Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A Concert, an Opera and a Train Trip

A Concert, an Opera and a Train Trip

The past 10 days have been quite eventful as we become increasingly comfortable in Poland and eager to experience all it has to offer. This post describes several events that illustrate the multi-faceted opportunities available to us here.

Academy of Music Inaugural Concert

Associated with the Poznan University of Economics, where I am teaching, is the Akademia Muzycna, or Academy of Music. On Friday, October 16, its symphony orchestra performed the year's inaugural concert in the Aula Nova, or New Hall, just across the street from the building in which my office is located. The facility is stunningly beautiful and elegantly designed. The 75-piece student orchestra is exceptionally gifted with young talent of the highest caliber. I played French Horn in a number of orchestras and symphonic bands for several decades, and I know I would not have auditioned successfully for such an ensemble! Bedecked in formal attire, poised and professional in every respect, the orchestra performed magnificently. No wonder the hall was packed, with standing room only for many patrons.

The entrance to the Aula Nova in Poznan
The first piece was a symphony written by a local composer. I must admit I'm a more traditional musician, and this piece was a bit too experimental for me. Nevertheless, it showcased some of the talented performers in the orchestra, and the audience was appreciative. Next, the stage was rearranged slightly to introduce a concert grande piano downstage center. A young man took his position at the keyboard and, supported by the full orchestra, performed Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto Nr. 3 in D Minor, one of the most technically challenging piano concertos in the standard classical repertoire. His performance was stunning. Thunderous applause demanded three curtain calls from this superb pianist, leading finally to an encore performance -- Chopin, of course. After all, this is Poland!

The audience eagerly awaiting the start of the concert
The orchestra is in place, awaiting the conductor's arrival
The evening's concluding piece was Scherazade, the symphonic poem by Rimsky-Korsakov, based on One Thousand and One Nights. The piece blends traditional Russian style with music of the East and provides a showcase for a number of orchestral instruments. Performers on flute, oboe, bassoon and, of course, strings, were featured and displayed artistic and technical mastery of their instruments. 

What a delightful Friday evening in Poznan!

A Bit of Argentina

The following evening, we attended a fine performance of Evita in the Teatr Musycny here in Poznan. Teatr Musycny is housed in an older building, and the interior is somewhat reminiscent of London West End theaters. It appears to be organized at least partially as a repertory company, and the professional level of the performers is comparable to any major U.S. city. As impressive as the individual performances were, the staging of this opera was especially remarkable, making highly creative use of limited stage space for such an ambitious production.

Teatr Musycny in Poznan
The performance was in Polish, but Robin and I are sufficiently familiar with the piece that no translation was needed. In fact, we had seen a very early production of Evita in London around 1982, not long after it first opened there. It was remarkable to think, as I was enjoying the recent performance here in Poznan, that when I first saw the opera in London, it was very much in the context of the Cold War. As a U.S. Air Force officer then, my focus was very much on the geopolitical situation that defined the time. I'm sure it never occurred to me, as I was seated in that London theater in 1982, that a few decades later I would be enjoying the same opera in Poland!

Return to Szczecinek

Last week, Robin and I made the 2 1/2-hour train trip north to Szczecinek, a city of around 40,000 situated on a lovely lake and surrounded by forests and farms. The importance of the area to me is that documents indicate my Great Grandfather Karl Freitag emigrated from here around 1880, arriving in the U.S. port of Baltimore and eventually finding his way to Milwaukee. He would have been in his mid-20s at the time, a tanner by trade. I can't imaging the courage it must have taken for him to make such a journey, knowing that a return was highly unlikely. Szczecinek was known as Neustettin then and was part of the German territory of Pomerania. Life was difficult for Poles in this region under German rule, even brutal at times, especially from 1939-45. At the end of World War II, the city returned to its Polish designation and identity, and nearly every vestige of German presence was erased. Consequently, I had no expectations of finding "long lost relatives." Still, the prospect of walking and exploring my ancestral grounds was magnetic.

Central Square and  City Hall, Szczecinek
We spent several hours in Szczecinek's "Archivum," the repository of official documents, paging through collections of magistrate proceedings from the mid-19th through the early 20th centuries, but found no references to the Freitag family. Archivists were exceptionally helpful and tried their best to accommodate our search, but they explained that most official records -- such as birth, marriage and death certificates -- are maintained in the nearby city of Koszalin, essentially the county seat of the region. Looks like another family history search trip in our future.
A helpful employee in Szczecinek's Archivum helps with our search

Anna, a curator at the Regional Museum in Szczecinek was delightfully helpful and provided a personal, guided tour of the museum's modest but fascinating collection. Anna holds a degree in film studies and spent a bit of time in New York City pursuing her deep interest in classic Hollywood films, especially those by Polish-born American director Billy Wilder. Anna was able to recount to us the remarkable sweep of history that defined Szczecinek and the surrounding region.

Scanning through the delicate pages of 19th century city records
We retrieved one document on line indicating that Karl Freitag's father, Gottlieb Freitag (my great, great, grandfather) was married in the church in Hütten, a village a few kilometers outside Szczecinek, in 1852. Hütten reverted to its Polish name of Sitno in 1945. Last Saturday, I made the short trip from Szczecinek to Sitno/Hütten and found a tiny, peaceful village surrounded by rich, expansive farms. There is only one church in the town, but it was built in 1909. Nevertheless, it's reasonable to accept that the village church has always existed on the same piece of ground. To my delight, the church doors were open, and a young woman was inside preparing the church for Sunday worship services. She was genuinely interested in the purpose of my visit and explained that Sitno was her home. However, her husband was in Berlin working as there were simply no jobs in their home village. She hoped to join him soon in Berlin, but said it would be very sad to leave her village. I thought Karl Freitag must have faced similar circumstances 135 years earlier. 

Anna describes some of the Regional Museum's artifacts
So I learned a good deal about the area from which my ancestors originated, though nothing new about my forebears themselves. I'll have to keep working on that. Nevertheless, I can certainly report that Szczecinek is a delightful destination with much to offer. A lakeside resort town with a central pedestrian walkway and many attractive features such as historic architecture, important historical sites, fine restaurants and an impressive museum, Szczecinek is certainly worth a return trip or two.

The church in Sitno, constructed in 1909, likely on the site of earlier churches

I've include a few photos in this post, but I've posted many more on Dropbox at these sites:
So that's a recap of events since my last post. In between these adventures, my classes continue to progress productively, and my students seem to be thoroughly engaged in the topics and activities introduced in each class. The perspectives I'm gaining from the dozen or more countries represented by these great students are invigorating. The weather has been chilly but sunny in recent days, and the charms of Poznan seem inexhaustible. Thanks for your visit to this blog, and I hope you will continue to return. Do widzenia! 

Friday, October 16, 2015

Higher Ed in Poland, an Italian Market, and a Search for Roots

Higher Ed in Poland, an Italian Market, and a Search for Roots

One month of the ten we will spend in Poznan is already past, and as we feared, the time is passing swiftly. I should clarify that I received a 9-month Fulbright fellowship (the maximum), but Robin and I tacked one week to our start date and three weeks following our end date to permit some "settle in" time at the beginning and some travel at the conclusion. Hence the confusing references to a 9-month fellowship and a 10-month stay in Poland.

Classes and Curricula

My classes are progressing smoothly, though I have many more students than we anticipated. We expected about 20 students per class. However, I now have 45 students in my graduate International Public Relations course and 34 in my Internal Communication Management course. Of course, that necessitates adjustments in teaching style, and I have made those accommodations.

I was privileged to deliver my first guest lecture this week -- a 50-minute presentation on PR pioneer Edward Bernays, one of the most colorful figures of the 20th Century in the U.S. This was for an introductory PR course taught here at PUE by my colleague Dr. Waldek Rydzak. It's impossible to cover this topic in one session, so this was just part one; I'll return soon to complete the presentation.

Introductory PR students attending lecture on Ed Bernays

Freitag delivering guest lecture on Ed Bernays

Unlike most higher education in the U.S., undergraduate students here follow a prescribed plan of courses as they work toward their degrees. The concept of selecting required courses from a menu of options and taking elective courses is not the case here. And the curriculum is rigorous. I spoke this week with a Polish undergraduate student and asked about her course load. This is her second year, and she rattled off the list of her current courses: economics, accounting, tax law, insurance, calculus for business, German and English.  Graduate students pursue a similarly demanding agenda. A typical master's student in my class is taking (and I'm not making this up!):

  • European Union Tax Systems
  • Creative Industries
  • Human Resources Management
  • Electronic Commerce and Business
  • Strategic Management in the Polish Business Environment
  • Globalization and Regionalization
  • Retail Management
  • Internal Communication (my course)
  • Health and Safety
  • Cultural Differences in International Marketing
That's her course load for one term! In this case, the young lady is from Italy, taking her courses from Polish professors (except for me) in English. Typically, master's students are carrying 8-11 courses per term. I am humbled.

Cheese, Sausage and Olives

There are often fairs, exhibitions and similar events going on in Poznan, and a few weeks ago there was an open market of gourmet food products from Italy. It was held in one of the city squares, Plac Wolności (Freedom Square). It made for a very pleasant stroll after work one afternoon. Of course, I was socially obligated to bring home some cheese, sausage and olive salad.

This tent offered all types of olives and olive salads. The piles of red items on the near side are sun-dried tomatoes.

The Italian cheeses were superb!

The vendors did a steady business over several weeks, and the agreeable weather helped.

Return to Family Soil

Next week, I will try to get all my class prep work done early as Robin and I have planned a very special trip departing on Wednesday. We're taking the train about 2 1/2 hours to the small city of Sczcecinek. Do not try to pronounce the name without proper medical training! With a population around 40,000, it would not ordinarily be a destination for U.S. visitors. However, the town is extremely special for this visitor.

My cousin Diane is our family's unofficial geneologist, and she has done extraordinary work tracing our family's roots despite the lack of documentation. The Internet has been a big boon to this type of endeavor, and a couple years ago Diane discovered evidence that our family originated in the German/Prussian city of Neustettin. In fact, she found records that indicate our Great, Great, Great Grandfather Gottlieb Freitag married Caroline Ring on November 21, 1856, at the Evangelische Kirche (Evangelical Church) in Hütten, a village connected to Neustettin. Further research revealed that in 1945, Neustettin returned to its Polish name of Szczecinek. A colleague here at PUE did some research on my behalf and learned that Hütten is now called by its Polish name, Sitno, and it's about 5 km (3 miles) from Szczecinek. Although my surname is German (it means "Friday"), our ancestral home is now situated in Poland. In fact, Poland essentially did not exist from 1795 through 1919; during that time, what is now Poland was divided among Germany/Prussia, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Russia. The Treaty of Versailles ending World War I re-established Polish boundaries.

Diane's records indicate the Freitags immigrated to the U.S.probably in the 1850s, so it's likely that Gottleib and Carolina made that journey. So next week, at least one Freitag will return to the family's home soil. I will devote a subsequent blog post to letting you know what I discover. This is like a reality show.

I'll leave you with this link explaining 27 reasons why you should never visit Poland. Click on the image for the full explanation....

So some people like to believe Poland is beautiful.

Thanks, as always, for your visit. Talk to you next time.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

My Host University

My Host University

The Poznan University of Economics, my host for this academic year and during my 6-month Fulbright fellowship in 2012, has begun to feel like my second professional home. I'm as comfortable in my office here as I am at UNC Charlotte, and I feel the same strong allegiance to each fine institution. In some respects, it's hard for me to sense any real distinction between my responsibilities to the two universities.

My awareness of and connection with PUE began in 2005 when I received an e-mail from Dr. Ryszard Ławniczak, a public relations professor and thought leader in the discipline. I had not previously met Dr. Ławniczak, but he said PUE was hosting a conference on international public relations and asked if I would agree to be a keynote speaker for the event.  He indicated he and his students had been using some of my published materials and thought I would be a good fit. The timing was perfect -- immediately following the 4-week course on international PR I would be teaching in London that summer.  With a longstanding wish to visit Poland (which I'll explain in a subsequent post), I seized the opportunity. My wife and I flew from London to Krakow, then traveled by train to Poznan.

Participants in the 2005 PUE International PR Conference. Dr. Ryszard Ławniczak is seated in the front row, third from the left. I am seated at the far right of the front row. My PR colleagues will likely recognize a number of the other scholars.
That was the start of the now 10-year relationship I've enjoyed, and I believe and trust that the relationship will be amplified in the years to come. PUE comprises five main colleges ("faculties" in the direct translation from Polish): Economics, Commodity Science, International Business and Economics, Management, and Informatics and Electronic Economy.  There are also independent academic units in foreign languages, law, and sports/athletics. PUE operates its own publishing house as well. My home department here falls under the College (Faculty) of Economics and is called Katedra Publicystyki Ekonomicznej i Public Relations or Department of Economic Journalism and Public Relations. It's home to nine full-time faculty, each with impressive credentials and records of scholarship. Let me introduce you to several department ("katedra") members:

Department office managers Dorota Stępień (left) and Barbara Skiba
Barbara Skiba and Dorota Stępień are office managers, though they are shared between our department and one other, so demands on their time are relentless. Nevertheless, both Barbara and Dorota have been wonderful in helping me navigate the many challenges associated with learning new administrative systems. Dorota's English surpasses my Polish, so we communicate quite effectively, Barbara and I share German, so that is how we generally get our ideas across.

Dr. Filip Kaczmarek
Dr. Filip Kaczmarek teaches courses related to his interest in developing nations, especially ways in which communication can contribute to improving the human condition within the context of advances in infrastructure and other economic factors. Dr. Kaczmarek served for ten years as a member of the European Parliament in Brussels.

Dr. Izabela Janicka
Dr. Izabela Janicka specializes in teaching public relations messaging and product development in a strategic context. She previously taught German, and she is also very comfortable in English. Dr. Janicka rushed to my rescue when I was having difficulties creating the Moodle websites for the classes I'm teaching. I was so grateful she carved more than an hour out of her demanding schedule to navigate the barriers to getting my classes set up on the web platform. She also helped me decipher the touch-screen commands on the classroom lectern (all in Polish).

I have had nothing but warm and welcoming receptions from my colleagues here, and I don't think I've ever seen a harder working department.

Passing of a Great Leader

Before closing, I will comment sadly on the passing last week of a former boss for whom I retain the highest admiration and someone whose leadership style continues to influence me 25 years after I served on his staff and under his command.  U.S. Army General John Galvin capped his 44-year military career with five years as Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), the top military figure for the (then) 16-nation European security alliance.  It was my privilege to serve as director of media relations for the command (called Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe or SHAPE) in Belgium and as frequent press aide to Gen. Galvin during the critical final two years of his career, 1990-92. General Galvin passed away last week at 86 in Atlanta, Georgia.
General Galvin at a news conference, Germany, 1990

Here's a Washington Post article that captures a bit of General Galvin's extraordinary life: September 30 commentary by Harrison Smith. Please read about this remarkably gifted and driven individual. Yet despite his many accomplishments -- military leader, historian and author, college dean. artist, father and grandfather, global strategist, communicator -- the quality that was most striking to me was his genuine humility.  That quality was manifest in many ways, but one significant aspect of it was the way he sought, found and nurtured the best qualities in those who served with him. He was a penetratingly acute judge of character who took time to nudge people around him along a path of personal and professional development toward significant achievement.  He genuinely reveled in seeing those he mentored reach beyond themselves and do great things.  

Think of how the world changed during just his last military assignment with NATO: the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and the dissolution of the Soviet Union; the reunification of Germany; the first Gulf War; the seeds of conflict in what was once Yugoslavia; an attempted coup in Russia, the precipitous drawdown of U.S. forces in Europe and the re-purposing of NATO.  He never had to worry about an empty in-basket! I watched him approach all these challenges analytically, pragmatically and decisively.  What an incredibly wise man.  Yet he always stayed firmly rooted in his humble beginning in Wakefield, Massachusetts. In fact, I returned with him on trips to the U.S. several times, coordinating media activities in New York, Boston, Washington, D.C., Atlanta and elsewhere.  A couple times, he built visits back to Wakefield into his agenda, and I was fortunate to observe him in that setting.  He would proudly point out homes and recall which newspapers each home received -- he had delivered the papers as a young boy. One time we attended a ceremony at the high school he attended (now a junior high); the school was being renamed in his honor. Another time he was Grand Marshal of the town's modest Fourth of July parade. I think he took as much pleasure in those events as he did meeting with the heads of state of NATO member nations. I think he recognized that the values that served him well were nurtured in those early places, and those values underpinned his many life achievements. To the people in Wakefield, he was simply "Jack," and that suited him fine.

A few years ago, my wife, Robin, and I were traveling to Atlanta, so I contacted General Galvin and asked if we might drop in for a short visit.  He and Mrs. Galvin would be delighted, he assured us, and their warm and gracious welcome confirmed that.  He told me of the work he was doing, writing his memoirs, and proudly showed me the methodical approach he was taking, thanks to the hundreds of well-organized boxes of thousands of note cards he had maintained through his career.  I'm afraid I don't know whether he completed the work. I proudly presented him with a copy of my book (Global Public Relations: Spanning Borders, Spanning Cultures), recalling that he had served briefly as an Army public affairs officer. He took keen interest in the book and went carefully through the contents, remarking favorably on the importance of its scope.

I guess that's the connection to this blog from Poland. General Galvin was one of the leading architects of Europe following the end of the Cold War. In those precarious months and years after the fall of "The Wall," he often said his most important role was as a communicator, and he approached that responsibility assertively. Twenty-five years later, it's hard to imagine the extraordinary challenge it was to prepare for and conduct media interviews of such weight and impact. He was the first SACEUR to travel to the former Warsaw Pact states and did so with energy and hopefulness. When we were in Budapest, Prague, Bratislava, and other capitals we had previously known only from maps, he was the face of the West, and he knew his words, gestures and expressions would set the tone for the years and decades ahead. I am so very grateful it was General Galvin undertaking that role. He was superb. Now, here in Poland, I'm observing and benefiting from the course he helped Europe chart in those critical years. Thank you, General Galvin. I'll try to make you proud.

The world has lost one of its great statesmen.