It was March 1975 and I was about to embark on my first ever major trip overseas. I was about to travel to Mexico for six weeks and visit my biggest client to test whether the number of air filters could be reduced across the entire range of models. Before that, however, I planned to fly to São Paulo to “take care of a few matters” as my then-boss put it. Specifically, I was to share my experience from the Testing department and decide on the cartridge end plates for the first-round cartridges. Exciting stuff, but also very challenging and, as you can imagine, I was extremely nervous.
I got chatting to one of my neighbours about my forthcoming trip as I knew they had a son, Thomas, who had started a three-year secondment in Brazil for his German employer in autumn 1974. I knew him well, having often played table tennis with him in the evenings. When his mother discovered that I was flying to São Paulo, she asked me if I wouldn’t mind taking over a small parcel for him containing a few little home comforts. I was only to happy to oblige. However, once I had arrived in São Paulo, I was unable to get hold of Thomas. I was told that he was on holiday so I left the parcel with the reception at his company. Mission accomplished.
On Saturday, 3 May 1975, it was time for me to continue my journey. In the morning, I flew to the capital, Brasilia, with a stopover in Goiânia. After flying approximately 1000 kilometres, I finally arrived at around midday. I quickly checked into my hotel, and then asked around among the taxi drivers in front of my hotel to see if any of them could take me on a quick sightseeing tour of the city. I finally found one who spoke a little English and off we went. The overwhelming impression I got back then was that the quality of the construction was abysmal.
Many of the paving slabs were crooked, with grass growing up through the gaps and the streets and squares all looked way too big to me. Was this a typical German assessment? Or was it typical MANN+HUMMEL perfectionism taking over? I’m not sure either way, but that was my impression of the place.
As it gets dark early in Brasilia, the taxi driver took me back to my hotel at a decent hour. I got out, walked into the hotel and suddenly saw none other than Thomas standing there in the small lobby. He looked at me, then looked away, then looked back at me again, shook his head and turned away – that’s when it hit him.
He looked at me again a little bewildered; he couldn’t believe that his neighbour was standing right there in front of him. He had no idea that I had been planning to travel to Brazil, and neither of us could quite believe that we had bumped into each other like this. Of course, that evening we ate together and had a great catch-up.
On Sunday morning I set off again, this time for Manaus. From there, I planned to go to Mexico City via Bogotá. When I checked in again, I found that I had to pay a fee of some kind. I couldn’t understand it and pointed out that I had paid for my ticket. No one could give me a reason in English and I started to worry that I wouldn’t be able to board since, as a typical Swabian, I wasn’t prepared to pay for something I didn’t think I should. Then, by pure chance, a young married couple came running over.
The husband worked at the Austrian Embassy and was planning to fly on the same route. He realised what the problem was, intervened and said something in Portuguese, and that was that; I was eventually allowed to board the plane without having to pay.
I finally reached Mexico City around 21:00. My customer had said that he would pick me up but when I reached the arrivals hall there was no sign of anyone there for me. I decided to book a hotel at the airport information desk, then went straight there and called my customer. As the following day was a national holiday in Mexico, no one would be coming then either, so the response was to wait until the day after that. So, I now had an unscheduled day off and, by chance, it turned out to be quite an experience.
I was having breakfast when a giant of an American approached my table. He asked if I spoke English, and I replied that I did. Then, he pulled out a bundle of dollar bills and invited me to visit the zoo with him. He told me he worked in the oil fields and was on holiday, but didn’t want to explore Mexico City alone as it was simply too dangerous.
I mulled it over and agreed to join him on the condition that we fit in a few museum trips – it turned out to be a really interesting and varied day. And he paid for everything!
As you can see, it was quite an adventure going solo on business trips back then but, nonetheless, it was always an interesting experience. I wonder if that’s still the case these days?