We have a few questions, Katharina!
Dear Katharina, taking a look at your CV, one might say that you have made the most of your training in hotel management by travelling the world, right?
That’s absolutely right (laughs), although I must say that I have always been fascinated by different cultures and travel, even before I began my apprenticeship. Even back then, my motto was: “Give everything a try and discover as much as you can.” This might be because I grew up in the Allgäu, a very rural region. As soon as I finished school. I packed my things and set off to travel around the USA and Spain. I enjoyed it so much that I decided not to go to university, but instead to do an apprenticeship in hotel management. I also really wanted to work in a large German city and a prestigious hotel. That’s how I came to work in the Hotel Berlin, which served as a springboard for my career in the Emirates and, in the long run, Zurich.
And now Munich… What has brought you to the Bavarian capital? Homesickness, the city, the people, the job?
You might say a combination of all of those things. As wonderful as travelling and working abroad can be, I always missed home. You are left to your own devices to a certain extent, you are away from family and friends, and have to learn how best to stay in contact with them. Munich brings me a little bit closer to my roots. I come from a family of brewers, from a village, which means I have close ties to the Bavarian culture and its traditions. To be honest, all this has only really become clear to me in the last few years. Getting to know foreign cultures and how they connect to the meaning of home probably allows you to understand your own culture better, and to appreciate it more.
Apart from that, the idea of working in a family-run business again appealed to me, after having worked in large chain hotels throughout my career.
What first gave you the idea of going to Abu Dhabi and how easy did you find it to settle in there? Most people probably think the culture in the Emirates is very different from our own.
I was pretty naïve when I first arrived there and had no idea what to actually expect. Back then, I just applied because I wanted to work somewhere where few people usually go (at least at that time).
Luckily, my first position was in the field of training, where I supported colleagues in learning to do their job. This meant working very closely with other people, and that close contact helped me tremendously, especially when it came to dos and don’ts.
What were the biggest challenges you faced during your time there?
I was usually the youngest team member and often also the only woman. Despite that, as team leader I had to act with confidence and determination. Then there were language barriers, as I only spoke German and English, whereas most members of my team spoke Arabic, Hindi, Spanish or French. And I’ve already mentioned the homesickness – although that came and went.
How did you deal with those challenges?
That was where I learnt to observe first of all, and to let incidents or interactions sink in before taking action. That help me to understand the others better. It was a learning curve which really made me think; I certainly didn’t get everything right. However, one thing became clear to me: it doesn’t matter what culture you come from, since every team brings different characters together who you have to adapt to, respect, and treat as individuals.
What helped you combat homesickness?
Whenever I discovered something that reminded me of home, it gave me a little boost – for example, spotting pretzels in the supermarket or if Bavarian beer was being served.
The many friendships I made out there also gave me a lot of support and helped me get over the worst phases of homesickness. We were an international group, which bound us closely together – almost like a surrogate family, except one whose members come from all over the world. As well as this, we learnt so much from each other, cooked food typical of our own cultures for each other, and celebrated the various different national holidays together.
Can you tell us about a particularly defining event that you experienced? What did you learn from it?
The first time a large group of VIPs arrived in Jumeirah in Abu Dhabi was quite spectacular, especially since I had never experienced anything like that before. It was a real ceremony with all the trappings, and although my boss had done his best to prepare me for it, it was still a real eye-opener. That was the first time it became clear to me: “I’m here now, and that’s important!”
Something that really touched me and affected me were the family circumstances of some of my colleagues and how they dealt with them. Most of them only had four weeks’ holiday per year to travel home and spend time with their families. Despite that, they stayed positive and were very respectful. The inner strength that these people had moved me deeply and earned my greatest respect.
Were there any strange or funny incidents with staff or guests?
Lots of them! (laughs) Once, on New Year’s Eve, two men got into a fight and, in the heat of the battle, set off the sprinklers, which flooded that entire storey. When I was told that everything was under water and a few guests had already slipped over, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. The hotel was fully booked, of course…
Another time, the external staff responsible for valet parking went on strike. Several guests looked pretty shocked when they saw that I, a woman, was going to park their Ferrari… I can laugh about it now, but back then it didn’t seem all that funny.
Well, you’ve certainly experienced a lot! A strike by valet parkers might be quite unlikely here at PLATZL, and if you speak English and German you won’t have much difficulty communicating, but the position of Operations Manager still comes with plenty of challenges. Not only do you have juggle all kinds of people, but you also have to deal with different departments. What is the bigger challenge?
I always find dealing with people the greater challenge. You first have to understand your staff and colleagues, and build up trust on that basis. It is essential to understand each person’s individual character and to show sympathy for their personal situation. This is what you need to build on, in order to bring people together and create a team – that’s my approach, one that can be quite challenging.
And it still feels slightly strange to be back in Germany and have to work with my own culture (laughs).
We haven’t talked about what you actually do. In a nutshell, what are an Operations Manager’s main tasks?
I’m responsible for the smooth running of the entire workflow of the hotel. We want our guests to experience a perfect “guest journey”. That begins at check-in, continues on into the rooms, breakfast, other culinary experiences, the service at reception, and doesn’t stop until the satisfied guest has checked out again. I am, as it were, the link between the various departments that the guest comes into contact with during their stay. My job is to keep track of and optimise this process, but also be there to support the staff. On top of that, I have to ensure that we work profitably and efficiently.
You’ll certainly never get bored! How do you keep on top of everything and stay calm among all the hustle and bustle?
My sense of calm has developed over the years as I have become more experienced. After all, there’s a solution for every problem. Sometimes you just have to be resourceful and give your staff the space to come up with their own creative solutions. The team I’ve taken charge of here already works together well and reliably, which helps me stay calm.
I also make sure I maintain a healthy balance between my job and my private life, and have created a quiet space for myself far away from work where I can switch off completely. When I’m there, I’m a very quiet person, in contrast to my professional life.
What do you like best about your position and the PLATZL HOTEL in general?
I especially like the location: the hotel and its surroundings are both really special and are steeped in tradition. I love coming here every day. The place has a great energy, and there is also the warmth with which the staff go about their jobs, something that I noticed and loved even during my initial interviews here.
It is the people that make the difference here. From the start of the day when I’m making my first inspection, I’m glad to see that my staff are in a good mood; it’s noticeable that the guests also reflect this attitude. I am already proud to be part of this culture, even though I haven’t even been here for a year yet.
In the end, our job always comes down to the people, both staff and guests, and that’s the great thing about it. It is a diverse place filled with characters of all kinds.
The outdoor season starts soon. Do you have any expectations about summer and do you have anything special in store?
Since our restaurants and bars provide so much variety, summer promises to be anything but dull. We’re planning some great new special events, but our well-loved DJ event in the Platzl Karree will also be taking place, to name just one example. I can’t wait to see our terraces full of people, whether Munich locals or tourists from around the world.