One of the true joys of London is architectural detail from older buildings; this gem was above an entrance in the City of London (financial district).

Mobility had returned in spades: a day after returning from Boston, I flew to Kennedy Airport, bound for London and a speech two days hence.  It was September 11, the 20th anniversary of a tragic day for the nation and for American Airlines.  Tears flowed several times two decades later, from memories still painfully sharp.  But as we observed in the first newspaper advertisement we ran after 9/11:

We realize there is no better tribute we can pay to those who have fallen than to move forward with a new resolve.

This is a nation of great character and courage.

And it makes us proud to bear the name “American.”

Lower Manhattan 20 years later, without the twin towers of the World Trade Center

At JFK, I hopped on the biggest Silver Bird in American’s fleet, an awesome Boeing 777-300, and flew to London.  Arrived before dawn, train into Central London.  My plan was to attend 8 AM service at St. Paul’s Cathedral.  I had worshiped there many times on the morning of my arrival, and ushers and vergers welcomed me with my suitcase and backpack.  But the rented security guards on the entrance steps said no, I was not admissible with luggage.  Looking back, I yielded too quickly, and should have requested that an usher come out to chat.  It was probably not Christian to mutter profanity as I walked away, but I was cranky.

Deep breaths, deep breaths, keep moving.  Ambled down to the Thames and walked east a couple of miles to my hotel.  A smile and sweet talk with the front desk clerk got me a clean room in an hour.  Showered, changed clothes, and headed out on a sunny, warm day.

Your scribe had to vault his belongings and his body over the locked gate (more profanity uttered here) leading to the Thames (walking) Path; why would it be locked on a Sunday morning?

The view from my hotel room, and just upstream, the famed Tower Bridge (not London Bridge)

Hopped on one of London’s superb bikeshare cycles (a whole day of joy for the equivalent of $2.80!), west through the financial district, into Westminster, across the Thames, and at 12:30 I was outside the flat of young mentee Freddie B.  Although he was fully vaccinated, a week earlier he tested positive for the virus, so he sat on his second-floor windowsill, and I hollered up from the sidewalk.  We had a good visit, punctuated by a tuna sandwich and smoothie from a nearby coop grocery.  Got back on a bike, headed west to see the next friends, Omar and Caroline Merlo (Omar is my long host at Imperial College London), their kids Sophie and (another) Freddie, and their swell dog Mr. Waffles.  The Merlos live in Kew, so I biked about eight miles to Hammersmith, then jumped on the Tube for the rest of the trip.

Like many of the other friends I met in the past weeks, it had been almost two years, so there was a lot to yak about at the kitchen counter, with a cup of tea and some Swiss cookies.  Sophie had swim-team practice, so I peeled off at four, on the Tube, back to Paddington, then onto the last bikes of the day, across Central London to my hotel.  More than 20 miles by two-wheeler, a good afternoon.

Chilled in my hotel room.  The original plan was dinner with Freddie B., but he was quarantined, so I found a serviceable Indian restaurant several blocks from the hotel.  The place was open, but almost no one there, so I was glad to add a little revenue.  Back to my room, asleep by 9:30.

Views on a stroll to and from dinner: Tower Bridge and the Tower of London

My speech to the annual meeting of the National Care Forum, an association of not-for-profit nursing homes (called care homes in Britain) was not until dinnertime, so I had plenty of time.  Ate a good breakfast and hopped back onto a shared bike, riding into East London through varied neighborhoods, posh and not-so.  It was Monday morning, and schoolchildren, almost all in uniforms, were walking or cycling to class.  As I approached the hotel after a ride of 12 miles, police were everywhere.  After parking the bike, I said good morning to a young constable, asking “Shall I be worried or reassured.”  “Reassured, sir,” he replied.  I asked about the police presence, and he explained that navy units would parade from a nearby barracks to the Tower of London.  We fell into a long T-t-S.  He was new to the Metropolitan Police, still on probation.  Lived 40 miles north of the city and commuted in.  Retooled as a copper after 15 years as a stonemason with his father.  We chatted a lot about training – in the UK and Europe, police officers get far more training before donning a uniform, something we Americans should emulate.  Here we give them a gun and little more.

East London looks much different, and posher, than in decades past; at left, a fancy office building; at right, new flats along the Limehouse Cut canal.

A few hundred feet later, a second T-t-S of the morning, with Terry and Ros Bates, who lived nearby.  We exchanged capsule histories of our lives; originally from Belfast, they had lived in London for decades.  Like me, Terry kept busy with guest lectures in business schools, a total coincidence.  They also knew a bit about the military ceremony, called “the Constable’s Dues,” whereby a Royal Navy vessel must deliver a cask of wine to the Constable of the Tower of London.  Tradition kept!

On the way to pay the Constable’s Dues at the Tower of London

I showered and zipped up the hill to the Tube, several stops west, then into Rules, London’s oldest restaurant (1798) on Maiden Lane in Covent Garden.  It was time for the annual, but deferred, lunch with my long friend David Holmes, who worked in government affairs for British Airways after a long career as a senior civil servant in the Department of Transport.  This lunch tradition began in 2005, and we’ve met nearly every year for a fancy meal and a good yak – a couple of transport geeks, for sure, as well as opinionated citizens.  The lunch this time was no exception.  In between cranky comments were plenty of laughs.  Just a delight to maintain continuity.  The lunch and laughs ran long, and I had to leave a bit abruptly to make the opening welcome of the conference at 3:30.  The bike was way quicker, though a bit sweatier, than the Tube, and I soon I was meeting a range of people from care homes across the country.  They had just been through – and perhaps were still in the middle of – an awful time because of the virus.  After a couple of plenary sessions, I repaired to my room for a short nap, then down to reception and dinner, good conversation at table.  Finally it was time to stand and deliver, 30 minutes of work, a speech on basics of crisis management, plus questions.  And that was that.

A sometimes happens on the second night across the Atlantic, I slept poorly, then awoke to absolute pelting rain.  Tucked into the classic English full breakfast (what I call a “heart-attack” meal), unfurled my umbrella, and set off for my lodgings for the next two nights, with long friends Scott and Caroline Sage.  I planned a route to minimize walking in deluge; it took awhile, but rolled up to their house about 9:15.  Everyone was gone save for their outstanding nanny Kari.  We had a quick yak, I unpacked, and peeled off, back on the Overground (train), west and south to Shepherd’s Bush for a COVID test that both UK and U.S. governments required.  The test site seemed a bit dodgy, a hastily assembled cubicle in the back of an optician, way different from the antiseptic walk-up/drive-thru facility I visited in Düsseldorf two weeks earlier.  But I was on my way in 10 minutes, with a negative result emailed 10 hours later.  Woo hoo.

On the way to the test, I spotted a unisex hairdresser that looked empty; I badly needed a haircut, so as I headed back to the transit stop I popped in.  When it was my turn, a friendly but assertive middle-aged Italian woman took to my head, a major shearing. “It’s a bit short,” I meekly offered as she ran the clipper across the first side. “It’s all about the shape, the shape,” she replied, so I let her go.  It was nicely shaped, for sure, and way short.

Haircuts are one of the few things cheaper in London than America, and as she clipped I thought back to a series of visits a decade and more earlier to Tony and Peter, Greek Cypriot barbers (and cousins) near Kings Cross railway station (an AA colleague had recommended them).  I remember being disappointed in March 2012 when I searched for their shop on Caledonian Road, only to learn from a friendly Asian shopkeeper that rent had gotten too high and the cousins elected to retire.  Nice to revive haircut tourism twice in the third quarter, Baltimore and London.  I may visit my new Roman friend again!

Hopped on a red bus, ten minutes east to the posh Kensington High Street, down a side lane to Dishoom, one of a small chain of Indian restaurants.  Chatted with my server, an amiable Romanian woman, for some minutes while waiting for the guests of honor: Tarek, Matt, Andy, and Barbara, young staff at Imperial College Business school who helped me build an online Master’s course earlier in the year.  It was such fun to meet them in person after hours of Zoom conversations, and the lunch was a small reward for their awesome guidance and support.  A second Indian meal in two days was most welcome, along with a rose and cardamom lassi, and fine conversation.  I walked back to Imperial with Tarek, Barbara, and Matt (Andy had taken a new job at the British Museum) to drop the video equipment they had sent me at the start of the year – tripod, high-res smartphone for filming, lights, cables, mic.  Peeled off, and hopped on the 52 bus to the Sages.  Scott was at work and Caroline was with friends from Texas, visiting her parents in Hampshire.  “Uncle Rob” sat with Kari as Eva and Sadie Sage ate dinner.  After their baths, I told Kari I would take over as caregiver, an easy task once I laid down the law and insisted they stay in their beds and go to sleep – they assumed Uncle Rob was a softie on bedtime rules!

Above, my Imperial College mates: Barbara, Matt, Tarek, and Andy. Below, my lassi and (for the second time in two days) chopped green chillies. At bottom, the splendid Art Deco Dishoom in Kensington.

The last day in London, Wednesday, was supposed to have a couple of meetings, but they got canceled, so I had another free day.  Scott and I yakked briefly at home, then we rode the Overground and Tube into town.  I rode to Liverpool Street railway station.  The rain had stopped and it was a sunny, cooler day, perfect for more bicycling.  Headed through the City (financial district) then across the Thames, aiming for the new U.S. Embassy on the south bank.  I had visited it when it was almost done in spring 2019, and it was good to see it again, with finished landscaping.  Rode west toward Putney, then back into Central London for a quick coffee in Covent Garden with Tim Letheren, a Liverpudlian I met when he was doing his MBA at Cambridge.  Great fellow, good to reconnect after a couple of years.  A last couple of rides on the bikeshare, then the Tube and Overground back to the Sages.  Caroline and her friends were there, and we yakked briefly before they headed out to dinner.  Scott was stuck in a board dinner, so I again sent Kari home, ate a bit of dinner, and was asleep by 9:30.

Sadie and Eva Sage showing me the pandemic diary that Kari and they made


Above, scenes in the City of London. Below, the new U.S. Embassy in Nine Elms and a novel electric vehicle. At bottom, pals Tim and Paddington Bear.

Rose in the dark Thursday morning, tiptoed out the door, walked to the Tube, fast train to Heathrow, flight to Philadelphia, then on to Washington.  Spent two hours on the tarmac in a thunderstorm, finally home by 7:30.  Two trips to Europe in two weeks, hooray for the return of mobility!


Always nice to change planes in Philadelphia: the opportunity to see fine art from local artists; here work from origami master Taro Yaguchi



Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Boston, Really Briefly

MIT’s Sloan School of Management and the River Charles in Cambridge

Was home from Texas only three nights.  On Thursday, September 9, I zipped north to Boston, first time in Beantown for several years.  Landed, got the Silver Line bus into downtown, then the Red Line to Cambridge, and an afternoon of meetings with my long client SmartKargo.  Was great to connect with the team there.  We were right across the street from the east edge of the MIT campus, and I was reminded that several years back The New York Times described the area as “the most innovative square mile on the planet.”  You could almost hear the low hum of brainpower!

Checked into a hotel right on the Charles River, quick nap, then into a Lyft through impossible rush-hour traffic to Rowes Wharf and an evening dinner cruise with SmartKargo’s principal investors.  Good yaks with some interesting folks.  Sadly, it poured rain the whole time, so not much sightseeing in Boston Harbor.

Up early Friday morning, walked to the Red Line, reversed course, and was home by 11.


Above left, why I should have used public transit to get to the evening cruise; right, one of those markers of Boston as an apex of medical research (I still need to visit!). Below, views of rainy Boston harbor.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Two More Stops after Germany: Minnesota and Texas

After the long flight from Germany to Dallas/Fort Worth, I changed planes and flew home to Minnesota, always home, and a return to the State Fair (the next day).  Picked up a tiny rental car and zipped into Minneapolis, to dinner with overnight hosts Paula and Bob Woehrle at the Black Forest Inn (another German dinner, but in America), a fave for 50 years.  Bob, an English major, has a fine command of the language, and his phrase that night was “Old stones in the shoe; I’m emptying them out,” a reference to his admirable practice of letting go of bygone affronts.

We tucked into a nice dinner in the beer garden, motored back to their house in suburban Roseville, and clocked out.  A long day.

Summer 2021 marked 50 years of tippling at the Black Forest, and I told this youngster about back in ’71, when the owner didn’t ask for proof of age — so the BF became our go-to place!

Was up early Thursday morning, excited to return to the fair after two years.  Bob had injured his Achilles tendon the day before, so he bowed out.  Had a short yak and a bowl of cereal, and at 6:55 hopped on his bike and rode five miles, parking in a special bike lot on the north end of the vast fairgrounds.  At 7:45, I met Rick Dow for a little more breakfast and a good yak.  I had not seen him in a year, and it was great to be face to face.

At nine, we walked into the juried art show (in 2020, the show was the only thing open at the fair, and Rick, Bob, and I were there), admiring a lot a nice stuff.  We agreed it was one of the better shows (and we both have been attending for years).  Hewing to formula, next stop was the Creative Activities Building, where, as always, a bewildering array of crafts are on display, from culinary to woodworking to quilts and much more.  Some of the work was truly eye-popping.

Above, a sample of works from the juried art show; the painting in the middle was appropriately titled “Dairy Queen”; below, a classic food stand and one of my fave State Fair treats, the Pronto Pup, known elsewhere as a corn dog.


Above left, the quintessential fair huckster, selling knives; right, a Greek-American wood carver in the Creative Activities building. Below, just a small slice of the creativity and diligence on display.

From there we were off to the Horticulture Building, to admire seed art, flowers, the prizewinner for largest pumpkin (1106 pounds), and more.  On the way out, we had a nice T-t-S with an adjunct prof at the University of Minnesota’s School of Agriculture, a Pakistani immigrant who was a seed expert.  Last stop were the animal barns: poultry, sheep, goats, cattle, and pigs.  The pens were emptier this year, presumably because of COVID, but we still saw some wonderful critters, and were reminded of the gift of domestic animals.  I whispered my thanks to a goat, a sheep, and a couple of pink hogs. Here are just a few scenes:

Rick peeled off just after noon, and my last stop was the Minnesota Craft Brewers stand, for a sample of four beers from nearby (there are now 162 small breweries in the state, astonishing).  Had a nice T-t-S chat with Jeff and Kelly from Boise, Idaho.  Jeff was a Minnesota native and, like me, came back to the fair every year.  His late parents left him and his brother a home on the nearby White Bear Lake, so he stays in Minnesota for like a month.  Nice!

Samples of the best from Minnesota’s brewers, and a big-ass John Deere tractor with a sticker price (I am not making this up) of $384,000.

Rode back to Bob’s and Paula’s for a therapeutic nap, then a yak with Bob, then hopped in the car and drove across the Twin Cities, west to Lake Minnetonka.  The plan was to take a boat ride with long pal Tim McGlynn, but just as I arrived at his house (50 feet from the dock) it started to rain lightly.  So we walked a couple of blocks to an agreeable restaurant for beers, an early dinner, and a good catch-up chat.  Drove home, asleep by 9:30.


Up at 5:30 Friday morning, excited to be headed to the 47th World Championship Barbeque Goat Cook-off in Brady, Texas, my 30th consecutive appearance.  The plan was to meet Jack at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, pick up a rental car, drive to Fort Worth for lunch with friends, then on to Brady.  Nope.  My plane’s left engine was broken, and the flight canceled.  It was the start of Labor Day weekend, a busy travel day, and no flights were available until 6:45 PM.  Landed at 9:20.


Sidebar: A Remarkable Fast-food Manager

After sitting on the broken airplane for three hours, I was hungry.  McDonald’s was nearby, so I picked up a chicken sandwich and fries.  Tucking into lunch, I overheard a young manager helping customers with the touchscreen meal-ordering device.  A minute later, he walked through the eating area, offering to bring people water or anything else they wanted.  I asked him for a couple more ketchup packets, and he brought them cheerfully.  I wondered if I were at a high-end eatery, and not Mickey D’s.  Then an idea: as I left my table (when he was changing trash bags), I handed him my business card, and said something like “Sir, you are an extraordinary employee.  So what I want you to do is email me the name and email address of your boss, so I can lift up and recognize your great service.  I know foodservice is hard work, and you are the best.  I’ll ask him to give you a raise, too, but at the very least he needs to know how good you are.”  He was surprised and a little speechless.  “Your kindness humbles me,”  he said, “thank you so much.”  It was the right thing to do, all the more on the eve of a weekend when we lift up and celebrate the contributions of working people.  As I often say, there’s no such thing as too much gratitude.


Son Jack, also a veteran judge (13 years’ seniority), had arrived before noon, and fortunately found friends for lunch and dinner.  We hopped in a rental car.  I don’t like driving late at night, especially when tired, but Texas revived me.  We arrived Brady about 1 AM, heads on pillows by 1:20.  The fire alarm sounded erroneously at six, not a long night, so I laced up and rode a fitness bike.  Exercise and plenty of coffee and I was good to go.

And go we went.  First to the judges’ brunch.  After a two-year hiatus, it was so good to see so many good ole boys, the Texas characters I have known for two or three decades.  Bankers and civic doers Kim King and Terry Keltz; local ag entrepreneur Justin Jacoby;  former Oakland Raiders tackle Alphonse Dotson; Aussie-turned-Yank Paul McCallum; and many more.  Fortified, we headed to the event venue, Richards Park, and got set up for two days of judging.  Once upon a time, we only tasted goat, but for the last five years judges were pressed into service.  Saturday we ranked beans, chicken, and pork ribs (Jack and I departed before the Margarita judging).  In between, we visited with each other, walked the grounds to admire rigs and cookers and more, and got caught up after two years.  Jack and I headed back to the motel for needed showers, out for a plate of Tex-Mex, and lights out by 8:30.  Mighta even been eight!

Sunday morning, Jack and I drove around Brady a bit, through neighborhoods poor and no so much, then back out to the venue for an afternoon of judging mystery-meat (this year was pork butt), dessert, and finally goat.  As a senior judge, I rate both the current-year entries and the Super Bowl, only open to previous first-place finishers.  It was a lot of tasting.


Above, judging all the entries is serious business; below, my fave entries in the dessert and goat competitions. At bottom, a couple of experienced judges.


Dropped Jack at his buddy Lawson’s house in Dallas, then motored north for an overnight with long friends Ken and Peggy Gilbert (Ken and I were at American Airlines for years).  We had a beer and a good yak, again catching up across the upside-down time of the last 18 months.  Up early for a long walk through their neighborhood with their dog, then a quick detour to see our old neighborhood in Richardson, Texas, then to the airport and a flight home.

My 25 years in Texas were a wonderful part of my life. And returning to Brady is a nice reminder of that time.


Sidebar: An Origin of “Careful, Not Fearful”

Those of you who have been in contact during the pandemic may have heard me recite one of my lifelong mantras, to be “careful, not fearful.”  Many experiences early in my life combined to build that belief, and a big one happened exactly 50 years ago.  Back in the early- and mid-1970s, I hitchhiked extensively – in the U.S., Canada, Europe, the South Pacific, even Tanzania.  On the first weekend of September 1971, what we Americans call the Labor Day weekend, my ambitions were large: hitchhike about 1900 miles round-trip to Toronto.  I was smitten with Canada, and it sounded like a good adventure, especially because friends were giving me a ride most of the way home, from a town west of Detroit (so the thumbing was really only about 1,600 miles).  It took about 24 hours to get from Minneapolis to Detroit, quite a slog, and I was determined to get to Canada’s biggest city by Saturday night.  

Somewhere in inner Detroit, the freeway split, my ride going one way and me the other.  So I hopped out at the Y, which was in a sort of trench.  When I climbed up to street level, I was smack in the middle of an African-American neighborhood, what people used to call a ghetto.  I needed to walk about a mile to the entrance ramp to the freeway leading to Canada.  Lotta folks staring at the longhaired white kid with a rucksack.  Maybe I should have been scared, but I was not.  And I was certain that if I exuded fear, things might get tense.  So I smiled.  I waved.  I hollered “good afternoon” to folks sitting on their front stoops and porches.  A few returned the greeting. And I got to Toronto that night.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

European Mobility, Hooray: Germany, Briefly

The Rhine at Düsseldorf


On Saturday, August 28, I headed back to Europe.  This marks my 50th year of European travel, and I mused about all the trips (more than 200) between then and now.  I had not been across the Atlantic in nearly a year, and I lamented that those 11 months had been the longest interval for more than 30 years.


Sidebar: 11 Months Between European Jaunts, 1989-1990

More than three decades later, these two journeys remain vivid.  In October 1989, I spent two days in Budapest.  It was just three weeks before the Berlin Wall came down, and all of Eastern Europe was in ferment, best expressed by the taxi driver who took me from airport into the city.  He didn’t know much English, but he knew “Big change coming”!  I could not know then how big it would be, but I could tell something was up.  It was in the air.  On my second day, I did a double take as I strode past a small café in Buda, on the west bank of the Danube: in the window was a large, framed reproduction, slightly faded, of the signing of the U.S. Declaration of Independence.  Big change indeed. 

Eleven months later, I was back across the Atlantic as an ad manager for American Airlines, overseeing the filming of TV commercial in County Kent, southeast of London.  I had never been on a “shoot,” and it was interesting to see the process.  Back then, we spent a lot of money on production, and it showed.  One vignette from that trip: after we wrapped, and after getting stuck in massive traffic on a Friday night, we repaired to a jam-packed pub in central London; my AA ad colleague Craig had been in English pubs before, but G., a less-than-worldly Texan from our ad agency was totally astonished at the mayhem!


I was seriously excited about returning to Europe, and to the classroom at WHU, the private business school in Germany I have visited for more than two decades.  Rose at 4:45 that Saturday to drive Linda to the airport; she was headed to Houston, Texas, to the wedding of a long friend of Jack’s (he was going, too).  When I awoke, I spotted bad news on my iPhone: my flight from Washington to Dallas/Fort Worth was going to be three hours late; I would still have time to make my connecting flight to Frankfurt (American only flew to Germany from their big Texas hub, so I had to backtrack 1200 miles), but I had to cancel my lunch with a longtime friend.

It got worse.  At National Airport, the delay lengthened 90 minutes, which meant I would miss the connection across the ocean.  Happily, Lufthansa flies nonstop from Washington Dulles.  I would be flying standby, but it looked like I would get a seat (all the info and booking is now on the Internet, super-handy).  So I headed back to the apartment, ate lunch, and headed out to Dulles.  Lufthansa emailed me a seat assignment before noon, and I was elated.  Hooray for Lufty!  Checked my bag, had a celebratory beer in an airport saloon, and ambled onto a shiny Airbus A330.  I had an entire row to myself.  Wow.

On the Metro to Dulles Airport, and my “rescue jet,” a Lufthansa A330

Landed Frankfurt on time, then into a long immigration queue; but it moved fast, and in no time I was in the airport train station, 15 minutes before my ICE fast train to Düsseldorf.  Time enough to buy a big cup of Starbucks.  Was in rainy and cool Düsseldorf by 11:05, onto the U-Bahn, and at the familiar NH City Hotel by 11:25.  Friendly smiles to the front-desk clerk got me a room early.  Took a needed shower, changed into jeans, and headed out into the wet (I checked the weather forecast before leaving, and packed my Gore-Tex raincoat).  Before leaving home, I kept thinking, “I’m so out of practice [for overseas trips].”  In fact, I was not.  I worried needlessly, because as I left the hotel, I was back in the groove.  And it felt so good to be in the groove!

WHU required all guests to have a COVID test before visiting the campus, so I had earlier arranged a test at a walk-in (or drive-in) site a mile from the hotel.  The Germans have made testing as easy as, well, buying a beer!  The test site was a tent in the middle of the “Automeile,” what Americans call an autoplex – acres of car dealers.  The friendly tester scanned a QR code on my iPhone, gently swabbed my nose (way softer than the times I’ve tested myself!).  Results came to me by text message in less than an hour.  Negative, woo hoo.  Bought a 24-hour ticket on local public transport, Rheinbahn, and did a short joyride on a fast tram.

Left, locals told me summer never arrived, and leaves were already beginning to turn; right, a VW Beetle turned into a sculptured sphere at the dealer next door to the COVID test drive-thru.

Headed back to the hotel, rode a fitness bike for 15 miles, took a short nap.  The rain stopped, so I hopped back on the Rheinbahn and rode across the Rhine to the Oberkassel neighborhood, probably the city’s most affluent neighborhood.  A really pleasant district.  Walked across the Rhine, hopped back on the U-Bahn, and headed to my dinner venue, Schumacher, one of the city’s altbier breweries.  I was 45 minutes early for dinner with my long friend Tobias, so hopped on an outside stool (no mask needed) and had a couple of short beers (6-ounce, the traditional altbier size).  Well, three; they are kinda small.

Top, it was election season, four weeks before national voting, and campaign signs were everywhere, including this one for Olaf Scholz, who won the largest share of votes; above, a graceful commercial/residential building in Oberkassel. Below, the registration required for a restaurant meal; at bottom, the reward!

Tobias arrived at 6:30 and we had a splendid catch-up chat.  I had not seen him for more than three years, and we had a good yak about families, his career, the upcoming German federal elections, and the pandemic.  Turns out, sadly, that there are ignorant people in Germany who, like stupid Americans, refuse to be vaccinated.  Sigh.  In between, we tucked into frikadelle, the north German equivalent of what we Americans call meat loaf.  Breakfast was tiny and lunch was a bit thin, so a big dinner, with plenty of fried potatoes, was just the ticket.  Back to the hotel, asleep before nine.  It was a good first day in Europe after a long gap.

Up at 5:20 Monday, onto the exercise bike for 10 miles, shower, big breakfast (the hotel has a killer buffet), then to the WHU graduate campus a half-mile away.  I was one of the kickoff speakers for their incoming MBA classes (full- and part-time); a week before classes start, they do something called the Future Leaders Fundraising Challenge, a way to get the cohorts to bond, and raise money for Save the Children.  My job was to introduce basic concepts in marketing, which finished at 10:45.  But I stayed around to help answer questions about their team projects, listen to initial presentations from 27 teams, and help with rankings.  Finished nearly 12 hours after arriving, a long but good day.  Ambled back to the hotel, chilled for an hour, and headed to dinner at the familiar and nearby Uerige am Markt restaurant.  Tucked into a big plate of herring in sour cream and another pile of fried potatoes.  It was a long day, and was asleep early.

Above, how cool was this: a full classroom. Answer: very cool, emotional for me after months of Zoom. Below, scenes from the “alt” neighborhood of Kiefern, between my hotel and WHU.

Up at six, fitness bike, an even bigger breakfast than the day before, onto the U-Bahn to the main station, then a train south to Koblenz.  I was headed that Tuesday to Saarland, one of Germany’s smallest states.  The Deutsche Bahn was once again late, and I missed my connecting train up the Moselle Valley to Trier.  Caught the next one, and enjoyed being back – I had been on that scenic line in January 2019, to Trier.  Changed trains there, and was then in another valley, the Saar, a tributary of the Moselle.  It was scenic and quite wild for a stretch, then factories, power plants, and small cities appeared.  Rolled past a seriously old steel blast furnace in Völklingen (which I later learned had been recycled as an industrial-history museum).  Arrived Saarbrücken, the state capital, an hour late, and when I stepped off the train I could say that I have been in every German state – all 16 of them.

Left, the Moselle downstream from Trier; right, the tributary Saar, south of the industrialized valley.

At first view, Saarbrücken looked a bit down in the dumps.  Modern, but dumpy, with way too many modern highways cutting through the city.  Walked a few blocks to a very pleasant Holiday Inn Express, checked in, changed clothes, and headed back to the station.  It took ages to figure out the Deutsche Bahn’s bikeshare service, Call a Bike, but I finally got a bike unlocked and headed out to have a look at the town.  The older part of the city, the Altstadt, was much more agreeable, with a calm pace.  Not a lot to see, but I hit the high points, then biked back to the hotel for a little chill.

The Saar River and the rather soulless part of Saarbrücken


Above, three views inside the (Lutheran) Ludwigskirche; below, scenes from the old town.

Back in my room, I did some research, confirming my suspicion from the train that this was a highly industrialized region.  Turns out it was one of the centers of the Industrial Revolution in Germany, built on abundant coal deposits.  And Saarland was another of those parts of Europe that had gone “back and forth” through the years – after both World Wars, it was separated from Germany.

At 5:45, I headed back out on the bike, bound for an early dinner at the Ratskeller.  The basements of city halls (or Rathaus) across Germany often have a restaurant, and as I sat down I told the server that on the last night of my last trip to Germany 11 months earlier I had eaten in a similar-looking Ratskeller in Rostock.  Nice!

Above, inside the Ratskeller; below, dinner, with my third portion of fried potatoes in three days; at bottom left, the Rathaus in evening light, and my shared bike.

Tucked into an enormous dinner, dropped the bike at the train station, and headed to the hotel.  Was asleep at 9, then back up at 11 PM to connect to a virtual (surprise) birthday party for a longtime colleague at American.  William Mitchell has headed the airline’s customer research team for years, a wonderful fellow, and worth rising for “in the middle of the night.”  Was great to see him and many others – one camera showed an entire room full of friends at AA’s new headquarters.  Back to sleep, Zzzzzzzz.

Up at 4:30, not a long night, out the door to the station, and onto a train to Mannheim, and another to Frankfurt Airport for the flight back to the U.S., to Dallas/Fort Worth.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

To the Beach in South Carolina

Kiawah Island’s ample beach at dawn

On Sunday, August 1, after teaching another short course on crisis management at Georgetown (and after finishing the grading), I walked from the apartment to the Metro, zipped to National Airport, and flew to Charleston, South Carolina, for our annual beach vacation (Linda, the rest of the family, and two of Robin’s friends arrived the day before).  Linda picked me up at the airport and we motored back to Kiawah Island, a place now well familiar.  A sturdy (heavy!) green beach bike was waiting for me, so I changed into shorts and headed out into mid-afternoon heat for 10 miles, which was tonic. 

Above, the island brims with wildlife, including lots of deer. Below, the view from our deck.

As always, the week passed quickly, following a regular daily routine: up at 6:15, onto the bike for 20 or more miles, coffee, breakfast, a swim in the lap pool at the house, or better yet, a couple of hours at the wide sandy beach.  Dylan and Carson had inflatables, and we bounced a lot in the surf.  The weather was cooler and wetter than in previous summers, which churned some big waves and obviated sunscreen-slather.  Nice!  Afternoon naps, a little work.  Robin’s friends cooked dinner at home one night, but most nights we went out.   

Our newest granddaughter Emerson, already almost six months old, was the star of the trip


Then the week (six days for me) was done, and we flew back to Washington.


We ventured into Charleston one afternoon. The historic city never ceases to delight. Above, the First Presbyterian Church on Session St. Below, 19th Century commercial buildings. At bottom, a ceramic Dalmatian in front of a fire house.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Mobility Begins to Return . . .

On Wednesday, July, 19, I bicycled to Union Station and hopped on a MARC commuter train, bound for Baltimore.  Not a long journey, 40 minutes on the tracks, but I am marking it as the return to a mobile life.  Let’s hope!

All MARC trains (a service of the State of Maryland) now welcome bikes. The website said you needed two bungee cords, so I brought mine — to the surprise of the conductor, who said I was the first passenger to do so!


I was bound for R. House, a food hall not far from the station, to meet an American Airlines colleague from nearly three decades earlier, Charlie Kernan.  We reconnected in summer 2020, and were glad to do so.  As we approached Baltimore, I struck up a conversation with a fellow passenger, a Vietnam vet (his cap said so), bound for Chicago and Albuquerque on Amtrak.  The joy of Talking to Strangers returned!

Ceiling, Penn Station, Baltimore

With spare time before lunch, and a shaggy head, I found a barber not far from the station, and just a few blocks from the restaurant.  The afternoon before, I Found Hair Unlimited on the Internet, texted Ellen the owner, and at 11:45 sat down.  I was glad to be inside, in air-conditioning, and gladder still to have a second T-t-S in an hour.  Ellen had been cutting hair for 43 years in the same location.  I pretty much got her life story sitting in the barber chair; I’ve always been an open person, and she was, too, telling me about growing up in rural Maryland, at the head of Chesapeake Bay; a little about her faith; some politics; and more.  I reciprocated with tidbits about my stints on the Kellys’ dairy farm in Wisconsin, bicycling, a career in the airline business.  It was just a delight, and even with a large tip the haircut was $10 cheaper than Washington — causing me to seriously consider becoming one of Ellen’s regular customers!

At 12:30, I met Charlie and we tucked into lunch.  The food hall had about ten choices. I opted for Korean stir-fry, and Charlie had a burrito.  Good chatter about all sorts of topics.   Charlie was between jobs, and we yakked about his various bright prospects, and quite a bit about golf; like our son Jack, he is a keen player, and was bound for Ireland in a few weeks, an annual tradition returning after the pandemic.  Hooray.

Cycled downhill back to the station, admiring some of inner Baltimore’s fine old buildings.  The place is troubled, but full of character, so much more texture than the national capitol.

Hopped the MARC train back to Washington.  Snapped this photo as we rolled out, a reminder of the disgraceful state of much of America’s transport infrastructure:

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

To New York, and a New Granddaughter in Connecticut

I had not traveled in almost seven months.  It had been more than 40 years since that amount of time had passed between flights.  So you can imagine my delight on May 7 when I took the Metro to Washington National Airport, then boarded the Silver Bird (in that instance an American Airlines Airbus A319) for a short flight to New York LaGuardia.  I was headed to meet our newest granddaughter, Emerson Ainsley Britton, born to son Jack and Reed on February 11.  That was also way exciting!

Flight, I’ve missed you; the view from above, the speed, the soar!

I scrambled up the stairs to the street, got oriented, and opted for a little exploration.  I had a lunch reservation at 12:15, which gave me 90 minutes.  It had been years since I ambled down Fifth Avenue, and off I went, conjuring my old skills as a geographer trained in reading the landscape — in this case the stores of all the upmarket designers and big brands (Nike, The North Face), St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the New York Public Library, and more.

Above, a COVID-masked Atlas in front of Rockefeller Center, and one of the famous lions outside the library. Below, a fancy Salvatore Ferragamo shoe.

I continued south, past 411 Fifth Avenue, an address from my childhood, the offices of the glove company my dad faithfully represented for decades, past the Museum of Sex at 27th St., and into the leafy Madison Square Park.  I’m not a fan of the Big Apple, but sitting on a park bench on a fine spring day was about as good as it gets.   At noon, I walked across the street to Eataly, the colossal combine of specialty foods and restaurants.  I hadn’t been there in years, and it was such fun to browse the aisles.  I picked up a loaf of rustic bread and six small jars of fruit preserves from Agrimontana, I brand I’ve known for awhile.   Enjoyed a relaxing lunch, talking to myself about how good it was to be traveling again!

Above, Madison Square Park. Below, just a little of the vast array of Italian provisions available at Eataly. Bottom, the place also has a bunch of restaurants; I opted for La Pizza & La Pasta, and tucked into a lasagne lunch (and a celebratory glass of Barbera d’Alba).


Fortified, I rolled my suitcase north on Madison Avenue to Grand Central Station and hopped on a Metro North train bound for Connecticut.  Changed trains onto a branch line that followed the Norwalk River, north to Bethel, where Jack was waiting at the station.

Grand Central Terminal’s fabulous ceiling, with the constellations, and above the windows wonderful bas-relief works.

Reed returned home from work with Emerson, who finished her first week of daycare.  And there she was!  Tears of joy welled in my eyes as I held new life.  So precious.  And she seemed to bond quickly with me, laughing in my arms as I made funny mouth sounds.

Jack and I drove to his golf club to pick up dinner, had a nice meal, and started to get caught up with the new parents.  Was asleep by 9:30.

Up early Saturday morning, out on Jack’s orange Trek city bike.  No specific destination, and I ended up cycling five miles or so to Danbury, another one of Connecticut’s many former industrial towns.  Parts of it looked downtrodden, but not as bad as expected, or as bad as some others are.  Rode back, tucked into breakfast and some coffee, played with Emerson a bit.  A quiet afternoon, nice nap and some golf (Jack’s sports passion) on TV.  I volunteered to babysit so parents could have some time away, out to dinner; my baby-feeding and diaper-changing skills returned quickly.  And Emerson survived.

Sunday morning dawned cool and clear, perfect cycling weather, so I was back out, riding a pleasant, hilly loop that I had done seven months earlier.  Trees were leafing well, flowers springing from gardens, a bald eagle attracting attention of folks on Highway 58.  Back home for coffee and toast. 

Above, was the 1950s sign in Danbury stagnation or nostalgia? Below left, the the classic New England babbling brook, and right, the little brick schoolhouse in West Redding, circa 1789.

At noon we headed across Bethel (a pleasant small town, for sure) to Mothers’ Day lunch at an Indian restaurant, tucking into some yummy (though not quite spicy enough for this fan of the “veddy hot”) food.  Jack kindly drove me back to LaGuardia and I flew home after a fine weekend with family.  Gotta do more traveling.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

To Harlem and Connecticut

The Hudson Valley above West Point



Above Chesapeake Bay

On Thursday, October 21, when I hopped the Metro to National Airport and flew north to New York LaGuardia, 215 miles, a brief leap in the air, but still wonderful, and exciting, to take wing; was bound for Bethel, Connecticut, for a long weekend with son Jack and his girlfriend Reed.

On arrival, in a city that I tend to think is full of people focused on “me,” I opted to work for the common good, first, by picking up a dog turd in the middle of the AA concourse and wiping the floor (as I was hustling to get toilet paper a well-dressed man nearly put his foot in it); and second, by helping a visitor find his way, just as my bus was departing. It left without me, but I wasn’t in a hurry and I felt better for helping.

Above and below, a brand-new LaGuardia Airport is slowly taking shape, dismantling the dumpy old terminals to make way for gleaming new ones — for someone like me used to almost five decades of decrepitude, the new spaces are jarring, and most welcome.


Jumped on the M60 bus across two bridges and into Harlem, down 125th Street to the suburban railway station.  Made fast for lunch at Sylvia’s, a legendary soul-food place since 1962.  Tucked into a huge lunch.  Walked back, slower than before, absorbing the street scene in this historically African-American district in the grips of the pandemic.  A lot of people were hurting; the word that came to mind was “teetering”: some literally, many financially, emotionally, spiritually.  I had a long wait for the 2:12 train north to Connecticut, passing the time on the elevated station platform, watching trains of the Metro North Railroad.

Above, street art on 125th St. At left, a 1990 ceramic relief by Nigerian artist Adebisi Akanji; right, homage to Malcolm X. Below, my lunch venue and the huge repast.



Above left, a common Harlem pastime, sitting on the sidewalk; right and below, typical streetscapes. At bottom, two works on the Metro North Railroad platform at the Harlem station, “Copacetic,” in laminated glass (2018), and “Hear the Lone Whistle Blow” bronze (1991), both by Alison Saar.

Changed trains at South Norwalk, CT, onto a branch line that ran north in the Saugatuck River valley.  It was a blue-sky fall day, and the fall foliage was close to peak, just lovely.  Got off at Bethel; I had been there once before, and knew the way from the station to Jack’s and Reed’s place, half-a-mile or so.  Keys were in hiding, and in no time had Reed’s swell Husky Kora on a leash for a good walk.  I don’t know that she remembered my face (last time she saw me was June), but she was happy to head out.

Above, brilliant fall color along the branch line to Danbury. Below left, statue of Bethel’s most famous son, circus entrepreneur and showman P.T. Barnum, across from Jack’s and Reed’s apartment. Right, Reed trying out her new Cuisinart to make the pie.

Reed got home from work about 4:45, and we had a good catch-up visit while she made an apple pie.  Jack got back a bit later, and had to do a Zoom call, so we ate burritos from a nearby craft brewery, Broken Symmetry, then tucked into the way-good pie.  Was asleep by 9:30.

The youngsters left for work Friday and I headed out on Jack’s bike, north and east to Newtown (yes, the site of the horrific and totally preventable massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012).  As prep for the ride, I watched on YouTube President Obama’s speech to that community after the tragedy; his empathy, articulacy, and authenticity contrasted, like night and day, with the current officeholder.

Above left, classic New England barn in Newtown; right, cow pasture across from the Ferris Acres Farm Creamery, scenes below, including the stone walls that are another, but fading, feature of the New England farmscape. At bottom, the reward for the slog in the rain.

It was misty, not a good day for a ride, but I slogged along a state highway, up and down some pretty serious hills.  A few miles out of Newtown on the way home I spotted the Ferris Acres Farm Creamery, open for take-out ice cream.  I fancied a chocolate malt, but they were unavailable in the pandemic, so settled for a caramel apple pie cone (some assembly required, as in kids’ toys, with ice cream in a lidded cup and wafer cone plopped on top, in a paper bag, all apparently because of local health rules.  So delicious.  On the way out of the parking lot, I paused to read a sign that told me that in 2007 the Town of Newtown and State of Connecticut purchased the 76 acres of the farm, paying $500,000, to preserve the agricultural Heritage of Fairfield County (it’s one of the last remaining dairy farms in the county).  The family still milks the cows and churns the ice cream, and will for years to come.  Got home, took Kora out for a walk, spent an hour cleaning dirt off the bike from a messy ride, showered, took a short nap, worked a bit.

A curious name; if the weather were better that day, I might have looked for the tilted swamp!

Reed, Jack, and I hopped in his car at six and motored southwest to Ridgefield, a seriously affluent place, and dinner at Gallo, a wonderful Italian restaurant.  Great meal, great conversation.  Next stop was dessert at a gelato place, homemade daily, yum.  Asleep early again.

Left, the shoulder of varying width on Highway 58 south of Bethel, contrasting markedly with the separate bike path I rode a month earlier in rural Germany; we are in many ways a poor country, with little regard for collective safety. At right, another fine New England barn.

Weather Saturday morning was much the same as the day before, but I was keen to ride Jack’s orange bike, so headed out, ten miles on a busy highway; a less than pleasant pedal.  Showered, and at 10:30 Jack and I hopped in his Toyota and headed west to the Hudson Valley, bound for the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.  The drive was pleasant, and when we got to the river totally spectacular.  I had seen many photos and paintings of that part of the valley (indeed, in the early- to mid-19th Century, an art movement was called the Hudson River School), but didn’t know the hills on either side were to high, up to 1000 feet.  Dramatic scenery, even on a gloomy day.

Reed, what a sweetie, packed lunches for our outing!

The campus was closed to visitors, but the nearby Visitors’ Center, quite new, was open and interesting.  We ambled through, then ate lunch on a bench outside.  Hopped back in the car and drove up the west bank, more ups and downs, to Newburgh.  Zipped onto Interstate 84 and were home fast.  A great outing.

Above, the Hudson Valley. Below, West Point scenes. At bottom, the Visitors’ Centre was themed around the lives of cadets in their four years at the academy, and included some fine images of famous graduates, like General Eisenhower.

At 4:30 we three got back in the car and drove 20 miles for dinner with Reed’s mom Heather, twin sister Linley, husband Sean, and their way-cute 14-month-old son Daniel.  A fun evening, the tot providing lots of entertainment, and a superb dinner: crab cakes, baked salmon, Boston cream pie.  Yum.  It finally cleared off, and the temperature was dropping fast.

Left, Reed’s nephew Daniel, and right, her swell dog (and my bedmate) Kora.

Sunday morning, finally clear skies, 37 degrees, a cool but dry bike ride, superb fall leaf color, flocks of wild turkeys, and not much traffic on the roads.  Back home, I hugged Reed (who is working on a M.S. at Fordham and takes classes on weekends), and Jack and I hopped in his RAV4 and headed south to New York City.

I had driven into the Big Apple only two previous times, both from Newark Airport, and the approach from the north, through Westchester County and the Bronx, across the Whitestone Bridge into Queens, and south was excellent.  Destination was a tiny Japanese ramen shop on a side street in Brooklyn, not far from where Matt, a long friend of Jack’s used to live.  We parked on Ainslie St. in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn, I ambled a few hundred feet to pick up lunch, and we ate in the car.  The street was quiet, leafy, almost serene – not what one expects in a huge metropolis.  We drove past Matt’s former building (he’s in L.A. now), then headed back onto the freeway for LaGuardia.

Above, Okonomi Yuji Ramen, Brooklyn, and my bowl of spicy curry donburi. Below, today more diverse and trending young and hip, East Williamsburg was long steadfastly Italian; the Nunziata family lives in the house.

Hugged Jack, flew back to DCA, then onto the Metro toward home.  A great trip.



Postscript: as part of the LaGuardia renovation, three historic American Airlines hangars from the 1930s (and the era of the DC-3) were being razed.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Europe, Part 2: Denmark, then Back to Germany

The harbor at Dragør, Denmark, less than five kilometers from Scandinavia’s biggest airport, CPH.


I was up early Monday, September 21, and out the door, headed to the airport and Copenhagen to see long friends Susan and Michael Beckmann and their swell kids Niklas and Annika.  Before leaving Germany (I would be back in four days) just a few indicators of how (well) the Germans are managing the COVID crisis:

  • Guests are required to register (name, address, contact info) at restaurants
  • Disinfectant dispensers are everywhere
  • Temporary sinks with running water, soap, and paper towels at entry to busy subway stations
  • Bins for unused and used pens at hotel reception desks

At the airport I breezed through security, bought a big cup of Starbucks, and ate a sandwich and fruit the hotel had prepared in lieu of the buffet breakfast.  Hopped on Eurowings north to Denmark, right on time, landing at 9:25.  No border controls, zipped right through. I debated getting cash, (the Danes are not in the Eurozone), but opted for an experiment, cashless in Denmark, using my cool new tap-and-pay debit card.  Zipped onto a suburban train one stop, then a mile walk to the Beckmanns’ house (I know that neighborhood well).  Nice to be back in Scandinavia, not least because the Danes I saw on the street that day – and the next two – looked a lot like people I grew up with in Minnesota!

More proof of capable pandemic management: left, orderly Eurowings exit from the Copenhagen flight, right, CPH airport signs indicating which toilet stalls are free. “Welcome to the toilet facilities” indeed!


Michael Beckmann, friend for more than 20 years, welcomed me with a hug, the first embrace from a non-family member in six months.  Felt so good.  He has a big job with the DSB, the Danish State Railways, so he went back to work and I did a bit, too.  He thawed a homemade quiche for lunch, and dessert was a sample of apples from their four backyard trees.

Took a nap.  Niklas, now 11, came home from school (by himself, on a city bus, normal in Europe, but likely to get an American parent reported to the child-protection authorities).  Another hug. He had stopped at a fine bakery near school for some pastries (well, yes, what Americans call Danish!), and we ate those.  His dad was hard at work, but paused to get bikes out of their backyard shed.  Niklas had planned a nice ride, around the airport, stopping briefly at a little village called Dragør.  Since I last saw him 18 months earlier, he became much more confident with his English, and jabbered as we rode along.  A nice ride, flat and entirely on the separate bike lanes that are everywhere in Denmark.

We paused at Dragør.  Niklas ate a little snack, and we set off.  A block on, I looked behind and didn’t see him, so I circled back. “Something is wrong with my bike,” he said.  “Yep,” I replied, “a flat tire in the back.”  Well, shit.  I asked a woman about my age if there was a bike shop in the village.  No, it was two kilometers out of town.  She gave Nikki directions in Danish, then called the shop; they were open until five, 30 minutes away.  We walked briskly, and then some more.  I asked another person, and she said, “next traffic light, to the right.”  We got there; no bike shop.  Asked a jogger, who pointed the way to Troels Cykler.  A young guy appeared, and I explained the predicament.  He had time to fix it.  “We’re in deep shit, and you, my friend, have the shovel,” I said as he wheeled the bike into the repair area.  Eight minutes and the equivalent of $23 and we were back on the road.  Quite an adventure!

Separate bike lanes are a way of life, all the way to the airport. At right, the helpful Dane phoning to make sure the bike shop would still be open.

Back home, Annika appeared, another hug, then Susan from her new job, a fourth hug.  Michael grilled chicken outside, with French fries and salad, a nice dinner.  I read the kids a bedtime story (it’s a long tradition for “Onkel Rob”).  Annika’s English is improving, too, and the parents were delighted with how comfy the kids were speaking my language.  Nice!

After the kids were in bed, we sat at the table and yakked, with a glass of schnapps.  Lots of interesting discussion, learning more about Susan’s new job with a start-up that makes a wearable electrocardiogram monitor, way cool.  We got onto the topic of food, and I remembered that Michael’s grandmother was resourceful and self-sufficient.  That led to Michael telling me that she had been living in the eastern part of the country during World War II, and when it was over she fled west in the summer of 1945 (her husband, Michael’s grandfather, was a prisoner of war in France until the early 1950s) in part because Russian soldiers were raping woman indiscriminately.  At one point, she handed Michael’s dad to a German fellow, and the two adults swam across a river.  They ate weeds, and were cold that winter.  Let’s not go back to that, I thought.  Whew.

Up Tuesday morning, see the kids off to school, Susan leaves for work (she’s in an office two or three ways a week and home the rest; Michael is home the whole time).  I scoop up a bowl of muesli and hop on Michael’s bike to the post office branch in a nearby supermarket.   Doing ordinary things overseas is fun, so mailing travel receipts to Germany was a small adventure.  Unlike Germany, Denmark did not require masks in stores, which seemed dumb.  About 4 bucks to mail 1 ounce 300 miles, welcome to Denmark!  Hopped back on the bike and rode in bike rush hour (smaller than on previous visits) into the city, around some familiar areas, then over to the sea, the district called Amager (but pronounced “A-ma,” no “ger”).

Above left, rush hour, Tuesday morning; right, a nice bit of friendly push-back on e-bikes (“100% Pedal Power”). Below, scenes in central Copenhagen. At bottom left, an anchor as street furniture, and right, my Beckmann-backyard reward for a good bike ride.

From 11:15 to 12:45 I delivered a lecture to MBA students at the University of St. Gallen, another talk that was supposed to be in the classroom.  Ate a nice sandwich lunch with Michael, took a nap, then a short bike ride, and from 4:00 to 5:30 did another talk at St. Gallen, to grad students in international management.  Michael and I hopped on the bikes and rode a couple of kilometers to the Speed Rugby Club, oldest in Denmark, where Nikki is learning the sport.  The little clubhouse had beer, and we grabbed a couple of glasses, then headed out to the field.  Enjoyed a long chat with one of the coaches, had another beer, and rode home.  A simple dinner of pasta and salad, more bedtime stories (two that night), some conversation with my hosts.

After breakfast Wednesday morning, Michael and I biked to Taarnby station, hopped on the train, then another train, west to Roskilde, a freestanding historic city 20 miles west of Copenhagen.  Michael left me and rode back two stops to his office to get some IT stuff sorted in person, agreeing to meet up at five that afternoon at an agreeable little bar/café right by the train station.  Susan loaned me a thorough tourist guide with a Roskilde walking tour, and off I went.  It was another sunny day, warm but not hot, perfect for touring.  Ambled through the old town, past an abbey, to the enormous Dom, Denmark’s biggest cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, built 1280.  As you’d expect, it was spotless and very well preserved.  It also held the tombs of most of Denmark’s monarchs, and most of those were in elaborate vaults above the floor.   In 1536 it changed from Catholic to Lutheran, the result of a short civil war that the monarch, Christian 3, won (his elaborate crypt is below, next to the carved angel). 

Next stop was the Viking ship museum, a smaller version of the one in Oslo, but still pretty cool; much of the collection was outside, and free to view.  

Above left, a big warship; right, smaller commercial vessels based on Viking designs from as recently as a 110 years ago. Below left, the Helge Ask, reconstruction of a smaller 11th Century warship; crew of 30, max speed 14 knots with sails, 5.5 with oars (“harder, Knut, row harder . . .”). At right, an outdoor workshop with boatbuilder slicing wood for a hull.

I ambled on, through a very pleasant residential area, many houses with thatched roofs.  I had hoped to go up into the bell tower of the Catholic church for a view around town, but the pandemic closed it.  Found the Brugsen supermarket, bought fixings for a picnic lunch, and ate on the grounds of the Roskilde Abbey.  I needed to connect for a client call in mid-afternoon, so ambled back to a small cafe in the railway station, bought a Faxe Kondi, popular Danish soft drink, and linked to a strong wireless signal.


Met Michael at 5:00 at Skänk, a little cafe a few hundred feet from the station.  Danes love lager from Carlsberg and another big brewery group, but craft brews are rising, and the bar had six great ones on tap.  We sampled a couple, and tucked into an enormous meat and cheese platter.  Yum!  Hopped two trains back to Taarnby, arriving in time to read Nikki and Annika a bedtime story.  After finishing the book, Niklas gave me a little present, a snegel  (Danish cinammon pastry) in a bag.  “Uncle Rob, this is for your trip tomorrow morning. Thank you for fixing my bike.”  I thanked him, but added that I didn’t fix the flat.  After he went to bed, Michael told me it was all Nikki’s idea to stop at the bakery after school and buy me the treat.  A sweet boy, raised right!

Your scribe and host; another COVID still life; and salmon from the Faeroe Islands — in a can, but still seriously good.

Woke at 5:00 Thursday morning, 20 minutes before the alarm.  Feeling right at home, brewed a pot of coffee, showered, dressed.  At 5:40, Michael appeared with bad news: the Germans had declared the Copenhagen metropolitan area a “risk zone” and would impose border controls.  I was headed back to Germany for three days of touring before heading home.  Would I get in?  We discussed alternatives, and I built Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C.  Michael expressed doubt that the border control people would have their act together overnight, so Plan A was keep to plan, train to Hamburg, then east to an interesting town, Wismar, for a couple of hours, then on to Rostock for two nights.  If the authorities said no to Plan A, but allowed me to enter, Plan B was to take an afternoon train from Hamburg to Frankfurt, stay overnight at the airport, and fly home Thursday.  If they denied entry, Plan C was to return to Copenhagen and fly home, either via Frankfurt or standby Sunday on SAS nonstop to Washington Dulles.  So a bit of stress to start the day.

I hugged Michael, hopped in the car, and Susan drove me to the Taarnby station for the short ride to Copenhagen central station.  Hugged her, promised updates, and rode into the city.  As the crow flies, Rostock, on the Baltic, is 100 miles, but I went the long way (there’s a ferry from south of Copenhagen, but Michael said it’s hard to reach, and actually quicker to make a big arc).  By rail, it was 325 miles to Rostock.

Bought a big cup of 7-Eleven coffee for the equivalent of $5 and waited for the 6:45 express to Hamburg.  The train was fairly full, with two friendly Danish women facing me and the adjacent seat open.  I was counting on wi-fi, to send some client emails,  but it was not working.  Sigh.  We left late but made up time, rolling through a rain storm, across the water to the island of Fyn, then across another bridge into Jutland, the peninsular part of Denmark.  We stopped in Odense, on Fyn, for about 10 minutes (the train divided there), and I was able to hitchhike on a wi-fi signal from a train on an adjacent platform, sending emails and downloading a bunch.  At least that problem was fixed.

My gift from Niklas!

At the last Danish station before Germany, the two Danes (headed for a long weekend in Berlin) and I thought officials would board the train, and perhaps make us all get off when we reached the first German station, Flensburg.  Nope.  No police, no passport inspection, nothing.  Woo hoo!  Plan A rocks!  As I often do when I arrive in Germany, I cued their national anthem, “Deutschlandlied.”  I was glad to be back.  We rolled through pleasant country in the state of Schleswig-Holstein, a place that once belonged to the Danes.  Lots of renewable energy, both wind turbines and solar farms.  And, of course, the black-and-white cows that are called Holsteins worldwide.  Nice!

At Hamburg, bought lunch, changed to a local train and headed east.  Not long after leaving Hamburg, we rolled into the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, the 14th German state I’ve visited (only two to go, and #15 would come in two days).  This was the former East Germany, evident in the huge fields that were once collective farms.

Above, the big fields that were collective farms from 1945 to about 1990. Below left, a piece of the marvelous polychrome brick railway station in Schwerin, and a nice jog to my memory: the upper deck of the Schwerin-Wismar train reminded my of the glass-topped “Vista-Dome” cars on the Zephyr fast train we took in the 1950s and ’60s to visit grandparents in Chicago. I thought of how much brother Jim and I loved sitting up there.

Changed trains again in Schwerin, and at 2:37 was in Wismar, a former member of the Hanseatic League, the group of cities that began trading in the 12th Century and dominated Baltic commerce (and a bit beyond – there were affiliates in Amsterdam and London) for more than 300 years.  I’ve visited a bunch of these Hansestädte, most recently the league’s capital, Lübeck, in 2018, and they are always fascinating, prosperity evident in the houses, commercial buildings, and churches.   There were no lockers in the small station, so I dragged my suitcase and backpack around town.   Wismar belonged to Sweden from 1648 to 1803.

Wismar was teeming with tourists.  I was a bit surprised, but happy that things seemed sort of normal.  The place was seriously interesting, especially the many buildings with gable facades.  Wandered the center, around the main square, and made fast for St. George, a brick church built 1404 and mostly destroyed just a month before the end of World War II.  The church tower was open, woo hoo.  The kind cashier let me put my stuff behind his desk, and up I went; I was expecting stairs, but they had an elevator.  Woo hoo!   Great views from the top, and floating in the harbor was a cruise ship, the source of all the visitors.  Wismar was photogenic on steroids, half-timbered houses, stately buildings with step gables and bell gables, whew:







Wandered around for another hour, and at 4:42 hopped on the train to Rostock, another Hanseatic city.  The ride was pleasant, on a small branch line, announcements in German and Polish – I didn’t think we were that close to Poland, but I later learned that the language was programmed into the trains, and that one often rolled east from Rostock to Polski.

Arrived on time, got a tram, and was in my Airbnb on Dobener Strasse by 6:15.  Christine the host was friendly.  It was, like so many other places around the world, renovated (last year) expressly for Airbnb business; it was really more like a boarding house (without a plump cook serving meals!).  The place was spotless and my room large and well-appointed.  I worked a bit, soon discovering that I could receive but not send emails.  I encountered this problem in the past in Germany, and tried the remedies I recalled.  Nope.

Headed out for a much-needed hot meal at a place I found a few weeks earlier, Zum Alten Fritz, right on the River Warnow (more an estuary of the Baltic at Rostow).  Tucked into a plate of zander, a farmed freshwater fish similar to my beloved Minnesota walleye.  Yum.  Walked back along the water, admiring the many sailboats and some big yachts that were clear indicators of prosperity – I suspect in the bad old days of the GDR, East Germany, there were only a couple of little dinghies. Clocked out just after nine, a long day that started badly but ended well.  Hooray for that!

The forecast was rain, and it was coming down steadily Friday morning.  I opted not to bring my Gore-Tex jacket or coat, oops, but I did have a good, new travel umbrella.  Bought a day ticket for the local trams and trains, and hopped on the #5 streetcar into the center.  Ambled around the Neuer Markt (new market, a square lined with gabled buildings), then into the old town.  At St. Nikolai Church, had a nice T-t-S with a young mother who lived in the church.  Back in the GDR, the anticlerical Commies appropriated parts or all of churches to alleviate local housing shortages – “all for the workers,” as she said auf Deutsch.

Above, in the shopping part of the center, where colonnades like the one at right provided respite from morning rain. Below, in the old town.

The Lonely Planet travel guide wrote, “Rostock will never win a beauty contest and for good reason – the town was devastated in WWII and later pummeled by socialist architectural ‘ideals.’”  But much war damage had been rebuilt, wiederaufbau, and 30 years after the collapse of East Germany the only vestiges of their goofy styles were some clumsy attempts at downtown office buildings that combined new and old, and drab high-rise apartments away from the center.  Moreover, there were lots of new buildings along the water and on the edges of the center, signs of vitality.

I needed coffee and breakfast, and to get out of the rain.  Found a little café, dry and warm, and sat for an hour with coffee and a big sweet roll.  At ten I bought a little more, a big tub of yogurt, drained it in the supermarket parking ramp, and headed up the hill to St. Peter’s Church, then up steps and steps to the bell tower and great views of the city, even in the rain.  Took the elevator down (better on the knees!), wandered around the sanctuary a bit, and headed back to the main station.

Above, St. Peter’s and part of the ancient wall surrounding the city. Below, views from the church bell tower. Bottom, another section of the wall, and socially-distanced chairs in St. Peter’s.

Next stop, Warnemünde, a beach resort town eight miles north, right on the Baltic.  The rain had stopped, woo hoo, and I ambled along the piers.  Working fishing boats were docked, fishers cleaning and sorting their catch, gulls jockeying to snag morsels.  On a whim, hopped on a tour boat, and once underway was delighted with impulse: a way-cool loop around the inner harbor, past shipyards (they’re still building, which is good), industrial facilities, and the ferry terminal (boats to Poland, Sweden, and Denmark).  Stood the whole hour on the top deck and snapped lots of pictures.  Scenes from the harbor and cruise:

Bought a herring sandwich (more on that below), walked back to the station, and headed south to Rostock.  Walked the center some more, past the old university buildings, an abbey, and more, then back to my room.  Chilled for a couple of hours, and at 5:45  headed out for a walk, then dinner.  It had cleared, and the late-afternoon light was superb.  Saw more cool old buildings, and at 6:30 walked down a flight of stairs to the Ratskeller (most town halls in Germany have a basement restaurant and beer hall).  Super-friendly staff, way cool room, a nice dark beer from the local brewery, then another plate of matjes and roast potatoes.  Asleep again about nine.  Another day that started hard and ended happily.

Above, before the cruise, I noticed the local gulls were not shy, as in this bird grabbing remains from a recent catch; after the cruise, as I was eating my herring sandwich, a gull crashed into the back of my head while aiming for the morsel in my hand! Below, attractive redevelopment of former industrial land in Warnemünde.


Above, tower gates to the old city. Below left, the old main building of the University of Rostock, and the city library. At bottom, signs of fall, wild and cultivated.


Above and below, scenes from the Marienkirche, including the astonishing astronomical clock.


Above, law courts; below, as noted, not much of the old East German landscape remains, save for some freshly painted apartments in inner suburbs.

Above, the Rathaus in splendid early-evening light; below, the griffon, symbol of the city, above the entrance to the building.

Up Saturday morning at 5:15 for the last day of European touring, hopped the tram to the main station, bought a coffee and a huge poppyseed sweet roll, as big as my head, and climbed onto the 6:25 fast train to Schwerin, where I had changed trains two days earlier.  I had 45 minutes to my next train, and went for a little walk.  Was glad I did.  One of Schwerin’s seven lakes was a block away, with great views.  I spotted a sign for Landtag, German for a state parliament.  A man was walking along, so in true T-t-S fashion I bade him Guten morgen and asked if he spoke English.  “A little,” the standard reply, so I asked him if Schwerin was the capital of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.  Yes, he replied, and the Landtag was a couple of kilometers away, in the castle.  I said I didn’t have time to visit, and we chatted a bit more.  Like many Germans who are not fluent, he moved to German, and I caught most of what he told me, about Schwerin being a popular leisure destination for people from Hamburg, an hour west by car or train.  The walk was a nice reminder of what for years I’ve told Americans: Europe’s charm and beauty is at its best in smaller places, not in Paris and Rome.

The Pfaffenteich, one of seven lakes in and around Schwerin, capital of the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern

Ambled back to the station.  On the way in, found a 10-Euro bill on the floor, woo hoo.  Bought a coffee and got on a local train, south an hour to Wittenberge on the Elbe River, then yet another local east Magdeburg, capital of the state of Saxony-Anhalt, my 15th German state (one more to go!).  Rain was again in the forecast, and it was drippy on arrival.  Stowed my stuff in a locker, closed the door, and, doh, forgot the umbrella.  Plunked another 3 Euros in the coin slot, got the umbrella, and headed out.

It was not raining hard, good, and I ambled off to see some sights.  First one was Austrian artist and architect Hundertwasser’s last work of whimsy, the Green Citadelle, completed in 2005 (he died five years earlier).  I had seen his stuff in Vienna, Switzerland, and Plotzingen, Germany, but this was by far his coolest and most eccentric work.  You just had to smile at it all.  Next stop was the big cathedral, the Dom.  It was relatively plain inside, but the high point was what seemed to be an audition session, two women singing short pieces from opera and sacred music.  Their voices reverberated to the ceiling far up, just lovely.  Walked across a large plaza and admired the state parliament (Landtag), then doubled back to Qilin, an Asian restaurant I spotted earlier, for a big and much-needed lunch of spring rolls and Thai curry.  So good.

Above left, Soviet-style office buildings in central Magdeburg; right, an East German-era apartment block made whimsical (clearly the people and ladders went up after the Wall came down; impossible to imagine humorless Party officials approving such creativity!). Below and bottom, Hundertwasser’s last building design.


Fortified, I walked south, past wonderful, large apartment buildings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, especially on the broad Hegelstrasse.  The rain was getting heavier, ugh.  Ambled along the Elbe River a mile or so north, to the Johanniskirche, oldest in Magdeburg (started in the 12th Century and mostly completed a couple hundred years later); Allied bombers destroyed it in January 1945 and it was rubble until wiederaufbau in 1996 – but as a cultural center, not a church.  A block on, the stately 17th Century town hall.  It was about 2:45, and my train was not until 5:00, but I was cold and little wet, so headed back to a warm waiting room in the station, reading and chilling.

Above, the Magdeburg Dom; below, one of the auditioners. At bottom, the State Parliament of Saxony-Anhalt.


Above, the former Magdeburg post office, repurposed as law courts; below, stately buildings south of the centre and (right) along Hegelstrasse.

Above, Magdeburg’s city hall; below, famous Magdeburgers from the past rendered on the entry doors to the building, a scientist and a composer. At bottom, reminders of the horrors of war in front of the Johanniskirche: “Mother with Child” and “Rubble Woman” (both 1982).

Hopped on a fast train to Braunschweig, then a faster one (ICE) south to Frankfurt.  I had planned on dinner in the dining car, but COVID closed it.  No food, no beer, drat (happily, a fellow with drinks and snacks on a cart passed an hour into the trip, with cold beer).  Arrived Frankfurt on time at 8:45, and walked through the rain – and seriously shady blocks – to a very nice Holiday Inn for a last night in Europe for awhile.  I had squirreled a big bag of snack mix from the Admirals Club in DFW before departing 12 days earlier, and that was my dinner; I was too tired to head out on a rainy night to forage for a meal.

Up Sunday morning, back out in the rain, train to Frankfurt Airport, a backtrack flight to Dallas/Fort Worth, then east to Washington.  Linda and the two terriers greeted me at the airport.  It was so great to be overseas again!



Finally, a few snaps for fellow Transport Geeks: vintage VW microbus serving as a wedding limousine in Magdeburg; containers from China that arrived in Europe not on a ship, but on the now-completed “New Silk Road” railway link; and the scourge of e-scooters, completely blocking a sidewalk in downtown Frankfurt. Grrrrrr.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Europe, Again, At Last | Part 1, Germany

The family farm of my friend Julian Allendorf, near Münster, in the North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state

On September 15, it was finally time to stand and deliver, in person, and in Germany.  When the lockdown began, I kept thinking the next European teaching trip would be in May; but those talks were via Zoom; then June, and that was virtual, too.  As the trip approached, I was pumped, but also a little worried: we had done our homework on various websites of the German government, and it looked like I qualified for admission as an “essential worker.” One of the two schools I would visit, WHU in Düsseldorf, prepared and sent me two (paper) letters of invitation.  And since August, the German Red Cross was doing free COVID testing on arrival at major airports.  But you don’t know until you get there!

Flew “backwards” to DFW, then onto an American Airlines 787 to Frankfurt. It had been almost seven months since I’d been to Europe, the longest hiatus since 1999 (you know I keep track!).  Excitement, and some angst about arrival – would I get into Germany, or sent back to Trumpland?

It’s a long flight, so I got a good sleep, breakfast, and two cups of strong coffee.  As I walked up the jetbridge, I saw a woman holding a sign with my name.  It was Janis, American’s longtime general manager at FRA, and her colleague Rosario.  I had emailed Janis the previous month, asking if she could get someone to say yes or no, but she could not.  I certainly didn’t expect meet-and-greet treatment.  It was so special, and a reminder of my long and wonderful career at AA.  We chatted as we walked to immigration control.  Rosario stepped forward and spoke to the officer, a young woman, in German.  I heard “VIP von American Airlines.”  Whew.  I stepped forward, and presented the two invitation letters.  She glanced at only one of them, then stamped my passport.  Woo hoo!  I was in!

I thanked her profusely, hesitated, then said to her, “I am so glad to be in your wonderful country again.  Glad to be in a country that is run by grown-ups, with a scientist as chancellor.  We have a clown for a leader.”  She smiled and nodded.  Janis and Rosario walked me to the COVID testing site, and said goodbye.  I was so grateful for their help.

The COVID test center at Frankfurt Airport was well signposted; at right, the queue for testing (less than 10 minutes when I was there)

I thought I read on the testing website that results would come quickly, but after a short queue and a quick test, the technician said results would be emailed in 8 to 24 hours.  That presented the first hurdle: the plan was for Martin, an academic host (though not a school visited on this trip), to pick me up and take me to his house near Heidelberg for dinner and overnight.  But Martin and his wife were rightly uncomfortable about me arriving from a high-risk country without a test result. 

So Plan B, a hotel.  I had hoped to hop on a train to Karlsruhe, Mainz, or another city nearby, but Martin said it was illegal to use public transport without a test result, so I booked a room at a hotel a mile from the test site, and walked there on a warm morning.  Happily, a room was ready at 10:30, so I checked in, worked a bit, and took a 30-minute nap.

Top, in the Stadtwald, less than two miles from one of the world’s biggest airports; right, new housing along the River Main. Below left, more new apartments along a former industrial basin east of downtown Frankfurt; right, St. Jacob’s Church in the suburb of Schwanheim. Bottom left, wonderful old-school trail sign in the forest, roughly translated as “Under the Pigs’ Stairs”; right, limited logging to keep the forest healthy.

At 12:15, I hopped on one of the hotel’s two free bright-green bikes. Thanks, Google Maps, I had a route planned: north through the big Stadtwald (City Forest) to the Main River, then east along the south bank bike path, past downtown.  It was a summer day, and lots of people were riding and walking.  It was tonic.  I zipped onto city streets in the Oberrad neighborhood, found a grocery store, and grabbed picnic fixings: ham sandwiches, cole slaw, and flavored milk, which I ate in the shade of a small park.  A nice lunch, save for the bees that insisted on sampling, especially the ham (I thought insects were vegans!).  Pedaled a bit further east, past some nice new housing along the river and dredged basins, then circled back, 26 miles in total. 

Took a shower, worked a bit, and from 6:30 to 8:30 delivered via Zoom what was to have been an in-person talk at the University of St. Gallen, next door in Switzerland.  It was an enthusiastic group, and I fielded questions for almost an hour (and via email the next day).  Before the talk started, I found my fave German supermarket, REWE, had a store a block from the hotel, so wandered over to scoop at their sensational salad bar, for a late dinner after the talk.  I was worn out, and slept hard for about two hours, then fitfully until 6:30.

Brewed a couple of coffees in my room, put on bike shorts and a T-shirt, ate a quick breakfast in the lobby (sadly, COVID has wrecked the buffets that are a hallmark of nice hotels in Germany).  Headed back out on the free hotel bike.  The weather changed overnight, and it was breezy and in the low 60s.  Felt great, though lots of people stared at what seemed scanty dress for a fall day.  Rode west along the river, crossed a bridge, then circled back all the way into downtown Frankfurt, an even longer ride than the day before, 28 miles.  And so delightful to be again in the Stadtwald, a green oasis.

Above, Downtown Frankfurt from the river trail; below, fine old homes in suburban Höchst (not far from the big chemical company with the same name). At bottom, perfect evidence of German care for infrastructure and of excellent signposting: ahead you will find bumps on the bike trail!

Almost 30 hours on, Thursday morning, I still had not received the COVID test results promised in 8 to 24, so returned to the airport testing center, where people were friendly but basically shrugged.  Back in my hotel room, I logged onto the testing company’s website, and sent an email; they replied four hours later, saying, no, the results arrive in 24-48 hours.  Sigh.  Showered and checked out of the hotel.  I’m no fan of airport hotels or long layovers, but the Elements Hotel (now part of Marriott) was really a very pleasant experience, made more so by a friendly and responsive staff.

I circled back to the REWE for lunch from the salad bar, and ate in the hotel lobby.  At one I hopped on the S-Bahn (suburban train) west to Mainz, then onto a fast train north to Münster, familiar after 21 previous visits (back in June, when we thought I would deliver the previous night’s talk in person, I bought a ticket from St. Gallen to Münster, and was able to use part of it that afternoon; I do love efficiency!).  The route followed the path of exactly a year earlier, along the Middle Rhine Valley, past vineyards, castles, and picturesque villages.  I never tire of that scenery.  Passed the decommissioned nuclear power plant north of Koblenz, the huge cathedral in Cologne, the big Bayer factory in Leverkusen, some hollowed-out coal and steel cities, arriving Münster 15 minutes late.  No time to amble to the hotel and drop stuff before meeting my long Münster host Julian Allendorf and his friend Alexandra at 7:45 at the Altes Gasthaus Leve, long a favorite eatery.  Long for many – they’ve been cooking for 413 years!

Since the pandemic began, every public and private organization with physical facilities has promised enhanced cleaning, but this railway employee at Mainz delivered the goods: he wiped this platform recycling bin for several minutes with disinfectant. Hooray for the Deutsche Bahn! At right, a classic scene from the Middle Rhine Valley.

We had a splendid meal (salted herring, matjes, for me) and great conversation.  As I wrote last December (when we had lunch in Münster), Julian is a super-interesting fellow.  He’s active in politics, with the CDU, the Christian Democrats (which would likely be my party if I lived in Germany), and just five days earlier won a seat on the county (kreis) council.  Naturally, chatter shifted to the U.S. elections.  They were happy to hear my view that the orange-haired embarrassment is “one and done.”  It was a long dinner and I was worn out.  Said goodbye with elbow bumps, and walked to the hotel.

On the way to the hotel: Erbdrostenhof Palace, and Münster’s famous shopping street, the Prinzipalmarkt.

Rise and shine Friday morning, after a solid sleep.  The Stadthotel was still offering a fabulous buffet breakfast, asking guests to disinfect their hands when entering and when returning to the buffet.  Ate a big breakfast, a solid foundation for the morning bike ride.  Bikes were not free, but was happy to pay €11 for a great city bike with outstanding gears and brakes.  I was off at 8:30, pedaling south, then west, destination Nottuln, 15 miles.  It was a lovely morning, sunny and cool, perfect biking weather.  The entire way was on a bike path along a secondary highway.  Rode through several small towns to Nottuln, then beyond it a mile or two to the farm where Julian grew up.  Had we planned it better, his mom or dad might have given me a quick tour, but I was still able to admire the goats, horses, and deer (farmed, not wild), then turned around, back to Münster with a steady headwind.  Only three cyclists passed me in 33 miles, and all three had e-bikes!

Above, a common scene in Germany, solar panels across the entire south-facing roofs of two barns; right, the mixed farm and forest landscape west of Münster. Below left and right, the farmers were expressive, the sign on the barn, in English, “No Farmers, No Food, No Future, and next to the “pig” made of plastic-wrapped hay, “We think in terms of generations, not election cycles,” Amen to both! At bottom, the entire route to Nottuln, 16 miles, was on a separate bike trail, not the highway; at right “Bicycle Street” in Münster, where (in German) “Cars are guests.”


Showered and suited up.  Finally got the COVID result, 52 hours after the test. The lab never did send an e-mail with the result, as they promised.  I logged into my lab account, and the good news was there — the result was actually done 33 hours after the test, but, as they say, “Who knew?”  Not German efficiency.  Ate a small, quick supermarket lunch in the hotel room, and at 1:15 met my host, Valentin Clemens.  I was pumped: my first classroom preso since March 10 in Montreal.  Woo hoo.  Had a good chat with Valentin as we walked to campus and a large classroom in the law school.  Fifteen students attended, with twenty more watching the streamed version.  It was a wonderful 2.5 hours, lots of good questions at the end.  Applause, in person, felt really fine.  Plenty of emotion flowing through me.

The socially-distanced classroom, and Valentin wiping down after the talk

Walked back to the hotel, changed into jeans, worked a bit, and at six walked across town the Kiepenkerl, one of Münster’s many traditional restaurants, old-school dishes from the region.  The little square outside the restaurant was bustling, and it was so nice to see all those people, properly separated.  It seemed “normal.”  At seven, met Valentin and two colleagues, Christopher and David.  We had a lot of fun at dinner, yakking about studies, Valentin’s new job with a manufacturer nearby, and of course U.S. politics.  As I did the night before, I presented the optimistic view that Biden would win, with reasons why.  Peeled off, walked back to the hotel, done with a splendid day.

Above, old and new in town; Below, the Münster Dom in golden afternoon light, and the lively beer garden in front of Kiepenkerl. At bottom, two edible rewards for the lecture: left, Kasseler (smoked pork chop), the ubiquitous but always welcome fried potatoes, and a big bowl of white beans; right, a bag of apples and pears from the Allendorf farm. Yum!


Slept in on Saturday, 7:15.  Worked a bit, ate a leisurely big breakfast with plenty of coffee, and ambled to the train station.  Another sunny and crisp morning.  Bought some fragrant soap (from 4711, the makers of the original Eau de Cologne) for face-washing at home, and a big tube of Voltaren, the wonderful gel for pain relief in my creaky knees – although more biking during the pandemic has, curiously, lessened the need for it.  Still nice to have the help if needed.

Left, the stolpersteine Holocaust memorials on sidewalks usually read “Here lived,” but this one, in front of a high school on a quiet side street memorialized a student. Right, the wonderful Promenade that rings the historic center of Münster, separate baths for pedestrians and cyclists.



Caught a fast train south to my next teaching stop in Düsseldorf.  It’s a big city, and the train station was crowded (though no one sat next to me).  Hopped on the U-Bahn (subway) and rode one stop to my hotel, the NH City, a familiar place right above a subway station.  Washed my hands and face and hopped back on the U-Bahn, riding across town, then back on a faster suburban train.  At 4:00, I met Thijs Geerts, a young Dutchman I first met in 2015 at the South American Business Forum in Buenos Aires.  Venue was the venerable Uerige beer garden in the Altstadt, the old town.  The garden spans both sides of a street, but there was not a table to be had, so we sat on a low stone wall on the edge of the building and had a great yak.  Thijs, who now lives in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, is full of ideas and innovation, and a lot of will (I like will).  He’s just about to move into his first house, brand new, and he built parts of it himself.  It’s got rooftop solar panels (net contributor to the power grid), geothermal heat, wow.  He suggested an “Eindhoven Innovation Tour” in 2021, and I’m already signed up.  Just a delightful 90 minutes.

Headed back to the hotel on a seriously crowded subway.  Zero social distancing.  I’m not fearful, but am careful, so rather than head back into the center for dinner, I walked a couple of blocks to Uerige am Markt, the same outfit in a different location.  Tucked into one of my favorite regional dishes, Himmel und Erd, and walked home.  Slept hard, a long time.

Above, managing the pandemic with plenty of space in the Uerige am Markt beer garden, and the ubiquitous disinfectant dispensers, here at a subway station. Below, the seating plan for my WHU classroom, done with German precision, and students gathering for my talk.

Up Sunday morning, time to stand and deliver again.  Walked a mile to the Düsseldorf campus of WHU, the private German business school I’ve visited many, many times for 20 years.  Got there early, and had a great chat with one of the MBA students, Alex, a teacher looking to reinvent himself.  We talked a lot about the similarities between the Ruhr, Germany’s traditional industrial heartland, and Rust Belt regions in the U.S.  At 9:15, I met Jane, my WHU host, and her assistant, another Jane (who grew up in Pennsylvania before marrying a German fellow).  Delivered back-to-back talks from 9:45 to 1:00 to a very engaged group of 15, with 30 attending virtually.  Great questions, a fine session.

Walked back to the hotel, changed clothes, and hopped on Nextbike, a bikeshare, riding five miles out of the center, and up a big hill, to the home of Christine and Jochen Menges.  I was sweaty when I got there, but so glad to see them, and meet their three kids, 10, 8, and 3.  We had coffee and cake in the backyard and a great chat.  Henry, 3, was a little confused about my not speaking English and German (everyone else in the house is at least bilingual).  It was wonderful to be around kids, and with a family.  The warm afternoon went quickly.  Hopped back on the sharebike, and coasted down the hill, wheeeeeee!  Back to the hotel, washed face, cooled off.  I was tired, and opted not to head into the city, but back across the street to Uerige am Markt, for a giant wiener schnitzel and salad.  Asleep early.

Above left, a colorful facade on Kiefernstrasse, long a bastion of counterculture in Düsseldorf; right, a city park turned Sunday cricket pitch for Indian players. Below left, the Menges kids, and right, a zeppelin hovering above my hotel, advertising the local savings bank.



Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized