does this man look like 30?

On Sunday afternoon, having slept a few hours and helped cleaning up the mess in the flat, we are getting into our lion-car again and get on our way to Vienna where we prepare ourselves for what will most likely be a very busy week for both of us.

Kerstin & Markus

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Swan Lake - Come fly with me

Tuesday evening Markus yet again left the country to meet investors and clients in Frankfurt with two of his Polish analysts. It has been almost three months that he has been there and in the meantime quite a few things have changed on his clients' side, with more changes to happen now that Commerzbank has taken over Dresdner Bank.

After a busy schedule on Wednesday, which by the way brought further losses on the stock markets he is active in (Russia, Czech Republic performed worst, down 5% each), he came across a beautiful creature again at the airport: the 747-400. The jumbo-jet, developed by Boeing in the 1960s and introduced to commercial aviation in 1969 is in Markus' opinion the most beautiful airplane, exceeding also the looks of the recently launched Airbus A380. We have had the pleasure flying the "swan" on our way to South-East-Asia, when we went on our first diving-holiday to Thailand back in October 2004 and it was quite an experience. Not that Kerstin cared so much about the plane she was sitting in, as long as the bird was flying, but Markus was really excited!

We wish we could board this beauty and ideally sit upstairs!

Given the heavy traffic on Frankfurt Int'l Airport most people hate this airport, but due to the vast number of 747s one can see there Markus likes it quite a lot. Whenever he spots one of these planes landing, taking off or parking, he is overcome by the urge to fly away and go on a long-haul trip - be it for holiday or business. So here we are again: holiday feelings but no plans or flight tickets in the pocket yet. The desperation level is still low, but with every visit to Frankfurt it will rise again. You can be assured!

Kerstin & Markus

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Maria, Mirko and Valentin combined with one ring. The "Haemmerles"

Yesterday it was time to conclude the wedding season 2008 with the wedding of Maria and Mirko which was held at Weingut Hillinger in Jois. Markus, arriving in the morning from Istanbul where he did not manage to get sleep and so only had a nap on the plane, was hoping to at least get a power nap in the afternoon, but as Kerstin was Maria's witness there was so much still to prepare, that there was no chance for a single minute of rest.

The weather was absolutely gorgeous with more than 30 degrees, sunshine and a light breeze. It offered the perfect surroundings coupled with the setting of the wedding on the hill just above the vineyard overlooking the Neusiedler Lake. Maria was absolutely stunning and must have either denied to wear half the wedding-dress or expected such nice tempreatures as her wedding dress was very sexy and just a bit more than a whiff of nothing. The men - wearing suit and tie - were jealous of such a light outfit. The ceremony itself was short and compact, Kerstin recited a nice poem dedicated to the couple and the obligatory rice-shower was coupled with bubbles and a rose cordon.

One ring to rule them all! M&M are married!

Markus was at center stage of the traditional "throwing of the garter" which literally dropped into his hand. Lets see if that means anything ;-). During the following dinner we heard several very nice and funny speeches and songs, whereas we would like to highlight Maria's mom's speech as very special and also Maria's brother Michael's speech due to the fact that his daughter Matilda added her ad-hoc comments.

Over the past few weeks also we, together with our friends, better known as the Bella Familia, have prepared something special for the newly weds: We adapted the lyrics of "We are the world", went to a sound studio and recorded and filmed the chorus. The result was a 9 minute long video which we showed on a big screen. For all of you who dont mind wrong tones and imperfect singing, take a look at the video and/or the "making of" both of which Markus has already put on his YouTube channel. With this video we wanted to say "Thank You" to M&M as they have been contributing big time to every movie we made so far for weddings, birthdays et al and we wish them together with Valentin, their son, all the best for their life as an "official" family!

Following dinner, a fantastic selection of Vorarlberger cheese and all speeches, songs, videos etc. the party really started, most of us switched from wine to cocktails or vodka and we all danced and jumped until the early morning hours. Even the several children/babies stayed quite long at the party. Not really dancing, but sleeping outside on the terrace in their pushchairs as the weather and temperatures allowed for that. Evidence for the waking of the party-tigers will be shown soon in the picture links. At the moment we can only tell you: its worth to come back and have a look!

The singing and dancing took its toll and so we left the party close to 0400 together with Evi (who by the way was dancing at two (2) weddings that night) and Christoph to our hotel, the recommendable and very nice Weingut Agerlhof in Jois.

Again all the best from us for the new family!

Kerstin & Markus

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Liquidity was back - shit happened

After a short pit-stop at home which Markus basically used to grab fresh clothes he flew on Wednesday morning to Istanbul for the large Conference for Emerging European Markets investors with more than 100 investors and more than 70 companies attending. The event was yet again organised by "conference fairy" Helen Claussen and her team exceeding the high expectations of the salesforce with a perfect organisation of the event held at the Ritz Carlton Hotel. In case ANYONE of you out there ever wants a conference or congress organized properly, let us know and we link you up with Helen. She will sort you out!

The view from the room was stunning
Markus' room in the Intercontinental Ceylan Hotel offered a fantastic view over the Bosphorus, but the conference did not allow a lot of time to enjoy it. While there were very interesting business meetings during the days the evening events were memorable as well. Markus concluded the welcome drinks on Wednesday wit a visit to Taksim Square at 0200 for a Kebap with some colleagues and clients, but the home made Ayran seems to have disturbed his stomach. The whole of Thursday he had numerous visits to the toilet and he was pretty tired and exhausted in the evening so that he could not enjoy the gala-event at Hotel Les Ottomans right by the Bosphorus which is a perfect setting for such an event. So he left at 1630 and went to bed in order to hopefully recover and be back fro Friday night.

The bad Kebap-stand from Wednesday No good!

The good Kebap-stand from Friday. Yes please!

A 2 hour nap after the conference on Friday late afternoon made the trick and enabled him to enjoy the night properly. As bankers and investors are not at all exclusively boring farts, Friday night was concluded in the world's best place for party and clubbing in Markus' opinion: outdoor club Reina, right underneath one of the 2 bridges connecting Europe with Asia. He had again a Kebap to make the night in Istanbul a real night and was just in time back in the hotel to pack, write this blog and check out before heading back home for the wedding of Mirko & Maria.

Kerstin & Markus

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Pandora's bo(to)x has been found. Or was it Katarzyna's?

Sunday we used pretty much for spending time together, starting off with a run in the Prater in the morning, breakfast with fresh apple&carrott juice on and scrambled egg on our terrace followed by enjoying the fine sunny afternoon on the roof-terrace. In the later afternoon we delivered Maria and Mirko their presents (Maria's Manolos and Mirko's poker-set and vodka-kalashnikov) and Kerstin discussed details about this Saturday's wedding. Markus left early for the airport heading to a 2-day business trip to Warsaw.

Close to the Intercontinental Hotel in which he was staying one can find the Palace of Culture and Science, the unloved monument in Warsaw's city center is very similar to Moscow's Seven Sisters, was a present by the late Russian dictator Stalin to the Poles and stretches over a vast territory close to Markus' hotel and the main train station. Noone really tells you, what the building really is used for, which shows how much they love it.

From Stalin with love - the love is not really returned by the Poles

In the two days one of Markus' client wanted to meet oil&gas and retail companies as well as do some 'mystery shopping' in Warsaw's most modern shopping center, Zlote Tarasy. Not only was the center absolutely packed for a monday afternoon, but also there were shops we don't even have in Vienna! One of the shops Markus saw seems to be the explanation why there are so many good looking women in Poland: a quick-fix Botox Shop! With such tools its quite easy to be attractive, no?

A "botox drive-in" in a Warsaw shopping centre was the most curious observation

The trip also made it clear that Poland is not (yet) in recession: the shopping malls full, the people out spending and the restaurant where Markus had dinner on Monday evening was expensive and busy. After 6 more meetings on Tuesday, including one with an oil exploration company digging for oil in Kazakhstan, Markus flew back in the evening for one night, as on Wednesday he will set off for Istanbul to the Annual Emerging Market Conference which UniCredit is hosting there. He will only return on Saturday morning, just in time for the last stage of the wedding tri-athlon!

Kerstin & Markus