COVID-19 has turned a lot of businesses, and much of the world, upside down, but the airline business – the place where I’ve spent almost my entire working life – is especially under siege. Passenger demand and thus revenues have dropped, in many places by more than 90%. If you run an airline, you can’t shrink to survive, because it’s an industry with fixed costs of 70 to 80%. There’s no demand for a big Boeing to fly across an ocean, but you still have to pay for it when it’s parked in Abilene, Texas, or Pittsburgh, or wherever. Lots of other fixed expense, too, for airport rents, for skilled people like pilots and mechanics who must be retained, and more.
Without knowing anything about how and when travel demand will return, the hiatus has prompted many airlines to take decisions about their essential assets, airplanes. So it was a few days ago when American Airlines, the company that provided me an awesome and challenging 22-year career, announced that it was retiring its Boeing 757 and Boeing 767-300 fleets. These marvelous Silver Birds were an important core of the AA fleet for many years. In a time when Boeing is being justifiably criticized for bad decisions about the 737 MAX, we might pause to lift up and recognize the “Seven-five” and “Seven-six-three” for their reliability, safety, and performance over more than three decades; the 767-300 entered the fleet in the 1988, and the 757 a year later.
The 767-300 in the new paint job, with added winglets to reduce fuel use
The news that these jets were making their last departures was personal. Regular readers know how much I celebrate all the good things that the jet airplane enables – economic development, market expansion, tourism, vacations, fresh flowers, educational exchange, hugs, and so much more – so I pause here to remember the many happy rides I had on American’s 757s and 767-300s. Well, okay, you may know that your scribe is a Transport Geek, and you’re not surprised that I’ve kept records of every flight since the first takeoff in 1966, so I can tell you this:
293 flights on AA 757s, totaling 636,774 miles; first ride was Washington-Dallas/Fort Worth in July 1990, last was Amsterdam-Philadelphia in November 2017 (with a refueling stop in Bangor, Maine)
167 flights on AA 767s (including a few on the slightly smaller 767-200), totaling 636,774 miles; first was San Francisco-DFW, November 1987, a month after I joined American, and the last was also Amsterdam-Philadelphia in May 2019
Ergo, more than a million miles on these two great aircraft. Scrolling through my flight database, I remembered vividly some nice rides on both types. Chicago-Milan on a 767-300 at the start of a brilliant family vacation in June 2001, celebrating Robin’s graduation from high school, home from Toronto in August 1998, Jack and I winging back from a spectacular boys’ fishing trip in Labrador, and dozens more.
From 1994 to 2003, in the middle of these ships’ long service to American, I was lucky enough to have what was called FDJ Authorization, permission from the company to sit in the cockpit (flight deck) jumpseat, conditional on the assent of the captain. I obtained the FDJ after American instituted a variant of its wonderful “Walk a Mile” program that enabled people to learn firsthand about frontline jobs. In the spring of 1994, groups of us headed a mile or so from our corporate headquarters to the flight academy, the pilot training center. We sat through a day of orientation, culminating in a short stint in a simulator (I veered off the runway on landing; the instructor didn’t think the real plane would have caught fire, but reckoned repairs would have been north of a million dollars!). A week after orientation, a chance to sit in a real jumpseat. I was assigned a two-day sequence in a 757 with Captain Bob Elwell, a wonderful fellow who welcomed me onto the flight deck. We flew DFW-Washington National-DFW-Austin, then overnight. Next morning, AUS-DFW-LGA, where I left the crew and reluctantly headed back to the office. Unforgettable approaches to Washington, south along the Potomac River, and into LaGuardia, through the crowded airspace above metropolitan New York.
In the almost ten years that I had the FDJ card, although I could book a seat (not fly standby), even in First Class, I often chose to sit in the cockpit because it was 1) just so interesting, and 2) a standby passenger could take my seat in the cabin. In the 757, the absolute best rides were DFW into Eagle-Vail Airport, smack in the high alpine of the Colorado Rockies. On those flights, I saw professional aviators at their very best, because the approach into Vail is seriously challenging. (In 1998, bound for spring break skiing with the family, we made two approaches in a snowstorm, then diverted to Colorado Springs for overnight; most passengers hopped on a charter bus to Vail, but we stayed with the crew, and barely got in the next morning, way cool.) I also rode the cockpit in the 767-300. Returning from a family vacation in Paris in July 1997, the flight was way overbooked, so I gave up my big seat and rode the jumpseat, 10 hours and 15 minutes bolt upright, with no beer. A couple of months later, about an hour before landing in Frankfurt, I chatted in the galley with the captain, and mentioned my FDJ card. He invited me up front for the approach and landing. We descended over the Ruhr, the industrial heart of Germany; I remember that sunny morning vividly: looking down, I thought this was the view that U.S. Army Air Force bombers had 55 years earlier, and was glad that in the intervening decades the awesome technology of flight had mostly been used for good, as it was that day.
So farewell, 757 and 767-300. Thanks for the rides.
A couple of snaps from the 757 cockpit on approach to Eagle-Vail Airport, Colorado
The new quarter began with a trip, but not the usual distance. Had Coronavirus not seized the world, April 1 would have seen me in Copenhagen, the last stop on a 12-day teaching and public-speaking trip to St. Gallen, Switzerland; London, Worcester, Leeds, Manchester, and back to London; then across to Denmark. But no. (In addition to a talk at Copenhagen Business School, I was excited about an invitation from Mattias, a former student – described in the last update – to visit the new headquarters of the Carlsberg Brewery; drat!)
At 11:15 on April 1, I hopped on my city bike and rode 2.5 miles to the West Falls Church Metro station, then onto the Orange Line into downtown Washington, then the Red Line north to Fort Totten, then a mile south to the Capital Area Food Bank, where I worked my third three-hour shift in the last fortnight.
Plenty of room on the Metro
A little aside: when we lived in Dallas, Texas, I was a steadfast volunteer for 16 years, working twice monthly with the Dallas Ramp Project, a wonderful group of people who build wheelchair ramps for people who cannot afford them. My whole adult life has been about advancing mobility, and helping people get out of their house was advancing mobility – a few steps by their front doors were like prison walls. I have always worked to serve others, and the work projects over those 16 years were among the happiest times of my life. So there was no excuse, zero, that it took me more than seven years to find a volunteer “home” in Washington, but I’m so glad I now have one.
On the Dallas Ramp Project, 2012
Because the Metro has been operating a reduced schedule, I allowed plenty of time to get the 17 miles across town. Rolled into the food bank a half-hour early, and we started at 1:00. I was on the assembly line, and the last can to gently place into a 25-pound box of food. People are hungry, and I could do a little to help.
When the shift finished, we all clapped, did elbow bumps (the new handshake!) removed our rubber gloves, and departed. I hopped back on the bike to the Metro, reversing course, and was home at 5:15. I’m scheduled to work again next Wednesday.
I was up way early on Sunday, March 8, on the short hop to Philadelphia and a jump to Montreal, for lectures at McGill University. It’s a familiar routine, the superb public transit bus into the city, to a Metro station west of downtown. Had a nice T-t-S with a young Quebecker as we walked from bus to train. I started talking to myself as I navigated patches of ice on the sidewalk, and he turned to see what the old guy was saying. I laughed and said I grew up in Minnesota and hadn’t lived there for 30+ years, but still remembered how to navigate ice with a suitcase. That launched a pleasant conversation about other places we lived; he was just returning from a temporary job in Vancouver. Nice to engage.
Left, Quebec’s colonial system of “long lots,” laid out to maximize access to roads and rivers, is still evident 350 years later. Also prominent in the province’s cities and towns are Catholic churches; the church dominated Quebec life for centuries, but lost its way, and its grip, in “the quiet revolution” that secularized the province beginning in the 1960s.
Down the stairs and onto the Metro I first rode 53 years earlier; but instead of getting off at the McGill station, I rode one more to Place des Arts, because I was not staying at my usual digs, the university-owned accommodation called La Citadelle, but in the deluxe studio of a new young friend. I met Ridha on my last trip to Montreal five months before; a swell guy, works in aviation, and is a long friend of my pal Fabio in Geneva (who also grew up in Montreal). I was dumbstruck when Ridha offered me his apartment on Blvd. de Maisonneuve; he explained he would be in France visiting his in-laws, his wife returning to her homeland with their young daughter and new baby. Whew, that was generous.
Got the key from the lobby attendant, zipped up to the 22nd floor, and, wow, was that a cool place to stay (I had been in the apartment briefly last October). Dropped my stuff and zipped around the corner for a late lunch at that signal Canadian coffee shop and café, Tim Horton’s. Donned shorts and a T-shirt and visited the building gym; sadly they only had a spinning bike, not my workout device; managed, just barely, to crank out 10 miles before giving up. Took a nice nap.
Above, on the Metro Sunday night. Below, a common warning sign; as a former McGill host, a lawyer, once explained, in Montreal you don’t win a lawsuit if you fall on ice and hurt yourself; here, he said, the thinking is “you should have known it was slippery!” At bottom, a busker belting out Celtic songs at the Place des Arts Metro station (her clogs struck me as brave footwear!).
At 5:45 I hopped back on the Metro and rode two stops east to my fave Montreal bar and eatery, Saint-Houblon, on Rue Saint-Denis. I’d normally spend a couple of hours for their own beer and dinner, but at 6:00 I met Chris Read, newly-minted MBA from Imperial College Business School in London. My Imperial host Omar was his thesis advisor, and Chris and I did some phone interviews. He works in strategy at Air Canada, a fellow airline guy, so I was expecting good conversation. And it was: we yakked for more than three hours across a range of aviation topics. Just fascinating. It had been a long time since I had a session like that, and it was super-fun. Chris peeled off at 9:15, I walked up the street for Thai takeaway, rode the Metro home, clocked out. A good day.
Up Monday in cold rain, ambled across downtown to McGill, pausing for an oatmeal and muffin breakfast at – where else – Tim Horton’s. Spent a few hours working in a student lounge, grabbed a quick lunch, and at 1:05 met another long host, Mary Dellar, and presented to her undergrad services-marketing class. Great kids, great questions. Peeled off, back to the apartment, marveling yet again at Ridha’s generosity. Did some work, short nap, and at 5:15 hopped on the Metro, east and north to Dieu du Ciel, a brewpub in the Plateau neighborhood. As on my first visit in October, I was the oldest guy by a factor of between 2.5 and 3, but the place exuded the friendliest vibe. Hopped on a stool in a corner to give maximum view of the place, and just watched the crowd like others might watch a TV show, occasionally tapping out an email or text. In retrospect, although their menu is limited, I should have stayed on for dinner, but instead walked a block north to another brewpub with a bigger menu, but not the same vibe. Friendly, but way less soul. Tucked into slightly soggy fish and chips, then hopped the Metro home.
Above, after Monday lunch, this Transport Geek stumbled upon a small exhibit in the McGill main library about Quebec bridges; just fascinating stuff. Below, two photos to trigger memories of my first Montreal visit in 1967: the distinctive ceramic tiles at the Peel Metro station, and a ketchup bottle. Huh? Let me explain: my two friends on that trip said the city was “just like home except the ketchup bottles were in French; alas, I didn’t see it that way back then, and still don’t. Vive le difference! At bottom, scenes from Dieu du Ciel.
Up Tuesday, rinse and repeat Monday, back over to McGill. From 10:45 to 11:15 I did three short video interviews for my other McGill host, Bob Mackalski, then walked next door to present to his MBA class, an engaged small class. Bob said it was my best performance ever, but I try to make them all the best. At 1:15 we walked through cold, steady rain to Universel, a fave restaurant, for a laugh-filled (and filling) lunch with Mary and Bob. A lot of talk about U.S. politics – like a lot of Canadians, either of them are better-informed than me about what’s going on in my country. They are, simply, great people. And regular readers know how much I love Canada.
Detail, mask from a Pacific coast (British Columbia) native artist, in the business school at McGill
At three I reversed course from two days earlier, Metro, bus, flight to Philly, flight to Washington, home.
Wonderful public art in Montreal airport
As I unpacked my suitcase that night, I could not have imagined that the short trip to Montreal would be the last journey for awhile. I left my Ziploc bag of toothpaste, shave cream, and stuff in the rollaboard, fully expecting to repack in 11 days and head to Zürich, London, and Copenhagen. But that didn’t happen. In the intervening days, Coronavirus intensified. I resisted for days, but four days before flying across the ocean, it became clear that if we were to collectively get control, I needed to hunker down. And that is what I’m doing right now, as I tap out this message.
I pray we will, together, succeed. For a highly mobile person who has never taken movement for granted, immobility is difficult, at times emotionally painful. It’s hard not to fly.
But I know this: when things return to something like normal, when I fasten my seat belt, when the jet begins to roll down the runway, it will feel exactly like it did the first time I took flight in June 1966.
On Saturday, February 22, I flew to La Guardia Airport, New York, in mid-afternoon. Hopped on the Q70 bus to Jackson Heights, then the E train into Manhattan. Walked through Times Square, teeming with visitors, to 229 W. 43rd, a building I knew very well in its original version, as home of The New York Times. But about a decade ago the paper moved around the corner, into a new building on Eighth Avenue, and the building had been recycled into offices, including the headquarters for Michael Bloomberg’s presidential run. In December, daughter Robin took a senior comms job with the campaign, and she gave me a quick tour of the operation. She had a lot to do, so I was in and out in 20 minutes or less.
Above, the view from above: lower Manhattan and LaGuardia Airport. Below left, Robin at the Bloomberg HQ, and your scribe writing “Go, Mike, Go” on a wall. Bottom, a portion of Matteo Pericoli’s splendid “Skyline of the World,” a mural I helped (in 2006-07) get commissioned and installed in JFK Terminal 8. Proud to have played a small part. I smile every time I see it!
Walked south to Penn Station and onto a Long Island Rail Road train to Jamaica (the district in Queens, not the island), then the Airtrain to Kennedy Airport. Hopped on the Silver Bird to London, landing Sunday morning at 7:45. It was a repeat of four weeks earlier: onto the Heathrow Express then Tube (and that day a red bus) to Scott Sage’s house.
I was actually bound for Cambridge, my 25th visit, but it was Scott’s birthday and I surprised him with Dunkin’ Donuts (purchased the day before in Manhattan), and a homemade birthday hat. His swell wife Caroline and daughter Eva were away, but Scott’s parents, Jeff and Patty, were visiting from Texas. I had not seen them for more than a decade, and it was fun to catch up. The doughnuts stayed in the box – Patty made blueberry pancakes. Scott and daughter Sadie both had bad colds. An hour in, Scott’s father-in-law Michael arrived; I had not seen him in several years, and it was fun to catch up with him, too.
I peeled off just before noon, bus and Tube across town to Liverpool Street Station and north to Cambridge. Arrived 2:30, short bus ride to the center of town, and a short walk to Sidney Sussex College, my usual digs. For years I had enjoyed some very fancy and large rooms, but the year before and this time I had a tiny room on the top floor, with the shower and toilet a floor below – it was not exactly a garret, but pretty close.
Above, the view from my garret; below, the chapel at Sidney Sussex College.
Grabbed a sandwich from the supermarket across the street and took a tonic nap. At 6:00, processed into the college chapel for Choral Evensong; I had not heard Sidney’s celestial choir for a couple of years, and it was nice to be back. After the service, per tradition we repaired to the Old Library for a glass of wine and conversation. I spoke with Tristan, a Ph.D. history student, and with Brett, the college chaplain and Devin McLachlan, the guest preacher. He was an interesting fellow, Chicago native, Harvard divinity graduate, now an associate at Great St. Mary’s, the town’s large Anglican church. In previous years I had been invited to head table in the dining hall, but not this time, so I headed back to the sort-of-garret, changed clothes and walked two blocks north to the Maypole, an agreeable pub I found on the 2019 visit. An Italian family, Castiglione, owned the place, and the menu was half British favorites and half Italian dishes. I tucked into a wonderful big bowl of pasta, a Sicilian recipe called Boscaiola. Yum. Asleep by 9:30.
Up early Monday morning, couple of cups of instant coffee in the room, down the stairs for ablutions, suited up, and off to breakfast. The historic college dining hall was closed during the day for a major construction project, so breakfast was in a modern and well-lit hall. Walked across town to the Judge Business School, set up office as I always do in the second-floor common room, and worked the morning. Paused for lunch, then a short walk around campus. From 4:30 to 5:30 I delivered a talk to 45 engaged students in Jochen Menges’ MBA leadership class (Jochen has a chair at the University of Zürich, but also an appointment at Cambridge).
Above left, Trinity Street, and the front window at Heffer’s, Cambridge’s famous bookstore. Below, detail above the front gate at Emmanuel College. At bottom, St. Botolph Church, built 1320, and its chalked door (see explanation of “chalking the door” in the December post).
Walked back to college, changed clothes, and by long tradition ambled to the historic Eagle pub on Bene’t Street, where your scribe joined an elite group of former patrons: the creator of Pooh, Piglet, and Tigger (A.A. Milne), the pioneer of our knowledge of motion (Newton), and the co-discoverers of DNA (Watson and Crick), among others. Thirst slaked and feeling a bit smarter, I walked a few blocks to Loch Fyne, a wonderful seafood restaurant, for dinner with Jochen. I had not been there in some years, and it was swell to be back. We had a fine meal (poached smoked haddock for me) and great conversation.
Above, Jochen’s classroom during a creative exercise. Below, ya gotta love candor: a poster advising men to check their testicles regularly!
Wolfed down breakfast Tuesday morning and walked briskly the 1.3 miles to the train station and onto the 8:48 to London. Got off at Tottenham Hale, onto the Tube, and was soon at Baker Street. Ambled to London Business School, my 21st visit, met Wani, Marianna, Trish, and Rebecca, my hosts from the school’s Marketing Club. A winter-time talk to that group has become a firm tradition. It was a big group, also engaged, lots of great questions.
Near the railway station, a real-estate developer trafficking on Cambridge’s brainpower: among other things, the examples celebrated the world’s first jet engine, Bluetooth software, and in-vitro fertilization.
Had some good discussions after the preso, best of which was another (third time in six months) encounter with a student who had heard me speak at a previous school. In this case it was Mattias Liu, a young Canadian who met me at McGill in 2015. I really enjoyed the chat with Mattias, because he told me that he recalled my career advice – I end almost every talk urging students to find a job that fills them with mission, purpose, and passion, prioritizing that over money or a name-brand firm. After earning his Masters at LBS, he went to work, like so many bright business students do, for a bigtime consulting firm. “It didn’t really suit my personality,” Mattias said, and he now loves his job, working for the big brewer Carlsberg in Copenhagen. Also had a good, and very candid, chat with Heidi, a former Boeing engineer who had worked on the 737 MAX; she was highly critical of the “business decisions” that Boeing had taken to sell that jet.
Grabbed a quick lunch at Pret a Manger, hopped back on the Tube and rode to Kensington High Street and a visit to the way cool Design Museum. In late 2017, I visited to see winners and finalists in their annual design-award competition, and the 2019 show was about to end. Some cool stuff in six categories: graphics, products, fashion, transport, architecture, and digital. And some stuff that looked like it won because it was trendy and not necessarily innovative, but maybe that’s just the view of an old critic!
Above, genuine innovation: a soundless, wearable breast pump, and stackable chairs made from plastic-factory waste. Below, an electric scooter produced on a 3D printer (everything except the motor and fasteners were made that way), and a finalist in the graphic section, rebranding of an English football team, the Wolverhampton Wanderers. At bottom, the Xperia touch, a device that merges projection and touch screen capabilities, so that any flat surface becomes an interactive screen (my middle finger is pointing at our house in a Google Earth close-up). Whoa!
Walked south to Earls Court, then back on the Tube west to Hounslow, the suburb just east of Heathrow. My flight was early the next morning, so I wanted to stay close to, though not at, the airport. My no-frills Ibis Budget Hotel was right across from the office building that for years was the European HQ of American Airlines, and looking across the street brought back lots of memories of meetings in that place: fighting with Gulf Air over revenue splits; advertising presentations, PR-strategy sessions, and more (the airline now offices in British Airways’ headquarters on the other side of the airport). Checked in, took a short nap, worked a bit. Hounslow has a huge South Asian population, so abounds with Indian food. For three consecutive years a decade back, I had eaten at a place called Desi Flava, a mile from the hotel. It had changed, and was now called Takaa Tak, which is Hindi slang for “excellent” or “perfect.” My kind of place.
Above, for obvious reasons, I’ve long admired travel posters, and for several years the Great Western Railway has produced these lovely throwback editions that merge an century-old illustration style with their most modern trains. Wonderful! Below, scenes at Takaa Tak.
From the front door, it looked promising, especially the patron composition, almost 100% South Asian. While waiting for a table, a happy, slightly drunk patron leaving the restaurant caught my eye, and in a minute he was giving me dap, hugging me, asking small questions. Good to engage. Tucked into a nice meal, two vegetarian dishes, augmented, as I always do, with a small bowl of chopped green chilies. Walked home, clocked out.
Up way early Wednesday, onto the Tube to the airport, a 787 to Chicago and back east to Washington. Henry and MacKenzie on the leash by 7:00. A short trip, but a good one.
I was home for most of January. By the 25th, I had itchy feet, raring to get back on the road, into the skies, and into the classroom. That Saturday I flew to Charlotte, then east on a big Silver Bird to London.
Above left, our faithful wingman at Gate 35, Washington National Airport; right, a muddy river and new suburbs south of Charlotte. Below, an empty car early Sunday on the Bakerloo Line; at right, winter green in a wet city.
Landed Heathrow at 7:30, zipped through the airport, onto train and Tube, and was at friends Scott and Caroline Sage’s house by 9:00. Caroline was in the U.S. on business, so Scott was Mr. Mom to Eva, now almost five, and Sadie, two. We yakked for a bit, then walked east to a Sunday farmers’ market, then into Queen’s Park, first to the wonderful farmyard (a nice idea: bringing domestic animals to the city), then a long stay in the playground. Sadie especially wanted me to hold her hand while she walked along gently rising round wooden steps. “Again,” she squealed. It was fun to be “Uncle Rob” with two small children.
Above, Sadie and Eva, intreprid urban scooters; below, varied produce (parsnips!) at the farmers’ market. At bottom, goats and energetic swingsters.
We ambled home, tucked into quiches bought at the farmers’ market, then naps for all. At 3:30, we walked a few blocks to see David and Claire, and their kids Rose and Emily. The grown-ups had a good chat in the kitchen, then the kids ate dinner. Always fun to get to know new people: they were Australian, a lawyer and PR exec. Headed home, bath time for kids, then Scott and I tucked into Indian takeaway and more chatter. Scott is seriously well informed and well read, so conversations are always varied and stimulating.
Up early Monday morning, out the door, onto the #52 bus south to my 19th appearance at Imperial College London. Slurped two pricey coffees, did some work. At 11, it was time to stand and deliver, the first talk of 2020, to 150 masters’ marketing students. As in previous years, the venue was just off campus, in the auditorium of the Royal Geographical Society. This geographer felt right at home! Ate a quick lunch in a café in the B-school building, worked a bit of email, and from 3:00 to 5:00 delivered a second talk, on crisis management. A good start to the semester, but by the end I was a bit tired. Hopped the bus back to Scott’s. Continued our conversation over dinner. After, Phil, a business associate who lives nearby, came over for a chat about his start-up company, 7 Bridges. Fascinating stuff.
Above left, at Imperial College London, homage to engineering professor (worked on locomotive propulsion), and the midday scene in Dalby Court. Below left, looking out from the entry foyer at the business school, and Royal Albert Hall at twilight.
Up with the kids Tuesday morning, Scott peeled off, and I headed into central London for a quick meeting, then to Euston station and up to Milton Keynes, 50 miles north, for my sixth appearance in the air transport management program at Cranfield University. As we’ve done twice previously, friend Jan Meurer, a retired exec of KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, joined me for a lively discussion. About 2/3 of the questions were about climate change and the environment, proof of how quickly that issue has become front and center in the airline business.
Old and new in and near Finsbury Square, City of London; construction continues to boom in central London
At 3:45, one of the university’s drivers, Jason, zoomed us back to Heathrow. I was expecting traffic jams along the way, but we got there quickly, and without a hitch. Jan peeled off at Terminal 4, and I zipped away at T5, with plenty of time for a couple of beers and a spicy vegetarian curry. Flew to Frankfurt, waited 90 minutes, and hopped a late train up to Koblenz, for my 19th visit to the private business school WHU. Head hit the pillow at 1:40.
I slept in, 8:30. My alarm clock were the tradesmen in the corridor installing air conditioning for the hotel, but it was time to rise and shine. After breakfast and a little detour to buy a new bottle of 4711 (the original Eau de Cologne made not far from me; generically, cologne is called that because of 4711, produced since 1799, a citrusy fragrance that has been my long fave), I hopped on the #8 bus across the Rhine to Vallendar, the small town that’s home to WHU. Worked a couple of hours in a glassy student common room.
The WHU masters class, undergrads, and, after classes, my iPhone screen, showing 42 invitations to connect via LinkedIn.
My “office” at WHU
At noon I met longtime host Sandra Boedeker for a pasta lunch at Petrocelli, a few steps from campus. It had been two years, so there were plenty to update, and some good conversations about contemporary Germany, particularly about primary and secondary education; like the U.S., the country needs more teachers. At 1:30, it was time to work, back-to-back lectures to grad and undergrad classes. At 5:00, I was plumb wore out, but happy with great discussions in both courses. Hopped back on the #8 bus, worked a bit in my hotel room, and ambled a few blocks to a long fave place, the Altes Brauhaus, serving beer and good food since 1689. Wednesday night, the place is hopping, but I found a stool at a small circular table (I had perched at that spot a few times before, with a good view of the whole place), asked for a beer, then a plate of herring and fried potatoes. Yum. Was asleep early, a hard sleep finally.
Thursday was a “day off,” and I had a plan: a day trip to Trier, Germany’s oldest city, upstream on the Moselle River. The train ride followed the river, past storybook villages, vineyards on steep slopes, hilltop castles, a deer (hunting) stand right next to a field of solar panels. (As I’ve noted admiringly before, Germany committed awhile back to boosting renewable energy, and they’re meeting targets; it’s all about will, and about common agreement across political parties.)
Above, a splendid old house on the Kaiserstrasse, Trier; below, Porta Nigra.
We rolled into Trier at 10:40, and I set out to explore the town. First impressions, around the train station, were unfavorable, even seedy, but soon improved as I ambled along Kaiserstrasse, lined with large homes that spoke of rising prosperity in the last decades of the 19th Century and the first one of the 20th, before it all tumbled down in two wars. Trier was an important outpost of the Roman Empire, and evidence still exists, as in stop one, the Porta Nigra, a city gate built 160-200 AD, and an impressive piece of engineering. Walked on, toward the main square, the Marktplatz, lined with splendid buildings. Then to the colossal cathedral, the Dom, a church for 1700 years. That’s a long time, and the interior was a blend of lots of architectural styles: Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque. Wow.
Trier’s most famous son, Karl Marx
Above left, architectural detail, and right an ornate facade from, remarkably, the 13th Century. Below, and bottom, the cathefdral interior.
Equally impressive was the Liebfrauenbasilika next door, Germany’s oldest Gothic church, from the 13th C. It was cruciform, with 12 pillars supporting the structure. Beneath these soaring structures, we are made small, humbled, and that’s a good thing for us, even for nonbelievers. At noon, “the sound of Europe,” tolling bells above, in the Dom.
Above left, just part of the cathedral, from a courtyard; right, one of the 12 pillars in the Basilica of Our Lady; each held a section of the Apostles’ Creed, here the end: “and the life everlasting, amen.”
Above the door of The Lion, Germany’s oldest drug store, 1241
I hopped a bus a few blocks for a quick look at the Roman baths, but didn’t go in. Circled back to the old town, the Altstadt, bought a sandwich at a supermarket, and hopped on a bus out to the Roman amphitheater, also 2nd Century, site of spectacles and processions, and of course lions versus gladiators. Way cool.
The Roman Amphitheater; did I hear the echoes of roaring crowds, cheering on the fight?
After four hours, I had seen a lot, and was flagging a bit, so doubled back to the station and hopped on a slow train back down the Moselle. Hopped off at Cochem, a town I saw on a 2004 visit to WHU, with a huge castle looming above town. Back on a train, a fast one, and soon back at my hotel. A fine day out.
Above, signs of the times: at left, a new organic bakery’s take on the old signs that guided people who could not read; right, a vestige of the Cold War, speed limit for tanks is 80 on the highway, 30 in town.
Above, Cochem castle and the town in the Moselle. Below, scenes of villages along the river.
The grocery-store lunch was a bit thin, so I headed out for an early dinner. I love German food, but a little spice is good, so I zipped into a Thai place a block from the hotel. I had seen it many times before, but never eaten there. When I ordered the curry, the waitress asked, “Mittelscharf?” (medium spicy). “Nein,” I relied, “sehr scharf, pikant.” She nodded, and awhile later, she delivered. A huge plate, well spiced, yum.
Up early Friday morning, back across the Rhine to WHU. Worked the morning, and brought this journal up to date. Ate lunch in the Mensa. At 1:40, I met Lisa Eidenberg and Nicholas Peterson, active in a student group called WHU Inside Business; I had done some things with them in previous years, and that day it was time for another video interview. A long one, in the splendid setting of what probably was the dining room in the huge mansion that was WHU’s first building on campus. We yakked for almost two hours, and the students were really happy with the interview. I said goodbye, walked to the bus stop, and back across the river to Koblenz.
Above, rooftop solar panels on an old house in Vallendar (the new one in the foreground did not have them). Below, details from the old building at WHU.
The day was warm, sun was out, an hour of daylight left, so I changed clothes quickly and headed out for a stroll, bound for the Deutsches Eck (literally “the German corner”), at the confluence of the Rhine and Moselle rivers. Towering over the historic site is a huge 1898 bronze of Kaiser Wilhelm II (Willy2 as I call him) mounted on a horse, an angel at his side. I hadn’t been to the Eck for many years, and wondered if the American flag was still at the end of a row of flags of the Federal Republic and its 16 states. Yes, there it was, and it made me happy to see it. Further along, a nice reminder of the awfulness of the Cold War: slabs from the Berlin Wall and interpretive panels.
Above: beneath the U.S. flag, these words: in memory of September 11, 2001, in friendship with the American people. Below, Willy2 and golden light across the Rhine.
On the interpretive panels describing a divided Germany was the story of Elke and Thomas Schlegel. The East Germans imprisoned her for the crime of applying to emigrate. In 1984, West Germany paid a ransom to release her; she now lives in Koblenz.
Walked back to the hotel along the river, did some work, and headed back to the Altes Brauhaus for dinner. Found the same stool and little table in the corner, and watched the busy Friday-night scene develop. Was especially happy to see that a lot of the servers were immigrants (mine was Tunisia). Tucked into a nice plate of Himmel und Erd (“Heaven and Earth”), blood sausage and liver sausage, mashed potatoes, and apples. German soul food, for sure. Walked back to the hotel and had a nice conversation with Frau Demmer, one of the owners. She and the other family members know me by name, and we all remember why I’m a loyal customer: in 2009, another small hotel locked me out on a Friday night; no one was there, and a helpful person at a nearby Italian restaurant walked me to the Trierer Hof, where I was welcomed. You stay true to those people and places. Just like at home after dinner, I read a chapter or two of a novel, and clocked out early.
Up at 6:25 Saturday morning, quick breakfast, out the door, brisk walk to the railway station, and onto the 7:48 train to Mannheim. The ride was nice: along the familiar Rhine valley, then through Mainz and Worms (where the Emperor tried, unsuccessfully, to nail Martin Luther in 1521, only five years after he launched Protestantism). Changed trains in Mannheim, through Stuttgart and Ulm and Augsburg (another famous place in Protestant history, where the Lutherans laid down their articles of faith – for example the sensible idea that priests should be allowed to marry). Crossing the Danube, I could tell we were in Bavaria, because the shape of the church steeples changed toward round and onion-like.
I hadn’t been to the capital of Bavaria for more than a decade, and was excited to be there, if only for 24 hours. Arrived 12:30, grabbed a supermarket lunch, and hopped on the #16 tram, slow, but direct to my Airbnb. In no time I was chatting with host Ruth Lange and getting to know her swell sheepdog Camilo. A seriously nice Airbnb: big room in a beautiful apartment, building from about 1910. Ate lunch in the room, and hopped back on the tram, all the way across the city to Nymphenburg Palace, an enormous and sprawling “low rise” castle on the west end of Munich. Lots of people were walking the grounds, but the castle interior was almost empty. For the second day in three, my mouth was permanently agape, gazing at the wild Baroque ornamentation. Whew. Spent an hour walking through the various rooms (including the bedroom where crazy King Ludwig II was born – the interpretive panel was a case study in euphemisms about his two-decade rule and removal). Hopped back on the tram to the next Baroque site, Asamkirche. I roamed all over Munich in many visits in my 20s, but I had never seen that one, almost literally dripping excess. More slack jaw!
Left, the view of the Englischer Garten from my room in Ruth’s Airbnb, and her dog (and my new friend) Camilo.
Above left and right, the jaw-dropping Main Hall at Nymphenburg. Below and at bottom, furnishings and decoration. At very bottom, just part of the sprawling palace.
Above, the Asamkirche interior; below, the church facade and the city’s famous New Town Hall
I walked across the center – most of it closed to cars, very pleasant – drawn magnetically to the Hofbräuhaus. I paused at the entry, my mind gliding back to 7:00 PM on Friday, September 21, 1973, when about 10 friends (and my beloved Linda) and I met at that very place on the eve of Oktoberfest. Incredible that we all aligned in a time before smartphones and email and all that. I clearly recall that pal Greg served as banker for the group, and when we sat down asked for enough deutschmarks for each of us to have three liters of beer. That’s 100 ounces, people. Some in the group drank Coca-Cola at the ‘fest the next day. Just nuts, just youth.
Above, scenes from the world’s most famous beer hall (including a splendid ceiling).
It was 4:30, and the place was not that full. Found a seat, asked for a half liter, and drank slowly, taking in the scene. Two young Russian women sat down across from me. We had a short yak; they were both in children’s animation, working for private TV channels in Moscow, in Germany for a trade show. I walked out and into steady rain; when I left the Airbnb three hours earlier it was a spring day, sunny and warm, so I didn’t wear my raincoat. Dashed to the #16 tram and was soon home. Worked my email, washed my face, and at six headed out again, bound not for a touristy place but for the echt (genuine), restaurant called Wirtshaus in der Au, a big place on a side street near the Deutsches Museum and the Isar River. A place with the slogan “Beer and dumplings since 1901” has got to be a good place, no? It was crowded, and I offered to eat at the bar, but a kindly server said I could have a table that was reserved from 8:00, almost 90 minutes away. Sat down, smiling broadly.
Above, the Wirtshaus in der Au; below “Das Original” dumplings
After asking for a beer, I fell into a splendid T-t-S with two young people in the next table. He was a recently-graduated physician in the German Army, the Bundeswehr: the military will pay for all your medical training and living expenses (6 years) if you agree to 11 years of service. We yakked across some other topics before and after I tucked into two dumplings filled with pork chunks on a bed of creamy, mustardy sauerkraut. Yum. When the doc left, I thanked him for his service, adding that after my dad became badly injured fighting in the Pacific in May 1945 military doctors like him helped him recover. “I might not be here had it not been for people like you.” He smiled. I hopped the tram home, put on pajamas, and read. Slept a long time.
Up early Sunday, a bit of writing and two cups of instant cappuccino compliments of host Ruth (there were other touches, such as a spring of spearmint on my bath towel, and men’s washing gel in the shower). Ambled a mile to a bakery and café, through the upmarket neighborhood of Bogenhausen. Had another coffee and a huge sweet roll with nuts. Walked back, yakked with Ruth, rubbed Camilo’s tummy, and said goodbye. Hopped on the #16 tram one last time, riding nearly to the train station. I spent a fine 75 minutes worshiping at St. Matthäus, a large Lutheran church. The place was perhaps one-quarter full, rather a lot for Germany. The pastor had a wonderful singing voice. I recognized only one of the hymn melodies, but God heard me (I pray!).
Above, my Airbnb from the street, and a nearby Lutheran church. Below: how you can tell you’re in a posh neighborhood: Bentley, Porsche, Mercedes! At bottom left, a music school near my Airbnb appropriately named Ear Worm (I’ve always liked that phrase, describing a tune that totally sticks in your brain); bottom right, the interior of the 1950s-era St. Matthäus.
Wheeled my suitcase through light rain several blocks to the Hauptbahnhof, bought sandwiches and a Coke for lunch, and hopped on the EuroCity train to Zürich, where I would teach the next day. The spread between first- and second-class fares was small, so I splurged for a big seat. An hour west and a bit south of Munich, the Alps came into view, small at first, then bigger. It was an awesome sight (mouth agape again).
We rolled west and south, around the east end of Lake Constance (Bodensee), through familiar St. Gallen, Switzerland, and arrived Zürich just before five. Hopped the #6 tram a few stops, up the hill to my hotel, also familiar. Worked in my room a couple of hours, then hopped another tram to my dinner venue, Tibits, a vegetarian buffet. Moved down the food chain with a nice meal, and was back home in 90 minutes.
Above, climate change and/or a poor winter for snow: small ski areas in the German Alps. Below, the Zürich Opera House, and a classic “Welcome to Switzerland” sign: a slice of cheese pizza, six bucks!
Up Monday morning. I had a client call at ten, which allowed just enough time for the Transport Geek to unfurl his new travel umbrella and walk several blocks to the Dolderbahn, a rack railway that climbed several hundred feet up toward the city zoo. Took the call, stored my bags, and hopped the tram into the center and lunch with Sander, a new fellow from the University of St. Gallen, at Hiltl, the oldest vegetarian restaurant in the world (1898). Then back up the hill to the University of Zürich for my fourth appearance there, a lecture to a large undergraduate marketing course. Had a quick apple juice with my host prof, Martin, then back to the main station.
Unhappily, the express (ICE) train to my next destination, Kassel, Germany, was canceled, so had to take two ersatzugen (substitute trains) one to Basel, then on to Kassel. I was so looking forward to dinner in the ICE dining car, but the Deutsche Bahn train from Basel to Kassel lacked any foodservice (save for a fellow wheeling a cart with overpriced snacks and drinks); luckily, I had 20 minutes in Basel, so found my seat on the ersatzug and dashed through the station to find some grub. Done, and back on the train. It was a long ride, almost six hours, shortened nicely from Frankfurt, when Norm from Wisconsin entered the compartment. Norm, whose parents emigrated from Germany in 1963, liked to talk, and the time went quickly. Arrived Kassel right on time, and walked 10 minutes to my Airbnb, another nice place in a prosperous neighborhood. Host Renate did not remember me from a short visit in December 2014, but I remembered her and the house. Was asleep fast.
Not quite the meal from two nights earlier in Munich: my “picnic” on the train to Kassel
I did not speak until 7:30 that night, so I donned jeans and a sweater, bought a day ticket for the city trams, and hopped on the #4 into downtown. Had a light breakfast and coffee at a simple place. After apologizing to the cashier for my poor German, we had a nice, of brief, T-t-S. I told her why I was in Germany. Rare for Germans, she then asked me what country I liked better. I replied that I liked Germany a lot. “Und kein Trump,” I said, no Trump. She laughed. Up to speed, I ambled to the university and worked the morning in a student union. At 1:00, I walked a couple of blocks to the apartment of Patrick and Elli, long friends, for a splendid lunch and good conversation. Daughter Lotta, now nine, returned from school, and we soon packed up a lot of gear, drove to the Airbnb for a quick change of clothes, then to the Kassel ice arena. Lotta has become a devoted hockey player, and it was fun to watch her suit up and head onto the ice. Sadly, I didn’t have time to watch the practice, because my host Oliver picked me up for an early dinner.
Above left, my Kassel Airbnb and a splendid lion in front of city hall. Below, stovetop scenes in the Rath kitchen: kale braising lightly, and a truly old-school espresso maker. At bottom, Patrick and Kassel hockey star Lotta.
I met Oliver nine months earlier, and he was one of those people you like right from the start. We had a great conversation and an enormous dinner, huge schnitzels with potatoes. I told Olli I was in a food coma, probably not the best state for a presentation to the local marketing club. We stopped briefly at an uber-cool ad agency where his wife and son work, then to the speaking venue, in a converted 19th Century warehouse by Kassel’s older railway station (still called the Hauptbahnhof, but was less busy than the other station on the edge of the city). Met a bunch of people before the talk, delivered the presentation, and met more afterward. A very warm reception, super nice people. But by 10:30 I was worn out. Olli delivered me back to the Airbnb, and into Zzzzzzzzz.
Above, staircase in a splendid old building in Kassel; below, new Kasseler friends (my splendid host Oliver is to my right). I’m gripping my two speaking awards: a 3D-printed Hercules with microphone, and a typical Kassel sausage, which, alas, I could not bring home because of U.S. Customs restrictions.
An early start Wednesday morning, 5:15, with immediate bad news: my train to Hanau, near Frankfurt, was 40 minutes late, which meant I’d miss my connecting train to the airport, and maybe my American flight home to Charlotte. I hatched a Plan B, standby on the Lufthansa nonstop to Washington at 12:50, showered, and walked 10 minutes to the station. Ah, serendipity: an ICE train was leaving in two minutes for Fulda, halfway to Frankfurt, so I hopped on. Even more luck: a regional express train left Fulda for Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof four minutes after we arrived. I’d arrive at the airport only 17 minutes after the original train, but still no guarantee of making the flight. The ICE dining car had just opened, and I enjoyed a big cup of strong coffee enroute to Fulda.
I had six minutes in the Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof to make the connecting train for the 13-minute glide to the airport, plenty of time. Arrived FRA at 8:30. It was winter, fewer passengers, and I changed terminals, got through immigration and security, and was at the gate at 8:59, woo hoo. When I got on the big Airbus, I told one of the flight attendants, Fran, “I am SO glad to see you.” I told her the train story, and after settling in, told her and her colleague Geraldine that I had worked for American for 22 years, and was happy to help if they needed help. Fast friends. Later in the flight, I got to know Fran a bit more: this was her 50th year as a flight attendant; she started with Piedmont Airlines when she was 19. Just a great gal.
Left, the totally empty dining car on the ICE to Fulda (sure wish it had been on my Zürich-Kassel train 36 hours earlier); right, your scribe with Fran, taking care of customers for more than half a century.
Landed Charlotte at 1:55, hopped on an earlier flight, and was home by 5:15. A great first teaching trip.
The new year started with a trip, up early and onto a flight to Chicago, bound for a party with cousins and friends at Cousin Jim’s house in suburban Arlington Heights. Landed early, and sat in the terminal for awhile (I was renting a car for a day, 24 hours and 29 minutes, and wanted to get the most out of it on January 2), then in the new car-rental facility. Picked up a Hertz rollerskate, and was soon motoring through Des Plaines, a familiar suburb, then onto U.S. Highway 14 northwest toward Jim’s.
Sculpture in the new car-rental building at O’Hare
A new year normally makes people look forward, and while I did that I also looked backward, way back to childhood, and memories of many trips – often at Christmas and New Year’s – to visit kin on both parents’ sides. I connected the car sound system to my iPhone and played “The Traveling Kind” by Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell, a favorite tune that helped me think back. We often took Highway 14 between the home of Aunt Mildred (one of my dad’s two sisters), Uncle Walter, and my gloomy paternal grandma. More on them in a moment. Past Mount Prospect, I glanced to the right and saw the mortuary where we began to say goodbye to Jim’s parents, Aunt Sally and Uncle Bapper (that was how my brother Jim first pronounced “Joseph”).
In no time I was hugging Jim and Michaela. We had a good yak before the party started, me helping a bit in the kitchen. Michaela is a superb cook and host, and the tables were groaning with snacks. Friends and neighbors were invited, but I spent most of the afternoon catching up with the four of five Jim’s siblings who live nearby (John, the youngest, is in Texas): Bob, Mike, Lisa, and Donna. Jim, Michaela, and I yakked some more after the party ended. And we were all asleep by nine. A good first day of 2020.
Was up early, more time to chat in the kitchen, then drove east to another familiar suburb, Glenview, for breakfast with Cousin Larry and wife Judy. Larry, who I sometimes call Lorenzo, is a first cousin once removed – born 1937, he’s the youngest child of my maternal grandfather’s youngest sister, Alice. When he opened the door, he kissed me; that’s what Italian men do! We hopped in my car and drove to a swell breakfast spot nearby, for a big breakfast and a catch-up; it had been two years, so there was plenty of news on both sides. They are fine people, and I just wish I had connected with them earlier, instead of 2010. Lorenzo grew up on the same street as my mother, and in fact his dad bought my grandfather Jim’s grocery in the late 1940s. Whew!
Judy and Cousin Lorenzo
Larry is a superb artist; he made a good life as a commercial artist and still paints, as this wonderful (and for me emotive) scene of my favorite North Shore of Lake Superior; and Blackie, my new pal.
Back at their house, I hugged and kissed them both, patted their dog Blackie, and peeled off. My watch said there was time for one more place from the past, so I drove south and east to Lowell Avenue in the Sauganash neighborhood, parking right in front of Aunt Mil’s and Walter’s house. I closed my eyes and was immediately back in their kitchen, maybe 1957 or ’61. The circular fluorescent ceiling light was buzzing, as were my parents, Mil, and Walt. They were smoking, drinking, and laughing. It was always a happy time there. I opened my eyes and looked left, across the street, to the embankment that once held a railway branch line, now a bike trail. Back in the 1950s, I was afraid of the steam locomotives that chugged past, pulling freight and commuter trains. Memories.
Aunt Mil and Uncle Walt, circa 1950
Drove back to O’Hare and dropped the car. Looked at my watch, time to see one more person. Walked up the stairs above the American Airlines check-in counters, and found a former colleague, Franco Tedeschi, who is now VP of the O’Hare hub. I surprised him, and we could only chat for a minute, but it was good to see him. He’s got a big job. Flew home, put the dogs on leashes. A good start to the New Year.
After fun on Thanksgiving (including a trip to see the Washington Capitals pro hockey team, with way-cool fifth-row seats thanks to Robin), I flew to Charlotte and on to Frankfurt for the last teaching trip of the year, six schools in Germany and one in Ireland. Landed early, still dark. Waited a few hours, then hopped on the ICE fast train to Cologne. As I have for the last several years, stayed at the newish youth hostel in Deutz, across the Rhine from downtown and the big cathedral (long readers nay remember that I served on the board of the U.S. hosteling organization in the 1990s). Rolled my suitcase into a storage room, bought a day ticket on the KVB, the local public transit, and hopped on a tram for the university. It was already lunch time, so of course I headed for the Mensa, the student cafeteria. As in Tübingen three weeks earlier, diners needed a special stored-value card, but this time I got creative, asking a student in front of me in the checkout line if she would be a “bank,” and she agreed; I gave her cash, she charged my lunch on her card. Problem solved, and I tucked into a huge bowl of lentil stew, eintopf, with a big sausage on top. Yum.
Hopped back on tram #9 for a bit of joyriding, then back to the hostel and a nice room, clean and ready. Took a tonic nap and a shower, suited up, and headed back to the uni for my first of 12 gigs in 9 days, to a student marketing group called MTP. About 40 attended my talk on American Airlines’ marketing after the 2001 terrorist attacks. As we did in previous years, we hopped back on the tram to one of the ubiquitous Christmas markets for some conversation and traditional Advent glühwein. It was a larger group than usual, more than 15, and it seemed like everyone wanted to ask a question.
A handful of Muslin women firmly asked some hard questions about discrimination after the attacks and subsequently; I answered forthrightly, no excuses, no rationalization. In 18 years of presenting the talk, that gentle-but-firm intervention was a first. Even more interesting, none of the students were marketing or even business majors; they were students of medicine, economics, history. They must have seen the talk promoted on campus, and chose to attend. I was glad to be able to provide an American view far different from what they hear from Trump.
After 90 minutes, I was worn out, and hungry. After some selfies and a group photo, I peeled off, back to the hostel, changed clothes and zipped across the street, literally, to Lommerzheim, surely one of Germany’s greatest bars. Tiny, convivial, cozy. It was my third visit, now a December tradition. As on previous trips, even at ten on a Monday night the place was hopping. Got standing room at the bar and asked for a beer. Like many places in Germany, the servers keep track of beers (the traditional glass in Cologne is small, less than seven ounces) with pencil on beermat, and to identify my bill the bartender asked, in German, for my name. “Hans,” I replied, “mein name ist Hans.” A friendly fellow next to me heard me talking to myself in English, and he said “Hello, Hans,” starting a nice T-t-S with him in English und Deutsch, and with his mother-in-law, who only spoke German. She asked what I did, and I replied. She expressed respect, then told me, as best as I could figure, that she was a street-sweeper for the city. I managed to reply that all jobs are good, important, needed. She smiled.
It was past dinnertime, so I tucked into the trip’s first plate of grünkohl, the traditional cooked kale (with potatoes and onions). My December-trip target is always four meals with this best of German “soul food.” So good. With that as base, I slept hard, eight hours.
Up Tuesday morning, smiling in the youth hostel breakfast room, imagining that I was young again (and in many ways, still feel that way). Quick breakfast, some welcome coffee, and out the door, across town for a little sightseeing in ordinary neighborhoods. Then back to the hostel, grabbed my suitcase, and headed to school #2 and my 19th trip to the Marketing Center at the University of Münster. The first part of the ride was through the now-dreary industrial landscape of the Ruhrgebiet, Germany’s historic industrial core, now mostly hollowed-out. But the last 40 minutes were through the familiar rural landscape of Westphalia, past small farms with brick buildings and barns (solar panels covering many of the roofs), grazing sheep and cows, hunters’ deer stands.
Arrived Münster a bit late, ambled to my hotel, changed clothes, and at 3:30 met a new host, Michael Gerke. From 4:15 to 5:45, I delivered a talk to Masters students. Next gig was at eight, so ambled a few blocks to Pho, a Vietnamese nudelhaus I visited a year earlier. Tucked into some spring rolls and a spicy tofu curry, stopped briefly at the hotel, and proceeded to gig two, to the Münster chapter of MTP. It was the debut of a new talk on airlines and climate change, a topic very much on the minds of Europeans. The “airlines are evil earth-wreckers” narrative has taken control, and it was up to me to, in a small way, re-balance the discussion with facts and a reminder of all the good things that airlines make possible. Candidly, I expected more push back, even hecklers, but it was all calm. Walked home and clocked out.
Wednesday morning dawned sunny and cold, and my third Münster gig was not until evening, so for the second year in a row I rented a comfy (and well-maintained) bike from the hotel and set off, first on the leafy promenade that circles the city core, then south around the Aasee lake, then east to the bike path along the Dortmund-Ems Canal. This was a waterway far different from those I know in England, because a) it was very wide, and b) it was still very much in use as a commercial route. I rode several kilometers north to a lock, and lucky for the Transport Geek, a long barge was in the lock, headed downstream toward the North Sea. I watched the whole process, far different from the muscle-powered routine I knew from locking through in the West Midlands. Fascinating stuff for the T-Geek. Rode back to town, stopped in the offices of the Marketing Center for a chat with some friends.
Here are some scenes from the morning bike ride:
At 12:30, I met Julian Allendorf, who for four years was my student host at Münster. We ate lunch atop the new city offices, with great views of the Old Town, Altstadt. And the lively conversation was better than the view, mostly about all that he had done in the past year: finished his doctorate; worked for three months for the Foreign Ministry in Berlin; traveled around Western Canada in an RV, to Egypt, and England; and more. He’s now interviewing for jobs, and it was fascinating to hear the many prospects he had. We also discussed political woes in Germany and the U.S. A super-interesting fellow.
Peeled off, back on the bike, a few blocks to the store that sells little Christmas guardian angels, schutzengelen, that are handmade in a region called the Erzgebirge in the state of Saxony. I’ve been buying them at the same store for years. Check and done, back on the bike for some last miles, for a total of 25.4 for the day. Napped, worked a bit, and at 6:00 met four Ph.D. students who hosted me for dinner, then to the now-traditional Kaminabend (“chimney evening”), an informal discussion of career advice and other topics with bright undergraduates. That evening it was a small group, nine, but lots of questions. Started at 8:00, finished at 11:30. I was worn out, but it went very well.
Slept in, until 7:45, breakfast, suited up, and headed to the third stop, the Technical University at Dortmund. Walking to the Münster station along Grüne Gasse, I spotted a lone stolpersteine, the small brass markers embedded in sidewalks that note the former residences of Jews. It caught my eye because you usually see multiple markers, noting the deportation of an entire family. It marked Leonore Kaufmann, born 1902, deported by Nazis in 1942 to Izbica, Poland, a transfer point for Jews awaiting deportation to concentration camps in that country. Her fate was simply listed as Verschollen, missing. That would have been in many ways the worst outcome, because survivors would hold out hope that she would be found, and alive. So grim.
Arrived Dortmund at 10:40, checked into the hotel, a dropped my suitcase, and hopped on the S-Bahn for my fourth visit to the Technical University of Dortmund. Met a great host, Hartmut Holzmüller. We yakked for awhile, then ambled to the Mensa for a fish lunch and a longer chat. I have many academic hosts, all nice, but Hartmut stands out, because our values and world view are aligned; I always enjoy meeting him – he seems more like a cousin. From 2:15 to 3:45, I delivered a talk in his marketing-engineering class. Worked a few hours, and from 7:00 to 8:30 spoke to a dozen members of CEFU, a local business group associated with the uni’s marketing department; we had drinks and sandwiches afterward, and Hartmut drove me back to the hotel.
Up a bit late again Friday morning (7:30!), down to breakfast. I was at a NH Hotel, originally a Spanish chain, and based on two samples, Dortmund and Düsseldorf, they offer the best hotel breakfast buffet on the planet. Just a colossal array of food, and all high quality. I only had a sandwich the night before, so I tucked in, so good. My train to stop four, Kassel, was at 10:43, so I zipped out for a walk. In 90 minutes I had covered a good part of the center, on foot, then three miles on a shared bike. I’ve always been a bit proud of my ability to cram a lot of touring into a short time, and that morning was a fine example. Just a great little outing.
Hopped on the train to Kassel, enroute a nice T-t-S with a woman about my age returning to her hometown of Paderborn for the weekend. We mostly yakked about the decline of punctuality on the Deutsche Bahn (though our train was almost on time). Arrived Kassel at about one, into howling winds and icy temperatures. Took the tram three stops west to the end of the line, then hiked up the hill, past the huge sandstone castle that was the summer residence of “Willy 2,” formally Kaiser Wilhelm II, the last German emperor. (I later learned that the castle was also the HQ of the German command during World War I.)
My hotel (where the MBA students I would address later that day were staying) was seriously posh, a spa hotel, four stars. Checked in and zipped next door to the Alte Wache, a pleasant café in a building from 1842, for a late lunch. Next stop was the hotel fitness center, for a needed 25 miles on an exercise bike. That was tonic.
At 7:30, I met my host Andreas Mann, as well as several of the MBA students. Had a nice chat with Sebastian, a project manager with Deutsche Post DHL, then headed into the classroom for a “dinner speech” that was actually before dinner – so I quickened the pace a bit. The class was tired after a full day, and only one question. Applause, and walked to a huge buffet dinner. High point was a long conversation with Andreas, an executive at Wintershall Dea, a Kassel-based oil and gas company partly owned by the chemical giant BASF. We yakked about mergers (they were in the process of integrating a smaller company, and it was challenging), organizational culture, his home region around Freiburg, in Baden-Württemberg, and about one of that state’s most famous exports, Porsches (he owned one). Super interesting guy.
For whatever reason, I tossed and turned that Friday night, maybe fearing that I would oversleep and miss my train to weekend fun. Rose at 6:15, shower, breakfast, then down the hill a mile or so to the train station (the tram did not start on that line until 10). Onto a fast train a short distance to Fulda, then onto another ICE east to Erfurt, capital of the German state of Thüringia. It was the 14th German state visited in my nearly 50 years of travel in that country (only two left). We arrived a bit late, but still plenty of time for a full day of touring. Stashed my suitcase and backpack in a locker, and headed toward the Altstadt.
There was plenty of evidence of post-reunification investment, like the new train station. The German federal government has spent billions and billions in the former East Germany. Remarkably, in recent Thüringia state elections, Die Linke, the Left Party, comprised of recycled former Communists, and the neo-Fascist AfD party got the most votes, and Die Linke formed a minority government. What part of the old failed system – an abusive system where at least 1% of adults were spies for the Stasi, the state security service – do people not understand? And how is a return to positions that gave rise to the tragedy of National Socialism, the Nazis, going to move things forward? Just makes me crazy.
Thinking about the leftists reminded me that the day before, David Brooks wrote a column in The New York Times reminding people of the multiple failures of socialism; here’s just one snippet that seemed to fit the local situation:
It doesn’t matter how big your computers are, the socialist can never gather all relevant data, can never construct the right feedback loops. The state cannot even see the local, irregular, context-driven factors that can have exponential effects. The state cannot predict people’s desires, which sometimes change on a whim. Capitalism creates a relentless learning system. Socialism doesn’t.
But, hey, I was a tourist, and I took an immediate liking to the urban landscape, especially the ornate buildings from the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. The city was crawling with “Christmas tourists,” locals and visitors milling about the many Christmas markets in the center. First stops were the cathedral, the large Dom, and the adjacent St. Severin church, both Catholic. Then I climbed up to the Zitadelle Petersburg, a 17th Century fortress nearby, with good views of the city. Back down the hill, and across to the Krämerbrücke, a bridge over the small Gera River that didn’t seem like a bridge, because it was covered with shops and houses – the only one of its kind north of Venice. Way cool, but way crowded.
At the east end of the bridge, I spotted the logo of the Methodist Church, seemingly out of place in a land of either Catholics or Lutherans, but there it was, the Ägidienkirche, originally from 1110 and rebuilt in 1324. Sorta old. And with a tower you could climb for €2.50, less than $3. Up I went, with a nice T-t-S along the way, a young mother who grew up in Erfurt but now lived in North Rhine-Westphalia, not far from Münster. The stairs were in way better shape than the rickety ladders I climbed to the top of a church tower in Göttingen three months earlier (must be Methodist discipline!), and the views from the top were superb.
Back down, it was lunch time. Some earlier web research suggested a nearby place, Wenigermarkt 13, with Thuringian specialities. Tucked into two Kloßscheiben, sliced fried dumplings filled with sausage, and a nice salad. Yum! (Not so yum was the waitress, who assumed that because I was an American she could help herself to a 30% tip, and not give me change for the €20 note I tendered; in Germany, service is included, but it’s polite to leave some coins, perhaps 8-10%, which I did.)
Hopped on a tram back to the train station, collected my stuff, and rode east 12 miles to Weimar, my overnight venue. Checked into the Hotel Kaiserin Augusta, steps from the train station, dropped my luggage in the room, and zipped back to Erfurt. I had a day ticket on local transport, so again did a bit of joyriding, on Tram #3 to the edge of town, past blocks and blocks of Soviet-style highrises. Socialist paradise, at least until 1989.
Rode back into town to the last tourist stop, the Augustiner Monastery, where Martin Luther lived as a monk from 1505 to 1511, six years before he decided to protest the corruption of the Catholic church (he was ordained in Erfurt Cathedral, visited earlier in the day, in 1507). Ambled around the grounds, and at 4:30 attended an Advent concert featuring 14 brass musicians, who played in a courtyard. Through the years, I’ve visited a number of monasteries, but almost all of them (like Bebenhausen near Tübingen last month) are no longer alive. But this one was, not just that night, but always, as a center for Protestant teaching, thought, and reflection (you can actually sleep there, but the rooms were already booked when my plans were clear). Listening to the music, I thought of Gram, my German grandmother and devout Christian; she would have known the tunes, which were unfamiliar to me, except the last, “Tochter Zion,” to the melody of Handel’s “See the Conq’ring Hero Comes.”
After the music I walked back to the tram, rode to the Hauptbahnhof, then back to Weimar. Brought this journal up to date, and at 7:30 walked south into the Altstadt. My first restaurant choice was full, but across the street there was space in the Köstritzer Schwarzbierhaus, in a splendid half-timbered building. Tucked into leg of duck, two enormous boiled dumplings, and red cabbage with a distinctive smoky essence. So good, and a nice platform for a long sleep.
Up and out the door at first light (about 8:20), for a good walk around Weimar. It’s a graceful city, with lots of old buildings and not much of the awful “modern” architecture from the East German period. The city was marking two centenaries in 2019, the birth of the Weimar Republic, so named because the structure was hammered out in the city, and lasted until the Nazis took power in 1933; and the Bauhaus architectural movement, which began at the small design university. I ambled south a mile or more to the uni, then tried to get to one of the famous Bauhaus homes, a mile further on. Unhappily, I had to cross a stream, and the bridge I needed was closed for repair. I was running out of time, so backtracked to the university, where, to my great amazement, the main building was open. Pure serendipity. Wandered around inside, snapping pictures and expecting to be thrown out as a trespasser, but no. As I left the building, I told two couples, in broken German, that the building was somehow unlocked, and they ought to go inside.
Hopped on a bus back to the hotel, stored my luggage, and onto another bus west to a grim destination, the Buchenwald concentration camp (KZ in German). As I have written many times before, Germany does not deny genocide and slavery like the U.S. does, and these memorials are powerful. The Germans have a long word for it, vergangenheitsbewältigung, translated as “a painful history that citizens would rather not confront but that must be confronted in order not to be repeated.” Let’s hope, but the rise of nationalist and racist political parties like the AfD, which received 23% of the vote in the recent state election, is discomforting. William Faulkner’s fine quote came to mind: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
I spent two hours walking the grounds where Nazis murdered 56,000 during 8 years of operation. Almost 300,000 people, age 2 to 86, were incarcerated in brutal conditions, with forced labor, medical experimentation, and torture. Ten percent of that number were children. Along the way were helpful interpretive panels, including one noting that the large stone memorial to the “Little Camp,” a particularly horrific place separated from the main camp, was designed by inmate #87900, New York architect Stephen Jacobs, then Stefan Jakobowitz.
Spent an hour in a building with exhibits that told the story, along with a trove of artifacts. Tears welled several times along the way, and into a full sob as I walked through the last building, the crematorium. A grim few hours, a reminder.
Took the bus back to Weimar, grabbed my suitcase and backpack, and took three crowded and late trains across Germany to Karlsruhe, in the southwest state of Baden-Württemberg (where I was in November, in Tübingen), for my seventh visit to KIT, the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. Walked to my usual lodgings, the Zum Ochsen, a half-timbered old inn built 1746, dropped my stuff, and walked across Durlach, a small town a few miles from Karlsruhe and a now familiar place (indeed, all the German teaching venues are now like an old neighborhood!). Sat at the bar of Der Vogel, a brewpub annually visited, and tucked into the third plate of grünkohl in six days. Yum.
Up Monday morning, out the door and onto the tram to KIT. Spent the morning working. Enjoyed a sort-of-spicy Thai curry for lunch with postdoc Sven and Ph.D. student Ingo. Quick lunch, as is the custom, back to work. From 3:45 to 5:15, delivered a talk to undergraduates. Walked back to the marketing department, worked for a bit, and at 6:45 drove with host Martin Klarmann to Anders auf dem Turnberg, a fancy restaurant at the top of a nearby hill. Like the year before, we had enjoyed the “Goose Menu,” with that bird as three of the four courses: goose pastrami as starter, goose noodle soup, and the main dish of leg of goose. Yum. It was a long dinner, three hours, and I got home late.
And left early Tuesday morning, out the door to the Durlach train station and onto a regional train east to Stuttgart, capital of Baden-Württemberg. Had 45 minutes until the next train, south to my ninth visit to the European School of Business at Reutlingen University; the train station and adjoining tracks are undergoing a huge reconstruction (one of the most expensive infrastructure projects in German history), and there’s no warm place, so I ambled across the street (as I did the previous spring) to a fancy Steigenberger hotel, used the clean toilets, and enjoyed the warm lobby.
Hopped on a nonstop train to Reutlingen, met host and long friend Oliver, and zipped up to the university for a short meeting with another prof. Then down the hill to a huge lunch in the center. From 1:45 to 3:15 I delivered a talk to a big group of undergrads. Said goodbye to Oliver, and hopped on a bus to the train station, just making the first train back to Stuttgart. One of Oliver’s colleagues mentioned that Stuttgart has one of the oldest Christmas markets in Germany, and close to the train station, so I opted for a train an hour later and walked a few blocks to take a look. It was nice, but those markets are so ubiquitous that little seemed distinctive. Back to the station, and into a fast train back to Durlach. Oops, turned out that my day ticket for trains within Baden-Württemberg was not valid on fast trains. The conductor was polite, but I felt badly; I like to follow the rules, so I got off at the next stop and onto a slow train home to Durlach. Changed clothes and headed back to Der Vogel for a late dinner. Lights out early.
Packed up Wednesday morning, backpack on suitcase, rolled to the tram, and back to KIT for a lecture to Masters students, 11:30-1:00. Sven and Ingo suggested another spicy lunch option, an Indian buffet, and I happily agreed. It was so good, seconds, full, probably no need to eat dinner. And they had whole green chillies to really heat things up. Said goodbye to the boys, and hopped on a tram to the main station, then a fast train to Frankfurt Airport, and a flight to my 28th and final school of the year, Dublin City University (my seventh appearance there).
Landed Dublin, hopped on a shuttle bus to a nearby hotel, and clocked out. Up early Thursday morning to the gym, steps from my room, for a tonic bike ride, then onto a Dublin Bus (way cool, every one of them has free wi-fi) a couple of miles, and a fairly long walk in the rain to DCU. I was an hour early, so sat down at a tiny table in the lobby of the business school, and quickly fell into a wonderful T-t-S with Peter, owner of a carpentry business. We had a fine yak across a bunch of topics: fitness, longevity, drivers who text while at the wheel, and more. The chat was a reminder of the basic sense of equality in Ireland: Peter and I regarded each other as peers.
At 10:15, I met my longtime DCU host, Naoimh (pronounced “Neeve”) O’Reilly. We repaired to the B-school café for a cup of coffee and yak with a few fellow professors, then back to back talks to her class and that of Cathal Guiomard, lecturer in the aviation management program at DCU. Then it was time for a huge late lunch in the faculty restaurant, called 1838, three courses, and good chatter with Naoimh, Cathal, Marina, another aviation prof, and Nimra, one of my long-distance mentees (she works for American at Dublin Airport, and is hoping to start a Ph.D. in 2020). Hopped the bus back to the hotel, worked a bit, changed clothes, and headed into the city.
I was not due for an annual meeting with longtime chum and former Aer Lingus exec Maurice Coleman until seven, so had some time to walk a bit, along the main retail street, and across the River Liffey. Then spent a truly wonderful hour or so walking the grounds of Trinity College Dublin. The quadrangle off College Street was quiet, a huge contrast with the hustle bustle of downtown streets, filled with shoppers and tourists. Spent some time in the university’s Science Gallery, a fine effort to bring basic science and technology to the public. On display was a cool exhibit on plastics, focusing especially on environmental impact. I had a nice T-t-S with Nizam, one of the docents, working at the gallery to help pay for his medical studies, which he had nearly completed. Born in Ireland, grew up in British Columbia, Canada, but moved back to Dublin to save on tuition. Headed for a career as a GP.
Was inside Mulligans of Poolbeg Street, one of the world’s best drinking places, a bit before seven, bought a pint of Guinness and waited for Maurice. Spotted him on the other side of the pub, negotiating a couple of seats for us. We got caught up (this was the fifth consecutive December meeting) on lives and families, and a bit on Irish politics and culture (he’s a savvy observer of both). After 90 minutes, we engaged Andrew and Stephanie across the table; Andrew was Irish, had worked overseas, and was back in Ireland working in mental health; Steph was American, moved to Ireland with her father, a retired eye surgeon whose grandparents emigrated from Ireland in the 1920s. It was a wonderful evening among the hugely talkative Irish. There’s no better place for talking with friends or talking to strangers!
Was up early, back to Dublin Airport, short meeting with Nimra, then onto a big jet west to Philadelphia. Four hours there, then on the short flight to Washington. Linda was heading out of town, so I picked up our car in the airport garage, drove home, and was hugging the only ones home, Henry and MacKenzie, by 7:45. The last trip of the year, another fine one.
Postscript: a month after visiting Buchenwald, I went with my nephew Evan (visiting from Minnesota) to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. Outstanding, and grim. We then walked across the National Mall to the Museum of American History, and while touring an exhibit on money, came across an interesting artifact, a 2 Mark note only usable by prisoners at Buchenwald: