I was home a little more than 24 hours, then headed out again, Saturday the 28th, west to Chicago, then turning east to Manchester, England, and my last teaching trip of the spring semester. The day was the centenary of the start of World War I, and on the first leg I read several good articles in The New York Times that looked back a century. There was analysis of events, of impact on today, of what it all meant. But to this warrior’s son, it comes down to the people asked to fight. The following says it all:
The headstones [of a small American military cemetery adjacent to a huge British one] tell the stories of first- and second-generation Americans, their names redolent of the Europe their parents left to make a better life, who returned here to die. Like Giuseppe Spano, a private from Pennsylvania, and Angelo Mazzarella, a private from West Virginia, and Emil P. Wiser, a private from Montana, and Ole Olson, a private from Wisconsin, and John Dziurzynski, a private first class from Ohio.
At 34,000 feet, I thought of a great-uncle I never met, Uncle Maurice, who was killed in France just a month before the war ended in November 1918. Then I prayed for peace.
I had a bit of time at O’Hare to bring this journal up to date, work some emails, and watch a little of the Colombia-Uruguay World Cup match. At 5:45, I climbed aboard the Silver Bird to Manchester. Watched a movie, slept four hours, woke up pumped for touring. Chatted with an old lady across the aisle, who lived in a village in the Yorkshire Dales. She and her son were amazed I was headed to Bradford as a tourist. And indeed that was my destination that Sunday morning, a once-booming textile town now working to redefine itself. Twenty minutes after landing, a short conversation in the lift (elevator) with two locals, who subsequently asked “why are you here?” “Too much time spent in London and the Southeast,” I replied, and they nodded. Indeed, as someone from the Midwest, in many ways the U.S. equivalent of the North, I really like the idea of getting away from the alleged center.
Hopped on the 8:44 train into central Manchester, then onto one east to Leeds, and a third short ride to Bradford. The train cut through tunnels in the hills called the Pennines, a pleasant ride. Was in my (free) room at the Holiday Inn Express by 10:45, shower, and out the door before noon. Ambled around the city center, past a splendid town hall, and over to the Wool Exchange, where traders bought and sold fleece for decades; it’s now a Waterstone’s bookshop and café. You could tell from the downtown landscape and some people you saw on the street that Bradford was a bit hollowed out. As they did in the U.S., the textile jobs went offshore starting in the 1970s.
I climbed on a bus north to Shipley, then a short train ride up the Aire Valley to Crossflats. Walked a half-mile north to the top of the Five Rise Locks on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. In researching what to see a few weeks earlier, I totally stumbled upon the locks, a feat of late-18th Century engineering, dropping 59 feet in 302 feet. Because traversing them is a bit tricky, the Canal and River Trust, the charity that now manages Britain’s inland waterways, employs full-time lock keepers. I asked one of them about how many boats use the Five Rise in a typical day. “About 10,” he replied, “and there’s one just up the top now.” That was the info I needed, and in three minutes was introducing myself to the captain, David Croston, and asking if I might ride down. Without hesitation he welcomed me on board, then introduced me to his partner Claire and her dog Sam. We bonded quickly, chatting about lives and jobs. He was an expert in livestock production, chiefly sheep, and had a long career in the private and public sector; like me, he chose early retirement, though later than your scribe.
He and Claire, who have lived in the same Northamptonshire village for years, each lost their spouses, and were happy to be together. Between exchanges with both, I became friends with Sam, a 14-year-old Springer spaniel. We descended the five quickly – professional handlers help a lot – then three more linked locks that were also staffed. Below those, we were on our own, and my modest experience and strong back helped a lot (the latter was pretty sore the next day!). Three hours after boarding, we moored in Saltaire, a mid-19th Century “new town” built by Sir Titus Salt, a textile magnate and reformer. Said goodbye to David, Claire, and Sam and hopped off. I hadn’t eaten since the flight (glad I had the omelette), so I grabbed a Yorkshire pasty (a pastry filled with ground meat and vegetables, solid basic fare for the equivalent of $1.80) and a soda. Fortified, I set off for an amble around the village. First stop was a lovely Reformed Church that Salt built, modeled on a church he admired on his honeymoon in Italy.
Saltaire was interesting. Sir Titus was determined to improve the lot of the working class by building housing, schools, a church, essentially a whole village adjacent to his canalside woolen mill. Cynics can decry paternal capitalism, but I’m sure that 150 years ago quality of life for the working man was far better in Saltaire than nearly anyplace else. The village is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Got the bus back to Bradford, and to The Sparrow, an agreeable small pub with a bewildering array of beer. Relaxed for 90 minutes with some nice ales, walked back to the hotel, washed my face, and set out for dinner. I had read about Karachi, a no-frills canteen that opened in the 1960s to cater to Pakistanis who had come to work in the textile mills (the city still has a huge Asian population). Perhaps it was my white face, but the staff was possibly the most sullen service workers I’ve encountered in a long time. Ate a small plate of chicken vindaloo (just okay) and three chapatis, paid the bill, and departed. A bad vibe, for sure. I was still hungry, so walked a couple of blocks to another Indian-Pakistani place I found online, the Kashmir. Staff was marginally, only barely, nicer there, but the food was better: a spicy vegetable stew, some pappadams, and I was full. Walked back to the hotel, and barely had enough energy to brush my teeth.
Slept hard, up at 5:30, breakfast, and on the 6:55 train to London. Arrived at 10:10, hopped on the London Overground train out to Kensal Green, then a few blocks on foot to Scott and Caroline Sage’s house, my new digs in London (I am so fortunate to have friends there). They had just returned from the U.S. Had a quick yak and headed back into town, reconnecting at lunch with a former UK-based American Airlines colleague, Iain Burns. It had been nearly 20 years, and we had fun recalling all that had happened in two decades. A lot. Iain subsequently worked for BA and Etihad Airways, and is now with a large P.R. firm. A good meal, too.
I had a few hours before meeting the next friends, so hopped the Tube one stop to The British Library; it had been more than three years since the last visit. They’ve got free wi-fi, so I did a bit of work, then took a good look at a temporary exhibit, “Enduring War: Grief, Grit, and Humor,” one of many planned activities to mark the centenary of World War I. Lots of interesting stuff from the library collection; one touching example: a last letter written home before a soldier was killed in action in the Somme – he was quite certain he would die the next day, and wanted to send a goodbye. And, indeed, he was killed. In an adjacent gallery (and I was amazed I had never seen it) were a large set of photosensitive documents entitled “Treasures from the British Library.” Whew, what a set; just in music alone, they exhibited Paul McCartney’s penciled lyrics to “Yesterday”; the score of Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance.” The stuff was mainly, but not exclusively, British, for example, pages from several of Da Vinci’s notebooks. Way cool.
At five, I walked a couple of blocks to St. Pancras Station and met my pals Martin and Tara Cunnison (you may remember we worked together at a start-up company several years earlier). We hopped in a cab – something I never do in London, because of traffic – and motored south and west to Frith Street in Soho and Barrafina, an outstanding tapas bar. At 5:30, the place was already packed, but Martin said it would be worth the 45-minute wait, and it was. Absolutely outstanding small plates, varied and flavorful. We sat on stools at a counter and tucked into fried squid, tomato salad, and lots more. Best of show was a piquant morcilla, like blood sausage only better. And along the way we had a great conversation. Was totally fun. Said goodbye, hopped the Tube back to Kensal Green and was asleep by 9:45.
Slept hard again (no time zone woes), up and out the door with Scott. Set myself up with free wi-fi at and coffee in central London and worked the morning. I then headed to Imperial College London, my lecture venue. Almost every year when I visit they have an exhibition set up in the large business-school reception area highlighting student work in science, engineering, medicine, or entrepreneurship. That day there were student projects in “innovation design engineering,” like Anna Wojdecka’s Lumo, an innovation to enable blind people to read shapes, graphs, diagrams, and colors directly from books, and to draw in color, all as a means to encourage more blind people to enter design, engineering, and other professions where visual ability is required. Way cool. Imperial is a brain-power place.
At one, I met my familiar (three schools in six weeks) host Omar Merlo, had a quick lunch, and presented an advertising talk to out 30 MBA students – a highly varied group. We had two hours, which is a great luxury, and enables lots of interaction. They clapped loudly, I bowed, hugged Omar, and thus ended the spring semester, a bit into summer. The end of term always feels a bit empty, and it did that first day of July. I needed a grounding experience, so I hopped the Tube one station west to Earl’s Court and one of my favorite London pubs, The Blackbird. A glass of London Pride ale was perfect.
Back at the Sages’ house I changed clothes, chilled a bit, and at seven ambled north to Chamberlayne Road and a pub of the same name, met Scott (Caroline was busy) and tucked into a chicken pie, mashed potatoes, and greens – English comfort food – and a couple of pints. Scott is a hugely interesting young man, and we had a great yak about business. Walked home, helped assemble a new living-room table, and clocked out.
It was a short night, up at 4:30 and out the door, Tube to Paddington Station, Heathrow Express to the airport, and a short flight to Düsseldorf. I had flown there many times, but had never been there, always hopping on the train north to Münster or somewhere else. A day visit to the capital of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most-populous state, was in order, and a good way to (as I did a month earlier) not pay the confiscatory UK air departure tax, which as noted was more than $250 for flights to the U.S. We landed in bright sunshine and cool temps, a perfect day for touring. Bought a day ticket on the VRR, the public transit authority that operates an almost-bewilderingly huge network (so vast it’s hard to figure out what “day ticket” to buy from the platform ticket machines!), and zipped into town.
As I am doing more and more, I booked a room through Airbnb. Katrin, my host, was busy at work – she had just become a physician – so she left the key at a little shop owned by Poles about 50 feet from her apartment building on Merowingstrasse. The friendly Polish owner handed me the yellow envelope, and he smiled broadly when I thanked him in his language. A simple dziękuję can go a long way. Walked back to #45, in the door, up two flights to a sunny and spotlessly clean apartment. Unpacked a bit, had a quick cup of coffee and out the door to explore Düsseldorf.
First stop, the Landtag, or state parliament. I had hoped to be able to get a tour (even in German) and see the legislative chambers, but I needed a reservation. Before leaving, I paused in front of the building and thought about how well Germany as a nation and its individual states have built rule of law since the painful reset button was pressed in May 1945. The Landtag was close to the river, and the city has nicely redeveloped the former harbor (river shipping is still important, but they’ve moved the facility away from the center), with lots of cool buildings along the water, many of which have corners and “bows” suggesting a ship.
I hopped on a tram back to the main railway station, the hauptbahnhof, had a fish sandwich and a drink, and jumped on the U-Bahn east a short way to the new campus of WHU, a business school I’ve visited many times since 2000, but always at the original campus further south on the Rhine. Said hello to a few people and continued on to Oberkassel, a very pleasant and prosperous neighborhood across the Rhine from downtown. A friend had sent me an article from The New York Times that suggested an amble down three streets with lovely art nouveau houses, and I did that, marveling at their graceful lines and wonderful details. Then back to the house for a quick late-afternoon nap, because I was plumb wore out.
Rested, I zipped out about 5:30 for dinner in the old town, the Altstadt. On the way, I stopped to buy a couple of tubes of Voltaren, wonderful analgesic gel that helps my arthritic knees. Almost nothing is cheaper in Germany, but this was, and a lot, so I bought two tubes. The kindly clerk put them in a cotton bag that was the German flag. I thanked her for the souvenir, and wished Germany well in the World Cup quarterfinals. As in 2006, when the nation hosted the event, there were lots of German flags flying on cars, draped from apartment windows, even worn as capes. National pride is not the same as nationalism, something almost all Germans want to avoid. As you know, I believe pride in place is important, and the flags made me smile.
I had done some research on dinner venues, and ate at the zum Schiffchen, in business since 1628. The place was empty, which was not a good sign. Dinner was just alright. I walked around the corner and found the place where I should have eaten, Uerige, a town brewery and restaurant. That really doesn’t capture the place: it was an entire beer street, with people of all ages and classes sitting on benches, a huge restaurant, music, noise, commotion, life. I took a seat on a terrace bench a bit above the street to give more perspective. Soon a couple of young Germans sat down across from me. I didn’t speak with them initially, but at some point there was an opening for Talking to Strangers, and we carried on for about 45 minutes. They were medical publishers from Heidelberg, in town for a conference. We covered a bit of ancestry (his grandparents were war refugees from Hungary and Romania, German speakers who were no longer welcome in those countries, so were resettled in Germany). We agreed that we didn’t want to go back there again. When I told them that I had traveled in Germany for 42 years and had much respect and admiration for their country he was surprised.
I said goodbye, and as I walked through the throng, a scene of prosperity and contentment, you could not convince me that social democracy is not the best way to organize an advanced nation. Or in my favored shorthand, these folks had no trouble keeping the lights on!
Slept long and hard, out the door and out to the airport for a very pleasant breakfast with Tobias Hundhausen, a young friend I met more than a decade ago at the WHU business school. It had been too many years, and it was great to catch up. He’s a seriously bright guy who gets it, and is already a senior officer at Air Berlin Technik, the maintenance arm of Germany’s second-largest airline. We got caught up, but we ran out of time. He headed to a meeting and I climbed on the Silver Bird to Chicago, then a bit of trouble: the connecting flight home to Washington at 1:25 canceled (after we taxied to the runway), because of bad weather in back East. They rebooked me the next morning, ugh. Other flights canceled, others went out full, but I snagged one of the last chairs on a flight that arrived DCA well after midnight. I was glad when my head hit the pillow.