Effective advertising for a store that translates as The King of the Bells; in a bike-happy town, Münster, Germany, you need a store like that!
Two days after Thanksgiving, as I have done for quite a few years, I headed to Europe for the last teaching of the year: 6 schools, 12 lectures, 10 days. Busy, but not frantic, with time to see some long friends. The JFK-London flight was way fast, affording only a little nap, then onto the Heathrow Express, which that morning was not. They were working on the tracks overnight, and our train got stuck halfway into town. It took about an hour to do what’s normally less than 20 minutes, and I was sort of in a hurry, headed to Scott and Caroline Sage’s house to see their newborn daughter Eva Rose, and deliver a lovely pink blanket that Linda knitted.
Winter sky, enroute to JFK, day 1
Changing trains on the Bakerloo Line at Queen’s Park was a rare occurrence, something like the opposite of a happy Talking to Strangers moment: a young fellow, drunk, high on dope, or both, began speaking to me rather obscenely, making lewd suggestions. I wanted to pop him, but did not. Woulda been nice to be younger and 50 pounds heavier. What a jerk.
I was holding Eva Rose by about 8:15 (and reminded of how small two-month-old babies are) and catching up with my longtime mentee Scott (Caroline was sleeping). We had a good yak about parenthood, business, Texas, stuff. Headed out about 10:15, onto a red double-decker, then the Central Line to St. Paul’s. Again hewing to tradition I rolled my suitcase into Wren’s awesome cathedral for the 11:30 Sung Eucharist service. The virgers and wandsmen were so welcoming: “Where are you in from?” one asked (I’ve always liked that syntax: two prepositions at the end!). Fellow worshipers were also friendly. Hymns and the homily inspired me, a great start to Advent. And, as always, I rejoiced as the organ notes soared upward, to the top of Wren’s magnificent dome.
Scott Sage and Eva Rose Sage
Inspired, I rode the Tube to King’s Cross railway station, ate a sandwich on a station bench, and ambled onto the local train to Cambridge, for my 19th visit to that wonderful university town. A couple miles south of the station, I spotted a sculpted silver helix, a DNA model that marked a place where brainpower has ruled for more than 800 years. Hopped the bus into town (when the railway arrived in the 19th Century, the town fathers refused a station in the center), and walked to Sidney Sussex College, my Cambridge digs, where they kindly upgraded me to the Senior Guest Room, a big suite. Grabbed a short nap, and at 5:30 met a new scholar, Sidney’s geography fellow, David Beckingham; contacted less than two days earlier, David and I yakked about his research on the geography of alcohol and alcohol abuse, and a little about my former career as an academic geographer.
The chat was short, because at 5:55 I took a seat in the packed Sidney chapel for the Advent carol service, second worship of the day. Some carols were familiar, some melodies different, for example, “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.” At seven, I had to quietly sneak out; absolutely hate to behave that way, but I was due across town at 7:15, to meet my long friend John Crabtree, who had driven across the country just to hear my lecture the next day. To say I was deeply honored would be a huge understatement. Accompanying John at dinner at the (rather mediocre) Hotel du Vin was Jonathan Trevor, a Judge Business School lecturer in HR management and a quite interesting fellow (John had engaged him in some consulting projects). We had a good yak. But when the server asked “Would you fancy dessert?”, I replied that I would prefer a pillow. Plumb wore out, so the nine-hour sleep was most welcome.
I was sorry that I missed dinner at Sidney’s high table the night before, but it was good to be in the magnificent dining hall for breakfast Monday morning. Cromwell, who briefly studied at Sidney, was scowling at me from a framed portrait a few feet away, and I again reflected on how very fortunate I was to be in that college and at that university. Of all the schools I visit overseas, it’s my favorite.
At 9:30, I met my Judge marketing host Vincent Mak, and we walked a few blocks north and west to Magdalene (pronounced “maudlin”) College. Dr. Allegre Hadida, a Magdalene fellow and Judge lecturer, welcomed us. At ten, it was time to stand and deliver to 40 M.Phil. students. John Crabtree was there, and our mutual and good friend Andrew Manning Cox (regular readers will recall that we three have had some splendid outings on their canal boat in the Midlands) joined shortly thereafter. I had the gift of time, two hours to present an overview of airline marketing to a bright and engaged audience. At noon, we processed upstairs for a buffet lunch with 13 of the students and more conversation. Most were from overseas (only 9 of the 44 in the course were from Britain), including Korea, China, Germany, Turkey, Cyprus, and Singapore.
Allegre and Vincent walked me back to college, by way of the back of Magdalene, which abuts the River Cam. Took a short nap, worked a bit. It was dark by 4:15, and I was reminded of lyrics from “The Sidney Carol” from chapel the previous evening: “Each year it comes ‘round again/The aching chill/The ashen sky/The sunset bleeding through the fen/The freezing of our warm good will . . .”
At five, with 90 minutes of solid work completed, on the recommendation of David Beckingham I headed to a new pub near college, the curiously-named Champion of the Thames, a cozy and friendly little place on King Street. (The name began with a rower who won a sculling race in London before moving to Cambridge in 1860; he insisted that all mail be addressed to “The Champion of the River Thames, King Street, Cambridge”; when the house became a pub, the name stuck.)
A few minutes later, Rosie arrived, and I walked over to say hello. Her master was somewhat surprised at a stranger greeting his dog, but Rosie, a Bedlington-Whippet mix, liked it when I stroked her chin and neck. I returned to my stool, past the bearded fellow facing the fire, who seemed made of stone. I smelled my hand, the light fragrance of hound, to me a lovely smell. Five minutes later, the publican set a metal water dish at the end of the bar, just below my feet. Rosie ambled over for more hugs.
I headed back to college to work a bit more, then toward dinner with Andrew. By long tradition, stopped into The Eagle pub on Bene’t Street, a place mentioned many times in these pages. At the bar I spotted a tap labeled Eagle DNA – their own brew, commemorating Watson and Crick, the Cambridge geniuses that first discovered the structure of the building blocks of life. Naturally, I ordered a pint, and sat down. Next to my table, a sign trumpeted 60 years of DNA research at and near the university, noting, among other things, that the entire sequence of the BRCA2 gene (grimly, the gene that causes early-onset breast cancer) had been laid along a cycle path. Curious, I connected to the pub’s free wi-fi, Googled, and learned that the six-foot metal sculpture of the DNA helix I spotted by the railway tracks two days earlier anchors the BRCA sequence on the bikeway. Next visit, I gotta get a bike and see it. It was another reminder of the brainpower that courses through the town.
A special brew at The Eagle
At eight, I met Andrew for a long, enjoyable dinner, ranging, as always, across a lot of topics. As the name suggests, the Cambridge Chop House was a meat place. Andrew tucked into an enormous steak, and I opted for pheasant, the first time I had eaten that bird in decades, and it was really delicious, roast nicely, moist, served with venison and mushroom stuffing, squash, and cabbage. Yum!
Slept hard again, up before seven, down to the dining hall for the heart-attack English breakfast, then over to the business school for a quick meeting with the (relatively) new director. From there to the train station, short ride to Stansted Airport and a flight across to Dortmund, Germany. Flying Ryanair is annoying, but it’s cheap, and mostly reliable – we arrived only 15 minutes late. I grabbed my checked bag and walked (via a small wrong-way detour) to the train station in the nearby town of Holzwickede.
The station was really just a platform, small shelter, and a ticket machine, and the latter refused to accept any of my debit or credit cards. So I hopped on the train, girded for a fight in “Gerglish” with the conductor. But none appeared. Arrived Münster at 5:22, just in time for a 6 PM lecture. It was my 14th visit there since 2003, but the street layout still confuses a Midwest guy accustomed to right angles and a grid. Smartphone map to the rescue, and I arrived in the classroom at 5:45, time to stand and deliver. It was a bit hard to read the student reaction, but the prof told me it was excellent. Hooray, more satisfied customers. My longtime host Manfred Krafft met me after class, and we motored across town to the Gasthaus Altes Leve, one of my favorite places in all the world. They’ve been cooking since 1607, so they know their stuff, and in early December they know their grünkohl, chopped kale cooked with potatoes and in this case served with a couple of tasty sausages. I had not seen Manfred for a couple of years, so it was good to catch up. He’s one of Germany’s brightest marketing profs, and always has lots to talk about.
After dinner, he kindly drove me to my Airbnb digs. For the second year in a row, I was staying with Svenja and her two cats, Findus and Momo. The building owners were expanding her apartment, and she now had a human roommate, Inge, friendly and welcoming. Sadly, Svenja was in the hospital (not serious, Inge assured me). Inge explained that the workmen arrived the next morning at eight, but that was no problem. I was in my pajamas and under an eiderdown (on a brand-new firm bed) by 10:15, plumb wore out.
Out the door the next morning, to a local bakery I recalled from the year before, for a sweet, star-shaped seasonal pastry, an Adventstern, and cup of strong coffee. If you were wondering whether I was going to rip off the Deutsche Bahn for my free 40-mile ride the day before, well of course not, so I walked back to the train station and told my story to a kindly woman in the ticket office. I handed her my credit card for the €16 fare, and she replied “impossible.” I protested, but she insisted that because the ticket machine did not accept my card and I could not find the conductor, the ride was on the DB. Okay, I tried.
Just before noon I walked back across town, along the Aa River that bisects the city, to the university’s Marketing Centrum. It was good to be back with old friends, Oliver Götz, Manfred’s assistant Malina, and a handful of doctoral students. We headed to lunch at an Italian place on the Aasee, a lovely small lake, for some good conversation. Back at the center, I did a bit of work, then headed out to purchase, by long tradition, a small wooden Christmas ornament (made in Germany, natürlich), and get a better look at the town. Back to the apartment, short nap, bit more work.
One of my favorite old signs, for the Stuhlmacher tavern on Prinzipalmarkt
Frieze of night watchman, Lamberti Church
Like the previous year, a young doctoral student, Christine Arden, picked me up (her sister, a graduate student in art history was along), and we walked a few blocks to an interesting venue, a small cooking school, akin to the “pop-up” restaurants that are becoming popular in the U.S. Soon nine marketing master’s students joined us for the annual fireside chat, the kaminabend, whence I present “ten pieces of advice for graduating students,” and informally discuss career and life matters. The group was friendly, but a bit less engaged than in previous years. Still, it was an interesting evening. The Münster visit was a bit too short, but it’s always good to be there.
Students at the Kaminabend
Up early the next day, out the door, onto a bus, short ride to the train station, local train south to Hamm, then an ICE (express) east and south. Fifteen miles from my destination, Kassel, I looked up from reading the Times on my iPhone. The land had become hilly. Green ridges were flecked with snow. Plastic-wrapped hay bales looked like giant snowballs. And I thought, as I often do, how blessed I am to have the gift of mobility.
Old and new on the UniKassel campus; the university is only 43 years old
At noon, I met my University of Kassel host and now good friend Patrick Rath, a doctoral student and manager of an EMBA program for Deutsche Post DHL. We hopped on a tram and rode to his office, worked a bit, then met one of his bosses, Prof. Wagner, for lunch and good chat. Next stop was Patrick’s nearby flat, to meet his partner Elli and three-year-old daughter Lotta. The tot was a little sick, but I managed to get her to smile. We enjoyed a cup of tea and lebkuchen, a traditional Christmas cookie.
Elli, Lotta, and Patrick
The day was speeding past. I said goodbye, got back on a tram, and rode back toward the suburban train station to my Airbnb digs for the evening, a spotless room in Christoph Suda’s spotless apartment (hospital levels of cleanliness, for sure). Chatted briefly with my host, a grad student in political science who worked two jobs, in the university’s philosophy department and as a refrigerant technician. An ambitious fellow, emblematic of the German work ethic!
At five I headed back out, onto the streetcar again, and back to the uni. From six to eight I delivered a talk on leadership to a dozen business students, a nice group. They invited me to dinner, which was a nice surprise. First stop was a cup of traditional hot glühwein at a very nice Christmas market in the main square, then off to Lohmann, Kassel’s oldest kneipe, or pub. Eight of us had a wonderful time. The bar is famous for schnitzels, but I enjoyed one at lunch, so opted for herring and fried potatoes, another variant of German comfort food. We yakked around the table, but I spent a lot of time chatting with Thomas, a bright youngster (he asked some great questions in the session). Among other things, he told me about his walkabout the previous year to Australia, where he picked bananas in Queensland for six weeks for A$18 an hour (“I had to watch out for snakes and spiders”), and New Zealand, where he hitchhiked all over. He was amazed to learn that when I was his age, I also thumbed my way around NZ. It was a great evening, and I got home way past my bedtime.
Friday morning, Christoph’s girlfriend Katja had not yet left for work, and we had a nice chat over coffee. As I have written, Airbnb is awesome for the interaction with hosts, and Katja was typical. She grew up in East Germany, born one year before the Wall came down – it was fun to offer her my perspective on the Cold War, the GDR, their evil secret police, the Stasi. I said goodbye, and Katja twice said, “thanks for your business,” (and later wrote it in an email).
My Airbnb digs in Kassel; ordinary but that’s the point: Airbnb makes you feel local.
Paper plant and piles of recycled material, Fulda
Walked a few blocks to the station, met Patrick, and jumped on the ICE to Frankfurt. I was hungry, so we had a late breakfast in the dining car, a fancy version of an Egg McMuffin, and a jolt of coffee. At Frankfurt, we changed to the little suburban train, riding west to Königstein, in the Taunus hills, headed to my fourth visit to the Siegfried Vögele Institute, the continuing-education center of Deutsche Post DHL. The building, as I have noted before, was for a few decades a psychiatric clinic, opened by Dr. Kohnstamm in 1905 and closed by the Nazis.
We walked to the institute, checked in, and ate lunch with ten students in the new EMBA class. I worked most of the afternoon, catching up, and managed both a 20-mile ride on a fitness bike and a tonic nap. At seven we ate Christmas goose, dumplings, and red cabbage; by formula, I then delivered an informal “dinner speech,” answered a lot of questions, and chatted informally. It was another nice evening.
Up early Saturday, quick breakfast and a taxi back to the station (I should have walked), back to Frankfurt, and onto the ICE, in a big first class seat, to Berlin. Did a bit of work, looked out the window, listened to the St. Olaf College Choir sing Christmas carols, all good. By formula and now six-year tradition, met Michael Beckmann and his son Niklas, now almost six, on Track 11 at Berlin’s Hauptbahnhof at 1:40. I needed a wi-fi hotspot, so we walked to Starbucks in the station, zipped some files to the USA, and grabbed a coffee.
After a short detour to an art gallery (to buy another little-angel Christmas ornament, oops, forgot Linda said to get one for each granddaughter), we jumped into the afternoon excursion (Michael always lines up something interesting to see), to the Archenhold-Sternwärte, a planetarium in Treptower Park in the southeast part of Berlin. I hadn’t been to such a museum for decades, and this one was small but interesting, with some storied history: in June 1915, Albert Einstein gave a lecture on his theory of relativity. Most impressive was a huge optical telescope built in 1896 with subscriptions from ordinary Berliners. It had a long shaft that looked a bit like an enormous cannon. Herr Archenhold, the namesake, supervised its construction, and it was the longest such device in the world; the Nazis exterminated his wife and daughter, and the plaque next to his portrait said only that he died in Berlin in 1939.
Nazi-era bunker, Berlin
We had a good look around the place, watched a brief planetarium show, and departed. It was already dark, so we headed home to see Susan and daughter Annika, almost three. We had a nice dinner at home, a brief chat, and a good sleep.
Former East German watchtower in Treptower Park
The 1896 Archenhold telescope
A portrait of Friedrich Simon Archenhold (1861-1939) in the planetarium
An Einstein triptych: memorial plaque, kids’ interpretations of the man, and the famous asymmetric clocks
Sunday morning was slow, which was fine by me! We had a leisurely breakfast of homemade bread with nice cheeses, meats, jams, and honey. At 11, Annika, Niklas, Michael, and I hopped into the Mercedes station wagon and motored south to Potsdam, residence of Prussian kings and the Kaiser until 1918. We wandered through a nice, less-commercial Christmas market in the center, had a light lunch and a glühwein, then wandered the huge grounds of the royal palaces. We intended to go inside one, the “new palace,” but the kids were getting cranky, so we walked a bit more, packed up, and drove home.
A tight squeeze; Michael’s parallel-parking skills are second-to-none!
In the Christmas Market, Potsdam
Annika and Niklas with Christmas crepes
Fancy shop window, Potsdam (candleholders were $250 each)
Dutch-style house in the “Holland Quarter,” Potsdam
Detail, commercial house, Potsdam
The New Chambers (1771-75), Sans Souci, Potsdam
Chinese House, Sans Souci, Potsdam, built 1755-64 for Frederick the Great
By tradition, dinner was at Zur Krummen Linde¸ a great restaurant we had visited every time I stayed with the family. They’ve been cooking since 1761. We had a great dinner: well-behaved kids, nice beer, goulash soup, and an entrée of tender boiled veal called tafelspitz (first time for me).
Bedtime at the Beckmanns: Annika with the blanket that Linda Britton knitted
We were up at six on Monday, time to wish Annika a happy third birthday, watch her blow out the candles on her cake (to be eaten later) and open presents. An early party, because Susan, a physician, was headed into Berlin for some continuing education. Handily, her class was a mile from the Hauptbahnhof, so we rode in together. I hopped on the 8:32 ICE, no change of train all the way across the country to Karlsruhe, for my third visit to KIT, the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. Toward the end of the five hour ride, I had a nice T-t-S chat with a seatmate, artistic director of a summer festival in Ettlingen, a town not far from Karlsruhe.
Berlin continues to build; indeed, construction cranes were a common sight all across Germany
We arrived right on time, which was good, because I was due for a tour of the Bundesverfassungsgericht, the German Constitutional Court, in 32 minutes. Waiting for the S1 train, I struck up a nice conversation with Mathias, a university student visiting his girlfriend and headed, the following week, for snowboarding in the Alps.
I have long admired the 1949 Basic Law (as their constitution is called in English), and in previous visits to Karlsruhe the court was closed for renovation. This time I arranged to join a tour. Unhappily, the tram was late, so I arrived at the gate out of breath and five minutes late. The first security guard spoke good English, and after a bit of verifying I was advanced to the building, where a polite guard said, “parking your luggage here in the corner.” There were no metal detectors, no X-ray machines, no frisking, no search.
The Constitutional Court
A nice souvenir: tiny copy of the 1949 German Basic Law
Another guard brought me to the chamber, up three flights of stairs, two at a time. The courtroom was essentially unchanged since the building opened in 1969 (I saw original photos). It was plain and simply furnished. But the best thing was it was open: glass walls on two sides, with a view of the pale-yellow Baden palace (1715) on one side and the city art museum on the other. Above the eight brown leather chairs for the justices was an enormous adler, the German eagle. It resembled a modern university lecture hall. The tour was in progress, and I joined a group of 40 law students from Munich, who were asking lots of questions.
After they finished and we walked downstairs to a small museum, I introduced myself to one of the tour leaders, and we had a nice T-t-S, me explaining my high regard for their constitution. We talked a bit about history, touching on their first constitution, written in the Weimar era; he noted that it contained “some holes” that enabled Hitler to take control of the government.
Walking back to the tram stop and on the train to the hotel, I mused about the openness of the court – no U.S.-style security paranoia, glass walls, and more. Regular readers know that I greatly admire Germany and the society they built from the ruins of two world wars. They may well have “outfreedomed” the United States. Consider this from an article in The New York Times in November: the chancellor, Mrs. Merkel, eats at a neighborhood Italian restaurant in Berlin, no black limo in front, no enormous security detail. Symbolic, perhaps, but I believe in symbols like that. More fundamentally, their Basic Law institutionalized social democracy, guaranteeing individuals the right to things like health care that we Americans still don’t have. There’s a lot to admire.
My home for the next two nights was a very agreeable Gasthaus zum Ochsen, in nearby Durlach. The inn’s restaurant was closed Mondays, but the kindly owner welcomed me, apologizing for the climb up two steep flights to the top floor of a house built in 1746. The room was huge and very comfortable.
Window, Gasthaus zum Ochsen
The trip was going way smoothly, so I was due for a self-inflicted bump, and there it was: I left my laptop power supply and European adapter on the train. Aieeeeeeeeee! But, as I have written many times in these pages, failure is about recovery, so after a bit of bad language I set off for the center of Durlach to find a new power adapter so I could keep my iPhone charged (the laptop battery icon indicated 70 minutes of charge, so the challenge would be to meter usage during the next four days). Although it was already dark, I could tell Durlach was an interesting, old place, with lots of curved streets, half-timbered houses, and more. After a few polite inquiries in English and German, I found an adapter at a lamp store, and was back in business, at least partially, practicing my finger typing on the iPhone.
Town hall gable and church spire, Durlach
Lutheran church and town hall, Durlach
Bakery window, Durlach
On my first Karlsruhe visit two years earlier, I found a great brewpub called Der Vogel (the bird), and they had several locations, include Durlach, so I ambled back across town (I was getting to know the place well!), and sat down at the bar. The bartender spoke no English, but by this point my simple German was understood, so was able to ask for a Christmas beer, then a nice plate of veal kidneys, dumplings, and salad, all auf Deutsch. The place had wi-fi, so I caught up on email read the scores from U.S. football, and more.
Tuesday morning, it was time to stand and deliver, so I hopped on the tram and rode west to KIT. At eight, it was still dark, a reminder of short days in the northern latitudes. Ambling across campus, I noticed a statue of alumnus Karl Benz (1844-1929), generally regarded as inventor of the automobile. It’s a brainpower place, for sure. At 9:15 I met my host Martin Klarmann, then delivered back-to-back lectures. My energy and interactivity surprised quite a few of the students, accustomed to distance and formality (at the start of the first class, I even told the group of undergraduates that they should expect something different).
As we had done twice previously, lunch was with four of Martin’s doctoral and post-doc students, Verena, Sven, Fabian, and Sophie (the two former were new) at a great little Italian-run pizza and pasta joint I had visited two years earlier. I said goodbye, hopped the streetcar back to Durlach, snapped a few pictures, jumped on a consulting call in mid-afternoon. By the time I finished, it was nearly dark. I headed out in the fading light, walking Durlach a bit more. Zipped into a cozy pub, the Kranz Musik- und Bierkneipe. It had a large black portrait of Che Guevara on the back wall, a stylized metal fish above the bar, and mixed American rock and roll on the Internet radio.
Durlach has lots of half-timbered houses
Street scene, Durlach
At 7:15, I met Martin for what turned out to be a caloric, three-hour dinner downstairs in the Zum Ochsen. He’s a great conversationalist and “window” on Germany. With that much time, we covered lots of topics, but most memorable was the story of his wife’s grandmother, born 1922 and still living, in Kassel. Among other tales, her parents were solid Social Democrats, and she was unhappy that they wouldn’t let her join the girls’ side of the Hitler Youth. We agreed that she has seen a lot!
After breakfast Wednesday morning I walked to the Durlach train station and hopped on a regional train for Stuttgart, my first time in Germany’s sixth-largest city and the capital of the state of Baden-Wurttemberg. Just as in the previous five German cities, construction cranes poked above a low-rise skyline, a reminder that in the world’s largest social democracy they don’t seem to have trouble growing their economy and providing a more equitable life for its people.
The area around the Stuttgart railway station is being redeveloped, amid great controversy over destruction of part of the historic building and other issues
Commercial street, Stuttgart
The center was flattened in 1944, and the commercial area was solely new buildings, rather soulless; it reminded me of Birmingham, another bombed city. The old city, Altstadt, has also been destroyed, but rebuilt. Especially notable was the (Lutheran) Stiftskirche, begun in the 10th Century, expanded sequentially in later centuries. It was rebuilt with a modern interior 1953-58, and again 1999-2003, with a new organ in 2004. There were some other interesting old buildings and palaces. I was glad for a two-hour tour on foot.
Neues Schloss (New Palace)
Altes Schloss (Old Palace)
There was lots more to see, but the main event, a tour of the enormous Daimler factory in nearby Sindelfingen, was next, so I hopped on a suburban train and rode 20 minutes southwest to Böblingen. From the train, you could see Stuttgart’s layout, sprawling across hills and ridges, which gave it immense texture. On arrival, I hopped on the free bus headed to the Mercedes Benz customer center. A couple about my age with a dog also boarded; I asked them in German if they were buying the dog a new car, “Ja wohl,” she replied happily.
Mercedes customers; woof, woof!
Daimler factory, Sindelfingen
The tour began at 1:50, about 25 of us from a range of nations. First up was an inspiring short film that included a story I had heard twice on this trip: Karl’s wife, Berta Benz, took his invention and drove from Mannheim to Pforzheim with her kids – the first driver in the world was, in fact, a woman driver! Clearly, she had an excellent head for marketing.
We visited two parts of the vast plant where they build the posh E Series, first to a place where frame and underbody parts are joined. It was industrial ballet, with choreographed robots doing laser welding, gluing, and more. Industrial process has fascinated me since I was a child, and I’m still particularly interested in machine tools – the machines that make the machines. Almost all of them were German, from big companies like Bosch and many smaller ones. No doubt OSHA inspectors would be apoplectic: sparks were flying (one nearly hit me); we crossed moving conveyor belts; supply trucks and carts whizzed past.
Detail from a reproduction of Benz’s first car
Part two was closer to final assembly. Here people did most of the work, with help from machines. Doors were hung, innards added. The sense of precision was palpable: bins of parts with hand-signed quality assurance slips; sensors on the line tracked gaps around the windows and doors, flagging them on a video screen as flaws that needed fine-tuning. The tour leader described just-in-time logistics, including a small fleet of helicopters in case a truck or train was delayed.
This was mass production, so different from the last plant tour, Boeing’s 737 factory in 2009, where there’s sort of an assembly line, but nothing like cranking out a few thousand cars in a day.
My fellow tourists were mostly agreeable, save for a half-dozen seriously annoying Russians, who cut in front of other tour members; strayed behind; texted on their mobiles when the leader expressly prohibited them; and at the end one snapped pictures with his phone. The leader, not to be messed with, busted the offender, and we all waited while she watched him delete every one (and there were many). Deep sigh.
The tour ended a bit early, which allowed me to catch the 3:45 bus back to Böblingen station. The Mercedes restaurant was closed for renovation, so by four I was really hungry. At Böblingen station I grabbed a couple of nicely seeded bread rolls (hooray for German bakeries) to tide me over. At 5:30 I hopped on the ICE to Frankfurt Airport and immediately headed to the dining car for a fourth rolling meal and a final helping of grünkohl. The greens were not as good as eight nights earlier at the Altes Leve in Münster, but that restaurant did not move at 150 mph like the ICE!
After a day off, it was time to get back to work. Flew to Dublin. The immigration officer asked if I had been to Ireland before. “Oh yes,” I said, and he replied “So they’ve told you about the weather?” Outside, it was howling. Fortunately, the hotel shuttle bus arrived quickly, checked in, and clocked out.
Slept really hard, up at 7:20, out the door on foot, 1.5 miles to the campus of Dublin City University, my fourth visit there. Close to school, I had a nice chat with a woman walking her little white dog. Stroked her chin (the dog’s!), and told her owner how much I missed the terriers. Doo Doo Doo, as I say to them.
The university didn’t work me hard enough in 2013, but they did in ’14, four classes, two morning and two afternoon. In between, we enjoyed a very nice group lunch at 1838, the faculty club named for the year the building went up. My original (2007-08) host Naoimh O’Reilly was there, as were her friend Christine O’Meara, a former American Airlines Europe colleague who introduced us back then; Noel, an engineering prof I met a year earlier; Barry, a Ryanair captain and teacher in the school’s aviation management program; Col. Andy, a new faculty member, recently retired after 36 years in the Irish Air Force (didn’t even know they had one!); and Brian and Elizabeth, two managers from Stobart Air, a regional airline that does franchise flying for Aer Lingus and others. Nearly all “flying people,” so there was plenty to talk about over a fine, three-course lunch.
At four, hoarse from a lot of speaking, I walked to a nearby convenience store, bought a chipcard for the Dublin Bus, walked three more blocks, and hopped on the #16 bus back to the hotel. Changed clothes, worked my email, and at 5:45 headed into town for a pint or two and some dinner. First stop was J.W. Sweetman, purveyors of craft beer, right on the River Liffey. Sipped a pint of their homemade pale ale, brought this journal up to date, and marveled again at my great good fortune to have, for all my adult life, the blessing of global mobility. Can’t say thanks too often for that gift.
Next stop was Mulligan’s, which surely must be the quintessential Irish pub, and possibly the liveliest drinking place I have ever visited – and I’ve been in a lot of bars! We first visited a year earlier with my former Aer Lingus chum Maurice Coleman; he was occupied that night, but I managed to have a good yak or two with various fellow tipplers. Mostly, though, it was fun to survey the scene from a vantage in the corner of one of the rooms. Everyone was having a grand time. I would have stayed longer, but was worn out. Grabbed a sandwich from a convenience store and headed back to the Crowne Plaza.
Mulligan’s, take 1
Mulligan’s, take 2
Spent a long time in the hotel dining room Friday morning, another heart-attack breakfast, which in Ireland meant black pudding in addition to eggs, bacon, sausage, potatoes. So good. Hopped on the shuttle bus back to the airport. Had a bit of time, so ambled over to the airport church – of course Catholic Ireland would have a freestanding building on airport grounds, in that case the parish named Our Lady, Queen of Heaven. I had not visited since 2000, and it was a good place for daily prayers, and to admire a nice contemporary sculpture of Jesus’ mom, a few weeks before his birthday celebration.
Our Lady, Queen of Heaven
At ten, I met Maurice for an all-too-short-but-better-than-nothing chat and coffee. We covered a lot of ground in 30 minutes: retiree pensions, children’s careers, the Irish economy, the manifold virtues of Mulligan’s. Said goodbye and joined a long queue for security screening, whence I noticed another electronics snafu: my iPhone appeared to have died. Blank screen, nothing. Good thing I was headed home the next day, but several key pieces of information needed that day were inside the device, including the phone number of my Airbnb host. Aieeeeeeeeee. On the flight to London, I jotted down all the stuff I had added to the phone since I last synced it to my laptop – appointments, contact names, and the like.
Departure board, Terminal 1, Dublin Airport; note the 10:10 flight!
We landed at Stansted at one, literally minutes before a computer glitch caused London airspace to close. Without my GPS maps on the phone, I needed paper, and in the arrivals hall I found a free map of central London. Even for a former geography professor, it felt a bit odd to go back to paper, but I found my Airbnb digs on the map, as well as the lecture venue a mile south. So I had my vectors. Ever thrifty, instead of the train into town I opted for the $5 EasyBus from Stansted, which turned out to be a minibus crammed with seats, captained by a Pole, and largely filled with an extended family from Spain. Happily, it was on time, and at three I was ambling west on Old Street toward my Airbnb digs.
Unhappily, the building directory didn’t list names, and I didn’t know 1) host Jonathan’s flat number, nor 2) his phone number. By this point, my laptop had less than 8% battery, but it booted up long enough for me to find and jot down the number. God bless the smokers outside the pub at the corner of Percival and St. John streets. Explaining my predicament, one whipped out her mobile phone, tapped the number, and handed me the phone. Jonathan answered immediately. I was in! Unpacked a bit, put on a red necktie, and hopped bus #4 south a mile.
The 28th and final school of 2014 was Cass Business School at City University. I hadn’t been there since fall 2008, in fact as I told host Vince Mitchell, it was the day after Barack Obama was elected. From 4:45 to 6:00 I delivered a lecture to an EMBA class, stayed for 30 more minutes to answer questions, and said goodbye. I left the lecture venue, and walked two blocks to the Tube station at St. Paul’s. On the south horizon was Wren’s dome; I smiled, for had come full circle in 12 days, back to a place where the trip began. Rode the Central Line west to the Apple Store on Regent Street; for the second time in just over four years I was a long way from home with a big problem. But the young fellow had the phone working in a minute. I didn’t know about the “hard reset,” but now I do!
Clearly, though, it had been a big crash, because the phone was 80% charged when it stopped, and it then showed 11%. But it was working, and that was excellent. I hung out on the retail floor, charged it to 40%, worked my email, read some articles, and headed to dinner. I was tired, and considered finding a spot nearby, but I needed spice, and that meant Hot Stuff, a favorite Indian place across the river in Lambeth.
The owner, Raj Dawood, remembered me like an old friend. We yakked a bit, Coby the waiter brought a bottle opener for the beers I bought three blocks earlier, and all was well. They fixed me up a special plate (“give me some variety for £10,” I said, “and make sure to earn a profit!”). Raj knows I like it hot, and he delivered a zippy chicken karahi and palak paneer, cheese cooked in a thick spinach and garlic sauce. I ate it all but could not finish the special naan bread. Coby packed up the leftover bread to bring home for his family; “I don’t like to waste food,” he said, and I agreed emphatically. My kind of person.
Still life: dinner at Hot Stuff
At 10:30, it was quiet in the flat. I set out clothes for the flight home, and crashed hard. Up at 6:45, out the door, south on St. John Street, past a restaurant of the same name that I hadn’t visited in years. Missed the turn onto Cowcross Street, passed the massive Smithfield (wholesale) Market, back onto the Tube and Heathrow Express, then the Silver Bird, home. And that was the end of travel for the year.
Windsor Castle, just after takeoff from Heathrow
North Fork, Long Island, on approach to JFK