The weather forecast called for a big snowstorm on the day I was to leave for my first overseas teaching, Thursday, February 13, so I moved the trip forward a day. I was headed for Frankfurt, and American flies there only from DFW; rather than a huge, lengthy backtrack, I rode the bus to Dulles and checked in for a nonstop Lufthansa flight, flying standby. Because paying customers also decided to fly out early, I barely made it onto the flight, a middle seat on a packed 747. I told the Lufthansa duty manager, Mr. Koch, that I had been flying standby for nearly 50 years, and was always happy to take any seat.
On board, 34E turned out to be a good chair. Mary, next to me, was on her way to Israel with a tour group from church. It was her first trip overseas (“I’ve barely been out of Virginia”); she was really excited, and maybe a little apprehensive, so it became my job to help allay any concerns. We chatted for more than two hours, a long and nice T-t-S. In a middle seat next to a squirmy five-year-old meant I didn’t sleep more than an hour, but the flight was very fast. At FRA, I picked up my suitcase and ambled through the huge airport basement to the supermarket I found two months earlier, for a pound of yogurt, then to a bench to eat and work my email. Bought a ticket to Wiesbaden, 18 miles west, and hopped on the S9 suburban train.
Had I known earlier that I’d have a free day (my teaching was not until the evening of the next day), I might have gone further afield, like down to Stuttgart for a tour of the Mercedes factory, but Wiesbaden was also a place I’ve always wanted to see. It’s a mid-size city, and the capital of the state of Hesse. I stuffed my suitcase in a locker at the train station, and set off for a look. First thing I noticed were lots of balconies on the 19th and early 20th Century apartment buildings; it seemed distinctly Wiesbaden – I had not seen them in other German cities. They typically projected from the building façade, and were covered. Some were stone, some made of wood, and a few were wrought iron, reminiscent of New Orleans. Way cool.
The station was a mile south of the historic core, with a couple of splendid old churches, including the brick Marktkirch (Lutheran). It was ten o’clock, and bells pealed, “the sound of Europe,” as I have long observed. An older lady, stooped, with a cane, was walking her small dog, who also seemed aged. She was speaking to him, tenderly, in German. It was one of so many little vignettes that remind me how fortunate I am to live a mobile life, to see so much of humanity arrayed in so many places.
Wiesbaden literally means “baths in the meadow,” and I knew it was a historic spa town, so a visit to a public bath seemed in order. Some quick online research two days earlier pointed toward the Kaiser-Friedrich-Therme, a restored spa built 1910-13 in the Jugendstil. I forgot to pack a swimsuit, so I asked the kindly attendant if I could wear my bike shorts; after a fairly long explanation, she finally said, “there are lots of naked people,” to which I replied, fine, I’m good with that (and have long been).
Inside, the baths were way cool, well, hot actually. First stop was a small soaking pool, water temperature of about 130° F. Then into a large coldwater pool at 50°, bracing. Rinse, repeat, rinse, repeat. Then to a whirlpool with warm but not hot water. The attendant was quite correct: people in what Americans euphemistically call their “birthday suits”; all shapes and sizes, both genders, no one a bit self-conscious, which was really nice. Last stop: a sauna, where at 11:00 an attendant ladled a mint and lemon mixture onto the hot stones, fanning the aromatic steam each time with a towel; after the third the heat was prickly on my back. Showered, got dressed, departed. What a great, and authentically local, activity. I ambled a few blocks east to the original spa, the Kurhaus, for lunch at Käfer’s, an old-school bistro. Pricey, but again authentically Wiesbaden. Tucked into a huge lunch of venison goulash, winter vegetables, and a curious (and filling) pretzel terrine. After a tiny dinner and breakfast, the repast was tonic. And transacted entirely in German.
It was pouring rain when I left the restaurant, and the mile walk back to the station was unpleasant, but part of being a tourist on foot. Grabbed my suitcase, rolled onto the 1:32 train to Höchst and a connecting train “up the hill” to Königstein im Taunus, and my third appearance at the executive MBA program of Deutsche Post DHL. I sprang for a $10 cab ride to the Siegfried Vögele Institute, housed (as I’ve noted before) in a former psychiatric clinic that Dr. Kohnstamm opened in 1905. First step after check-in was a nap, not too long nor too short, but much needed after almost zero sleep on the flight. Did a bit of work, then to the gym for an hour of pedaling.
At seven I met my host Patrick Rath, a wonderful young Ph.D. student at the University of Kassel. Patrick manages the EMBA program. We had a beer in the institute bar, then walked ten minutes to a Spanish restaurant for a leisurely tapas dinner and a great yak. Though I’ve only seen him three times, Patrick has become a good friend. The full stomach and some nice Spanish wine put me into a deep, eight-hour sleep.
Up at seven Friday morning and to breakfast; some of the students had arrived, though most drive to class in the morning. At nine Patrick introduced me to the class, though my job was to deliver a dinner speech, as I did in December. Headed back to the gym, then did a bit of work, then joined the students for lunch.
High point of the day was a visit to the institute’s research lab and an introduction to eye-tracking technology, which Deutsche Post DHL adopted early, as a means to demonstrate the value of direct marketing with paper. Karsten and Laura from the lab explained the process, and let me try out the process, using a PC screen rather than a paper mailing (two infrared cameras beneath the monitor tracked the movement of my corneas and pupils as I surfed a website. Their boss, Christian, showed up toward the end, and we continued the discussion. Fascinating stuff. Patrick and I then hopped in his car and drove a few kilometers east to a scenic overlook with a great view of the Frankfurt skyline in the distance, an old castle and village in the foreground. We stopped for coffee and cake and another good yak.
At seven, it was finally time to stand and deliver, or in this case sit and deliver, a dinner speech to 15 EMBA students nearly done with their degree. It was my customary informal talk on leadership and effective management. Good dialogue, but many of the students were tired from a very full day of classes. After the talk, Patrick and I continued our wide-ranging dialogue, and I especially appreciated his view, as a young German, on the interwar years and the rise of Hitler. He has become a good friend.
Saturday morning, Patrick drove me to the bahnhof and we parted. I hopped on the 8:01 suburban train to Frankfurt, and by my good luck sat down across from a couple about my age, Ulrich and Dagmar. He greeted me by saying in German, then English, “You’re too friendly to be from Königstein,” apparently a dig at the self-centeredness of the affluent population. That launched a 40-minute yak across a variety of topics. Ulrich was an engineer, now a strategy consultant, working mainly in manufacturing production. We talked about the history of the Kohnstamm clinic, and he told me that back then the doctor and others were into more than just psychiatric therapy, inquiring into larger questions about the composition of our mind and soul.
We talked about teaching, formal and informal, and his most memorable line was “Throw away the PowerPoint . . . and just listen to me.” He was justifiably critical of most management consultants; “tell the BCG [Boston Consulting Group] MBAs to go to Slovakia and figure out how to make things . . .” He had spent a lot of time thinking about how to foster teamwork, “to create joy in working together.” They were headed to Dresden, to attend a concert in the Frauenkirche to commemorate the anniversary of the Allied firebombing, 15 February 1945. Whew.
I would have liked to chat with them for hours, but at Frankfurt we parted, and I headed to track 1 for the 9:01 ICE to Paris. I half expected to see Madeline, her fellow students, and several nuns board the train. That did not happen. Instead, Juliette, 8, Alexander, 4, and their mom sat down in the other three seats around the table in car 22. The mom seemed really worried that the kids were going to disturb me, but I kept reassuring her; 15 minutes into the ride, I showed her pictures of Dylan and Carson on my iPhone, explained that we all lived in the same house, and that I rather liked noise. That helped, but she still seemed guarded for the rest of the ride. Alexander was into dinosaurs in a major way; his sister worked on a sticker book, much like Dylan would.
On the platform at Saarbrücken, a little girl in a puffy down jacket ran past our window, arms outstretched; I craned my neck and saw her target: a grandfather just like me. And I smiled to celebrate mobility, the great business of getting people together.
We arrived Paris two minutes early, and I headed to the Metro, where hordes of tourists queued for tickets. Despite the touchscreen machines that offered step-by-step guidance in six languages, each transaction took ages, and I was reminded of critics who claim that tourists often leave their brains at home. I strive to be patient, but was wondering “how hard could it be?” Fortunately, a turf war between ticket touts (there’s a little money to be made on arbitrage; the touts buy 10 tickets for 13€ and sell each at the single-ride price of 1.70) provided some diversion. Finally got my tickets, peeled off to line 4, then line 3, and in no time was in my digs for the night, a room in an Airbnb apartment in a superb central location, 2 blocks from the famous Opera. The host’s son, Stephan, was home and showed me around. The whole place was eclectic, with decorations and doodads from all over the world, but was clean, and the wi-fi was fast. I couldn’t ask for more.
The plan was to get a day pass for Paris’ bike-sharing service, Velíb, but the machine at the closest station did not accept my magnetic-stripe debit card (you may know that Europe has a much more secure “Chip and PIN” card; indeed, the mag-stripe weakness has been in the news in the U.S. lately, after the big Target store e-fraud). I tried another station a block away, then gave up, hopped on the RER suburban train to the Arc de Triomphe, and a long stroll back to the apartment. Down the Champs-Elysees, past the fancy stores, some of which are a more brand showcase, not an actual place to buy stuff. I was again struck by the volumes of tourists, especially Asians; on my last visit, eight hours on a sunny Sunday in April 2010 (passing through, enroute from the U.S. to Strasbourg), I had toured the city on a rented bicycle, and didn’t see the throng that you see on foot.
Did a little window shopping, then grabbed a late lunch at the Marks & Spencer food hall: sandwich, chips, mango-orange juice, and ate it on a park bench adjacent to where Thomas Jefferson lived when he was minister of state to France. I learned that from one of the ubiquitous wall plaques (even street signs identify and describe the person for whom the road is named). As I observed four years earlier, the appeal of Paris is really all the visual markers: the grand gold statues on bridges, the signal upward poke of the Eiffel Tower, and more.
Continuing east, I phoned Linda from Tuilieres Garden, in part for an update on the USA-Russia hockey game that was by my reckoning nearly over. She texted me 20 minutes later (I was back in my room) that the USA won in a shootout. Woo hoo! When I returned, I met my host Antonella, who introduced me to her friend who was about to celebrate her birthday. The two said that it might be a bit noisy in the evening, but I waved my hand and noted I sleep through lots. They invited me to the party.
At five, I met a couple of old American Airlines chums, Jacques Alonso, who led the sales team in France for many years, and Olga Jacob, who worked in her native Belgium until she replaced Jacques when he retired a few years earlier. We got caught up on life and yakked about the business. It’s always fun to reconnect with AA people, more so overseas pals. At 6:30 I peeled off and headed to dinner at a place I had not visited in almost two decades (in the mid-1990s, when I worked on AA’s international planning team, I went to Paris a lot), the Ambassade d’Auvergne, with rustic cooking from the Auvergne, a region in central France. It says a lot that a place is unchanged; indeed, it opened in 1967. I tucked into a huge meal, vegetable soup, then duck breast served with aligot, a specialty of the Auvergne, mashed potatoes with garlic and white cheese. Dessert was a trio of custards each infused with floral essence. Yum!
When I returned, the party was on, fairly sedate, everyone gathered in a large conversational circle. An hour later, the music started, and laughing. It was a bit noisy, but it was the sound of happiness and fun, and I decided I could live with that – or sleep with that.
I almost never oversleep, but that Sunday I awoke at 8:05. Yow, late! Showered, packed, and had an idea: went on the Internet and bought a Velíb day ticket. Voilá! Walked a block to the station, poked a few buttons, and in no time was “woo-hooing” as I rode south on Avenue de l’Opéra. Stopped for light breakfast fixings at a mini-market, crossed the Seine, and parked at a station a block from my destination, the Musee d’Orsay, the art museum that opened in the mid-1980s in a former railway station. I’m not sure I’ve ever had as great a museum visit as that day, simply colossal. The collection is vast, and the supply of works by famed French impressionists seems limitless. But they also showcased less known artists like Rosa Bonheur (1822-1899). There were wonderful themed rooms, such as “Decorative Arts of the Second Empire.” And excellent interpretive panels (in English) throughout; as a former museum guy (the Science Museum of Minnesota, 1979-83), I deeply appreciate clear text explanation.
Some of the rooms showcased the donations of a family, such as Max and Rosy Kaganovitch, and a theoretical physicist, Philippe Mayer (1925-2007); he was a huge donor, and a patriot, interrupting his studies at Harvard to join the Free French Forces, becoming part of the army that landed in Provence and helped liberate his homeland. In addition to admiring a lot of art, I learned quite a bit, for example the idea that much of Gauguin’s work was planar, lacking in perspective. It was a way cool three hours.
I grabbed another bike (rides less than 30 minutes are free, so you’re always thinking about where to park and re-start the clock), and rode around the Left Bank, past the faculty of medicine, then east on Blvd. St. Germain, a little scary. Paused for lunch on another street bench, then more Left Bank exploration (including a cruise past SciencesPo, one of France’s premier schools) before crossing the Seine and heading back home. It was the most transport utility, and the most fun, you can get for $2.33!
I dropped the key, picked up my suitcase and headed by Metro to Gare du Nord and the 3:46 TGV, fast, 125 miles north to Lille, almost on the Belgian border. At Lille I hopped on the Metro and rode six miles north to the suburb of Croix, then walked a mile to my second visit to EDHEC Business School. Conveniently, they have a simple hotel right on campus. I washed my face, unpacked a bit, and headed back into the city. Most restaurants are closed on Sunday, but by searching online I found a handful, and headed to l’Estaminet, a traditional brasserie in a very fancy hotel. Had a big bottle of brown beer from Maredsous, a Benedictine abbey 100 miles east in Belgium, a creamy seafood bisque, and a traditional French Flemish dish called Potjevleesch, a terrine of pork, rabbit, and chicken, served cold with crispy frites and onions. Really good, and unusual. Rode home, clocked out. What a day!
Monday morning I brought this journal up to date in the EDHEC library, a much more agreeable space than the hotel room, which was comfortable but solitary (and utterly void of color – only black, white, and gray). At one, I met my host Joëlle Vanhamme, who I’ve known for about a decade, from when she taught at Erasmus University in Rotterdam. We ate a quick lunch and at two it was show time. Delivered a three-hour lecture to Master’s of Marketing students, half French and half international. Said goodbye at five, headed back to the room, did a bit of work, and went “downtown” for dinner, to Brasserie la Paix, an old-school eatery specializing in seafood. The three-course menu was great value for 22€ (about $30), and all from the sea: six Creuses oysters from Normandy to start, then another French Flemish specialty, waterzooi aux poisons, three varieties of fish, turnips, carrots, and other vegetables in a smooth velouté sauce. For dessert, tarte au fromage blanc, literally a white-cheese tart, but the filling was sweet, light, and airy. It was a fine meal. Headed back to the hotel, read, and clocked out.
Up early, out the door, into town again, to the TGV train station, Gare Lille Europe, and onto the 8:36 Eurostar to London, zoom, then under the English Channel, then zoom again, and in London before nine (with an hour gain – it’s not that fast). Walked across Euston Road from St. Pancras Station to my favorite foreign exchange office in all the world. And I’ve seen a lot. This place is before old-school: the rates are posted outside in chalk. Inside, an older fellow sits behind glass and logs the transactions on a paper ledger. And he gives the best rates in town. Then onto the Tube two stops to Holborn and south to my 15th visit to the London School of Economics.
My host for ten years, Sir Geoffrey Owen, retired last year, and luckily I found a new host, Om Narasimhan, who I knew from the Carlson School at the University of Minnesota. Met Om at 10:45, we chatted a bit, then walked a block to another older building that the fast-growing LSE acquired and renovated, adjacent to a large park, Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Delivered a lecture to a very diverse group of students. By pure coincidence, I found out a day earlier that Sir Geoffrey would be at the LSE for an interview, so he, another prof from the past David De Meza, and I had lunch and a good yak. We covered a lot of subjects mostly related to Britain, including possible Scottish independence (the referendum is later in 2014), Margaret Thatcher’s biography (that I read recently), the UK and the EU, and more. Good exercise for the mind.
Geoffrey and David departed, and I did a bit of work, then zipped across town for a quick meeting with my friends at Stratajet, a start-up company, then out to my digs. My young friends Caroline and Scott Sage kindly invited me back to their home in northwest London, and I was glad to accept. Changed clothes and did a bit of work. Scott was home from work by 5:30, but we worked a bit longer before repairing to the nearby gastropub, The Parlour, for a couple of pints, a big dinner (huge meat pie, wonderful), and a great yak across a lot of subjects. Caroline was out with a friend, and returned just before I clocked out. A long day.
Up at 6:30 Wednesday morning, bowl of Caroline’s homemade granola, and out the door. First stop was coffee with another former AA colleague, Matthew Hall, now the #2 person at London City Airport, the close-in field. We had a fast but deep yak; he has a keen mind, and we covered a bunch of industry topics in short order. He peeled off and I headed to try to find granddaughter Carson an Olaf costume (from the animated movie Frozen), but the Disney store on Oxford Street was sold out of her size. Drat! Headed to a Starbucks to work for an hour or so, then walked south.
It was time for the sixth annual lunch with my friend David Holmes, a career transport man, with the UK Ministry of Transport for 32 years, then British Airways – where I met him – for 8 years. David is another excellent window on Britain, and our 2.5 hour lunch in the posh Royal Automobile Club dining room, covered a wide range of topics. High points were his personal experiences with Mrs. Thatcher (I knew he was senior, but didn’t know he was so senior that he was in many meetings with her during her government), a vigorous discussion of the disappointments of U.S. and U.K. foreign policy – we agreed that if we were in charge, the world would be better! In between were a quite sumptuous lunch and some red wine. Lunch with David has become a splendid tradition that I look forward to each year. After that fun, what I wanted was a nap, but there was one more teaching gig on the trip, my tenth visit to London Business School. I headed to the school early, sat in the reception area, did some work, and brought this journal current.
At 6:30, I met my host, Amanda Madureira, from the Marketing Club at LBS. It had been almost a decade since the club function was in the evening, and turnout was about 20, smaller than the usual lunchtime gigs, but the group was friendly and engaged. I introduced myself to about half the audience before we started, students from Hong Kong, India, Russia (“I don’t like Putin’s games” was, I recall, the second sentence from her, a reference to the Olympics underway in Sochi), France. I spoke for an hour, answered questions for 20 minutes, then we repaired to a function room for drinks, snacks, and more chatter. There were a couple of aspiring airline geeks in the room, and we continued the dialogue. At 9:20 I peeled off, and as I walked back to the Tube I again marveled at my good fortune, of being able to see and speak with the future of global business. Indeed a privilege.
Scott and Caroline were not yet home, but arrived a few minutes later, for a brief chat, then another hard sleep. Up at 6:30, worked a bit, yakked with Scott, said goodbye, and headed to Heathrow for a flight to New York and on to Washington. I had Henry and MacKenzie on leashes by 6 p.m.