On Saturday, September 17, Linda dropped me at the Metro for National Airport, then a short hop to Kennedy and onto a big Silver Bird to London Heathrow. I was flying standby to Stockholm, so I had to clear immigration and speed to the British Airways check-in area. I sped, but not fast enough, and they didn’t let me check in for a flight that departed in 50 minutes – the one that had plenty of open seats. Plan B was a SAS flight at 10:35, and I lucked out – a bunch of passengers were on a delayed incoming flight, so I snagged a chair, gave the check-in agent a hug, then did my little “made it on the full flight” dance. Woo hoo!
Arrived Stockholm on time, and at the immigration desk had a splendid, brief Talking to Strangers encounter with the inspector. After a few of the usual questions, he said “A very warm welcome to Sweden.” I replied with thanks, mentioning I had visited more than 20 times. “And you are always welcome, every time,” he said, with a big smile. Can you imagine a U.S. inspector saying that? Nope. Zipped through the airport to the train station and onto a local train to Knivsta and the #102 bus up to the hamlet of Berga, and the home of my longtime Stockholm School of Economics host Hans Kjellberg, wife Mia, kids, and a cat named Sudden. Hans was in the kitchen chopping vegetables for Sunday dinner, and Mia was working (a real estate broker, Sunday a workday). We chatted a bit, but the perfect autumn weather beckoned; jumped onto Hans’ old bike and pedaled off into the countryside, a dozen miles, past the country home of Linnaeus (who worked at Uppsala University nearby), a splendid old church, and recently plowed fields. Almost every house and barn was painted what Americans call “barn red,” the red-oxide paint that covers rural buildings in many countries because it’s inexpensive to make.
Mia was home when I returned, and we had a good yak before tucking into Thai curry and stir-fried vegetables. Pelle and Kristina, two of their three kids, were there, and we covered a bunch of topics. As expected, lots of questions about the upcoming U.S. elections. I worked my email a bit, and at nine we tuned into the ice hockey world cup from Toronto, Sweden vs. Russia. I barely stayed awake for the first period (but was happy to learn the next morning that the Swedes beat Putin’s team!).
Up early Monday morning, out the door in the car with Hans, back to Knivsta, onto the train 40 miles to central Stockholm, and a brisk walk to the school for my 11th visit. From 10 to 12, I delivered a lecture on airline loyalty programs to Per Andersson’ class (Per is another long host). Hans, Per, and I walked a couple of blocks to a great buffet lunch place, then back to school for an afternoon of work, camped in Per’s office. I needed a walk, so ambled toward the royal palace and parliament (the Riksdag), pausing to admire the solid architecture of the early 20th Century and some pretty awful stuff from the 1960s and ‘70s. The city was still brimming with tourists.
Altar, Adolf Frederiks Kyrka
Hans and I caught the 5:11 train back to Knivsta, changed clothes, and by 6:15 was in their red Saab station wagon with Kristina, who was headed to day one of a new job in Uppsala. I walked around a bit, past the huge Domkyrka, seat of the Swedish Lutheran Church, then back to Stationen, a bar and restaurant in the old railway station.
Met another SSE host, Anders Liljenberg, at eight for a beer, light dinner, and great conversation. For more than a decade, Anders has been dean of the SSE facility in St. Petersburg, Russia, and we yakked about the many challenges of that job (and, of course Donald Trump and Mrs. Clinton). Hopped the #102 bus home, yakked with Hans and Mia, and clocked out. A busy day.
Up early Tuesday morning, good-byes, and back on the #102, this time north to Uppsala and my seventh visit to its old (1477) university. First task was a talk to Ekonomerna, the student business association, then a lecture to Prof. Sabine Persson’s international marketing class. The morning sped by. Had a quick fish lunch with Sabine, worked a bit, walked back to the main station and hopped on the bus to Arlanda Airport.
Flew to Copenhagen. A little grumble here: Scandinavia has long been known for sensible, functional design, but the CPH terminal is a total mess: bad directional signage, cramped, terrible passenger flow. Much of the problem was airport designers’ recent focus on converting terminals to shopping malls, but it made me pretty cranky. Hopped on a jet for Stuttgart. There was a supermarket in the arrivals hall, which was a super-convenient place to grab a light “picnic” dinner to eat on the bus for my destination, Reutlingen, 30 miles south. Then the fun started: for the second time that day it was not easy – even for this experienced flyer – to find the way, in that case to the airport bus terminal. And once I got there, the X3 bus to Reutlingen was not listed on the departure board. After a lot of to and fro with two other passengers, we finally spotted the stop and soon the X3 rolled in. I was in my digs by ten, a cool B&B called WachtRaum Reutlingen, in an old house two doors from a historic (1235) watchtower, the Tübinger Tor. Slept hard with windows open.
Out the door Wednesday morning, quick breakfast at a nearby organic bakery, and walked up the hill a mile to ESB, the European School of Business at Reutlingen University. Worked my email in the student union, and from 11:30 to 1:00 delivered a talk on leadership to a big (130) group. Quick lunch in the Mensa, then a video interview. Whoosh, it was already 3:00. My ESB host, Oliver Götz, suggested a drive up Achalm, the hill above town, and up we went, to the terrace of a fancy hotel for a coffee and slice of apfelkuchen, apple cake. Oliver dropped me (he was headed home on the train, across the country to Münster). Changed clothes, took a few pictures, and at seven met a couple of German pilot friends, Wido and Karl, for beer and dinner at a microbrewery. Whew, the third busy day in a row.
Thursday was finally a day to relax, sort of. Out the door at seven, to the train station and a ride north to Stuttgart, then onto an ICE fast train to Frankfurt. Toward the end of the ride, a nice T-t-S moment with fellow passengers in the compartment, mainly listening to a 76-year-old woman telling us about her trip to India (she got on at Frankfurt Airport). The train to Berlin was on the adjacent track, and I hopped on the 11:02 ICE. First step was to bring this journal up to date. Step 2 was lunch in the dining car, always a joy. The night before, my two pilot buddies winced when I told them I was taking the train to Berlin. “You can fly there in under an hour on Germanwings,” said one.
But no jet could do what the Bordrestaurant did, transporting me back to childhood, to lunch in the dining car of the Burlington Zephyr, gliding along the Mississippi River, toward grandmothers in Chicago. Tucking into a bowl of chicken stew as the gently rolling landscape of Thuringia passed, I was glad to be on track. We arrived Berlin a few minutes late, prompting a fast dash up two levels to the S-Bahn (suburban train), zip, zip, and soon was in Hermsdorf, one of Berlin’s pleasant, leafy northwest suburbs. Hopped on the #107 bus and arrived at the home of long friends Susan and Michael Beckmann by 4:15. Susan and I had a cup of coffee and a good yak, then son Niklas, age 7, and I set off for a little bike ride around the neighborhood in their suburb, Glienecke-Nordbahn, which was once part of East Germany. These districts have lots of green space, and to my great surprise we were essentially in the country within a few blocks, riding past pastures and barns. We stopped at a playground on the way back for a whirl on the steel merry-go-round and swings. Susan left to pick up daughter Annika, almost 5, from dance class. When she returned, I zipped out for 7 more quick miles on the bike, for a total of 10. Family dinner was homemade pizza, with “Onkel Rob” helping the kids with their English and them helping me auf Deutsch.
After the kids were asleep Michael and Susan told big news: after 14 years with the train-maker Bombardier Transportation, he accepted a job with DSB, the Danish Railway, and they were moving to Copenhagen. Wowie! They were excited, as was I.
Friday was a big day, long anticipated. Several times previously, Michael had invited me to the big railway trade show InnoTrans, held in Berlin every two years, and it was finally time. We stopped at his office so he could have a quick meeting, then hopped the U-Bahn (subway) across to the Messe, the huge fairgrounds. The two Transport Geeks were in heaven, wandering past company booths selling everything related to tracks. Most impressive were companies like SKF (and GE in the USA, though we didn’t see them) that are evolving from just making things to making things that keep track of the things they make: for example, multiple sensors on rail wheel-trucks to monitor vibration, temperature, motion, etc. GE calls itself a “digital industrial company.”
Best of Show: Stadler’s new high-speed train for the Swiss Federal Railways
Along the way, I wore both my marketing hat and my transport cap. One observation with the former: pseudo-experts have told B2B rail companies that they needed to have a slogan. Not many are reasonably clever or appropriate, and most of them are blah; some are incredibly stupid, and a few of them, especially from non-English-speaking countries, do not translate grammatically into English.
And one observation with the latter: I was much taken with comments from a man at the booth for Doppelmayr, an Austrian-Swiss maker of aerial trams and gondolas, familiar to me after decades of riding ski lifts. In addition to the winter-resort sector, they now build systems as urban mass transit, and have installed systems in places like La Paz, Bolivia. The Doppelmayr guy said that they have a strong selling point with mayors: their systems can be operational within one election term!
The last notable stop was at Rail and Road Protec, where a clever Dane, Ulrik Rasmussen demonstrated his graffiti detection system for mass-transit interiors. Odor sensors hidden behind a small loudspeaker panel can quickly detect volatile compounds in permanent broad-tip markers and from spray cans; for a little extra you can add an acoustic sensor for the ball that rattles inside the spray can. Once detected, it plays your choice of message (“You call that art?”) and alerts the police. Wow. Michael and I had a good yak with Ulrik, a fascinating inventor-entrepreneur.
We took the U-Bahn back to the car, drove home, and made fast for Zur Krummen Linde, the cozy restaurant near their house where we dined many times during Advent trips. The kids were good and we were able to sit at table for two hours, enjoying beer and a fine meal. Because of the September visit, I won’t be returning in December, so this was a sort of a goodbye to a nice tradition at a very agreeable place.
Saturday was time to chill. We took a short bike ride with Niklas, Michael pointing out a couple of places where the Berlin Wall separated their neighborhood from West Berlin. The past is still with us, and Berlin has done a good job of remembering how awful that separation was. We had a long breakfast, including homemade bread and jam. About noon the kids, Michael, and I set off for “public day” at InnoTrans. We parked right in front of the (1936) Olympic Stadium, the place where Jesse Owens smashed the Nazis “master race” illusion. Hopped a shuttle to the Messe, and spent the afternoon walking outside, hopping on a few trains and trams (the inside exhibits were closed). The kids were troopers, helped by periodic stops at a little fun fair with inflatable jump houses and slides. It was another gorgeous, sunny day, and a fun time. Susan made another fine dinner, and we were all asleep early.
I got up at dawn Sunday and rode 18 miles, west to Hennigsdorf, where Bombardier has a big factory, then home. After another nice breakfast, we all piled into the station wagon and headed west into Brandenburg (state), in the former GDR, to another T-Geek attraction. In 1989, less than a month before the Berlin Wall came down, some locals – no doubt with connections to the Communist Party (SED) – persuaded the former East German airline Interflug to land a surplus long-range Soviet airliner, an Ilyushin IL-62, on a grass landing strip adjacent to the place where aviation pioneer Otto Lilienthal died in a glider accident in 1896. Improbable, weird, but the jet is parked (you can watch a video of the landing on YouTube) and open to view, inside and out. The T-Geeks were pretty excited. The jet is locally popular as a wedding venue, a little altar set up in the back of the plane. Michael, Susan, and I were impressed not only with the aircraft and surrounding manicured grounds, but with the impressive collection of Interflug memorabilia (the airline shut down after reunification, redundant with Lufthansa and other carriers). It was pretty cool. We then motored a kilometer to a little museum about Lilienthal, who was truly a Renaissance man – inventor, engineer, businessman, playwright, actor.
Pedal to the metal back to what is formally Berlin Tegel Otto Lilienthal Airport, kisses and hugs, and I headed south to Switzerland to continue teaching. I was again flying standby, and this time to my delight I got a seat on the very first flight, 5:10 p.m. And 20D turned out to be a great seat, because it opened up a terrific T-t-S episode, one of the best in months, with Thomas Marthaler. The conversation began after he bought me a beer, because none of my plastic worked in Air Berlin’s inflight payment device. Herr M. had just finished running the Berlin Marathon, his 11th of the year, and was headed home to Zürich, where he was a lawyer and member of the cantonal legislature (you may know that Switzerland is deeply committed to representative democracy, far more than the U.S. – Zürich canton has about 1.5 million people and his chamber has 180 members, 1 for every 8,000 Zürchers. I like the concept!
Thomas was a social democrat in a decidedly conservative place, but his views on dialogue and compromise would be very welcome in Washington. We learned quite a bit about each other, too; his father worked for the Swiss Post, he was once the heavyweight boxing champion of Switzerland, and he liked to ski fast. It was a delightful ride.
From a super Swiss guy to a jerk: at baggage claim, a local grabbed my suitcase and started walking away. I politely stopped him and showed him the hidden ID tag. He was not apologetic. And then he demanded to look at the tag again. Whew. Made me briefly cranky, but maybe that was because I needed dinner, and found it quickly, tucking into a nice piece of salmon and boiled potatoes. A wide range of humanity was coursing through the food court, and I smiled: what the jet airplane has made possible. A father arrived to greet his wife, daughters, and mother-in-law, and I was reminded of a career well made. Another T-t-S moment with his wife Sandra, originally from Croatia but now Swiss, living in Basel and working in pricing for Novartis, the big pharma company based there. Her husband was back from a week learning to surf in Portugal. The jet plane is a cool invention.
I hopped on the SBB, Swiss Federal Railways, and zipped an hour east to St. Gallen, for my 16th visit to the university there. At my hotel right across the street from the railway station, host Georg Guttmann’s bike was waiting for me, as it has been on each of the last three visits there. I was tempted to take a little nocturnal spin, but headed to sleep.
Monday morning, don the necktie, out the door, on the bike, up the hill to St. Gallen’s highly regarded B-school. Worked my email, and from 10:15 to noon delivered a lecture on airline revenue management to Sven Reinecke’s undergrad marketing class. After the talk, three Ph.D. students and two students from the class invited me to lunch in the Mensa. We had a nice meal and a good yak. I then coasted down the hill to the hotel, changed into bike shorts, and set off for a long afternoon ride. Down the “big hill” to Rorschach on Lake Constance (called Bodensee locally), then east to Rhine River (the size of a large creek) and across the border into Austria – the first time I crossed an international border on two wheels. Rode a few miles in Austria, then reversed course. The trudge up the hill (about 800 vertical feet) got a bit long, but was home by 5:15.
Worked a bit, took a shower, and at 7:00 met the Rev. Paul Brice and his wife Hananja for dinner. I got to know Paul when he was chaplain of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, and a week earlier he sent me a surprise email; he remembered I was headed to Switzerland in September and suggested we get together. Cool! I did not know Paul well, and had never met Hananja, from the Netherlands, so we had a really fun melted-cheese dinner at Fondue Beizli. Paul gave me the outlines of his life story as an Anglican priest; he now leads the Anglican parish in Zürich. Lots of interesting banter across a range of topics, including the fact that all three of his siblings are ordained ministers. Just a lovely evening.
Up early Tuesday. It was raining hard, so I hopped the bus up to school, and banged out a consulting assignment. At 12:45, by long tradition I met my host Prof. Winfried Ruigrok and Georg for lunch at Wienerberg, a cozy restaurant across from the university. Had a good yak and a fine meal. It had cleared off, so I walked down the hill, picked up the bike, and rode back up to school, spending an hour to bring this journal up to date.
At 4:30, I delivered a lecture to Winfried’s master’s class, then back down the hill, change of clothes, and back on the bike for a short ride to a cozy and familiar pub in the old town, the Goldenen Leuen. Spent 90 minutes with Yves, a very friendly guy who tracked me down through students from the previous year; Yves was writing an airline-related master’s thesis, and we has a good yak and a couple of small beers. Back at the hotel I ate a tuna sandwich and potato salad (the equivalent of eight bucks!) from a convenience store, all I needed after a caloric lunch.
Wednesday morning there was just enough time for a 10-mile ride before breakfast, then a lecture to Winfried’s MBA class. I had almost forgotten to visit the wildly baroque St. Gallen abbey church, really a cathedral, so zipped over after class for morning prayer and a few words with the angel I first met in 2001. Packed my bag, hopped on the 12:20 train to the airport, stuffed my bag in a locker, bought a day ticket on the ZVV, the local public transit system, and headed into town.
The T-Geek did some research the night before, and the day ticket included rides on the pleasant boats that ply the Lake of Zürich. From the main train station I hopped on a tram to the dock, gliding down Bahnhofstrasse, lined with luxury-brand stores, sort of Swiss affluence distilled. It was a gorgeous day, and I boarded the Limmat for a 30-minute cruise to a pleasant, well-to-do, Erlenbach, six miles down the eastern shore from the center. Even with a big breakfast, it was way past lunch time, and I headed to the Migros (Switzerland’s wonderful, ubiquitous supermarkets) for picnic fixings: organic lentil salad and a splendid, seeded hard roll, consumed picnic fashion on a shady park bench across from the store.
Ambled back to the dock and hopped on a boat back to the city. At the main dock I found the departure point for a small boat that plied the Limmat River, barely fitting under several bridges (“Do not stand up” was posted in multiple languages, because the vessel had a soft roof). Hopped off at the last stop, which conveniently was adjacent to the main station. Headed back to the airport and onto to SAS flights back to Sweden and the fifth school of the trip, Umeå University. Their B-school is special, because it was the first foreign school I visited, in 1994. This was my 21st visit. We landed at midnight. At the hotel, the friendly clerk handed me the key to another bike, this one provided by the student business association, HHUS.
Six hours was not enough sleep, but I wanted a pre-breakfast ride to one of my favorite places on earth, the little island of Bölesholmarna in the Ume River. It was chilly, about 39°. Biking is huge in Umeå, and even before seven o’clock cyclists were everywhere, headed to work and school.
The new B-school dean, Sofia, had organized a strategy and planning session, and at nine I was among long friends – members of the International Advisory Board (I’ve been a member since 1999), a main governing board, and a local advisory board. Venue was the new Elite Hotel Mimer, built in Umeå’s old (1906) red-brick public school. They had spent some big money on the conversion, and it was both impressive and a reminder that the Swedish economy is booming – “those socialists” have no trouble keeping the place humming. The meetings were good, but high point was dinner, seated in between Håkan Olofsson, a native now living in Denver, Colorado, and Kjell Knudsen, former dean of the B-school at the University of Minnesota-Duluth (I told Kjell I almost rang his doorbell five weeks earlier).
Another quick bike ride Friday morning, then 8:00 breakfast with Umeå friends Nils and Carolina Paulson, described in these pages for some years. I was really sorry the visit north was so short, because normally I would have biked out to their house, four miles south of town on the river, for a visit with them and their three boys, Johann, Petter, and Olle. We had a quick yak to catch up; I was especially interested in progress on their cabin 15 miles south of town, in a little village on the Gulf of Bothnia. They showed pictures of the completed exterior – as with their main house, they were building it entirely themselves. Very cool, and very nice, people, with a keen sense of the needs of others; Carolina told me of her work with the Swedish Church, helping to feed recent refugees
At nine, I rode up the hill to the university, chatted with some old friends, delivered a lecture in early afternoon on airline service quality, and presented another “Drink and Learn” session later Friday afternoon at the pub that HHUS operates. Rolled back to the hotel and zipped up to the sauna for some tonic sweating. It was 7:00 when I returned to my room, and through the open window I could hear nearby bells pealing from the steeple of Umeå’s main church. As I have written many times, those are “the sound of Europe,” and I paused to listen, and to remind myself how very lucky I am to be able to have experienced Europe so many times.
I biked over to a favorite pub, Lotta’s, for an ale brewed in their cellar, and a nice but too short T-t-S with Mike, a friendly local. After that a quick dinner in the hotel and early to bed. I woke before six, and figured I had just enough time for another quick bike ride, three miles to Bölesholmarna and back, then out to the airport for a long ride home – via Stockholm, London, and Charlotte – on the first day of the new quarter. Was home by 10:00 p.m. A great beginning to what will be a busy teaching season.