December Travels: Germany, Switzerland, and More

On Wednesday the 2nd, I flew to Frankfurt for the last teaching trip of the year. Landed, grabbed a quick shower at the Admirals Club, and hopped on the 9:24 fast train north to Essen. The first hour of the ride traverses hilly terrain dotted with villages, an agreeable landscape. I cued Bach’s first Brandenburg Concerto, and all was orderly in the world. At Essen, I caught a local train to Münster. It was my ninth visit to that pleasant university town, and second of the year. Ambled across town to my customary hotel, dropped bags, and grabbed a quick sandwich at a bakery across the street.

At two I met my friend and longtime host Manfred Krafft. We chatted for a bit and I headed back to the hotel

Münster -- and all of Westphalia for that matter -- is a solid place, with lots of brick.

for a needed nap. Wandered around town a bit and at five Manfred, wife Christine, and daughters Lisa and Anna met picked me up for an amble through some Christmas markets, a staple of many German towns during Advent. We had a glühwein and a nice chat. Manfred is a great interpreter of all things German, and that night’s lesson was about angels, a common sight during Advent. It turns out that in the atheistic former East Germany, the officials decreed that people could not call them angels, so they became Jahresendflügelfigur, literally “year-end flying figures.” Go figure!

At seven, about fifteen promising undergraduate marketing students, the “Circle of Excellence,” met at the Hotel Kaiserhof. I delivered a short talk on career, similar to one I did in Sweden two months earlier, an

Detail, church gable

swered questions, and repaired to a very fancy dining room for a duck dinner. By 10:30 I was totally worn out, so I excused myself, ambled back to the hotel, and crashed.

Was up early the next morning, and back over to the Marketing Centrum (Manfred’s domain), working my e-mail and writing some stuff.

You can tell you're in a university town when you see a sign like this! Six feet from the sign, a kid was donning his Rollerblades.

At noon we walked a few blocks to a Mensa, one of the wonderful and cheap student cafeterias that are fixtures on European university campuses. After lunch I peeled off to buy a few small presents. Benjamin, a grad student, picked me up at 3:45 and we walked a couple of blocks to a large lecture hall. I set up my laptop and prepared to “stand and deliver,” but the room was double booked. Benjamin looked stressed. I was relaxed – as Captain Sullenberger told us earlier in the year, you always have a way out. So, in the fashion of the (German) pied piper of Hamelin, we led the students a few blocks to a vacant room, and off I went. Airline people are nothing if not flexible. The talk went well.

Delicatessen, Münster. As I hve noted many times before, the combination of university town and wealth makes it a very sophisticated place.

I ambled back to the hotel, changed clothes, and walked a few hundred feet to the Biergalerie of the Pinkus Müller brewery. The friendly young bartender noticed me spiriting a couple of his cardboard beer mats into my jacket, so he wrapped up a Pinkus beer glass and presented it. Nice!

Münster is a huge bicycle city (it even has an underground parking garage for two-wheelers at the train station), so it's not surprising that the Pinkus brewery has a delivery cycle!

Thirst quenched, I headed north in light rain to the Christmas Market in front of the Kiepenkerl, one of the city’s great traditional restaurants, and met Manfred’s friendly assistant Doris Bombeck, and two longtime friends (and now junior members of the faculty), Heiko Franzen and Oliver Götz. We had a glühwein and a few laughs, and headed into the Kleiner Kiepenkerl, a smaller (but hardly small) eatery under the same ownership. The roast goose on the Christmas menu caught my eye, but I settled for my favorite December German soul food, grunkohl (chopped kale cooked with pork fat). It was a swell dinner. Dessert was out of the question, but I did enjoy a small glass of kölsch from Sion, brewers since 1318. Another vignette of the Old World!

True to recent experience, the second night in Europe was not smooth, but the sun did rise, I ate breakfast, and ambled back to the train station. Good thing I got there early: my 9:34 train was running late, and I would have missed my connecting express to Berlin had I not hopped up the stairs and jumped on a 9:10 departure to Hamm, the connecting station thirty minutes south. The Deutsche Bahn runs discounts, and a couple months earlier I copped a first-class ticket for less than the “walkup” second-class fare. It was a nice ride. East of Hannover I took a short nap; when I woke up we were in the former East Germany, apparent from the condition of farmsteads and houses along the tracks.

At 1:05, I met my young friend Michael Beckmann (described in several previous updates).

Iron Horse sculpture at Berlin's new main railway station (Hauptbahnhof)

He showed me a bit of the new main station, and we walked upstairs to meet his wife Susan and their new baby Niklas. From photos on Susan’s Facebook page I knew he was a happy baby, and he really was. We became fast friends, thanks in part to my funny mouth sounds.

We headed to the Jewish Museum of Berlin (with a spectacular addition by the architect superstar Daniel Liebeskind), for lunch and the agreed afternoon activity, a special exhibition called Koscher & Co., focused on the concept of Kosher foodways, but really covering a broad swath: other cultures’ food preferences and restrictions, the social aspects of eating, and much more. It was an exceptionally well conceived exhibit; Michael said it best, “A lot of thought went into this show.” We stayed a couple of hours.

Interior detail (an upward view of a very narrow stairwell), Jewish Museum, Berlin

It was dark when we left, which made me happy that I snapped at least a little impression of Liebeskind’s fine design.

Michael is a fellow Transport Geek (indeed, more hard core than me), so before heading to dinner, we took a short walk near the museum to a neighborhood around Mehringplatz that had been the focus of various public-transport projects. The Mehringplatz was itself interesting, one of three prominent squares (or in this case a circle) laid out by Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm I about 1730. It was flattened in February 1945 and rebuilt as public housing.

Dinner was out in their northwest suburban district at Zur Krummen Linde (the Crooked Linden), in business for 250 years, thus fully capable of providing a big traditional meal. I started with a big black beer called Märkischer Landmann, really grainy and yummy, then a pork schnitzel that drooped over the edge of the plate. Yow, another huge dinner. Niklas got a bit cranky, but we were home by nine. I collapsed about 11, and slept 9 hours. Nine hours! Woke up a new man.

We paddled around the pleasant Beckmann apartment Sunday morning, walked a couple of blocks to get fresh rolls for breakfast, then sat around the table with a nice combination of good brot, cheese, herring, and vegetables. Susan made us coffee with steamed milk, a nice revival after the Rip Van Winkle evening.

My new favorite German, Niklas Beckmann. He was always smiling!

There are lots of things to do on a Sunday in Berlin. Michael and I originally planned to go to the Technical Museum, a good place for a couple of Transport Geeks. But a couple of days earlier, friends told me about the Stasi Museum in the former Hohenschönhausen prison in what was East Berlin. The Stasi was the short name for the East German Ministry for State Security, a notoriously nasty group of people who reigned from the late 1940s until the collapse of the GDR in1990. There were a lot of Stasi: at the end 91,000 full-time employees and an estimated 189,000 collaborators – this meant 1 in every 50 East Germans was a Stasi fink.

My impressions of the prison (with pictures) are on the previous post, and below.

We spotted the guard towers on Genslerstrasse, parked, walked into the grounds, and bought tour tickets. We had some time before the 3:00 tour began, and wandered the grounds, including a visit to the “tiger cages,” small open enclosures where inmates could get a bit of fresh air and perhaps something close to exercise, and a 1982 railway car used for transporting prisoners. It looked like a regular passenger car, and that was the point.

The hourly prison tours are led by former inmates. It would be hard to envision a more qualified leader. At 3:00, we met Gerhard, a big fellow in his late 40s. The tour was in German, but a combination of bilingual display boards and Herr Beckmann’s whispered summaries gave me almost the full experience. I made it a point to stand close to Gerhard, to see his face and gestures. Even with my limited German, I could hear the pain in his voice as he told his story: he was a young S-Bahn driver, a suburban-train engineer. His brother betrayed him. In 1986, plainclothes Stasi grabbed him after work, put him in an unmarked van, and drove him to Hohenschönhausen. His crimes were twofold: 1) he attempted to flee the “workers’ paradise”; and 2) he asked his boss what the “democratic” meant – the middle word in the name of his country.

I guess Gerhard was lucky, in that he was only imprisoned seven months. But he attempted suicide several times, and more than two decades later was still traumatized. The tour led us through the especially bleak basement cells that the Soviets used 1945-51, some equipped with the water-torture device. We saw Gerhard’s cell, 101, the room where judgment was passed, a van similar to the one in which he rode, and more.

The tour ran long, and I was stressed about getting across town to Tegel Airport, but the fret was for naught, because the 6:30 Swiss flight to Zurich went out full. I got a boarding pass for the 7:55 rocket, had a beer and a sandwich (served by an an exceedingly friendly Peruvian and an equally cheerful Lebanese fellow. Engaged briefly with them. We landed Zurich about 9:15, and a hustled to get the 9:52 train to my next stop, the University of St. Gallen, my ninth visit there. Arrived around eleven, and walked in light rain to my hotel. It was a limited-service place, and luckily I noticed on their website that the reception closed at 10:30 (memories of my March lockout in Koblenz still bounced around my head), so I called the hotel from Berlin, and the clerk took note. My name and instructions were on the front door, and in no time I was under a featherbed.

Next morning I walked to the university by way of the wonderful Baroque abbey church. Advent mass was in progress, so I stepped into a pew and caught up with the service. Much of my attention focused on my beloved wooden St. Gallen angel, who hovered on the ornate ceiling above. How many times this decade have I seen her, symbol of goodness and flight and aspiration? She has been an annual comfort, a sort of safe harbor.

Renewed, I walked up the hill, brought this journal up to date, and at 11 met my host for the last several years, Lydia Ebersbach, a friendly and really smart doctoral student from Saxony in the former East Germany. We got caught up, and at noon my older host, Prof. Sven Reinecke, and I walked to a Master’s class, where I delivered the airline-pricing talk. Afterwards, a couple of students joined Sven and me for lunch – one of them was headed to a spring-semester exchange at the University of Minnesota, so I got her oriented. I walked down the hill, took a nap, and ambled around town.

At 6:30, I headed to dinner, stopping at a small café for a small beer. Four Swiss francs is now four bucks, and that’s what a 10.1-ounce (0.3l) glass of local Schutzengarten lager cost. That’s okay, but what was not was how remarkably unfriendly the folks in the bar were. National generalizations can be risky, but I think a lot of Swiss people are unhappy, despite the fact that they live in, well, Switzerland.

Things were friendlier and happier when I met up with Lydia and her fellow German friend Carola, also a doctoral student, at Fondue Beizli (where we had dined the year before). It was big fun, fondue (this year they brought kirschwasser for dunk one before the cheese dunk). We ended the evening, as last year, with a tot of Appenzeller Bitter, a really tasty liqueur from the neighboring canton.

Next morning I headed there, an interesting 45-minute ride on a smaller railway, up and down valleys, past small villages, hilly pastures dusted with snow, and lots of small factories (as I noted on my visit to central Switzerland in April, the Swiss still make lots of things – in a small and quite nationalistic market, people buy local, and they also export.

Swiss small-scale production covers the whole range of goods, and Appenzellers seemed to be especially prolific makers of speciality food and drink, like this punch.

It was raining steadily when I reached Appenzell, but I was prepared, with waterproof rain parka, gloves, and my Dutch-designed Senz umbrella. It

Shop sign, Appenzell

took about five tries to re-learn how to snap a sharply focused picture in low light, beneath the umbrella, but the skill returned, and off I went. The town attracts a lot of tourists, and thus has some well-preserved old buildings and, even in the rain, a lot of charm. One of the interesting details was wooden house siding in a fish-scale pattern. I’m sure Switzerland is full of it, but I had never previously noted it.

December 8 was a Catholic feast day, the Immaculate Conception, and the main church, St. Eustatius, filled up for the 9:30 mass – on a percent basis, it was the most crowded church I’ve seen in 138 trips to Western Europe.

Facade, Appenzell

Doing a bit of research later, I learned why: the canton of Inner Appenzell is one of the most conservative in a conservative land. As proof, in the goofy national referendum ten days earlier, more than 70% of the canton voted to ban minarets on mosques.

After a thorough (but relatively brief) look around, I hopped back on the Appenzeller Bahn and rode back to St. Gallen, suited up, and walked to the bus station for a ride up the hill to school. On the way, I snapped a nice picture of a bas-relief depicting an 18th-century postman on the west wall of the main post office – he caught my eye because he was, for sure, the Internet of 250 years ago. A second later, I chucked when the 2009 version pulled up in a whining moped, pulling a small yellow Die Post trailer. He had no posthorn, but he did have a pierced lip!

At 12:30 I met a new host, Winfried Ruigrok, an affable and interesting Dutchman who runs the St. Gallen MBA program and teaches international management. We had a nice lunch, then I sat in on the first part of his class, a lecture on mergers and acquisitions. I took charge of the 4:15 to 6:00 slot, for my talk on alliances. It was a long afternoon, but I clearly reached some kids, because they hung with me after class, asking questions: a sweet and earnest guy from Turkey, a curious woman from Singapore, and a fellow whose father worked for the Greek Air Force, who spoke of dark conspiracies in the Greek airline business.

I walked down the hill and into the city with four of them, changed clothes, and headed over to my favorite St. Gallen haunt, the Goldenen Leuen (Golden Lions) for Christmas bock beer and a $10 bowl of soup. I was plumb wore out, and was asleep by 9:15, which was good, because I rose at 0:Dark, caught a 5:41 train to Zurich airport, and a 7:45 BA flight to the close-in London City Airport, east of the center. Those of you who think LaGuardia airport is urban should see LCY. Whoa!

Canary Wharf, London, from the Docklands Light Railway. The entire area continues to undergo substantial redevelopment (note cleared land in foreground).

I stopped at a Starbucks in the terminal for an enormous mug of coffee and a muffin, then hopped on the Docklands Light Railway one floor above (very handy, right in the airport), headed into town and to my hotel in Bloomsbury. I had booked The Staunton on Hotwire. It was billed as four stars, but assuredly was not. With a bit of polite persistence, I got a room key at 11:30, dropped my stuff, and walked a mile south to meet Sir Geoffrey Owen at the London School of Economics. We got caught up over lunch, then I delivered a 90-minute lecture and an hour of Q&A with a smaller group, the team of eight students who chose American Airlines as a case study in Geoffrey’s strategic-management class.

After another welcome (but short) nap, I headed out, south to Oxford Street and into the Christmas-shopping crowds. After several blocks and few detours into stores, I headed north on mercifully empty side streets, through Marylebone. I arrived at my dinner venue on Dorset Street early, and found a pint of Young’s ale at a nearby pub.

At seven I met Professor Rajesh Chandy of the London Business School. I first met him almost two years earlier when he was still at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School. He’s a bright and fascinating fellow, not least in his canny choice of a dining spot, the Original Tagines, a Moroccan café. The meal was outstanding –spicy herisa, a chili paste to spread on pita, then starters of grilled lamb sausages and cold broad beans. I had couscous royale for the main course, and a bottle of beer from Casablanca. It was as good an ethnic meal as I’ve had in a long time.

Better still was the conversation. After getting caught up on general things, we spent most of the time discussing microfinance and development in poor countries. Rajesh holds the Tony and Maureen Wheeler Chair for Entrepreneurship at LBS. The Wheelers founded the Lonely Planet publishing empire (70% of which was recently sold to the BBC), and have long had an interest in boosting Third World living standards. Rajesh told me about some recent exciting initiatives – banking by mobile phone in Kenya was just one of them. We chatted about the remarkable resurgence in Rwanda, and more. It was a delightful evening, a good chance to think.

I said goodbye to Rajesh, ambled north to the Tube and east two stations, then south on Gower Street. A block from my hotel, I provided directions to the fourth set of tourists that day – imagine a Texan confidently offering geographical guidance in London!

The next day, I hopped on the Tube out to American’s regional offices in Hounslow, and delivered a couple of workshops on clear writing. In between, I said hello and goodbye to some longtime friends. By 4:30 I was on an exercise bike in the Gold’s Gym that was in the same building as my hotel. It felt really good to pound out eight miles – it had been 11 days since I got heart and lungs pumping, way too long for this aerobics fan.

I cooled down and headed out for a pint. I did some research online, locating what sounded like a nice pub, the White Bear, not far from the hotel. It was bleak and empty, so I hopped on the Tube and headed back to the Old Pack Horse, a few miles east in Chiswick and not far from the Fuller’s brewery that produces one of my faves, London Pride. As noted above, there was a lot in that trip repeated from the year before, and it was 2008 when I found the cozy and lively Old Pack Horse.

Readers may wonder about my interest in visiting pubs alone, especially in countries like the U.K., Switzerland, and Sweden, where strangers do not talk to each other. Was it lonely? No. Was I desperate or dependent? No. I just like the surroundings, the environment, and the chance to watch locals in a relaxed setting. I sat in corner. It was like watching TV!

Sipping my pint, I looked over the past year, a task made easier by peeking at the quarterly updates now on my iPhone. Whew, it was another cool 12 months. Then I got to thinking about the coming 12: what would happen? A new job, for sure, but where? Earlier in this update, I described an interview trip to Hawai’i, but two more opportunities, both in Dallas/Fort Worth, have surfaced, both good jobs, and both likely to allow me to continue to do some teaching, though probably less than recent years. Stay tuned!

I ambled back to the Tube, rode several stops west, and revisited Desi Flava, a totally local Indian restaurant in the heavily-Asian Hounslow. More déjà-vu: I had been there in 2008, too. It was good to be back, though the place was not as lively as a year earlier. Recalling my total firemouth experience, I ordered dishes listed in the menu with only one chili pepper, not two!

Nicely filled, I walked a mile back to the hotel and totally crashed. Totally. Up at 6:30, back to the gym, out to Heathrow, and the Silver Bird home to Texas. Jack had retrieved my car from airport parking several days earlier, while his was in the shop, so I took public transit home. On the Trinity Railway Express, which connects downtown Dallas and Fort Worth, I was delighted to find free wi-fi (what a great country, I thought). On the connecting DART train north from Dallas to Plano, I spotted a mother, teenage daughter, and younger son wearing Snowball Express name tags. It’s an organization that provides support, and an annual fun trip, to families who have lost a spouse or parent to war. So there I was, face to face again, with people in need. I had a nice chat with them, a family from Athens, Georgia. I told them I worked for American, and was so proud of our sponsorship of Snowball (we provided the wings to and from Dallas). I simply couldn’t think too hard about their loss, or I would have cried.

The last trip of the year was a zip-zip up to Minneapolis, to pick up the watercolor “Country Road” that we bought at the 2009 State Fair. Landed in 10-degree cold at about 5:30 on December 16, picked up a Hertz Focus, and motored north to the Black Forest Inn, one of my favorite places for 38 years. I sat at the bar, a few feet from Santa Claus and some friends, and ordered a Winter Ale from the Rush River Brewing Co. in nearby River Falls, Wisconsin. I don’t snoop on others’ conversations, but the buzz in the bar that night was about the terrible flood at Kaplan Brothers, a nearby surplus store and South Minneapolis institution; and about the availability of lutefisk, a Norwegian holiday treat (cod preserved in lye, an acquired taste). Soon, pal-since-1963 Bob Woehrle and new wife Paula arrived and we fell into a long yak. As I have written before, Bob is a great and resilient fellow who has faced plenty of challenge in his adult life. We had a great meal and beer, and drove back to their house in St. Paul. All were plumb wore out.

We were up at 5:30 the next morning, Bob’s customary rising time, and sat in the kitchen yakking for a couple of hours. Bob is good with words, and that morning’s phrase was “we didn’t get scuffed up much,” reference to the relatively calm and comfortable life of most of us baby boomers. At 8:30, I pointed the Focus east toward Woodbury, and at 9:00 met artist Judy Fawcett, creator of “Country Road.” We had a couple of cups of coffee and a good yak. Judy grew up in a family of artists and was originally a dancer. When her husband took an assignment for 3M in Brussels 20+ years ago, she learned watercolor, and has been at it since. It’s always such a treat to meet the artists.

That morning was an artist two-fer, because at 11:30 I was in Golden Valley, an inner suburb of Minneapolis, to meet Kathy Mogelson, an animal portraitist I coincidentally met at the State Fair Art Show (she was a volunteer, and processed the credit-card transaction for Judy’s painting). While visiting back then, she mentioned that she did watercolors of pets. Whoa! I needed one of those, and she prepared a wonderful 11 x 17 work of MacKenzie, perfectly capturing her spirit and energy. What was fun is that Kathy made several “real time” improvements, responding to my requests for darker eyes and a better smile. The artist’s hand and eye never ceases to amaze and delight me.

I visited with Kathy for about an hour, and got her story, too. She also took up watercolor in adulthood. She had been a Northwest Airlines flight attendant for 38 years, and back in 1992 she was injured in a freak mishap on board. During her six-month recuperation she decided to learn to paint, and enrolled in a watercolor class at the Edina Art Center (a wonderful place in the suburb where I grew up). In addition to pet portraits, she paints wild and farm animals, flowers, and more. A lot of talent there, too.

At three I met Ann Hathaway, a pal from Republic Airlines days and daughter of Don Miguel, frequently cited in these updates. We had a beer at a bar near the airport, and got caught up. Headed back to MSP, dropped the car, and flew south to Texas. Conveniently, son-in-law Brett arrived an hour after me, so we motored home together.

Christmas week was swell. Jack drove out and stayed for most of it. I introduced Brett to ramp building on Monday the 21st; the annual Christmas ramp build was at a mobile-home park in Balch Springs, on the far southeast edge of Dallas. After the hammering was done, we headed, as we always do, to Gloria’s Salvadoran restaurant in south Dallas, for beer and a big lunch. John Laine, the founder of both the Dallas Ramp Project and the Texas Ramp Projects, joined us for lunch, and it was great to have him. As I have written before, he is a tireless volunteer; God surely smiles on his works.

Among the fun stuff that week was the annual Christmas Eve party at the home of Jill and Hal Hickey (and two mugs of Mrs. Hickey’s genuine Louisiana gumbo); a minor-league hockey game with the “neighborhood team,” the Allen Americans (pretty good skating talent, and less than five miles from home); and an early birthday dinner for Linda – rather than go on her real day, the 31st, Robin, she, and I had a great dinner on the 29th.

That day was my last at American Airlines. It was a great run, 22 years, 2 months, and 26 days. Those years gave me many, many blessings, which I summarized in my daily prayers: a great mission and the sense of identity it provides; the challenges of a complex business; the joy of belonging, of being on a team; and the material gifts of income, health insurance, and mobility. The “magic carpet” of nearly-free flights continues, however. For a variety of reasons, the departure was unemotional (and, as you know, I’m a softie). It was simply time to move on.

And so, dear friends, I move on, toward a new chapter in worklife. And I move with you into a new decade. We earnestly hope and pray it will be less disruptive than the first ten years of the new millennium, but we live in a changing and often trying world.

1 Comment

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One response to “December Travels: Germany, Switzerland, and More

  1. Thanks for a great blog. It is a great feeling when I can read and feel that I am traveling myself. I guess we have the same points of view of so many places and situations.
    Also, great blog on Berlin, planning to visit this year, so I will take your words with me

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