Germany for a Workweek, and Always Glad to Be There

One of Germany’s biggest infrastructure projects, a re-do of the Stuttgart main railway station and surrounding district. The work has been underway for years, and on twice-yearly visits I didn’t sense much progress. I finally took time to study the explanatory signboards and, slap my forehead, now I get it: they are rotating the tracks 90 degrees, building new tunnels, and more. We Americans talk about fixing transport infrastructure; Germans get it done.

I was home for the whole of April, after returning from Europe.  By May, I had what my mother called “Itchy Feet,” so on Sunday the 5th I flew to Germany via Charlotte for a week of teaching.  Landed Frankfurt Monday morning, an hour late, stressing a bit about making my connection to the train south to Stuttgart and Tübingen.  Thanks to German efficiency – a new, faster shuttle bus from terminal to airport train station – I actually caught an earlier train.  Enroute to Mannheim, had a brilliant Talking-to-Strangers time with a Dutchman, CEO of a midsize software company, working mostly in Germany but still living in his hometown of Breda, south of Rotterdam.  We covered a lot of topics, notably the astonishing pace of IT change in the last decades.

Left, yellow fields of canola east of Frankfurt; right, the high-rise downtown and Main River. Below, my Dutch seatmate on the ICE to Mannheim.

Had an hour between trains in Stuttgart, and needed to pee, so I followed my dad’s direction – developed over years of driving across the Midwest – and looked for a nice hotel near the station.  And there it was, right across the street: the Steigenberger Graf Zeppelin (yep, named for the blimp). Posh, clean men’s room, and a warm lobby. As Cliff Britton taught me decades ago, you walk in the front door, make it look like you belong, and no one bothers you!   Refreshed and warmed up (it was 42° F, chilly, and the station was unheated), I ambled back across, through the station, and onto the local train to Tübingen.

Apartments in Plochingen, east of Stuttgart, designed by the Austrian artist and (whimsical) architect Hundertwasser.

Walked a few blocks to my Airbnb, met Vera, the owner, and in no time I was living like a local, in a large one-bedroom apartment.  Dropped my stuff and walked a few more blocks south, through a neighborhood where I stayed (in another Airbnb) on my first trip to Tübingen in 2015, to Gastätte Loretto, a restaurant operated entirely by people with varied disabilities; I found it quite by accident while looking on Google Maps for the location of my digs.  As it says on their website, “People with disabilities can find workplaces suited to their abilities in all areas of gastronomy – kitchen, service, and housekeeping. Many gain confidence in meeting guests and discover new abilities.”  Hooray for that!  And lunch was superb – a huge bowl of tortellini Alfredo and salad.  It reminded me of Day by Day Café in St. Paul, where recovering addicts have run a successful eatery for almost 40 years.  You feel good when you support places like that.

Above, pleasant, solid houses in my Tübingen neighborhood; below, the Gasthaus Loretto and a cool BMW with sidecar; at bottom, the old town at dusk.

Ambled back to the apartment, took a needed nap, went out for breakfast fixings, and worked a bit.  At 6:30, I walked across the Neckar River and into Tübingen’s old town, the Altstadt, for dinner at Forelle, a nice restaurant.  Spring is asparagus season, Spargelzeit, in Germany, so I tucked into some fresh white spears, simply prepared with butter, with a German-style savory pancake.   Just after the server brought me a glass of wine, the owner asked if a solo diner could join my table, common practice in Europe.  “Of course,” I replied, and a friendly fellow of about my age sat down, to begin the second great T-t-S of the day. Ulrich Deiters, known as Ulli, was back visiting the university where he studied to become a teacher four decades earlier.  We covered lots of topics, laughed a lot, and I learned a bunch. Just one small-world tidbit: in the middle of the 19th Century, his great-great-grandfather owned a clothing store on in Münster (a city where I also teach, and know quite well), number 48 on the premier shopping street called the Prinzipalmarkt.  It was the only building that survived multiple Allied bombings during World War II.  I would have stayed longer at table, but I had a 9:00 PM client call.

Inside the cozy Forelle restaurant, and my agreeable tablemate Ulli

The view from my Airbnb apartment

Up early Tuesday morning, brewed a pot of coffee (nice to be in a homey place), ate breakfast, and hopped on the train and bus to the European School of Business, ESB, at nearby Reutlingen University.  Worked the morning in the Mensa (student cafeteria), ate lunch, and at 1:00 joined a group of faculty and fellow part-time teachers for a meeting with a review team from the AACSB, the (once American but now global) accreditation body for business schools.  ESB had applied to be certified, and we were trying to help secure approval.  Meeting was easy and positive.  From 3:30 to 5:00 I spoke to three combined classes, a good talk.  My longtime host Oliver Götz and I then drove into downtown Reutlingen for beer and dinner.  It was a sunny spring afternoon, and we sat in the biergarten of Barfüsser, an agreeable brewpub, and had a nice chat.  Oliver dropped me at the station, hopped the train back to Tübingen (11 minutes, quick), and headed home.  Lights out early.

The view of Reutlingen University from my familiar “corner office” in the Mensa

Wednesday morning, time to move on.  Took the local train back to Stuttgart and the fast (ICE) train north through Frankfurt to the second school, University of Kassel.  Met long friend and young host Patrick Rath at the station at 12:20, and we drove downtown for lunch, then a nice walk in a big park, past an Orangerie built by one of the German kaisers.  Back up the hill to pick up daughter Lotte, already seven (she’s the up-and-coming ice hockey player described in a previous update).  It was fun to walk through a German elementary school; it was still the lunch hour and it was as actually a bit wilder than a U.S. school: kids pushing and shoving, playing ball, running through the halls, zipping around the playground.  We drove back to the Raths’ apartment.  I worked a bit, spoke to Patrick’s partner Elli when she returned from work, and at 5:45 walked a couple of blocks to meet a handful of business students from CTK, a student-run consulting firm (I’ve known the group for many years).  Did an informal Q&A for an hour, then we all hopped on the streetcar a mile or so to Lohmann, Kassel’s oldest pub.  It was raining hard, so we couldn’t sit in the biergarten, but had beer and dinner inside.  Patrick joined the group at 8:45.  Jumped in
Patrick’s car, drove home, and slept hard.

In the huge, leafy central park in Kassel; below, scenes of the Orangerie

Spring flowers in the Raths’ kitchen

Elli and I walked Lotte to school, then we hopped on the #1 tram out to the railway station and onto a fast train 30 miles north to Göttingen, an historic university town (Elli works for the school).  You immediately knew from the people on the street that this was an academic, intellectual place.  We walked a few blocks from station into town.  Elli peeled off, and I set out exploring the compact old town within ancient walls.  Very cool old town hall, churches, academic buildings.  Stopped for a coffee and bread roll.  Fortified, I climbed the spire of the St. Jacobi (Lutheran) Church.  I love church towers and have been up many in Germany, but this one (built almost 600 years ago, 1427-33) was both really high and sort-of-challenging, because more than half of the 200 feet of climb was on ladders.  It was not dangerous, but slightly rickety – some of the railings wobbled, and you needed to duck in places, because centuries ago people were shorter!  The views from the top were superb, once I figured out how to open the wooden shutters.

Above left, the “Ganseliesel,” Göttingen’s most famous sculpture, a girl bringing her goose to market; at right, the old town hall, 15th Century. Below, ceiling and wall frescoes in the old town hall.

Above, shop windows in town; below, the 18th Century university Aula (auditorium)

Above and below, the town has lots of wonderful half-timbered buildings, many ornately decorated; below at right, a turret in the corner of the old town hall and a nearby church.

Above, St. Jakobi Church and the entrance to the rectory; below, one of the tower ladders.

Above, views from the tower; below, my man Martin Luther and distinct columns (they create a distorting optical effect) inside St. Jakobi.

Above, Michaelishaus; below, facades on the main shopping street; at bottom, architectural detail in a very old place.

Climbed down, ambled back to the station (passing an academic building, the Michaelishaus, where, according to a plaque, Benjamin Franklin visited for two days in 1766), south to Kassel, onto the tram to the university.  At 1:30, I met doctoral students Sven and Florian for lunch at the Mensa, second such lunch in three days, big plate of gnocchi with side vegetables.  Had a good chat about their research.  At 3:30, I met their boss, Andreas Mann, the Marketing Chair, for a short chat, then walked to class in a huge lecture hall, 175 students.  Technical problems: only the lectern microphone worked, and I hate to stand at a podium, so I mostly hollered for an hour as I moved across the stage, but it all went well.  Chatted briefly with the team, then hopped back on the tram to the station.

Herr Scheidemann lived in the same buildings as the Raths; he was a Social Democratic politician and one of the founders of the Weimar Republic; he fled Germany after the Nazis took power.

I was returning home the next morning, Frankfurt-Charlotte, and the scheduled departure is 9:20, so I couldn’t stay in Kassel.  I hate airport hotels, so I booked a room in Wiesbaden, a pleasant city 40 minutes from the airport.  The ICE (fast train) left Kassel on time, and we were zipping along, then stalled in Fulda, an hour from Frankfurt, for 20 minutes.  We rolled on, slowly, then 10 minutes later stalled in the burg called Schlüchtern.  I could only pick out a few words from the German PA announcement, but people were grabbing their stuff and racing for the doors, so I followed the crowd, across to an adjacent track and onto a regional train to Frankfurt.  That one was late, too.  By that point, dinner in Wiesbaden was out, so I grabbed a pickled herring sandwich and a beer in the Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof, then onto a suburban train, munching happily.  The hotel was less than five minutes from the Wiesbaden Hauptbahnhof, so was asleep quickly.

Up at six, to the airport by 7:20, zip, zip, zip.  Then another stall: the Charlotte flight was late, but I passed some of the time in a happy T-t-S with a native Californian who had served in the Army for 30 years, all of it in Germany, his German wife, and seriously cute five-year-old daughter (who was wearing a T-shirt that read “Straight Outta Time Out”).  We talked about the Cold War, all the changes since, and more.  When we parted, I thanked him for keeping us (and Western Europe) free during the Cold War.  Really nice people.

I sped through Charlotte airport, from arrival gate through Customs to departure gate in under 20 minutes, and onto a flight to Dulles.  A thunderstorm right over that field closed operations, so we sat in North Carolina for an hour, but was home by 6:45, Henry and MacKenzie on leashes.

American Airlines’ gate agent at Charlotte, one of the millions of airline people who keep us moving every day; at right, the muddy Potomac River near Washington Dulles Airport.

 

 

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London, Amsterdam, and Hamburg

Amsterdam at sunset

On March 24, the day after teaching all day in the first of three sessions of a Georgetown marketing elective, I headed back to Europe for the third time in two months, for three schools in London.  Flew to JFK, then across to Heathrow.  Along the way, I watched the movie “First Man,” about U.S. astronaut Neil Armstrong.  Fifty-plus years ago, when NASA was determined to put a man on the moon, they sugar-coated a lot of the danger, which was evident in the film. (Now I know why my mom used to sob during the countdown to blast-off!).   Landed at sunrise, and just like in Canada the week before, my iPhone wasn’t working.  No cell carrier in the UK.  I had time, so I connected to T-Mobile – which has otherwise been a superb carrier – and started down a long path that, after more than hour, resulted in no solution.  So I hopped on the Tube, and by long tradition cued The Beatles, for a proper welcome to England.  Changed trains twice, then a short walk to the home of my long friend Omar Merlo in Kew.  Hugs to Omar and wife Carolyn (the phone snafu caused me to miss the walk to school with daughter Sophie, 10, and Freddie, 7), then some raucous playtime with their golden retriever Mr. Waffles.

The view from above, on approach to New York Kennedy from the west: beaches on the south verges of Brooklyn, Manhattan in the distance, and unimaginative (private) apartments in Queens. Below, Canary Wharf, the highrise office district just east of central London

 

The Merlos, minus Carolyn: Freddie and Sophie, Mr. Waffles, and Omar

It was a gorgeous spring morning, cool but sunny, and Omar kindly loaned one of his bikes.  I know the area pretty well, so headed to the River Thames, and followed a path (sometimes paved, sometimes not) along its winding course, upstream eight miles to Kingston-on-Thames.  Although it was a Monday, the Brits were out in full force, mothers with tots in prams, runners, lots of people walking their dogs.  It was great fun, and a wonderful way to start the trip.

Above and below, scenes along the River Thames, upstream from Kew

Artist Oliver Maughan at work by Richmond; the present work, and those visible on a gallery website, were truly lovely.

I stopped in “downtown” Kew for a large tub of yogurt, breakfast (the dinner on the flight was big), drained it on a bench in front of the Tesco (supermarket), and rode back to the Merlos.  Yakked a bit with Omar, through the stuffed red fox for Waffles to fetch, and at 12:30 headed into central London.  In my quest for more and different Indian food, I tracked down Diwana Bhel Poori House, a tiny hole-in-the-wall a block from Euston (railway) Station.  Pure vegetarian, they had an awesome lunch buffet, and I tucked in.  Even got a second helping of rice and daal (lentils). Not crazy-hot, but spicy.  The place was packed.

Fortified, I walked east to the British Library.  Their lobby desks and chairs are always packed, so I asked about the reading rooms.  Easy access, you just need to register, and in no time I had an ID that has added about 20 points to my IQ.  Spent the rest of the afternoon in their Business and IP Collection, working on the next Georgetown lecture, and keeping this journal current.

The simple design of the British Library and the “old way,” rich detail and decor of the St. Pancras railway station

At the British Library bookshop

British conservatives deride the “nanny state,” and signs like this reinforce the view, even to a moderate like me!

At six, I hopped on the Tube and train to Clapham Junction in South London walked a block to the Falcon, an agreeable old pub (lots of wood), and soon met a mentee, Freddie Brodermann, now working for Virgin Atlantic Airways.   Two airline geeks sorting out the business, great fun for a couple of hours.  But I was plumb wore out, so hopped on a suburban train west, stopped at a supermarket for a ready-made dinner (bangers and mash, a British classic), and walked a mile back to the Merlos.  Was soon asleep.

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Up early Tuesday, walked the kids to school with Carolyn and Mr. Waffles, then hopped on the Tube into town.  Spent an agreeable morning in the Wellcome Collection, a museum and library established my Henry Wellcome, the Wisconsin-born founder of a big UK pharmaceutical firm – and now part of GlaxoSmithKline.  It had been some years since I was there, and their motto, “for the incurably curious” certainly fits your scribe.  The museum part has a permanent collection, and rotating special exhibitions, in this instance a wonderful display of a “Global Clinic,” a low-tech design for a mobile clinic for poor countries – the entire structure could be built inexpensively from pre-cut plywood kits, and assembled with only a mallet (fastened with either friction or wing nuts).  Fascinating stuff.

The Global Clinic: plans, mockup, and detail of joints

The Library of the Human Genome at Wellcome; 3 billion letters in 109 books, “instructions on how to build one person”

 

I hopped on a bike from the Santander bikeshare, and road two miles south to Whitehall.  Spent an agreeable 45 minutes reading in St. James Square, one of London’s nicest.  At 12:45, met my long ex-BA friend David Holmes for lunch at his Oxford and Cambridge Club.  Neckties required, very old school (indeed, David quit years ago over their refusal to admit women, and rejoined only last year).  The main dining room was splendid (an enormous portrait of King William IV towered over me), food great, and conversation lively as ever.  David is a fount of useful information about the island, and a man of strong, logic-based views.  It’s always such a treat.

St. James’s Square; the fences are being returned to their original design; during World War II they were pulled down to be used for cannonballs and other munitions. As the Brits say, “Needs must”!

After a long lunch, it was time to stand and deliver, so hopped on the bike and rode east two miles to my 21st appearance at the London School of Economics.  Students were a diverse and engaged lot; during the mid-lecture break, a student asked me where I was from.  “Minnesota,” I replied, and she said, “I knew it.  I could tell by the accent.  I’m from Minnesota, too.”  A wonderful moment.  I peeled off after the talk down the hill to the Temple Underground station, which was packed, as were the trains – never in all my London visits had three trains departed with no room for a skinny standee.  But I finally made it on, and was back in Kew before dinner.  Omar had cooked a splendid dinner of steak and Swiss hash browns (rösti).  Helped clean up the kitchen, then clocked out.

St. Clement Danes, another design of Christopher Wren, and statues of Prime Minister William Gladstone, and the heroic Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding, head of the RAF Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain

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The Subaru dealer in Kew also sells exotic and collectible cars, like this “flower power” Mercedes; below, genuine spring flower power

Like Monday, Wednesday was another free day.  After walking the kids to school, I hopped back on Omar’s bike, this time riding downstream along the Thames.  Back home, did a bit of work, and took the Tube to Notting Hill and another annual lunch, this time with Sir Geoffrey Owen, my original LSE host, and former editor of the Financial Times.  Back-to-back lunches with active octogenarians was inspiring, for sure.  I was a little pressed for time, but we managed to cover a number of current topics in business and society.  Always interesting to get the British view.  Zipped back home for a call with a consulting client.

At four I hopped on the train east to Vauxhall, to have a look at the new U.S. Embassy in Nine Elms, former industrial land being redeveloped mostly for housing.  The embassy building was attractive, and the place was more accessible and less “paranoid” than I expected (though I still counted at least a dozen police with automatic weapons around the perimeter).  But I found the new district creepy: way too dense, little green space, almost inhumane.  The triumph of private development with, in my view, insufficient public input.  Hopped the train back, ate another read-made supermarket dinner, watched TV with Omar and Carolyn, and was asleep by 9:45.

The new U.S. Embassy; below, the unimaginative Nine Elms landscape, and a nicer view, downstream on the Thames

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Up even earlier Thursday morning, back to work: on the Tube to Baker Street and a lecture at London Business School (my second visit of 2019).  Finished there at ten, back on the train to a second visit to Imperial Business School.  I had a couple of hours, so did some work in a cubicle adjacent to the aeronautical engineering department (appropriate!).  Met Omar for lunch at one (the Brit version of a Midwestern tuna-noodle hot dish, true comfort food!), and from 2:15 to 4:00 delivered a talk to 15 MBA students.   Omar headed home, and I zipped up to his office, changed into jeans, and did a bit of work.  Spent a happy 30 minutes reconnecting with Calgary (Alberta, Canada) buddy Jeff Angel, a long friend and work colleague.  At 6:15 I walked back to the Tube, rode through rush hour to Liverpool Street Station, bought sandwiches and two beers for dinner (after the big casserole lunch), and hopped on the train to Harwich.

The “angel halo” above the fan assembly of a Rolls-Royce jet engine seems entirely appropriate: few inventions have improved our world like the jet plane; in the aero engineering department of Imperial College

I was bound for The Netherlands, and the original plan was to fly home from there, avoiding, as I have many times, the UK departure tax, now up to $285.  But a few weeks earlier, I found a way to attend the big airline interiors and catering show in Hamburg, last visited in 2012.  It started in a few days, so I arranged to spend the weekend in and around Amsterdam.  The ferry was uncharacteristically late (a steward later explained that they were having engine trouble, but repairs were imminent), so we waited in the terminal for about an hour.  Once on board, I found my comfy small cabin and was soon fast asleep.

“Heart-attack” English breakfast on the ferry, and the funnel of the Stena Line ship; below, the view from deck, on the North Sea and Rotterdam harbor

The delay enabled another hour of sleep, welcome.  Headed to the buffet for breakfast and plenty of coffee.  On all previous sailings, it was still dark when we arrived in the Dutch port, Hoek van Holland, but it was light and sunny.  After breakfast I headed out on the deck to watch us arrive, then grabbed my stuff, zipped down a long loading bridge, and just made the 9:30 bus to Schiedam.  Onto the train into Rotterdam, then north to Amsterdam.   Lots of quintessential Dutch sights along the way.  Lots of canals and dikes, of course; as I have often noted in these pages, these folks know how to handle water; indeed the need to keep it at bay has deeply influenced their culture, creating a more cooperative, “in this together” mindset.  Also saw lots of bike paths, clearly demarcated with brick-red pavement; lots of swimming birds (geese, ducks, snowy-white swans); an old windmill here and there; dozens of huge greenhouses; and some sheep and horses, but no pigs and few cows.  It was a nice ride.

On the train to Amsterdam; greening fields, and a preserved windmill in the parking lot of a McDonald’s

 

Arrived at the Holiday Inn Express, adjacent to a huge sports arena on the edge of town (therefore way cheaper) at 11:45.  Happily, they had a room ready, so I dropped my stuff, walked back to the station, bought a two-day ticket for the GVB, the local transit, and hopped on the Metro into town.  First stop was the memorial to Walraven van Hall (1909-1945), a banker who became the banker of the Dutch resistance during World War II; he’s the subject of a superb film, “The Resistance Banker,” available on Netflix – it was that movie that prompted the visit.  The memorial was stop one that Friday not only because I wanted to see it since watching the film, but because of a deep interest in remembering.  Indeed, when pausing at the memorial, I thought we ought perhaps to phrase these things in the positive: “Always Remember” is in many ways better than “Never Forget.”  And in light of growing intolerance, nascent Nazis, and the like, again I thought of William Faulkner’s sage advice: “The past isn’t dead.  It isn’t even past.”

The Bijlmer commercial district south of Amsterdam, one of several suburban office clusters looking very much like the U.S., in contrast to the traditional cityscape below, along the Amstel River

At left, three-or four story townhouses typically have a hook atop the gable, for hauling furniture into upper floors; right, detail on a townhouse facade

The tree-like memorial to the resistance banker Walraven van Hall

Next stop was also pretty remarkable.  A month earlier, I read an article in The New York Times about a young Dutch art collector, Jan Six XI (yes, the eleventh), who in 2016 found the first original Rembrandt in 40 years (there’s some debate, but to me it has been authenticated). He opens his family’s art collection, in their wonderful old mansion on the Amstel River to anyone interested, but there’s a months-long wait; the article noted that if you look carefully in a second-floor window you can see Rembrandt’s portrait of the first Jan Six.  So of course I had to try.  Walked a few blocks from the van Hall memorial, admiring the classic Amsterdam gable houses along canals, and found Amstel 218.  It was a sunny day, and the sun angle created a lot of glare, but I spotted a gold frame through a window.  As I was walking away, I caught the eye of a young man inside.  He opened the door, and I asked “is that the Rembrandt portrait of Jan Six I?”  He said no, the portrait was one floor down, and behind closed curtains.  “But I’ll open them” he said.  Another reason to love the Dutch, I thought, and in a minute or two the curtains were open.  It was impossible to see any detail, but it was really more the idea . . .

At left, the gold frame of the Rembrandt work is just visible up a floor at Amstel 218; right a less-than-seaworthy boat on the Herengracht canal

Day and night views of the “Skinny Bridge” over the Amstel

I have long admired Dutch urban planning, and before the trip I did a little research on a couple of new neighborhoods to see, so I walked across the Amstel River, hopped back on the Metro and the #34 bus.  With a little triangulating found De Ceuvel, a tiny residential district built largely of recycled materials, including, yes, old boats, and all designed to minimize environmental impact.  The place had a distinctly New Age feel, very earnest and upbeat.  You walked around the place on a winding (wooden) boardwalk.

Boardwalks and recycled boats in DeCeuvel; below, a different vision for Dutch urban planning, across the water from DeCeuvel

Ambled back to the bus line, rode two stops, and walked a few blocks to Oedipus, a craft brewery.  After the massive breakfast, I only needed a bit, so tucked into a basket of French fries, a dish the Dutch have truly perfected (they were so crispy, served with piquant ketchup and the traditional mayonnaise), as well as a small glass of tropical IPA.  Yum.  Walked back to the Metro, back to the main station and onto a tram to Ijburg, a new and attractive linear neighborhood built on reclaimed land (as is much of Holland, a place at, or in some cases below, sea level.

Above and below, scenes from Oedipus Brewing; the Dutch know their fries!

In the Ijburg neighborhood

Amsterdam’s vehicle of choice: my kind of place! But (below) they also offer superb public transit: suburban trains, Metros, trams

I had been moving quickly that day, so headed back to the hotel to relax for a bit.  Then back into the city (the Metro took only 16 minutes), wandering canals before heading to dinner at Tujuh Maret, an Indonesian restaurant (the Dutch East Indian Company colonized much of that country starting in the 17th Century, and The Netherlands has lots of Indonesian food).  The traditional rijstaffel, a meal of many small dishes, was only available for two persons or more, but I managed a lot of variety with a different choice.  The waiter asked “how spicy?” and I replied “Very.  Dial it up.  I love peppers.”  So they did.  It was a nice dinner.   It was 7:55 PM, time to get back to work: sat down on a bench along the Amstel River and took a call with a potential client for 20 minutes.  Then Metro back to the hotel and a long sleep.

Gables feature prominently in historic Dutch architecture; at left, the main railway station, Centraal; at right, atop a canalside townhouse

Dinner at Tujuh Maret

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The Rijksmuseum, one of my favorite museums in all the world; last visited in 1986, it was good to be back, with much renovation and improvement in between

 

Up at six Saturday morning, to the hotel gym for 10 miles on a bike, then breakfast, and out the door at eight, Metro and tram to the famous Rijksmuseum, Holland’s venerable art gallery, for “All the Rembrandts,” a blockbuster show to mark the 350th anniversary of his death.  I bought a timed-entry ticket online, and was the first visitor into the show.  It was colossal – more than 400 works, mostly etchings and pen-and-ink, but paintings as well.  To describe Rembrandt as a genius understates his talent.  He could capture the inner person, the soul, on the faces of his subjects (including lots of self-portraits).  His subjects were broad: Bible scenes (from the Old Testament to Jesus’ death and resurrection); portraits of the well-to-do; landscapes, and the ordinary, like a pancake seller (the food truck of the 17th Century), a sow at the Amsterdam pig market, and a fat guy peeing in the street.  Adjacent descriptions were well-written and not elitist; one panel noted that Rembrandt “suffered financial difficulties” toward the end of his life.  I asked a nearby guard, and he replied, “drunk, women, spending too much.”  Not unlike some famous artists today.  Here are just a handful of his exhibited works:

Self-portraits as an older, and young, man

He was a master at capturing ordinary life: the pancake vendor (predecessor of today’s food truck; note the dog trying to grab the kid’s morsel), and a man peeing in the gutter

Detail from portrait of newly-married Marten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit; note the gleam of her pearl necklace, earrings, and pendant. Whew, the man could paint, but more, could see into the soul of his subjects.

Rembrandt’s etching of the original Jan Six (different from the painting referenced above)

Top,”Syndics of the Drapers’ Guild”, and “The Night Watch”

 

I wanted to spend time in the rest of the museum, which included his famous, enormous “Night Watch (immediately above),” and scores of other works by painters of the Dutch Golden Age, like Vermeer and Jan Steen.  There were also rooms that interpreted Dutch history in art and artifacts, including their maritime exploits – as I have written before, the Dutch pioneered globalization in the 1600s, and the wealth (including ill-gotten gains) that flowed into the country was remarkable, and visible today in the Amsterdam cityscape.  Altogether a remarkable morning.

Vermeer, master of light

Jan Steen, master of capturing authentic disorder!

Avercamp’s “Winter Landscape with Skaters,” and close-up of 17th Century hockey player (the sport was called “colf”)

Lots of decorative arts to show up the nation’s wealth 350 years back

Life imitates art, or vice-versa; at the gift shop I could not resist the Playmobil version of the bride and groom!

Hopped on Tram #19 to a suburban station, then on the train west 10 minutes to (the original) Haarlem, then north a mile to Bloemendaal.  At the top of the platform stairs was my good friend Jan Meurer to hug and welcome me.  We drove around the village, seriously affluent, then back to his house for lunch with wife Annatine and two of their four grandchildren, Frederike, 4, and Louis, 18 months.  They were recovering from Chicken pox, and the worst was over, but it was hard to explain to the tots why Oom (Uncle) Rob’s words made no sense.  Louis was especially wary, though he warmed up as the afternoon progressed.  We had a delightful lunch in their back yard, quiche and salad, cheese, a couple of Heinekens, and chocolate cake.  Plus plenty of fine conversation.  Jan dropped me back at the station at 3:50 and I headed back to the hotel for a needed short nap.

Louis and Frederike, just after I arrived

The original Harlem, with two As; the station didn’t look much like the one at 125th Street in New York

Refreshed, I hopped back on Metro and tram into town, aiming straight for another craft brewery, Brouwerij ‘t IJ, beneath an old windmill just east of the center.  The place was hopping.  I bought a beer and found a spot at the end of a picnic bench in the corner of the terrace, a perfect perch for people-watching.  Most of my visit was solitary, but then T-t-S kicked in.

“Two doctors, a banker, and an astrophysicist walk into a bar . . .”  It was like the start of one of those jokes, only it was real.  To my right were Caspar (“like the ghost” he said) and Anna, recently-minted Dutch doctors.  To my left was a young woman who worked for the French central bank as an overseer of large and mid-size banks, and her boyfriend, a Ph.D. in astrophysics.  “Okay, pretend I’m seven years old and explain what you do,” I said to him.  He laughed, and provided a clear explanation of his research interests.  He explained some of Einstein’s early ideas, then brought them forward.  Fascinating stuff.

I mentioned that I was headed to Hamburg the next day; when Anna and Caspar left, she said “be careful with those people.”  “What people?” I asked.  “The Germans,” and she then went into passionate but brief (“All our dead people”) criticism of their sins against the Dutch from 1940 to 1945.  Anna was born nearly a half-century after the Allies liberated her country, but she still remembered.  Faulkner’s words, again.  It was a remarkable dialogue, really the first time I had heard such remarks since my first visits to Europe in the early 1970s.  But we cannot deny her view, likely based on family memory.

Last stop, and in hindsight not necessary, was an amble through the city’s red-light district.  Just as in 1971, prostitutes stood in windows, preening.  Unlike back then, some were staring at their smartphone screens.  The place was teeming with gawkers from all over; orange-vested “hosts” directed the hordes to keep moving and keep to the right.  Whew.  Back to the hotel.  After a huge lunch, I didn’t need much dinner, but bought a sandwich at the Metro station and ate in my room.  Lights out on a long day, and a night shortened an hour as Europe moved to summer time.

_______________________________________

 

Up at six again, gym, breakfast, Metro to the central station, and onto the Deutsche Bahn Intercity train east to Hanover.  The rural landscape in the eastern Netherlands looked familiar – we were only about 40 miles from Münster, Germany, where I often teach.  As the train stopped in Germany, it filled up, and both it and the connecting train north to Hamburg were completely packed.  Arrived Hamburg about 3:15, walked less than a mile to my Airbnb, on a quiet street adjacent to the university.  The city looked immediately familiar, and the prosperity I recalled from earlier trips was evident in solid housing from a century or more ago.

My host left the keys in the front garden.  I let myself in, found my room, dropped my stuff, and headed out on a breezy, sunny day.  Hamburg has a superb bikeshare program, StadtRAD, free for the first 30 minutes, and brand-new bikes.  So I hopped on one from a nearby station and rode around the Aussenalster, the larger of the two lakes in the center of town.  The houses and flats facing the water were seriously posh.  The roads and bikeways were totally packed, so you had to stay alert.  Was back at the Airbnb about 5:30, and had a long chat in the kitchen with hosts Amelie and Harm, really nice people, and welcoming.  Washed my face and walked a couple of blocks to Brodersen, an old-school Hamburg fish restaurant.  Tucked into crab soup and an enormous whole fish (plaice, or ewerscholle in German).  Yum, though the fish was bony.  Ambled back, met the hosts’ dog Lotte, read for awhile, checked scores of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament back home, and slept a long time.

Solid buildings typify older Hamburg; both of these were on “my” block: the botany building of the University of Hamburg, and an apartment just down from the Airbnb

 

Scenes from the wealthy neighborhood around the Aussenalster, the larger of two lakes close to the center

 

Up at 6:30 Monday, another “day off.”   I walked a few blocks to the supermarket for breakfast fixings for the next three days, then headed out, back onto a red bikeshare cycle (they’re almost brand-new and have some nice features that make it super-easy to rent).  Rode back to the urban lakes, then into the center.  First stop was Hafen City, redevelopment of the old port area on the Elbe River – a wonderful mix of renovated old brick warehouses and lots of new construction.  I bought a day ticket for the city’s superb public-transit network, the HVV, and hopped on a ferry for a short circuit along Hafen City.  Next stop was the Elbphilharmonie, the city’s new concert hall at the western end of Hafen City.  Superstar architects Herzog & de Meuron designed it, and it took a long time and a lot of money to finish – they went over budget by 12X.  People in the U.S. would have gone nuts, but according to Amelie and Harm the locals (Hamburgers!) just shrugged a bit, and are now immensely proud of what has become a landmark for the city.

In the old city, Altstadt; the Elbe is tidal, hence the mud on the right bank

Above and below, scenes from Hafen City, including the wave-like concert hall

The old and new of marine shipping; at left, a vessel from 1961, and at right a massive container ship stern at left edge of photo, bow at right)

 

I hopped on another ferry and rode downstream several miles to Finkenwerder, on the north bank of the Elbe.  It was lunch time, and a simple café by the dock fit the bill, cold herring and fried potatoes.   Back onto the boat, this time riding one stop and picking up a red bike for the ride home, several miles.  When I was five minutes from the Airbnb, I spotted a fellow who looked familiar.  Rode past him.  Stopped.  Yelled “Martin,” and he turned around.  It was a former consulting client from a start-up inflight entertainment system; I hadn’t seen him in four or five years.  Total small-world moment.  Took a quick nap, then hopped back on a bike around the lake again.

Downstream on the Elbe, a sturdy old warehouse with new floors added and converted to housing, and another part of the container port

At left, a “water bus”: ferry on route 62 of the public transit system

My Airbnb digs, and detail of the ornate ceiling in the living room; it was such a comfy place, and with fabulous hosts

At 5:30 I suited up to attend the first event of the big airline catering and interiors trade show, a party half-sponsored by my long Italian friend Lorenzo, owner of Castello Monte Vibiano, makers of artisan olive oil and wine, and major suppliers to airlines worldwide.  The event was in the atrium of the Hamburg History Museum, a lovely venue.  Chatted with a few people, had some dinner, and left.  Airline folk tend to party hard, and I needed to be ready for the show opening the next morning.   The day before, I noticed a lot of the stolpersteine (literally “stumbling stones”) described in previous updates – it’s a project to remember Jews who the Nazis forced from their homes, by placing 5” x 5” brass squares in sidewalks in front of the homes of the evicted.  Each square provides brief biographical details of one person.  On the way home from the Metro that night, I counted 12 in just three blocks, including 8 in front of an apartment on Hermann-Behn Weg.  Whew.  (I later read that 70% of Hamburg’s Jewish population lived in “my” neighborhood of Rotherbaum and adjacent districts.)

Up early Tuesday morning, show time.  Walked to the enormous Hamburg Messe (exhibition center) and was one of the first into the expo when the gates opened at nine.  Walking through the massive buildings, I had a sense of déjà vu from my visits to the show as an exhibitor in 2011 and 2012 (with Martin’s start-up).  Even though I hadn’t worked directly in inflight services for 20 years, over the two days I ran into five or six people I knew from ago.  It was super interesting, lots of new stuff, new ideas.  But a lot of same-old same-old too.  At two, I met up with some recent clients and we walked the halls; after closing, we headed into town for an agreeable fish dinner at Deichgraf, another traditional Hamburg restaurant.

Wednesday morning, out the door early again.  I needed a cup of coffee, and as I walked to the Messe I spotted an agreeable-looking café, Aika.  When I walked in, the owner asked in German if I saw the sign on the door.  “Oh,” I replied, “I thought it meant you were closing at noon.”  “No,” he said, this was opening day and they wouldn’t be ready until 12. “But wait,” he said, “you can be our first customer, and the coffee will be on us.”  After mild protest, I agreed, chatted briefly with the owner, Peter Kaller, and his wife, and sat down.  A nice variant on T-t-S.   In the next block of Grindelstrasse was the former Talmud Tora School, now the Jewish community center – gated, with two policemen in front, a sad sign of of these times.  A block further on, four stolpersteine to remember the Flörsheim family, mother and father, and two daughters who were exterminated at ages 14 and 10.  I began to cry.

The day sped past, as we walked the halls, again learning about a lot of new trends and ideas.  Trade shows are so interesting.  High point was about an hour spent with a French company called Cuisine Solutions, who pioneered and perfected sous vide, the process of cooking food in a sealed plastic bag in water.  The results are superb, and chatting with their chefs and sampling some dishes gave me another sense of déjà vu – when I led American Airlines’ catering team in 1998, we had just begun serving Cuisine Solutions dishes in First and Business Class.  So tasty.

Above and below, scenes from the travel catering and aircraft interiors shows; above right is Jennie, a former United Airlines purser who founded a firm to make zero-alcohol bubbly (hugely popular in the Middle East). Below, a 3-D printer churns out a plastic part

At the end of the day I walked across to the other half of the show, Aircraft Interiors Expo, another enormous set of company exhibits.  Briefly chatted with Peter, an English seats and cabin designer, grabbed a Guinness courtesy of a seatmaker, and walked home.  Changed clothes and hopped on a red bike for the last, seemingly obligatory, stop in Hamburg: dinner at Anno 1905, a small bar and restaurant seemingly unchanged in 114 years.  Germany has convulsed and calmed over those decades, but the place, with worn wood floors and a massive wooden back bar, hearkens back to the old days.  I had a couple of beers and another plate of herring, this time baked, and of course fried potatoes.  It was dark when I finished, so hopped the train back to Dammtor station, then a very short bike ride back to the StadtRAD station a few hundred feet from home.  Harm and Amelie were in the kitchen, and invited me to sit down for a beer.  I declined the brew (I needed to rise at 4:45 the next morning to fly home), but had a nice final chat.  Thanked them and hopped into bed.

Scenes from Anno 1905; my new friend at right immediately began licking my hand, and making me homesick for Henry and MacKenzie

Up before the chickens, train to the airport, flight to London, then Philadelphia, then Washington.

Dogs were on the leash by 6:45.

Heading toward London

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Short Trips: Boston and Montreal

More evidence that what conservatives deride as “socialist” Canada has a vibrant and growing economy: new office construction in downtown Montreal; counting construction cranes is a good proxy for a strong economy

 

On Wednesday, March 6, I flew up to Boston in mid-afternoon for a short consulting assignment the next day.  Hopped a shuttle to a nearby hotel, took a nap.  At 5:45, met my consulting clients and we headed to dinner.  I was put in charge of finding a close-by place, no small task when staying near airports, but Boston Logan is close to the city, so we headed in the (free) hotel van a couple of miles to Rino’s Place, a wonderful Italian place in the Chelsea neighborhood east of downtown.  Dinner was enormous and wonderful, and the new clients provided agreeable conversation.

Up early the next day, over to a nearby facility, then to the airport.  We were outside a lot, and it was way cold, but interesting.  Flew home.  Zip, done.

Ten days later, it was time for another trip to the cold, up to Montreal and a quick lecture at McGill University.  I was off to a bumpy start: weekend maintenance on the Metro had reduced service, and I needed a Plan B, so hopped off along the way and hopped into a lift, driven by an Ayman, an affable and chatty Egyptian immigrant.  Figuratively, the road smoothed out when I was in Ayman’s capable hands (he knew a good shortcut into Terminal A at National).  The current U.S. President would never be able to understand a life like Ayman’s, his wife and kids back in Cairo, he working his tail off to send money home. 

I was flying standby nonstop on Air Canada, and things got even smoother when I got one of the last seats on the little jet.  It was way faster than flying American via New York; I thought getting on would be a piece of cake, because the flight showed 17 open seats the day before, so when the agent handed me a boarding pass, I did my little “success flying standby” dance, steps I’ve perfected since July 1966!

Landed at one, zipped through immigration and customs (the Canadians have those processes down to a science).  Bought a pass on Montreal’s superb public transit system, the STM, and started walking toward the airport bus.  Just ahead of me was a young guy, and on his suitcase was a plastic ID tag with the logo of my alma mater, the University of Minnesota.  I asked him if he studied there.  “I did,” he replied, “but graduated last year.  Thus began a superb T-t-S that lasted 40 minutes, all the way into downtown Montreal.  Joel Gagnon was from Saskatchewan, but now living in Montreal as a member of the Canadian national gymnastics team.  We talked about his training, his family (French parents from Ontario, they spoke French at home, and he attended a Francophone secondary school in Saskatchewan).  Clearly an ambitious fellow, in his part time he was working on a M.Sc. in aerospace engineering at McGill.  A fine fellow, clearly an excellent young ambassador for Canada.

Joel Gagnon from his U of M days. Photo courtesy of the University of Minnesota.

The McGill visits are formulaic.  Bus into town, check into La Citadelle, a university residence, up to a big apartment at the top of the building, then head a few hundred feet for lunch at Kantapia, a family-run Korean café.  In warmer months, I’d buy a day pass on Bixi, the bikeshare system, but it’s closed in winter (there was still a lot of ice and snow on roads and sidewalks).  So I walked a few blocks to a bookstore (since they speak French in Quebec, it would be redundant to call it a French bookstore, but that’s what it was!), and bought a couple of books for Dylan and Carson, who study in French for half the day.  Took a nap.

St. Patrick’s Day colors by coincidence: scallions and carrots in my Kantapia bowl; at right, Centre Desjardins, a downtown shopping mall built around the offices of Canada’s largest credit union

The formula continued: hopped on the Metro east three stops to the Latin Quarter and one of my fave brewpubs, Saint-Houblon (­houblon is hops in French).  It was St. Patrick’s Day, and at 5:30 the place was packed.  But I found a stool at the communal table where I usually sit, asked for a pint of juicy New England IPA (“NEIPA”), and took in the scene.  As noted in previous accounts, I’m two to three times older than the patrons, but no matter – still young at heart, still young in attitude.  My original plan was to eat dinner down the street, but I settled in, ordered a stout (Irish!) and a plate of spicy chicken and rice.  Saint-Houblon always offers creative plates with unusual seasonings and ingredient combinations.  It was yummy.  And a lot. 

Above and below, St. Patrick’s Day scenes at Saint-Houblon. One of the many reasons I like the place so much is that almost all the clientele are Francophone, a nice reminder of the enormous diversity in North America.

Up early Monday morning, worked and read, suited up, and 8:30 met host Bob Mackalski at his athletic club.  As I have written before, Bob is a wonderful fellow, super-bright, another wonderful Canadian ambassador (like Joel, also from one of the Prairie provinces, Manitoba).  Had a big bacon-and-eggs breakfast and some laughs, and walked up the street to the Dobson Center for Entrepreneurship, which he now directs.  From 10 to 11:20, I delivered a talk to his MBA class on customer insights.  Walked down the hill, hopped the #747 bus back to the airport, and flew home.  Too short a visit, and a bit too cold, but I’ve loved Montreal for 52 years now.

Stained-glass rendering of a Quebecois trapper at the Club Sportif MAA

“Green” rhetoric is cheap. Action matters: let’s raise a (reusable) glass to McGill University for banning sales of bottled water in May 2019.

 

Conference room in the McGill’s Dobson Centre for Entrepreneurship (which Bob directs), a place to show off the many innovations coming out of the school. Below, guitar and hockey stick, quintessentially Canadian equipment in Bob’s office!

Cathédrale Marie-Reine-du-Monde, Montreal

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Denmark, Sweden (for 4 hours), and England

Den Gamle By, an open-air museum in Aarhus, Denmark

 

On Friday, February 22, I took the Metro and bus to Dulles Airport and flew nonstop to Copenhagen, standby, on SAS.  My friend Peter at SAS headquarters in Stockholm emailed me that the flight, with a big Airbus A330-300, had lots of open seats, and indeed I got a whole inside row, four seats, to myself.  Watched a movie and got a good nap, stretched out across row 51.  Landed at seven and got a warm welcome from longtime friend Michael Beckmann and his son Niklas, almost 10.  We drove to a supermarket to pick up fresh bread, then motored to their home to greet wife Susan and daughter Annika (7).  We had a leisurely German breakfast, reconnecting after 14 months.  For years I visited them every December in Berlin, then Michael took a big job with the DSB, the Danish state railway, and they relocated to Copenhagen.

I’ve never had such a great welcoming committee!

Left, breakfast meats, mainly from Danish pigs; at right, the whole hog (or most of it) in the fancy food hall at the Magasin du Nord department store visited later that day.

After breakfast, we hopped on bikes (they had an extra) and rode to the Amager beach on the Baltic.  It was sunny but a bit cold.  Rode along the water, then back to the house.  Took a short, tonic nap, had some coffee and cake, and about 4:30 we walked to the Metro and rode into town.  We got off in Christianshavn, familiar from a 2015 visit (“my Airbnb was just down that canal and to the right”) – it’s always good when city layouts remain imprinted on your mind.  We crossed the bridge into downtown, walked around  Kongens Nytorv, one of the main squares, and to warm up went into a posh department store, Magasin du Nord.  Wandered their basement food hall, then walked a few more blocks to a traditional Danish restaurant, Puk (not well named for English speakers, but pronounced like the ice-hockey disk).

First signs of spring, in the Beckmann’s back yard; below, their old shed with Niklas’ homemade Danish flag; at bottom, scenes from Christianshavn, the fancy food hall at Magasin du Nord (no, the pastry at right is not called a “Danish” in Copenhagen!).

The Danes have two related words for coziness, hygge and hyggelig, and Puk was certainly both.  The friendly, engaging waiter served us well, huge platters of traditional Danish herring (of course with snaps, the caraway-flavored spirit), fried fish, then a second set of dishes, mostly pork.  Denmark, as you may know, is a major pork producer, and that meat figures large in the Danish diet.  It was a great meal, and the kids behaved well.  Took a bus home and slept hard.

Herring and snaps, or vice-versa, at Restaurant Puk

Was up before first light Sunday morning, tiptoed out the door and hopped on the bike, 12 miles around neighborhoods south of the center.  The many construction cranes signaled that the Danish economy was growing – another social democracy that doesn’t seem to have trouble keeping the lights on!  My iPhone battery discharged suddenly (it happened a few months earlier in Montreal), so I lost my GPS and maps, but after a few wrong turns made it back to the house in time for another relaxed breakfast.

New construction all over Copenhagen; at far right, the very agreeable canal-bisected new district near Amagerbro.

The Danes love their flag, which turns 800 in 2019; you see it everywhere; at left, on the Beckmann’s dining table.

A parade of stone animals topped this fence not far from the Beckmanns. Danish design rocks!

At eleven, Michael, Niklas, and I took the train north to Elsinore, an old port town and home of the castle Shakespeare made famous in Hamlet.  We walked around the castle grounds, then stopped briefly inside to watch some (free) multimedia shows with its long history.  Essentially, the king made good money charging a toll to all ships that passed through the narrow strait called the Øresund, enough to build a huge castle.  (I was fascinated to read that the castle played a role in ending the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, when Danish military observers at the castle confirmed that the Soviet ships carrying nuclear missiles bound for Cuba turned around nearby and headed back to Russia.)

Left, an ad for a Danish dairy, riffing on MAGA; for years, Denmark had been the #1 happiest country in the World Happiness Report, but dropped to #3 behind Finland and Norway in 2018; right, on the platform at Copenhagen’s main station.

Above, Elsinore church by day and dusk; below, scenes of the famous castle and nearby buildings

We stopped for an ice cream for the lad, then walked a few blocks to the new Danish Maritime Museum, a fabulous place: innovative architecture in and around a former dry dock, a great collection of artifacts to tell the story of Danish naval and commercial ships, and concise interpretation.  Hopped back on the train, a lively round of UNO (kids’ card game, now universal), then bikes home from the station for dinner.  Asleep again early.

Making a point about plastics in the ocean!

 

Above, a sample of artifacts from the Danish Maritime Museum; below, more scenes from a wonderful window on seafaring and shipping

Another endearing Danish trait: paying attention to children and their needs; the maritime museum had a separate kids’ area, as well as organized, supervised activities, like building little boats from simple materials.

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Michael, the kids, and I were out the door at 7:05 Monday morning, to the bus stop, into downtown, and a few blocks to Sankt Petri, the German school the kids attend.  Dropped them and ambled to a nearby train station, then west to Høje Taastrup, a suburban office park home to the DSB headquarters.  As I did in December 2017, I delivered a short talk (this time on airline pricing).  At 11:30, Michael, two colleagues, and I tucked into an enormous, free lunch (referring to all the free perks, Michael described the place as “like Club Med,” which seemed true).

DSB logos and signs from the old days; below, the modern version

I peeled off at 12:45, back on the train, then bus to my teaching venue, Copenhagen Business School.  The lecture was the next day, but I wanted to get a look around.   The place was vast, four large buildings spread across several blocks in the Frederiksberg neighborhood just west of the center.  Did a bit of work in the lobby of one of the buildings, snapped some pictures, and hopped on the #4A bus back home.  It was before four, and granddaughter Carson had recommended I see the wonderful bronze sculpture of the Little Mermaid (from Dane Hans Christian Andersen’s book, not Disney!) in Copenhagen harbor.  I had seen it several times before, but I figured she’d like to see proof, so hopped on Michael’s bike north to the water.  Managed to get a good photo in between Chinese tourists who insisted on climbing the rock to get close to the mermaid.  I growled a bit.

Above, two of CBS’ four large buildings; below, the Nyboder neighborhood, 18th Century row-house barracks built for sailors of the Danish Navy, now being renovated (the distinctive orange color, from ochre pigment, is common in Denmark). At bottom, Copenhagen’s most famous sight.

Back on the bike and into rush-hour traffic.  The Danes are among the world’s most committed bicycle commuters, and separate bike lanes (and bike stoplights) are everywhere.  It’s not scary like cycling in London car, bus, and truck traffic, but you need to be alert.  Happily, I was one of the faster commuters, so was in the “passing lane” a lot.  It was a great experience.  And the Little Mermaid remains a wonderful sight.  Check and done.

Rush hour at Amagerbro, and a superb sunset

Tuesday morning, time to stand and deliver.  Zipped out the door at 7:30, onto the handy (but slow and crowded) #4A bus that back to Copenhagen Business School.  Worked a bit in the student cafeteria, met host Tobias Schäffers at 10, and from 10:45 to 12:25 delivered a revenue-management lecture to an engaged group of MBA students.  I think it was my best “pricing show” yet – I deliver that talk frequently, and it is always fun to do.  I had to zip out quickly, missing lunch with Tobias.  Walked to the Metro, as fast as my gimpy knees permitted, then out to the airport an onto the train under the sound to Malmö, Sweden – it’s a bit jarring to ride a train 20 minutes and be in a whole new country, but there I was, hugging longtime airline pal Maunu von Lüders.

As I’ve often observed, you can learn a lot about a culture by visiting the supermarket; here, a Fakta store near CBS

Above, CBS Graduate House; below, in the lobby, one of the markers of Denmark as a society based on trust: yes, there was a baby in the buggy, but mom was nowhere near

I first met Maunu, a Finn of Swedish ancestry, in 2000 when we were both working on alliances, he at Finnair and me at American.   We’ve stayed in touch through the years, but I had not seen him since Stockholm in 2007, when he was CEO of FlyNordic, a low-cost airline that Finnair launched (and later sold to Norwegian).  I had helped Maunu get his last airline job, as VP-Asia/Pacific for IATA, the International Air Transport Association, and as payback for my gentle push he promised two beers if I ever visited Singapore.  Well, that didn’t happen, so he settled the “debt” at the café of the Malmö art museum.  We had a great lunch; I traded one of the beers for a plate of poached salmon, and enjoyed a pale ale.

We had an even greater conversation, ranging across a lot of topics, including, sigh, the state of American politics.  Like many Europeans, Maunu was very well informed.  We also talked a lot about his Finnish homeland, a place with a lot to admire.  One great story: a few years back, at the height of the Syrian crisis, Finland agreed to accept 60,000 refugees, roughly proportional to the larger numbers Germany accepted.  The Finnish approach to settlement was different: as each wave arrived, Finland had a disciplined process that began, on day two, with a mandatory meeting with two police officers, a man and a woman.  When the refugees gathered, the woman cop asked “Where are the women?”  A refugee replied, “we represent them.”  “No you don’t,” said the woman, “in Finland, they represent themselves.  So go get them.”  The men were mad, the women who arrived were stressed, but that was how it was done.  The police and other government officials made it clear that if any refugees didn’t like the Finnish way, they were welcome to go back.  Bleeding hearts might whine, but this is Tough Love, and a narrative that needs to be amplified in places where immigrants meet a culture far different from their own.

Maunu was recovering from the flu, and still a bit under the weather, so he peeled off at 3:45, and I wandered around downtown Malmö for a couple of hours.  I had visited in June 2009, but had not spent much time in the center, so had a good look around.  Walked to the main station, where I had a great T-t-S with a station helper, Violeta, who sorted out the touchscreen ticket machine, then launched a sort of monologue that started when I told her I was a part-time professor.  She was of Serbian ancestry, but felt fully Swedish.  A true character!

St. Johannes church, behind the roof of the underground Triangeln railway station.

 

Above, a splendid Art Nouveau office building in Malmö; below, the step gable is a common form in older buildings; at bottom, Malmö harbor and some of Violeta’s crocheted creations (she wouldn’t let me take her picture, but emailed me this image).

_________________________________

 

Got the train back to Tårbny and walked home.  The family had eaten dinner, but I was able to read Niklas another book, then a short chat with Michael and Susan.

Was up early again Wednesday morning.  It was technically a “day off,” but the last days were so leisurely that the whole trip seemed like a vacation.  Ate breakfast, said goodbye to the Beckmanns, and hopped on Michael’s older bike, a vintage, Austrian-made Puch that once belonged to his dad, riding a mile south to Tårbny Station.  Onto the local train to the main station, bought a large coffee at the 7-Eleven, and hopped on the fast train west and north to Aarhus, Denmark’s second largest city.  It was another sunny, warm day, good for sightseeing out the window as we crossed the island of Funen, past Odense, then into Jutland.  Although much of Denmark is flat (the highest point in the kingdom is only 561 feet above sea level), the landscape in eastern Jutland was hilly, dotted with lakes.  Like parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin, the landforms were from the last glaciation.  It was lovely.

Left, highway bridge near Velje; right the town’s most famous building, The Wave, apartments on the fjord

The train skirted a number of small fjords, “not like the ones in Norway,” said my seatmate.  Earlier, we launched a great T-t-S.  I did most of the talking at first, then he took over.  After some years working in oil and gas (for Chevron, which he disliked – “too bureaucratic compared to Danish companies), he took the helm of his father’s engineered-materials business.  Fifteen employees, not a big firm, but he was determined to grow it.  They had developed focused expertise in handling powders of all kinds, and because powder ranges across lots of industries, he was buying Google AdWords to reach global audiences.  It was working.  What was less than optimal, I sensed, was that his family lived in Copenhagen and his “big-city” wife didn’t want to move to a small town, Skanderborg (it looked pretty nice to me).  A great chat.

Town hall, Aarhus

We arrived Aarhus at 10:43, and I walked out of the station.  I immediately took a shine to the place – I like midsize cities a lot.  First stop was the town hall (1941), designed by one of Denmark’s most celebrated 20th Century architects, Arne Jacobson (1902-71).  Interesting “mid-century contemporary” style.  Then a couple of blocks to circle the AROS art museum.  Then on to Den Gamle By, The Old Town, an absolutely wonderful example of the “open-air museum” genre that the Nordics do so well.  The museum was in three sections, each focused around a year: 1864, 1927, and 1974.  The early period was the biggest part, and I spent a lot of time zipping in and out wonderful half-timbered buildings that held workshops for crafts of all kinds, stores (the 18th Century apothecary was fascinating), tenements, and more.  In the section on carpentry and building was an interesting story of a journeyman coach builder, Oskar Larsen, who took a three-year working trip from Denmark through 12 countries in Europe (all the way to Istanbul), sailing home from Portugal in 1849.  Business travel is not new!

The 1927 section was small, and some exhibits/shops were closed, but the Ford dealer was very much hopping.  At one point, they opened the big front doors and a 1927 Model T pulled away. Down the street was a milliner’s shop from the 1920s; I could imagine my milliner grandmother (1894-1983) feeling perfectly at home there, among the ribbons and feathers.

As at the maritime museum, the Danes make an effort to include items of interest to children, in this case toys from the early 20th Century (following reform of Danish prisons in 1905, inmates began to make a range of toys, including the cart at right)

I had wandered the 1974 area for quite a few minutes when I slapped my forehead and recalled that was the year I first visited Denmark.  It seemed so modern 45 years earlier, but now the shops looked old-fashioned, which says something about age and time.  Nearby was a building (closed, unfortunately) where on the first floor there is an apartment used by the museum to promote memories with old people who suffer from dementia. You gotta love the Danes!  Elsewhere was a house with a big exhibit and wonderful video about prefabricated houses from the 1970s (Scandinavia produces lots of prefabs).  The video focused on a Danish entrepreneur, Niels Stellan Høm, whose company produced and delivered 25,000 cheap but fashionable homes, fabricated so that people with almost no construction experience could build their own home.  Altogether, the museum was a wonderful window on centuries of Danish life.

At left, a 1970s jazz bar from Aarhus, and a functioning coffee shop from that period; below, the 1974 street and a travel-agency window

I was in Den Gamle By almost three hours.  I would have stayed a bit longer, but it was 2:00 and my stomach was growling.  Ambled a few blocks to a supermarket, bought lunch fixings, and enjoyed a small picnic sitting in the sun, on a dock on the Aarhus River.  It was a “we are young” moment, me feeling very much like a youth hosteler from four decades back.  Ambled back to the station, hopped on the 3:14 fast train, and was home by 6:30.  We enjoyed another family dinner, read Niklas a last story, had a beer, and clocked out.

A little more about Danish pork: a poster urging farmers to vaccinate their hogs (“Danish pigs are healthy, growing large thanks to penicillin”) from the Danish Poster Museum; and a statue of a sow and piglets in downtown Aarhus

 

A few last glimpses of Aarhus; forgive the graphic image at bottom, but it’s there to make another point about Danish civility: it’s one of the few European nations that offer free toilets (and they’re clean!).

Not a great photo (taken from the train), but a chance to lift up Denmark’s commitment to renewable energy; as of 2018, 43% of its electricity is green, and Copenhagen’s utility, Ørsted, generates 75% of its power from renewables, mostly wind.

 

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Up way early Thursday morning, Susan kindly driving me to the airport (it’s only six minutes door to door).  Flew Ryanair for $63 to London Stansted.  Enroute, I read a fascinating article about a Dutch art scholar and dealer who has found the first Rembrandt in 40 years.  Reading the article, I thought back, as I often do, to people who helped me learn about the wider world.  In these pages, I don’t think I’ve lifted up Miss Margaret Feltl, my 6th grade teacher who spent a lot of time helping us learn and appreciate European art from the Renaissance forward.  Of course, we made fun of her at the time, but she was the biggest contributor to my understanding of great masters.  We’re always standing on the shoulders of others.

After a long wait in the immigration queue, hopped the train and Tube into town.  I was bound for a lecture at Cambridge the next day, but detoured south to meet a former London Business School student and his partner for lunch.  Was close to the agreed venue 90 minutes early, so plopped down at a Pret a Manger in St. Pancras Station, and brought this journal up to date.

Above, “The Meeting Place” (2007) by Paul Day, in St. Pancras Station, London; below, detail at the base of the sculpture.

At noon, I met Patrick and his business partner Alex for a nice lunch and chat about a business aerospace-manufacturing business they may buy.  A lively discussion about airlines, suppliers, and the like – and another of those moments when I thank God for the gift of relevance at age 67.  Walked a few hundred feet to Kings Cross station, hopped on the fast train to Cambridge, then a bus from the station to the center of town, and in no time was at Sidney Sussex College, my “home” for 22 of my 24 visits to this storied university.  Alas, because the booking was late I did not get my customary large guest suite, but rather a small room literally in a garret beneath the roof, toilet and shower one floor below.  But I’m flexible, and just was so happy to be back.

Freshly (re)painted front of Christ College, Cambridge; below, the view from my garret.

Just before six, I walked across town to the venerable Eagle pub, bought a pint of IPA, and spent an agreeable and stimulating hour with Paul Tracey, a professor of social entrepreneurship at the university’s Judge Business School.  He’s a font of ideas, and there’s a lot to learn.  At seven I met my longtime Judge, WHU, and now University of Zürich host Jochen Menges for dinner.  We had a great meal, and good conversation.

Up Friday morning to prep for the second and last lecture of the “vacation week.”  Down the stairs to the shower, then across to the historic college dining hall for the Full English (Heart Attack) Breakfast.  So good.  Had an agreeable chat with Dr. Colin Roberts, college Fellow in Medical and Veterinary Science (a physiologist, he knows all animals, but especially horses). Then ambled across town, and by long tradition stopped for daily prayers in St. Botolph’s a 14th Century parish church near the B-school.  I had been there many times, but never noticed that Botolph is the patron saint of travelers.  That fits!

In the Sidney Sussex dining hall; at right, one of the college’s former students, Oliver Cromwell (he never graduated); at bottom, the full meal.

Commemorative plaque to the philanthropic bricklayer, St. Botolph’s

Worked a bit in the Common Room of the Judge Business School, and from 11:30 to 12:15 delivered a talk to 40 students in Jochen’s MBA elective on leadership.  It went well.  Returned to the Common Room, grabbed a light lunch, and worked for a bit.  Amelia, one of the students from my lecture, sat down to discuss career for 45 minutes.  At 3:30, I returned to college by way of  “The Backs,” the area along the River Cam at the back of several other colleges.  Took a nap, and at five headed out for beer and dinner.  First stop was The Maypole, a nearby pub that opened in 1851; since 1982 the Castiglione family have run it, originally as tenants (in the U.K. brewers have for centuries owned pubs and leased them), but since 2009 the family has owned it freehold.  They offered a bewildering choice of real ale, and I settled on a citrusy Yello Cello, from the Three Blind Mice Brewery in Cambridge.  Walked east to pub #2, St. Radegun, the town’s smallest pub, named for the patron saint (AD 520-587, awhile back!) of nearby Jesus College.  Beer was cheap there, but the place was empty and lonely, so had a short brew and headed to dinner at a new Indian place, The Tiffin Truck.  Tucked into a vegetarian meal, good but not great, and headed home.  Read for a bit, then slept hard.

In Prof. Menges’ leadership class

Scenes at Judge Business School; at right, it was graduation day, and I saluted these students, praising their work

The famous chapel of King’s College (left) and a building of Gonville and Caius College; at right, the famous Mathematical Bridge connecting two parts of Queen’s College.

Rose early Saturday, walked briskly to Cambridge station, onto the fast train to London, Tube to Paddington, train to Heathrow, and a flight to New York.  When collecting my bags from security screening, I spotted a woman five feet away who looked a lot like Peggy, a Dallas friend.  And that fellow with her sure looks a lot like her husband, longtime American Airlines colleague Ken Gilbert.  And it was them.  Pure serendipity.  They were returning from a week in Switzerland (even more coincidence: I emailed them some ideas of things to see).  Hugs all around, zipped into the Admirals Club for a beer and catch-up.  So cool.

Flew to Washington, Linda picked me up, dogs on leash by 6:15.

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Postscript: in nearly five million miles of flying over 52+ years, I had been thanked many times, but never received something like this; absolutely over the top, from a truly exceptional flight attendant:

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To Europe to Teach: England, Switzerland, Germany

Part of the Ehrenbreitsen Fortress across the Rhine from Koblenz, from my seat on Bus #8 enroute to class; I had been staring at my iPhone screen, and this splendid sight (German red sandstone makes for handsome buildings) was a reminder to pay attention to the world, not the screen!

On February 2, it was time to start teaching again, and in Europe (in 2018, 18 of 29 schools visited were across the Atlantic).  Flew to New York and on to London, landing on Sunday morning, February 3.  Hopped the train into the city, a quick ride on the Bakerloo Line (Tube), and walked a mile through Queen’s Park to the home of long friends Scott and Caroline Sage, and their two young daughters, Eva, 4, and Sadie, 1.5 (Scott and our daughter Robin were classmates from grades 3 through 12).  The Sages were just finishing breakfast.  We had a good yak, changed clothes and walked back across the park to a Farmers’ Market on Salusbury Road.  Lots of nice produce, baked goods, flowers, and more for sale.  Walked home via the playground, so Eva could ride the swings and climb around.  Tucked into homemade soup and salad for lunch, and caught a tonic 40-minute nap.

London Transport employees sometimes get creative with their info boards. Below, produce at the Queen’s Park Farmers’ Market

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My young pals Eva and Sadie

Scott and Eva inspecting a vintage Austin motorcar

At 2:15 I pumped air into the tires of Caroline’s bike and headed a mile south to the towpath of the Grand Union Canal (commenced 1793), which runs 140 miles northwest to Birmingham.  It had been cold and snowy in recent days, and the towpath, often narrow, was icy in places.  Vigilance was definitely in order.  I rode relatively slowly, mindful of the slick surface and plenty of pedestrians out on a sunny Sunday.  Also needed to dodge a number of Canada geese, who are among the most assertive of birds: more than a few seemed to say, “You go around me, not the other way round.” I first rode the towpath in December 2016, but didn’t recall the litter and refuse, mostly from folks who live on the canal boats.  It was really quite disgusting, beer cans and other loose garbage everywhere.  Yuck.  Rode west to the suburb of Southall, then reversed course, riding beyond the starting point, to Little Venice, 15 miles in total.  A nice ride, trash notwithstanding.

Along the Grand Union Canal

Back on Chevening Road, dinner guests Douglas and Jessica had arrived with their three young children.  Scott, Douglas, and I had a good yak, played with the kids, and tucked into homemade mac and cheese (Caroline is an inspired cook).  Helped clean up the kitchen, read Eva Rose a bedtime story, and climbed into bed, bringing this journal up to date.  A fine first day.

Up at six, down to breakfast with the family, then out the door.  Hopped a bus and tube into central London to the venerable (but now struggling) Marks & Spencer on Oxford Street for some new dress socks (the ones I was wearing were worn out), then west to Imperial College.  Worked the rest of the morning, and at one met my long host and dear friend Omar Merlo for lunch.  I crammed a longer talk into 50 minutes from 2:00, listened to a second guest speaker, Katharine from Procter & Gamble, said goodbye, and hopped on the #52 bus, which conveniently rolls to within 200 feet of the Sages’ house.

The looming mess of Brexit manifest in varied ways!

When I got home at five, Carrie the nanny was out with the kids, and I didn’t have a key, so I headed to The Chamberlayne, the corner pub, for a pint.  Place was mostly empty, four tipplers plus a shy beagle.  Thirst slaked, I walked a half-block home.  Caroline was cooking dinner, the girls were out with their day nanny, Carrie.  Mrs. Sage and I had a good yak in the kitchen, then I was dispatched to varied tasks: fill the tub for the girls’ baths (asking Eva for advice on water temperature), install some new translucent film on the bathroom window, go to the store for a jar of spice needed for the main course.  The kids went to sleep, and the grown-ups ate dinner in front of the TV.  Neither Scott nor Caroline had seen the superb German series “Babylon Berlin,” so we watched the first two episodes – and like me, they were immediately drawn in (if you haven’t seen it, track it down on Netflix).  Then off to bed for a long, hard sleep, nine hours, tonic.

Your scribe in action at Imperial College London; below, fellow tipplers at the Chamberlayne pub

Out the door Tuesday, for what would be a busy day.  Headed to London Business School, worked an hour or so, reconnected with a young airline expert I had met years ago at a conference (he had just started a MBA), and from 11:30 to 12:30 delivered a now-annual lecture to the LBS Marketing Club.  Well attended, lots of good questions.  Peeled off, ate a quick lunch at Pret a Manger, hopped on the Tube to Euston (railway) station, met my Dutch friend, ex-KLM exec Jan Meurer, at 1:45, and hopped on the train to Milton Keynes, 50 miles away, bound for our third joint presentation in Cranfield University’s specialized program in air transport management.  We had a great T-t-S with a young Welsh woman sitting next to us; as we got off the train I asked her if she spoke the language, “Indeed,” she replied, “English was my second language.”  Gary, a university driver who had taken us in previous years, met us at the station; we had a lively discussion on the drive to school.  The presentation went well.  Jan peeled off in a car for Heathrow, and I hopped in a minivan with another driver, Kevin.  Another lively chat, mostly about our children; fun to hear that he and his wife have skied in the Canadian Rockies every year for the past 25 – and his son is on a two-month “sabbatical” over there.  Nice break!

I had passed this building many times, and never noticed this plaque; if you don’t know the remarkable story of the Norwegians who did this audacious raid, you should!

Jan holding forth at Cranfield

Hopped on the 6:03 fast train back to London, then the Overground train to Queen’s Park.  Scott and Caroline already had dinner, so I ambled to Curry Nights, an Indian place two blocks from their house.  I had eaten there last year and enjoyed it, and had a repeat experience, really good food (with extra chopped green chiles) and friendly service.  Walked home, watched another episode of “Babylon Berlin” with the Sages, yakked a bit with Scott, and clocked out.

Up at 5:30.  When I opened the door to my room, Eva was smiling at me.  “Shhhh,” she whispered, “I don’t want Dad to know that I’m up here.”  I smiled, kissed her forehead, and said goodbye – was happy she was there, because I didn’t say goodbye when I left the morning before, knowing she’d be asleep when I returned from Cranfield.

Walked to the corner, hopped on the #452 bus to the Tube, into Paddington Station.  I was way ahead of schedule, so grabbed breakfast at my fave Pret a Manger, then onto the Heathrow Express.  Flew to Zürich, landing at 11:45.  I was headed for another lecture at UZH, and it was a just-in-time gig – I was due to present at 1:15, so was a little stressed.  But, slap my forehead, this was Switzerland, and Swiss efficiency meant I went from plane to train, through immigration and a fairly long walk, in 10 minutes, hopping a train into the main station.  (And bought my day ticket for the ZVV, Zürich’s superb public transit, while waiting to get off the plane.) Had a quick T-t-S with a father and son from Queens, New York, who were headed to ski in St. Anton, Austria (a great place, I told them, even though it had been 33 years since I last skied there).  Zipped outta the main station, across the Limmat River, and onto the #6 tram, up the hill to the university.  No need for stress; I even had time to eat the sandwich and chips I bought at Heathrow.  I was feeling efficient, too!

Old and new Great Western Railway locomotives at Paddington Station

Delivered a talk to a big group of engaged (but shy) undergraduates in Martin Natter’s class, said goodbye, and walked two blocks to my hotel, same small one where I stayed three months earlier.  Changed into jeans, worked a bit, then walked 200 feet to the business school, meeting briefly with friend Jochen Menges, then back to the hotel.  Quick nap.  Had a brief chat with a young colleague who was working temporarily in Zürich, then walked across the street to dinner at Oberhof, a neighborhood restaurant where Jochen and I dined in November.  Back then it was empty, but it was hopping when I entered.  Happily, the owner found me a small table – I was in!  (One of Martin’s Ph.D. students invited me to dinner, but it was to start at nine, way too late for me.)  Tucked into a nice salad, big Swiss bratwurst, and fried potatoes.  Slept hard!

Left, the beautiful main classroom building at UZH; at right, the giant cedar tree across from my hotel, which I first admired a few months earlier

Fellow patrons at Oberhof, and my clean plate (even ate the rosemary garnish)

Up Thursday morning, an easy day.  Got a leisurely start, departing the hotel about 9:15, and headed via tram #10 to the train station in the suburb of Oerlikon.  Enroute, I spotted a cable car (seilbahn in German), and the Transport Geek had to ride it – I had time, and hopped off, then onto the little car that headed uphill.  Big fun!  Back onto the tram, snapped pictures, onto a train back to the main station.  Bought a sandwich and potato salad at a supermarket below the tracks, and hopped onto the 11:00 train north to Koblenz, Germany, and the fifth and last school in five days.  It was a pleasant ride through familiar territory, and the last hour along the Middle Rhine Valley from Mainz to Koblenz was lovely: blue sky and sun, illuminating a landscape I have long described as “storybook Europe.”

Above, the Rigiblick cable car; below, Oerlikon railway station

The most recent exercise in Swiss direct democracy: voters rejected a February 10 referendum to control urban sprawl

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Along the Middle Rhine Valley; the river’s level is still well below normal, because of a 2018 drought

Koblenz is well familiar.  Walked a mile to my hotel, the Trierer Hof, and checked in.  Frau Demmer, one of the owners, actually remembered me, which was nice.  Hopped on a conference call for an hour, then headed to dinner at a longtime favorite, the Altes Brauhaus, opened 1689.  Tucked into a huge serving of cold herring in sour cream, and fried potatoes.  And beer.  So good.

Up early Friday morning, out the door, onto the #8 bus across the Rhine to WHU, the German business school I have visited regularly since 2000. Delivered a two-hour lecture on leadership, and met a new host, Steffen Löv.  During the break and after the talk I met a bunch of engaging students.  A good morning.  Steffen took me to lunch at Die Traube, a wonderful, cozy restaurant in a really old half-timbered house.  Another plate of fish, this time salmon in mustard sauce and leeks.  Yum!  And good conversation, including interesting talk about ancestors – Steffen’s grandfather had opposed the Nazis and would have been imprisoned but for his knowledge about operating a power plant.  “The electricity helped a munitions plan to keep operating,” he said with some regret, to which I replied that life is complicated.

Brother-sister students at WHU; we had a nice chat during the morning break

Above and below, scenes from Vallendar, a truly pleasant village

After lunch, I took a walk around Vallendar, a small town, then worked most of the afternoon at a table in one of the classroom buildings.  At five, it was time to stand and deliver the last talk of the week, to WHU’s student association, on crisis management.  Forty students attended, a good group.  At 6:30, we headed to a student bar in the keller, the basement of one of the very old campus buildings, for a wine tasting and good yaks with a handful of students.  My student host Jöran drove me back across the river.  Changed clothes and headed back to the Altes Brauhaus for a nice dinner of venison goulash, spaetzle, and red cabbage.  Yum.

I noticed these characters on doors in Vallendar and Koblenz, but couldn’t decode; it turns out to be an Epiphany greeting. In between the year (2019) are either initials of the names of the three Wise Men, or an abbreviation of the Latin for “May Christ bless this house.”

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Asleep at ten, up at 5:40, out the door to the train station.  Track work slowed us way down, arriving Frankfurt Airport 20 minutes late.  Got through most hoops quickly, but the security screening was way slow, and I made the flight to Charlotte with only ten minutes to spare.  Cutting things a bit too close.  Had a couple of hours in CLT, so worked on this journal and photos for the blog, then flew back to Washington (during the winter, American does not fly Frankfurt-Philly).

Linda was out of town, but Robin, the girls, and the terriers were on hand to welcome me.

The view from above: St. Lawrence River, Quebec, Canada

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Short Trips: Connecticut and Vegas

On the literal frontier: new housing on the western fringe of Las Vegas, Nevada

Travel in the New Year began on Friday, January 18, when I flew north to White Plains, New York, hopped in a Lyft, and zipped into downtown Greenwich, Connecticut.  Had a delightful “reconnect” lunch with Andy Von Kennel, a young marketing whiz I worked with at American almost 20 years ago.  Super good guy.  My flight was late, which cut into our yak, and he had to zip off to a 2 p.m. meeting, but we covered a lot of ground.  Walked south on the main street, Greenwich Avenue, lined with stores of every upmarket brand imaginable; it was almost like a parody, especially when you added in the leisured wives jockeying for parking spots in their Land Rovers and Porsche SUVs.  I was bound for more proletarian transport, Metro North and CT trains east to New Haven, bound for a short weekend with son Jack. 

Greenwich Avenue

Left, the former Greenwich City Hall; right, a gravity-defying bronze in a fancy art gallery

Arrived 4:00, ambled quickly north on Orange Street to pick up apartment keys at Jack’s office (he was away with his girlfriend Reed), then south to Crown Street.  Settled in, grabbed a quick nap, and at 5:45 headed out for dinner at a popular vegetarian eatery, Claire’s Corner Copia. Tucked into a massive plate of stuffed peppers (on top of a huge lunch), then walked north to Woolsey Hall, a concert venue built in 1901 for the bicentenary of Yale University.  Ever since I began regularly attending classical music concerts in 1972 (with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra), I’ve felt anticipatory excitement prior to the start of a performance. So it was when I sat down in Yale’s Woolsey Hall for a concert by the Yale Philharmonia, a huge student ensemble directed by Peter Oundjian. (I was once more familiar with orchestra luminaries, so did some Googling before the concert – the guy’s a player, on the Yale music faculty for almost 40 years, and conductor of world-class ensembles in Toronto and elsewhere.)  

Tickets were general admission, so arrived just before seven and found a great main-floor seat ten rows back.  The excitement was well founded.  After a rousing performance of Beethoven’s Symphony #1, the orchestra launched into Shostakovich’s 11th, “1905,” depicting an uprising that year in St. Petersburg that foretold the Bolshevik Revolution a dozen years later.  It was, simply, the most intense musical work I had ever heard, full of emotion and full-blast volume, especially from the horn and percussion sections.  Whew.  Slept hard that night.

Woolsey Hall

Up early, couple of cups of coffee and a wheat bun squirreled from Claire’s, then out on Jack’s orange Trek city bike, into a cold, clear morning.  Rode across the Yale campus and onto the bikeway of the Farmington Canal Heritage Greenway, which follows the route of an old canal (then a railway) north.  I had to be alert for the patches of ice, but it was a splendid 13-mile jaunt.  When I got back, Jack was home from helping Reed chaperone a Friday-night ski trip.  We yakked for a bit, then headed out for some urban exploration, mainly in East New Haven (known to locals as “Staven”).  Met Reed at noon, and walked to a Chinese restaurant for a big lunch and good conversation, down the street for ice cream at the Arethusa Farm Dairy (some of the best ice cream anywhere), then into the car for more sightseeing, east to Guilford and Madison, a couple of pleasant old towns with traditional village greens.  I took a short, tonic nap, then it was time to watch golf on TV, something Jack loves. 

On the greenway bike trail, sailing past brand-new-buy-look-old Yale dorms

Left, a mountain of salt, getting ready for snow and sleet the next day; right, a wonderful Victoria in East Haven

Just before six, we drove a mile or so north to Ingalls Rink for a Yale Bulldogs men’s hockey game.  We opted for snacks and hot dogs in lieu of dinner (I had been eating a lot), and watched the teams warm up.  Reed had never seen a hockey game, so we explained the basics (which are pretty easy).  National anthem from the pep band, puck drops, and we’re into one of the purest, fastest sports I know.  Yale won, hooray.

Up early Sunday morning in just awful weather, sleet and rain, over to Jack’s gym for a quick, needed bike ride, then back for showers.  I was checking my American Airlines app for flight information – I was flying out of Tweed, New Haven’s tiny airport, and the weather was just on the margin.  Last stop was J. Pepe’s (1925), one of the storied pizzerias on Wooster Street, Little Italy.  My flight was late, but we got to Philadelphia, where the storm had already passed.  Down to Washington, Metro home, out with the dogs in a cold wind.  Trip 1, nice!

Five days later I flew to DFW and on to Las Vegas, only my third time there, and for good reason.  It’s tawdry, excessive, and artificial.  Las Vegas is in the West, but it’s not the West. It’s nowhere. I imagine when it first got going as a tourist destination, in the first part of the last century, western sensibility and sense of place was there, but those have been long gone.  Walking through the airport, past slot machines and a liquor store (in an airport!), I chuckled briefly when I thought about my ne’er-do-well paternal grandfather, who lived in this state for decades after he abandoned his wife and children. His death certificate listed his occupation as gambling dealer. Fits perfectly, both that jerk and the place.

I was there because Linda was there for a five-day conference, and wanted some company on the weekend.  After an expensive taxi ride with a Congolese driver (Me: “How’d you end up here?”  Him: “Life”) through massive traffic, I was in the enormous (almost 4,000 rooms) Caesar’s Palace, hugging Linda in the lobby and tucking into a light dinner.  Lights out at 9:30 (somehow I cope with 5 or 6 hour time changes when I fly to Europe, but 3 in the U.S. are harder!). 

Up at 5:30 Saturday morning, dressed, out for a little walk, across the street to Starbucks, and a delightful Talking-to-Strangers (T-t-S), the first good one of 2019, with Kurt and Sara from Los Angeles.  Trigger was Kurt’s University of Wisconsin sweatshirt.  They were in town for their daughter’s gymnastics meet.  Covered a lot of topics with sensible Midwesterners.  He was a scientist with Amgen and she worked for the outdoor retailer REI (I’m a loyal customer of the latter, and, touch wood, don’t need anything from the former!). 

Homeless person sleeping in the lee in the Flamingo Hotel

Kurt and Sara

Back to the room, chat with Linda, then out the door, she heading to a meeting and me doing a bit of exploring, then a $25 ride on a zipline.  It was my first, and I was underwhelmed – way too slow!  Met Linda for a nice lunch at a barbeque place.  She peeled off for more meetings, and I hopped on the RTC, the local public transit ($8 for 24 hours of unlimited bus rides) north on the Strip (technically Las Vegas Blvd.) to Circus Circus, a big, older hotel with Adventuredome, an indoor amusement park.  The customers were diverse, lots of immigrant families having a good time, a much better time than many of the other, wealthier tourists I saw along the Strip.  There were two roller coasters I wanted to ride, but El Loco was down for maintenance.  Probably just as well, because the Canyon Blaster was intense: upside down three times, and fast.  Maybe there was a reason the tracks were painted Pepto-Bismol pink.  Whew.  Hopped on a bus back to the hotel, grabbed a couple of beers in the lobby shop, back to the room, continued reading a great novel. 

One of the few agreeable landscapes on the Strip: a pedestrian street and a new hotel that didn’t try to look like it was from somewhere else

At left, the zipline route from the top, and at right, the view from near the end of the ride

The Canyon Blaster

Linda returned about five and we headed across the street to dinner at Giordano’s a Chicago pizza place we knew from visits there.  Tucked into pasta on bar stools outside, a nice meal.  But such a strange place, Las Vegas.

Up early again Sunday morning, back to Starbucks for coffee and time to bring this journal up to date.  Back to the room, but still had time to spare, so hopped back on the RTC Deuce bus, riding several miles north to the old downtown Las Vegas.  Had a nice T-t-S with my seatmate from suburban Seattle, in town for a trade show (he owned a company that manufactured handbags in Cambodia, and had made a lot of money in real estate there, whew).  Between the Strip and downtown were a couple of miles of ugh, tired by-the-hour motels, strip joints, cannabis dispensaries.  Downtown was trying hard, but it looked, as they say locally, down on its luck.  Hopped off the bus walked a couple of blocks, grabbed a $1.59 pre-breakfast cheeseburger slider from White Castle (first one in some years, so yummy), got back on the bus and headed home.  Enroute, it occurred to me that public transit might well be the best thing in Las Vegas: dense network, lots of buses, helpful recorded advice onboard (“the bus stop is next to Denny’s”), and a real effort to get at least some tourists out of their cars. 

 

“Recreational marijuana” has been legal in Nevada since 2017; at left, a cannabis museum downtown; at right, a billboard for a “dispensary.”

Double-decker bus used on the RTC’s Deuce route up and down the Strip

Older, shabbier Vegas; note the name of the since-1940 wedding chapel: Wee Kirk o’ the Heather; must have been targeting the Scots!

A few more scenes from downtown; at right, the citizen in the background is transferring morning beer from a can to a plastic soft-drink bottle.

Linda was just leaving for her first meeting, so I gave her a kiss and hug, showered, and zipped out the door.  The original plan was for breakfast across the street, but because I was headed to the airport on the RTC bus (to save a few dollars, and get the most out of my $8 pass), there were breakfast possibilities along the two bus routes.  It didn’t take a geographer long to find the right place, in this case Rincon Catracho, a Honduran restaurant on Maryland Parkway a couple of miles east of the Strip, right where I changed from the #202 bus to the #109.  Hopped on the #202 east on Flamingo Road. 

The Deuce bus up and down Las Vegas Blvd. carried mostly tourists, but the #202 was the route of the people.  It had been many years since I was on public transit in the West, a region where anyone who can afford a car has a car.  So the folks on the #202 were salt of the earth: immigrants, elderly, some down on their luck.  I liked them more than the tourists on the Strip.  For one, they knew bus etiquette and how to ride.  For another, they were almost all polite, thanking the driver as they got off.

I got off at Flamingo and Maryland, spotted the restaurant, and in no time was in a booth.  The waitresses and the other diners seemed a bit surprised an old gringo was there, but I smiled at everyone and felt welcome.  The big-screen TVs were airing major-league soccer from Mexico, Toluca vs. Los Tigres (from Monterrey).  Tucked into a cup of coffee and an enormous Honduran breakfast that would last me ‘til I got home in nine hours.  Hopped on the bus south to the airport, and flew home.  Not a great place, but Linda appreciated the company.

Above, fellow diners at the Rincon; below, first and second courses of my desayuno centroamericano!

The route home was clear, and Western sightseeing was superb:

Above, a solar farm south of Vegas; below, left, the Colorado River below Hoover Dam, and deeply-incised stream

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Milestones in Minnesota and Texas

Austin, Texas, has gone vertical in the 30 years since my first visit

On Monday, December 17, Linda and I flew back to Minnesota.  Her mother Karen died in late November and it was time for her memorial service.  Landed at noon, picked up a minivan, and headed to Karen’s condo in Edina, not far from where I grew up.  She was so fortunate to have been able to stay at home in her latter years, thanks to remarkable sacrifice and help from Linda’s brother Gordy, who cared for her for more than a decade.  We spent the afternoon with him and Julie (the fourth and youngest sib, Mike, was working that day), going over details and affixing old photos to some posterboards for the memorial.  At four, we drove to a nearby hotel, checked in, then headed to dinner at our long fave, the Black Forest Inn.

Karen Matthews as a young woman; below, her senior-year entry in the South High School yearbook: “Blondie”

Poring through piles of old photos, we also came upon a great snap of Linda’s Uncle Kenny, second from right, navigator on an Army Air Force B-24 that made many bombing runs over Germany, including Berlin

Up early Tuesday morning, to the gym, then breakfast, then back to the airport to pick up Robin Dylan, and Carson, dropping them at the hotel.  I then went on to South High School in Minneapolis, where Karen graduated, at the top of her class, in 1940.  I called the school the day before, and was quickly connected to Tom Klein, director of the school’s foundation.  Tom told me they had yearbooks for every class going back to the 19-teens, and I was welcome to find the 1940 edition.  I wanted a little more history for my eulogy, and perhaps some images snapped with my iPhone.  Tom was not an alumnus, but his two daughters graduated in 2002 and ’04.  His sidekick Jerry Herby was SHS Class of 1968.  We had a good yak before I got down to business, and I learned that the foundation dispersed funds for teacher development ($80,000 in 2017), and lately some modest scholarships.  As you would expect in an inner-city high school, the demographics have changed markedly over the decades.  It was a good chat.  I found several pictures of Karen, or Elsie as she was known back then.  A productive visit.

Back to the hotel, then to lunch with Julie, Linda, Robin, and the girls.  Dropped them at the enormous Mall of America, then headed to Target to print out the school photos I had snapped earlier.  Back to the condo, short visit, then dinner.  Last task of the evening was to pick up Jack, who arrived late.

Carson modeling her great-grandmother’s mink jacket

We motored to the funeral home, set things up, and received family, several of Linda’s cousins and spouses.  The sendoff was good, helped with kind words from Rob, the pastor of the Lutheran church Karen faithfully attended, from Linda, and from me.  We headed to Fort Snelling National Cemetery for a brief commitment service, then to a welcome lunch nearby.  I dropped the family at the airport, headed across town for a quick coffee with my nephew Evan, then flew home.

The Minneapolis/St. Paul airport features commissioned works, including surely the loveliest men’s room entrance in the whole world, Barbara Benson Keith’s “Seasons of Change”

 

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A few days after Christmas, Linda and I flew to Austin, Texas, the last trip of the year, for the wedding of Claire Griffy, daughter of longtime Dallas friends Tim and Missy.  Got to Austin about five, into town, and to our hotel.  Jack was sharing the room and had already arrived.  We watched a little TV, and at 7:30 headed a mile or so to Terry Black’s Barbecue, very local and very good (the long wait for food said it all).  Then across the river to a pre-wedding party at a downtown music venue, fun but noisy.  Great to reconnect with former neighbors and friends.

Up early Saturday morning, to the gym then breakfast (Linda and Jack were snoozing), then onto a bikeshare two-wheeler, north on Congress (“The Main Street of Texas”), around the imposing red-granite capitol building, then back south, across the river, and to a second breakfast with former American Airlines colleague John Morton.  John and I worked together in the mid-1990s in the corporate communications department, and we’ve stayed connected through the years.  He’s now at the University of Texas, and spent three years writing speeches and other comms for the recently departed chancellor, Admiral William McRaven (a wonderful, exemplary leader, the fellow who directed the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden).   After tacos at Güero’s, a famed Tex-Mex joint, we walked for a couple of miles around his neighborhood, then back downtown.

Above and below, local ‘cue in Austin, Texas

Live music at the Friday pre-wedding party

 

Historic building on Congress Avenue; let’s hope these structures are protected for the long run

Left, more evidence of Austin going vertical; right, no fewer than five companies are battling for two-wheeled mobility sharing — a cluttered market in more ways than one. Below, John Morton

At 12:30, it was time to meet another former AA co-worker, Tracy Evans Petersen, who I had not seen for more than 20 years, maybe 25.  So great to reconnect with her.  She suggested we have a light lunch at the new Austin Public Library.  Grabbed a bowl of chili at the library café, Cookbook, and a good yak, then she showed me around the way-cool building, truly state of the art.  Books, of course, and all kinds of technology, multimedia, and more.   As often happens on trips back, I was reminded of Texas friendliness several times that day: with the server at breakfast who shook my hand on entering, the waitress at Güero’s, and the young woman who picked up our lunch bowls – I remarked on her cheer, which triggered a nice discussion of regional friendliness.  I miss Texas.

Inside the Austin Public Library

Took a nice nap, suited up, and walked a block to Brazos Hall, a good venue for a wedding – I hadn’t been to nuptials for a lot of years.  After the ceremony, up the stairs for drinks, then a lovely sit-down dinner.  High point was a long conversation with Glenn Stetson, a friend of Jack’s for 30 years, way back to when they all played soccer on a team called the Tigersharks.  Danced a bit, kissed the bride, hugged her parents, and headed back to the hotel.

Up early again, to the gym, then breakfast, then a quick Lyft ride to the airport, a flight to DFW, then home to Washington.

And that was travel for the fourth quarter.

Jack Britton, and Stephanie and Glenn Stetson

 

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Postscript: given my dad’s service in the 145th Field Artillery Battalion, snowballs seemed a fitting addition to his headstone

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