On November 30, after hanging Christmas lights outdoors (“bigger ‘n’ better than ever,” I said) and helping assemble the (artificial but perfect) Christmas tree, Linda drove me to the Metro and the last teaching trip of the year, an ambitious one, 7 European schools in 12 days. I was a little worried about a 60-minute connection at JFK, so I hopped on the 2:00 US Airways Shuttle to LaGuardia, right on time, then the new Q70 express bus to the Jackson Heights subway station. For more than 25 years, the T-Geek had slogged on the very pokey Q33 to and from the train, and this new service was awesome, 10 minutes. Of course I could have taken a shuttle van to Kennedy for $13, but I needed to get in practice – the forthcoming trip had a lot of public transit and trains. It was great to be in Jackson Heights, albeit briefly. It is perhaps the most multicultural place I’ve ever seen; I’m sure if you look up “polyglot” in the dictionary, you’ll see a street scene from there. Hopped on the E train two stops, then the (pokey) Q10 bus to JFK. On the train and bus, I was almost the only Anglo; another virtue of public transit, as I have written often, is that it’s a great leveler, a window upon the America that most people in the middle class and above never see.
At Kennedy, I parked myself in the Admirals Club, grabbed a beer, and did a little work. I checked the flight I originally booked, and was happy that I came earlier, because it was way late, and I might not have made the connection. No stress! As I waited to hop on the big AA Silver Bird to London, the first Talking-to-Strangers moment of the trip: I noticed a fellow with a Maersk cap and the ship line’s distinctive star logo on his backpack. I approached him and asked if he knew Captain Phillips, the commander of the Maersk cargo ship hijacked by pirates off Somalia in 2009 (and the title of a recent film starring Tom Hanks). Indeed he did, and we had a good yak about the hazards of the open seas. He was a maintenance engineer, headed to Oman to fix a ship. We finished the chat by agreeing that in this digital world people seem to think everything is borne on 1s and 0s; he had a great summary for that: “people have no idea how the bananas get on the table.”
Arrived London just after seven, grabbed a shower in the arrivals lounge, and a leisurely breakfast there (when we lived in Texas, the flight east was 8 or 9 hours, which allowed a better sleep, so it made sense to skip the morning meal on board). Read the newspaper on my iPhone, and at nine ambled through tunnels to the Tube and the slow but cheap ride into central London. Got off at St. Paul’s and wandered south, across the Thames on the Millennium Bridge, then back into the vast cathedral for the 11:30 service, directly beneath the dome. My first visit was in December 1993, so I had the good fortune of worshiping there for 20 years. I explained to the wardsmen that I was enroute, and they welcomed me and my rolling suitcase. I got a good seat, a few rows from the front, and but 20 feet from the choir, which consisted of about 30 young boys and 20 men. There were lots of celebrants, a familiar liturgy, and a splendid sermon on death from the Dean, Rev. Ison, then communion. A good start to advent.
I walked across the City of London, the historic and financial center, through alleys and past smaller churches also designed by Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of 1666. Hopped onto a slow train at Liverpool St. Station north to Cambridge, my favorite overseas teaching venue. The sun came out halfway there, and though I visit Europe every December, I’m always amazed by how low it is in the southern sky.
A big part of what makes Cambridge a fave is always (with only 2 exceptions in 16 visits) staying in Sidney Sussex College. I’d be happy with a tiny garret, but the porter assigned me a large and very comfortable guest room. Ate a sandwich, took a nap, relaxed. At 6:15, I joined the second worship of the day – it’s probably impossible for people of faith to overdo that, and the Advent carol service was spectacular. As I have written, Sunday evenings at college hew to formula, and after worship we processed to the old library for drinks and chatter. Had a nice visit with a fellow who tutored the choir, and learned a lot about singing in Cambridge colleges. Headed to dinner, two-word blessing in Latin, and into a caloric meal and wonderful chat with a Sidney alumnus (class of 1968) and his wife. Leszak was the son of Poles who immigrated to England after World War II. They were working people, and did everything to support their child’s education. It obviously paid off! We also yakked with David Skinner, the college’s director of music, a fascinating and accomplished guy. Bach was a topic, as was David’s penchant for rare books (Chaucer from the 1530s, whoa). After the meal, the same short blessing, and we processed to the comfortable for port, claret, cheese, and chocolates. And more great banter, including two veterinarians holding forth on donkey weddings. Truly a liberal education in a single evening, and among the best evidence for why Cambridge is my favorite place to teach.
David Jagger, one of the vets, his wife Joyce, the other vet, Colin Roberts (a Sidney fellow), and some others joined me for breakfast at high table (I normally am the only one there at 8:15), and I had a chance to learn about the Jagger’s big farm in Shropshire. By the end, I asked if I could come visit and work, invoking my farm-labor experience on David and Katherine Kelly’s Wisconsin dairy farm four decades earlier. “I still think I’d be pretty good with a pitchfork,” I declared, “and I’m happy to clean the barn.” They were ready to set a date!
Just after nine I walked to the Judge Business School, pausing as I usually do at St. Botolph’s parish church for prayers. Worked the morning, got on a call at noon, ate some lunch, and 2:30 met my host for that day, Vincent Mak. He was curious about airline revenue management, so I stepped him through one of my presentations. Lectured to his M.Phil. students from four to six, then had a drinks-and-snacks reception with the students until seven – it’s always fun to yak informally, to find out about their interests, background, dreams. Vincent, a colleague named Nektarios, and I then walked down the street to dinner at Loch Fyne, a favorite seafood restaurant.
Was up early Tuesday morning, brisk walk to the station, and onto an 8:00 train west to Leicester. A few minutes before arriving I fell into a nice T-t-S with a farm couple (twice in two days!) I wished I had started chatting with them when they boarded, 15 minutes earlier, but we managed to cover some ground. I mentioned I was headed to teach at Loughborough University, adding that my host earlier informed me that the teaching staff (though not him) would be on strike. “We never go on strike,” said the missus, “we’re farmers!” To which I replied, “God bless you and your good work. It was a nice moment.
I changed trains at Leicester, heading north 8 miles to Loughborough. The university is one of England’s newer schools. Met my host Tim Ryley at 10:30 for a chat, did some work, grabbed a quick lunch, and from 1:00 to 1:50 delivered a quick lecture. Loughborough offers an air transport B.Sc. degree within their engineering department, so the students had some familiarity with the topic. Tim peeled off to class, I headed back to the railway station and onto the 3:20 express south to Luton Airport. Checked in, grabbed a couple of sandwiches and a salad in the Marks & Spencer shop, enjoyed my “picnic dinner” on a row of chairs in the arrivals hall, and flew to Geneva.
The flight made me growl. EasyJet was great – cheap, friendly, almost punctual – but my fellow travelers’ incivility getting on and off the plane was truly awful. The Brits had lost their vaunted reputation for orderly queuing, and the Continentals were worse. Almost to pushing and shoving to get off the plane, and for what advantage? There was a long line at immigration, and only two inspectors. I was glad to collect my suitcase and amble across the terminal to the train station, and hop on a nearly-empty Swiss Federal Railways train to Lausanne, bound for my debut at HEC, the business school of the University of Lausanne. Arrived 10:45, walked two blocks to my hotel, worked my email, and clocked out.
Wednesday morning was free, so after breakfast I hopped on the Metro and rode down to the port on Lac Leman, Lake Geneva, ambling past ferries that would take you across to Evian, France, in 35 minutes, or to other places and a nice old castle, now a hotel. On the promenade, one of two identical small white dogs came right up to me. I stroked his chin. The owner told me it was unusual for the dogs, who were brothers, to approach strangers. “But they can sense good people,” I replied. Yes, she said, they can tell. Hopped back on the train and rode north to a stop near the Cathedral and the Old Town. Walked around the big church (was surprised to see it was the Reformed church, Protestant), then down the hill and through the historic marketplace. A nice little sortie; here are some scenes:
Back at the hotel, I started growling again. I understand – but do not like – four-star hotels that charge for wi-fi access in the room. This place offered “free” Internet in the lobby, which in that case meant I had to connect the LAN cable from the desktop into my laptop. After waiting for another fellow to finish his work (would two PCs be asking too much?), I repeated what I had done the night before; the short cable required wedging myself between a wall and a desk, and hunching over. Swiss rigidity in more ways than one. The scene reminded me of a Greek colleague who had emailed me about his recent experience in the country:
After some months here, I think that these guys program even the exact time of going to the toilet (and the time spent inside, too). The most irritating part though is that they could even charge you for the air you breathe, if they could estimate it!
More evidence: at 10:45, 15 minutes after the closing hour for breakfast, a Dutch fellow asked the receptionist if he could get a cup of coffee or tea. “No,” she replied, “I’m sorry.” How hard would it have been to fetch him a cup? Grrrrrrrr. When I checked out, the friendly receptionist, also from the Americas, asked how my stay was, and I replied, “not that good.” She was surprised by my candor, but understood my dissatisfaction.
At 11:30, I met my longtime friend Omar Merlo, who teaches at Imperial College, London, but does a ton of guest lecturing, and we rode the Metro west to the “Unil” campus, a set of modern buildings in a semi-rural setting – wait, maybe just rural, given sheep and cattle grazing in the middle of the campus! We grabbed a quick lunch, and from 1:15 to 3:00 I delivered my debut lecture to a small class. Peeled off, and hopped back on the Metro to the main station, where I saw something very unusual: the train information display showed most trains on the main line to Geneva either canceled or late, by as much as 45 minutes. At the bottom of the board, I could translate (from French) the cause: a train hit a person between the two cities. Yikes! We arrived Geneva Airport about 30 minutes late, messing up my try for a 5:10 Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt. Next flight, 6:20.
After clearing security, I approached the podium at gate A9, identified myself as a standby to a kindly and clearly experienced Swiss Air Lines supervisor. Two minutes later, 55 minutes before departure, she came over to me and said “I already have a seat for you.” “It’s Christmas,” I replied. “Yes,” she said, “it’s Christmas before it’s Christmas.” Woo hoo, and I briefly thought I’d do my “made it on the flight standby dance and whoop,” but I did not. But it was good to make the flight, because the schedule for the rest of that day required some precision.
The Lufthansa flight was about 35 minutes late, which messed up my idea for a sit-down dinner in the airport. I grabbed a salad and seeded pretzel and ate it in the airport train station, then hopped on the 9:09 ICE (express) train north to Münster, for my 13th visit there. We departed right on time, and I opened a couple of celebratory beers. Three schools down, five to go. More delays (it was not an on-time day), and we arrived at 12:25 am, 30 minutes late. A traveler in a U.S. city might be concerned about walking 1.2 miles from the station that late, but Münster is a safe place, so I set out, walking briskly toward Coerdeplatz 20. It was my first stay at an Airbnb for eight months. My young host, Svenja, and her two cats, Findus and Momo, greeted me and got me settled in. Lights out at one, really late by my grandpa standards.
Up at first light, which in northern Germany in December is 7:45. Svenja had left for work, so I had the place to myself (well, und zwei katzen). I had a free morning, which was tonic – no need to rush off to a train station, airport, or classroom. Ambled out the door and was reminded of why Airbnb is such a cool idea: sure, it’s great to save money (Svenja’s room was one-third the cost of the usual hotel in town), but staying in a neighborhood makes you feel like a local. So this local walked a block to the bakery, ordered, in German, a large coffee, a hard roll, and an Adventstern, a star-shaped pastry studded with raisins and filled with almond paste. Yum!
At 11, I followed the path beside the stream that runs through the center of the city to the university – specifically the Marketing Centrum. My longtime host Manfred was in New Zealand, but I was welcomed by several of his Ph.D. students. Did a bit of work, and at 12:30 we headed to lunch at an agreeable Italian place, ravioli filled with salmon, and a really delicious alcohol-free honey beer from Pinkus, the local brewery. Good chatter with new friends about their research, their visits to the U.S., my travels. From 2:15 to 3:45 I gave a seminar on leadership, well received, with lots of the candid conversation I value. It’s a great joy to share my experience. Worked a bit more, then headed to Mackenbrock, where I stop each year to buy an small, German-made Christmas ornament – always a little angel. By 4:30 it was dark and the wind was howling and the rain was going sideways; we were on the edge of a bad storm that caused damage and injuries in Britain and farther north in Germany.
It was good to be back in Svenja’s cozy apartment. I greeted the cats, took a nice nap, and at 7:30 headed out. My young host Christine picked me up and we headed across town to the A2 bar and kaminabend, a fireside chat with ten undergraduates from the center’s Circle of Excellence program. I had presented my “ten pieces of advice for graduating students” several times before, but this group was particularly engaged – we stayed until about ten, with a light supper of baked potato. I chatted for quite awhile with a second-generation airline person, a young woman who worked for Air Berlin for a couple of years, the daughter and niece of Lufthansa flight attendants; it’s always fun to swap notes on the business, especially the fun parts like almost-free mobility.
My travel angels were smiling on me the next morning, because they signaled that I should check train status on the Deutsche Bahn app on my iPhone (yes, the Transport Geek has them for German and Swiss trains); good thing I did, because the local train that would take me from Münster 20 miles south to Hamm and a connecting express was running 15 minutes late and I would have missed the connection. Whew! Dressed quickly, hopped on a local bus to the station, grabbed a coffee, and got an earlier train to Hamm, which gave me an hour layover.
The short ride started with a remembrance prayer and meditation: it was 20 years ago that day, December 6, that my friend Jack Sheppard died. Jack loved Germany, and I felt his smiling presence as we cruised past Westphalian farms. I remembered the sadness I felt when Linda called me in London with the news, the grief at his wake and funeral. And I remembered a signal moment in my life: as the hearse bearing his remains headed west on Summit Avenue in St. Paul, growing smaller until it disappeared on the horizon, I had a thought that has changed my life for two decades now: we control varying amounts of our lives, but what we don’t control is how much time God gives us on Earth. That thought is what propelled me out of American Airlines at age 55, and into a worklife of freedom and independence, time that I control. It has had its challenges, but it has been an outstanding ride. I mourned Jack’s loss every day – every single day – for several years, but from it came positive change. I think Jack would approve.
I opened The New York Times app and at the top was news of Nelson Mandela’s death. More reflection; though less personal, his life also offered many lessons, the greatest of which was neatly summarized in the paper:
The question most often asked about Mr. Mandela was how, after whites had systematically humiliated his people, tortured and murdered many of his friends, and cast him into prison for 27 years, he could be so evidently free of spite.
At Hamm, I grabbed another Adventstern pastry, hard roll, and pint of milk, and continued reading the obituary. Fascinating, a life well lived. My mind went back to a Sunday morning in February 1990; I had just returned from church, and Linda was watching a morning talk program that was interrupted to show footage of Mr. Mandela leaving the prison on Robben Island, where he stayed for 27 years. Rest in peace, Madiba; you were an awesome force for good. Just one more message from him: “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
I got on another ICE express, riding a couple of hours south to Kassel, in the far northeast of the state of Hessia, and met my young University of Kassel host Patrick Rath. The original plan was lunch with one of the senior marketing professors, but his schedule changed, so we had a bit of time, and used it to drive south and up a hill to a statue of Hercules and a great view of the city, including a palace that was summer home of Kaiser Wilhelm II, German emperor until November 1918.
Drove back to the uni, worked a bit, and at 1:15 headed to the Mensa, the student cafeteria, for lunch and more chatter. Though I had only met Patrick once before, we had become solid email pen pals. At three we got back in the car and headed south to Königstein, a spa town now a very affluent suburb 14 miles from Frankfurt, site of the Siegfried Vögele Institute, the training and education arm of the firm Deutsche Post DHL (the Germans, always bright, figured out years ago that privatizing the postal service was a good idea).
A two-hour drive gives you lots of time to talk, and we covered a lot of topics. But the most interesting thread was about his family. Patrick grew up in Rostock, in the former GDR. He said that because his family was active in the (Lutheran) church, the state had some suspicions about them (he later told me that he knows the current president of Germany, Joachim Gauck, a Lutheran pastor with whom I was, as a fellow believer, familiar with). He was eight when the Berlin Wall came down. His father was an engineer, and had worked for the government building company. Within a year of the big change, he had been hired by a West German firm, a good job, and a new car to replace their 27-year-old Trabant. His father went on to build a successful construction-supply business. These stories just fascinate me. I also enjoyed learning about his grandpa, who lived through the Depression, the Nazis, the Soviets. He just kept on. We also had a lively chat about whether the NSA spying on its citizens was much different from the East German Secret Police (the Stasi). Yes, a different degree – by some estimates, 1 in every 50 East Germans was a Stasi informant – but is the NSA doing the right thing?
We arrived at the conference center at five. Light snow covered the fir trees (and the parking lot, a bit slippery). Checked in, worked my email, got a nap. At seven, we joined a small group of Deutsche Post DHL managers (the firm was paying for an executive MBA). I won their trust early, by telling them how much I admired their country. “What do you like about Germany,” one man asked. “Many things,” I replied, “Let’s start with your more human approach to keeping people working during recessions. In my country, we simply lay them off. Here, you try to be flexible, offering part-time work so that workers can at least earn some money. And there’s more . . .”
We tucked into a traditional Advent dinner of roast duck, red cabbage, and dumplings, with apple strudel for dessert. After the meal, I gave a shorter version of my “ten things” leadership talk, with lots of great questions and discussion afterward. I felt very much at home with the group, but I left them at ten.
Up at 6:30 for a quick walk through the building, which a century ago was a psychiatric clinic catering to influential clients in the arts. Ate breakfast, said good-bye, and took a short taxi ride to the station, a local train to Frankfurt’s always-teeming Hauptbahnhof, and the ICE express to Berlin. I had booked the ticket way early, and got a great deal on a first class seat, which was nice. In the last six or seven minutes of a four-hour train ride I had a wonderful, but far too short, T-t-S with a German couple about my age – wish I had started the chat earlier. The missus had family in Utica, New York, who emigrated from the ashes of World War II. We talked about the many changes in Berlin in our lifetimes. Mister told me he had lived in Berlin as a young man, 1972 to 1979, which was when I visited the first time, and experienced firsthand the tension of the Cold War.
Hewing to Advent tradition, at 1:45 I met, for the sixth consecutive year, my young German friend Michael Beckmann at the Berlin Hauptbahnhof. Son Niklas, now almost five, was with him. Herr B. and I are fellow Transport Geeks, and we had a T-Geek weekend planned. After hanging out on the platform for awhile, we dropped my suitcase in his trunk and ambled across the big lawn that is west of the Reichstag, seat of the German parliament. This resident of Washington, D.C., was struck by the relaxed atmosphere. Here was a democratic republic that felt comfortable enough to allow private car parking within a few hundred meters of the building. No armed guards, no tension. Precisely the vibe that an advanced republic should exude.
Niklas is a budding T-Geek, and wanted to ride a double-decker bus, so we hopped on route #100 and rode west through the big green Tierpark, past a bunch of embassies and the zoo, and down the main shopping street of the former West Berlin, the Kurfürstendamm. I didn’t eat lunch on the train, so grabbed a smoked salmon bagel sandwich, and we hopped on the S-Bahn (suburban train) east to Alexanderplatz, the heart of the former East Berlin. We grabbed a glühwein, the hot spiced wine popular at Christmastime and ambled around for awhile, then hopped on a tram; Michael works for Bombardier, the Canadian multinational that builds planes and trains (including trams), which helps explain him as T-Geek, but like me he has long been interested in all forms of transport. It was starting to get dark, so we hopped a train back to the main station and drove home.
It was great to see wife Susan and daughter Annika, who would turn two the next day. It was dinnertime for the kids, so we headed out to bow again to tradition, dinner at Zur Krumme Linden, a splendid rustic inn. The kids were wiggly, but we still had a fun dinner. I often tell my German friends and hosts, with some pride, that 41 years of travel in their country has enabled me to read a menu, and I assumed that brathering was baked or pan-fried herring. Well, sort of: cooked, but then pickled and chilled. It was good, but a bit different, and a good reminder to notch down the cockiness! We headed home, yakked a bit, and clocked out early, because Sunday was going to be a long one.
And it was, but it was a lot of fun. Way fun. A blast. We were up just after six and out the door, west and south to the railways station in Spandau, where we hopped on a steam-drawn train. Elsa, the locomotive, will turn 70 in 2014. She was built for the Nazi Wehrmacht, intended to facilitate fast invasions, and converted by the East German line, the Deutsche Reichsbahn. The coaches were a mix of ages; Michael had booked seats in the most modern “wagon” (as they call rolling stock in Europe), with efficient heating. We arced clockwise around the capital, then headed southeast. This was the former East Germany, and you could still tell from subtle hints in the landscape. Just before noon we arrived in Lübbenau, a small tourist town in the Spreewald, the forest near the headwaters of the same River Spree that winds through Berlin. Michael wanted to get still pictures and video of the steam engine turning around for the return trip, and we hung out on the platform until about one. We yakked for awhile with one of the train conductors; Holger was an affable guy, a volunteer (as were all of the train staff from the organization that translates at Berlin Friends of the Steam Locomotive). His day job was with the Deutsche Bahn, in the regulatory and compliance part of their P.R. department. I told him I understood his Monday to Friday headaches, having worked in transport P.R. in my career. We laughed about it.
We walked a half-mile into town. I was hungry, and grabbed a great bowl of pea soup and bread; Michael and Susan had pickled herring roll-ups. Canals criss-cross the Spreewald, and about two we hopped on a curious conveyance, a 35-seat flat-bottom boat that a boatman propelled by pushing a long pole on the bottom – it was a longer version of the punts that ply the River Cam in Cambridge. A young boy dressed as a forest sprite, stood in the middle of the boat and told of local legends. We rolled gently along, past brick and half-timbered houses (there were few or no roads, so the mailboxes were on the canal), and in 30 minutes arrived in a little village, Lehde, were we hopped off, then ambled through an open-air museum. This was a landscape unlike anything I had ever seen, and it was really pleasant:
The region was well known for its pickles, and we sampled some, very crunchy. As a supporter of quality food and of the integrity of place, I was glad to see that Spreewald pickle producers had secured the EU’s Geographical Indication (like Champagne and Parma hams). We climbed back on a flatboat, this one guided by a woman; we learned that the boat company was a cooperative founded in 1853, way cool. It was getting dark when we arrived back in the small harbor at Lübbenau. Walked back to the train, got settled in, and enjoyed a couple (well, okay, three) of one of my favorite German black beers (Schwarzbier). We arrived back in Spandau a little after seven, loaded the stuff and kids into the car, and headed home, tired but happy. My pants were dirty, and Susan kindly let me use her washer and dryer while we looked at Michael’s many pictures from the day. Just before bed, we sampled some Spreewald pickles and a few slices of Susan’s homemade bread, a perfect end to a good day. Much of what made the day interesting was reflecting on all the change in this part of the world over the past 75 years. I feel fortunate to have been around for two-thirds of that era.
Was up even earlier Monday, after five, and out the door at six, into town. Michael dropped me at the main station, then drove south to the Bombardier factory in Bautzen, near the Czech border. I grabbed a big Starbucks and a pastry, and hopped on the 6:49 ICE to Hannover. After a pleasant hour or so in the DB Lounge in Hannover (like two days earlier, I splurged for a first class ticket, which is quite inexpensive if you book early), I boarded another ICE south through Kassel and Frankfurt – there was a nice sense of déjà vu, having been in those places three days earlier. I was bound for my second visit to KIT, the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, in the city of the same name, way across Germany – almost 500 miles southwest of Berlin. Rolling through a landscape of rolling hills, pleasant old villages, and cities, it was a good time to think about and celebrate this prosperous, sensible, and civilized country. Germany seems like an easy target for critics, but this observer sees it much differently, and have for decades. They do many, many things right.
This was the same path as 2012, and like then I had a nice lunch in the dining car before and just after Frankfurt. Enjoyed a second dish of grünkohl (two nights earlier at the Linde I asked for a side dish of the kale cooked with pork fat and bacon, German soul food). Arrived Karlsruhe a bit late, hopped on the tram, and was checked in at the university guest house and connected to eduroam in a flash. What’s eduroam? A worldwide wi-fi service for academics – my Georgetown email address and ID enabled me to access it. It’s a great system. I unpacked, ironed my suit trousers, and went for a walk on a clear and relatively warm day. A break from the gloom was most welcome. Ambled around the palace of the onetime Duke of Baden, then past the German Constitutional Court, and around the center. Hopped back on a tram, then headed back for a nap.
At six I met my KIT host, Martin Klarmann. Though I had visited a year earlier, I did not meet him because he had emergency surgery the day I arrived. Yikes! We hopped in a taxi and headed to a fancy restaurant, Anders auf dem Turmburg, atop a hill overlooking the city. Martin proved to be a very interesting fellow, and we had a splendid dinner – a cream of chestnut soup with a small piece of quail, and a main course of duck breast, red cabbage, and dumplings – traditional German food, but refined. Conversation was equally good, across all sorts of topics, including German and U.S. politics (the former are a lot more interesting), sport, family. He’s from Hamburg, so I said some nice things about his wonderful hometown.
Was out the door Tuesday morning at nine, into more sunshine. Met Martin and walked across campus to the same classroom we used in 2012, in a wonderful old building. Martin shares my interest in the built environment, and offered a running commentary on styles and ages of the buildings, from the 1850s to a couple that are under construction. Delivered a lecture to undergraduates, then walked to a new classroom and spoke to Masters’ students. Six doctoral students joined us for a filling lunch (lentils, wieners, spätzle; I’m gonna need a lot of carrots and celery when I get home). Walked back to school, grabbed my suitcase, and Martin escorted me to the tram stop, where I said goodbye, hopped on, and rode back to the main station. Caught a French TGV to Frankfurt, and walked three blocks to the Holiday Inn Express on Elbestrasse.
After working a bit, I headed out, planning on a couple of beers and a light dinner. I don’t know Frankfurt well, but found what was described as an agreeable bar near the hotel. It was in fact disagreeable, so I drank a small beer and headed out, south across the River Main, where I found an agreeable, broad footpath on the south bank, with a sensational view of the highrise skyline. In the Sachsenhausen district there are a number of cozy restaurants that specialize in ebbelwei, apple wine. I discovered last year that it’s not my, er, cup of tea, but they also serve beer. I was headed for another place I found online, and inadvertently entered its competitor next door, which was friendly and local, but didn’t quite fit. So I headed next door to the Dauth-Schneider, which had a mix of Germans and tourists, livelier. I ordered a dark beer and surveyed the scene. What seemed like half the population of China filed out. Eight Japanese bantered at the next table, and next to me were two young Germans. And I was in luck: the daily menu offered grünkohl, and despite the big lunch seven hours earlier I had to have a third helping of German soul food before leaving Deutschland. Yum! Ambled back to the hotel and head hit pillow early.
Was up before five and at the airport an hour later. All was normal until British Airways canceled the flight. The trip had gone like clockwork for 11 days, and Wednesday truly unraveled. The plan was to have breakfast with a colleague of my young friend Scott Sage, then deliver two talks at New York University’s London program (organized through City University and longtime host Vince Mitchell). I was rebooked on a Lufthansa flight at 8:20, so 8:30 breakfast was, well, toast. I headed across to Terminal 1 – delayed by a police “lockdown,” just to add to the day – reentered Germany, and ate some breakfast. Then comes news that the 8:20 LH rocket was delayed to 10:40, which meant the noon lecture was toast. We boarded the flight, only to hear the captain say we’d sit for 40 minutes before takeoff clearance. At 11:30 he brought more bad news, an hour delay, which meant the 2:00 lecture was burnt toast. Ugh.
We finally took off and zipped west. It was clear above the North Sea, and I could see the Rhine Delta and, a bit north, the port Hoek van Holland. I chuckled, because months earlier when planning that part of the trip I considered taking the train north from Karlsruhe to Hoek (eight hours or so), the book a small stateroom on the Stena Line ferry to Harwich, England; the cost was about the same as the flight, and I woulda arrived in time for the two lectures. Sigh.
On descent to Heathrow could see the fog that slowed things down, but also patches of blue sky. Walked briskly through the airport and onto the Tube (at this point I wasn’t in a hurry, so no need for a pricier ride on the Heathrow Express train). At 3:15 I met my young entrepreneurial friend Jonathan Nicol for a very encouraging update on his business, then walked a block north on Buckingham Gate – almost to the queen’s house – to the office of my young friend and long mentee Scott Sage (described in many previous accounts). He had stuff to do before leaving work, so he set me up in a conference room with wi-fi, and I worked for a couple of hours. At six we hopped in a taxi for a rush-hour slog home – Scott had a big box that he didn’t want to schlep on the Tube, but it was a long, slow ride.
Earlier in 2013, Scott and his new wife Caroline bought their first house, but when Scott opened the door it looked very different from the “starter home” that we or our friends bought three decades ago. Whew, it was posh, all redone inside, and very comfortable. Scott showed me to the guest bedroom on the third floor, bath adjacent. Changed clothes and ambled around the corner to The Parlour, a gastropub in a former workingman’s saloon. Waiting for us was Scott’s friend Kawika, a really interesting fellow American who I first met in November 2008. The two met while working for the British Venture Capital Association; Scott now is a partner in a VC firm, and Kawika has a cool job in a social capital organization, a disruptive new approach to funding charities and helping them succeed. We had no trouble making conversation. Caroline soon joined us for a lively dinner. Big fun, but I was plumb wore out by 9:30.
Up before seven on Thursday morning, down for a chat with Scott and Caroline, a bowl of homemade muesli, and a coffee. They left for work (Scott by bike, which was way cool), I worked a bit, and at ten headed into the city, then northwest to Milton Keynes for lunch with Martin Cunnison, my old client when I was consulting (2010-12) for his startup inflight entertainment company. I arrived MK early, and went for a walk through the center of this planned city that is a direct descendent of the “garden city” movement that the British invented a century ago, a new approach to town planning.
Martin arrived at the railway station at 12:45, speeding around the corner in his black Mini Cooper. We repaired to a nearby restaurant and started to catch up – I last saw him only six months earlier, but his business was advancing by leaps and bounds, and it was fun to listen to him narrate progress. Tucking into a shared appetizer, his mobile rang. It was his swell wife Tara, and he handed me the phone to say hello. It was great to hear her voice, but would have been more fun to see her smiling face. Then, presto, Martin suggested she join us, and in 15 she did, with a big hug. We had a nice lunch and a great chat. They are good people.
I walked back to the station and hopped on the 3:06 back to London, then on the Tube to Oxford Circus. Waded through waves of Christmas shoppers on Oxford Street and into John Lewis, a wonderful department store for a quick look and a pee. Then headed south on side streets, including Savile Row, the celebrated home of haberdashers, where windows on the basement level workshops enabled one to see true handsewing endure. Indeed, those side streets are ideal for witnessing the sort of specialty retailing that can only prosper in a place like London, a thought I expressed to a friendly English woman who shared my admiration for the rare maps in a shop window.
I zipped into St. James Church in Piccadilly, a Wren design from 1684 and a welcome 20-minute thanksgiving respite from noise and busyness.
Refreshed, I nipped into the Three Crowns on Babmaes Street and at 5:10 met Tim Letheren, one of my former students at Cambridge; 30 minutes later another Judge graduate, Fabio Scappaticci, arrived; they were three years apart, but both had worked for the same ad agency after getting their MBAs. We had a great time, talking serious stuff and jolly stuff. At seven, we split, Fabio and me heading south to Lambeth, linking up with Louis-Philippe LaRocque, who I met at Judge in May. I introduced the boys to Raj Dawood and some of the best curry in London at Hot Stuff. We had a colossal meal, not quite as fiery as I’d like, but nice. Home for a quick word with Scott, and off to sleep.
Up early again, 5-something, quietly down the stairs and out the door for the Tube and Heathrow Express. Flew to Dublin for the last teaching of 2013, at Dublin City University. I was due at the school at two, so had a bit of time to look around the center. Bought a Dublin Bus day ticket and hopped on Bus 41C for the center. I missed breakfast, so grabbed a tuna sandwich and a pint of milk and ate on O’Connell Street, right below a statue of Irish nationalist Charles Stewart Parnell (1846-91), a nice reminder of that island’s long struggle to be free. Walked across the River Liffey, then west a few blocks to the Ha’penny Bridge and back to the bus stop. Arrived at DCU about 1:20, and was hungry again, so headed to the student cafeteria – a nice bit of symmetry, lunches on campuses on two consecutive Fridays. Fish and chips and steamed carrots, filling.
I walked across campus to the business school, where I had a nice T-t-S chat with Vincent, finishing his Master’s in eCommerce. “Staying in Ireland after you graduate?” I asked. He replied probably not, no, likely to head to the Gulf. It was the same answer I remember hearing in a pub by Trinity College in 1987, engineering students headed there or Australia after finishing. In the years between Ireland created lots of high-skill, high-knowledge jobs. We yakked about his good experiences in Boston and New York, and some other topics, and I wished him a good life.
At two, I met Ruth Mattimoe, an accounting prof and co-director of the aviation management program. We headed to the school café for a coffee, she introduced me to a table of faculty, and the next 45 minutes became an informal seminar on the airline business. From three to four, I delivered the final talk of the year to a very engaged class, all from the aviation program. The dean of the engineering school sat in. It was a good way to end another great year in the classroom. By the numbers: 27 schools in 8 countries, more than 2000 students and 105 contact hours. As I’ve experienced in prior Decembers, there was mixed sense as we walked to Ruth’s car, sure satisfaction for a good year but a vague unhinged feeling at the end.
But about 90 minutes later, there was nothing but pure joy, as I met my longtime airline friend Maurice Coleman at the entrance to the venerable Trinity College. Maurice and I worked a bit together back when the oneworld airline alliance was forming. He was a longtime Aer Lingus exec, and always a splendid interpreter of his island home. Dinner was an hour off, and we wanted a drink, so off we went to Mulligan’s of Poolbeg Street (in business since 1792). You couldn’t have found a more authentic Irish pub: packed, jabbering everywhere, lots of laughs. By pure luck two lads were leaving the back bar, and they ceded their stools to us. In between getting caught up with our lives, we did what you do in those places, talking and laughing with total strangers. In Ireland you engage, and isn’t that a great thing? It’s T-t-S squared!
Maurice and I covered a lot of topics, including the state of the Irish economy. He pointed out that there still was plenty of woe following the big collapse of 2008, but that there were good signs, too: modest growth and some good jobs created, including one for his daughter, who finished at University College Dublin in psychology; she’s working for Accenture, and loves it.
Dinner at an Italian place, Dunne & Crescenzi, was yummy, but it really was an interlude in an abbreviated pub crawl (if I were flying out later the next day, we could have visited a couple more). Maurice, a native Dubliner, knew all the real places, and we passed on two that were way too crowded before squeezing through the crowd at McDaid’s of Harry Street, where again, miraculously, two stools appeared. What fortune we had, aye, the luck of the Irish. The pubs presented a perfect way to end a great, if long trip, and I wore a smile the whole evening. Those places were the real deal.
Maurice kindly walked me back across the Liffey to the 41C bus stop, explaining a bit of Dublin geography as we walked. He knows a lot about the city. We said goodbye, and I headed back to the hotel, then to Kennedy Airport the next morning. The Silver Bird that brought me home, a Boeing 757, was the 73rd public transport vehicle I rode on the trip (yep, I kept track), one of many planes, trains, buses, and even a couple of old flatboats in Germany. We landed JFK in snow, and outbound flights were canceled, but, mercifully, my ride home took off, and I was back in Virginia a little after seven. It was great to be home – the trip was wonderful, but long.