On Monday the 14th, I headed back to Europe: Washington-New York-London-Stockholm. This was, to borrow from the logistics business, “Just in Time” lecturing, and I needed each flight to be on time, because I was due to stand and deliver at Uppsala University the next afternoon at two. Happily, all three were punctual, and even permitted a break at Heathrow and time to slug down two cups of coffee and two bacon sandwiches, an English favorite. Arrived Stockholm Arlanda at 11:15 and made it onto the 11:46 SL Pendeln suburban train, arriving Uppsala 18 minutes later. It was raining hard, a harbinger of things to come, so I pulled out my new L.L. Bean Gore-Tex raincoat, rolled out the hood, and took off for campus, rolling my suitcase across the cobbled streets of this ancient university town. I paused at the cathedral, the Domkyrka, for a short prayer, then on to the Ekonomikum, the building that houses the business school. It was rainy but quite warm, and I worked up a huge sweat – but I was on time.
Worked my email and some short consulting tasks, and at 1:15 met an Iranian Ph.D. student, Siavash Alimadadi. We had a nice chat. My host, Katarina Lagerström, had been called to a meeting, so Siavash and another Ph.D. student, Emilene from Brazil, accompanied me to the classroom. Time to stand and deliver, on airline alliances, then immediately into a late-afternoon session organized by Ekonomerna, the student business association. Nice students, good questions, but by 5:45 I was worn out. Happily, the weather had cleared, and I enjoyed a slow amble back to the station, and onto Bus 20 south a few miles to Nyckelaxet, where Stockholm School of Economics host Hans Kjellberg was waiting for me. Nice! The previous year I stayed in an Airbnb in Uppsala, but this was much nicer. Their three kids were not around, unfortunately, but Hans, wife Mia, and I had a lovely dinner and long chat in the kitchen, simply a great welcome to Sweden. I’m so lucky for friends like that. Was asleep by 9:30.
Hans commutes into Stockholm by train on the days he teaches, so we were up early and onto the platform at Knivsta station. It was nice to be with an expert, because the platform and train filled quickly. It was a quick ride into Stockholm and a brisk walk to the school, where Hans peeled off to teach and I met with another longtime SSE host, Per Andersson. We chatted a bit about consumer marketing, and from 10 to 12 I delivered to a class of 90, including 30 from KTH, the Royal Institute of Technology. Hans, Per, and I walked a block to a lunch buffet place, then back to school. I was tempted to borrow a bike, because it was sunny, but a consulting assignment arrived as I was leaving Washington, and I needed to get at it, so I sat in Per’s office and worked.
At 3:30 I said goodbye, walking south to get the airport bus, a nice amble, including a traverse of a pleasant park, filled with all kinds of people. Surveying the scene, I thought “no one can convince me that social democracy is not a sensible way to organize a society.” I cut things a bit close, but hopped on the 5:25 flight north to Umeå, my 21st visit in 21 years. I was glad to be back, arriving at the familiar hotel, the Uman, in time for a quick sauna before dinner with the B-school’s International Advisory Board, on which I have served since 1999. Also time to check out the bike that the school had provided me, as they always do – the two that belong to the school were taken, so students rented me a sleek Greek machine called an Ideal.
At eight, the recently departed dean, Lars Hassel, acting dean Lars Silver, Kjell Knudsen, an adviser to the school and recently retired dean of the school at the University of Minnesota-Duluth (a fellow Minnesotan!), and other members of the IAB convened for dinner and great chatter. During the meal, I once again noted how Swedes say “Okay,” melodically, and I picked it up. Always good to have some local dialect.
It was raining lightly Thursday morning, but I managed a short pre-breakfast ride around Bölesholmarna, a small island in the Ume River and one of my favorite places on the planet. The rain was still light when I rode up the hill to campus, and we spent the day in meetings, including an opportunity to meet and speak with the incoming dean, Sofia Lundberg. It was totally pouring at the end of the day, but the new Gore-Tex raincoat kept me dry above the knees. Time for a sauna.
The two Swedish guys had cranked the temperature to superhot, and it felt great. After a few minutes, they spoke to me in Swedish, then switched to English, then came a truly remarkable T-t-S. I told them what I did and why I was in town, then asked them. One said he sold beer for the big brewery Spendrups, and Stefan was his customer. Stefan said he owned two restaurants, one in town and one north of town on the sea, in a little village called Skeppsvik. To which I replied, “Well, I know your wife!”
I told the story of how in 2006 the IAB held a Saturday morning meeting at their small conference center, and after lunch met his wife, who was holding an infant. They were more amazed than me. Here’s the passage from nine years ago:
After lunch, Annalena, the co-owner, gave us some history about the place and the village. Somewhere in the chat, we found out that she retired last year after 17 years as a SAS flight attendant, and that triggered some bonding with your correspondent. A few minutes later, out in the sunshine, she appeared with her daughter, and she told me, remarkably, that she bore her when she was 46, four months premature, and weighing less than 1.5 pounds. The “miracle baby” was now 11 months, and hearing the story brought a tear to my eye. A miracle indeed.
The baby was now ten. Later that night, I emailed Stefan the photo of mother and baby, asking for an update. Whoa.
Dinner that night was fun. I sat opposite Håkan Oloffson, a local guy who is now an exec with Ball Corporation in Denver. We mostly talked hockey, because his three sons play, and with elan: the oldest signed a contract with the Minnesota Wild (NHL), the middle one skates for the University of Nebraska-Omaha, and the youngest is rising at age 10. Every so often, Håkan checked the score of the local team, the Björklöven (Birch Leaves, not exactly a fierce name!), partly to see if his team won and partly because his dad was at the game and was his ride home after dinner. Indeed, the locals won, hooray, and that made me even more excited about seeing them play two days hence.
The IAB meetings normally last two days, but because of the change in dean we had no program Friday, so I rode up to school and worked until 2:45, when I headed to the E-pub, run by the student business association HHUS. I delivered the third “Drink and Learn” session, good dialogue with students, and a lot of fun. After the talk, I collected my HHUS honorarium, a glass of Erdinger beer, and chatted informally with a few students. Tayla from Australia approached me and said there was a competition at her table to guess where in the U.S. I was from. I answered her, and then joined their table, all first-year students. Rode down the hill in light rain.
After a third sauna and glasses of 2.2% beer (Sweden taxes brew by strength), splendid after a stint in a hot room, I rode my bike over to Lotta’s Krog, a great pub that brews its own. I was not there more than three minutes when a woman who looked strikingly like an older version of Lisbeth Salander (the punkish Swedish hacker who is the protagonist in the trio of novels by Steig Larsson) sat down next to me. Thick nose ring, red velvet cowboy hat, mixed coiffure of shaved and long hair. She did not speak to me, and was not exactly a smiling person. But after five minutes, the Talking to Strangers impulse emerged, when Mikaela commented on the lush beard of the guy on the other side of me. Johannes and Matias were from the region, both studied locally and worked in IT. Mikaela was 40 years old, and recently married, for the first time, to a person who was 60. She lived way out of town, in Arjeplog, almost to the Norwegian border. The two IT dudes jumped in and out of the convo. I asked about the tattooed M on her inner forearm, whence I learned her name. She then volunteered the story of how she roped in Tomas, still a bachelor at 60. And there was more . . .
Up early on the first clear day in what seemed like a month, upriver to the 16th Century Backen church before breakfast. Ate a massive meal to lay a base for a longer ride south to Norrmjöle, on the Gulf of Bothnia. It was where Umeå friends Nils and Carolina Paulsson were building a summer cottage. In these pages, I’ve waxed enthusiastic about the Paulssons’ construction skills – a few years earlier, with four hands they built their main house in the traditional Västerbotten style. When I saw them in April, they told me they had bought land in Norrmjöle, where Nils spent childhood summers. The lot had wood, enough for Nils himself to cut and plane into lumber. Yep, seriously good with their hands. Nils emailed me a photo in August of phase one, a small hut that had bunks for five and would be a sort of beachhead for the larger project. I was excited to see the place, and rode briskly south, past small lakes. With a little effort, I found their address, Bergknallevägen 18, and texted Nils, who said they’d be there in an hour.
The family arrived, with Johan, 12, Petter, 10, and Olle, 6, along with Egil, who six months earlier was a German spaniel pup, but now was mostly grown, and seriously energetic (he could jump like a helicopter taking off). Nils suggested a bike tour of the village, and he and I set off. It was clear he loved this place, and felt great joy in passing it along to their boys. The sea was lovely, and Nils explained that back in the day every coastal village had a herring cannery, which he pointed out, along with fish houses. We rode back, passing a golf course, running into someone I knew from the school (it’s a pretty small place). Carolina had fresh coffee, welcome fortification for the ride back, and some apple cake – she is a sensational cook. We yakked for an hour, and I rode back to Umeå, because the day held lots more.
I showered and at three rode 1.5 miles south to the hockey arena to see the Björklöven take on the Pantern (Panthers) from Malmö. Bought a ticket, bought a beer, and got into the pregame excitement, yakking with the fellow next to me. Then it started, Swedish hockey, clean and fast. The Pantern dominated play in all three periods, but the mighty Birch Leaves took advantage of penalties and won the game 3-1. Swedish reserve abated each time they scored, and I joined the yelling and rhythmic clapping. It was simply a blast. Back just after six, sauna, dinner at the hotel, and off to sleep.
It was still clear Sunday morning, and although my butt was really sore from the wide saddle, I couldn’t resist a swing around town and few loops around my Bölesholmarna. Three days earlier, I looked hard for Queso, a West Highland terrier (like our Henry) I had met on two previous September visits on the island. And there he was, along with his two masters. It was so great to see them all. We yakked a bit, and I set off. Petting Queso, check and done.
At ten, I met the Paulssons for coffee and chat in the basement of the Stads Kyrka, the main church. It was very Lutheran, and I loved it. At 11, the children’s choir led the service, and Johan, Petter, and Olle sang well. I felt like I belonged, part of a larger family. It was a nice moment, in worship with dear friends. At noon, I said goodbye, hugged all, and hopped in a taxi to the airport.
Almost unconsciously, on boarding the flight south to Stockholm, I cued Peter Ostroushko’s mandolin music, which for nearly two decades I’ve associated with another landscape of woods and waters, the North Shore of Lake Superior. Earlier that morning, I told Carolina about my long attachment to that special place, which was akin to how Nils described Norrmjöle a day earlier. Special places exude positive emotion, which after 21 years is how I feel about Umeå and Norrland.
Had a lovely ride from Stockholm to Zürich, next to a young Swiss father and mother and their seriously cute 18-month-old son. He was a lawyer for an electric utility based in Bern, and we had a good chat on energy and other topics.
My checked suitcase did not arrive, s—. The fourth time that’s happened in almost a half-century. The Swissport (ground-handling) agent did not inspire confidence when he said “the bag is not in the system,” I suspect because the flight to Switzerland was a codeshare service, sold as SAS but flown as Swiss. Nor did he exude much empathy. He did give me a toilet kit, “with T-shirt,” he said proudly.
Bought a can of Appenzeller beer, hopped on the 17:52 to St. Gallen, and cued Leroy Jones, master of traditional jazz and my go-to music when I feel far from the USA, which I did at that moment. But you couldn’t stay cross long, not when traversing the orderly and spotless Swiss landscape, past a familiar sequence of small industrial cities, prosperous farmsteads, and emerald pastures, some sprinkled or piled with big hay bales shrink-wrapped in white plastic to preserve them over the winter. Further on, fat brown cows grazed happily in the early evening, and an apple tree laden with fruit stood in a pasture. At Uzwil, a young Swiss soldier in uniform stood on the platform, readying his gear. I silently saluted him, and a policy that requires everyone to serve, like the U.S. used to do.
Arrived at my customary hotel in St. Gallen in time for another setback: my email did not work. After a half-hour of diagnostics (for an old guy I’m pretty good with IT troubleshooting), I determined that the problem was not my Internet host in Houston, but Swisscom, the hotel’s wi-fi provider, and verified my hypothesis by connecting without issue with a cable in the hotel lobby. Inconvenient, but functional (Swisscom later tried to pin the issue on me – typical, shall we say diplomatically, of their national confidence).
With that sorted, I set off for dinner. Although as secular as the rest of Europe, it’s hard to find a restaurant open on Sunday, but with a bit of earlier searching I spotted the Thai Angel on the east side of town. My young host Georg Guttmann loaned me his bike again, so I jumped on and zipped over for a quick green curry; good food, pricey per Switzerland, and rather unfriendly service. But I hadn’t eaten since morning, and was happy.
Up Monday morning, checked the Swissport website, suitcase still missing. Ate breakfast, donned my less-than-clean clothes, and set off, up the hill (about 200 vertical feet) to the University of St. Gallen, my 15th visit. On the way there, I spotted examples of a constant that I have long admired in Switzerland, building and infrastructural renovation. These are people who care about the quality of the built environment, preserving what they have. And as I have written earlier, these are a people who would never think to save money buying something not Made in Switzerland (not even the generic power strips I spotted the next day). There’s no need for tariff protection when culture leads the way.
Worked in the library, and at 10:45 delivered a lecture to Sven Reinecke’s Master of Marketing class. Sven bought me lunch, yakked a bit, and a coasted down the hill to the hotel. By then I had an email saying my bag had been stuck in Stockholm and would arrive Zurich at 12:15 (I offered to take the train over to retrieve it, but in classically rigid fashion Swissport said they could not reimburse me for the fares, apparently ignoring the cost of delivering a bag 50 miles from the airport).
It was a perfect day for some biking. The year before I rode north to flatter ground, so this time is was to be a bit of hill, south to the head of the Sitter River valley and the range called the Alpstein. Earlier that day I found the great website of the Swiss Topographic Service, and on it a digitized old-school topographic map, zoomable. Checked the altitude profiles: up a total of 633 feet to my destination at Wasserauen, but not a consistent climb: some up, some down. Doable. Set off from St. Gallen at two, up, up, up to Stein, through a timeless landscape: cows, sheep, and goats grazing, past big farmsteads that combine house and barn. A large pile of cow manure and a wheelbarrow outside one of the barns made me smile, recalling significant experience shoveling manure in the mid-1970s, on the Kellys’ dairy farm in Wisconsin.
Past Stein, I enjoyed a wheeeeee descent into the Sitter valley, then back up and into Appenzell, which was teeming with tourists. I paused to call Swissport. The agent said the bag was still in Stockholm, contradicting earlier information, causing me to growl, and tourists to give me a lot of space. I set off for the last five miles to Wasserauen, a very gentle incline, past the Locher brewery to the main road. My mobile phone rang, Hello Swissport, the bag had in fact arrived ZRH and would be at the hotel that night. Hooray! The phone rang five minutes later, bag will arrive Tuesday morning, Boo.
The skies above Wasserauen were full of paragliders descending on puffy wings, hikers, but not many cyclists. I drank a lot of water, then coasted back to Appenzell. The original plan was to take the train back from there, but I still had energy, so I climbed 100 meters (it seemed like more, after a long day) to Gais, then coasted down to Buhler, where the Hotel Ochsen looked promising, but no one was on the terrace. So I coasted downvalley to Steigbach, and the Hotel Sonne’s little terrace with a nice view. The end – die ende! Time for a beer, then the train back. Two middle-aged Swiss guys on the terrace, stared at me, as these folk often do. I greeted them with the local “Grüezi,” and began a short T-t-S in bad German, naming the places I had been. One then said, “Elektro,” referring to the electric bikes that have become huge in Switzerland. “Nein,” I replied, adding, in German, “old but strong.” I think they were amazed. Refreshed, I hopped on the train, headed back to the hotel, washed a bit, grabbed dinner, and clocked out. A long day.
Tuesday morning I headed downstairs to connect with a cable and get my email. In came a priority assignment from a client, so after breakfast I headed up the hill on the bike to the university and into the library to crank out the work (my lecture was at the end of the day). On the way I detoured to the splendidly Baroque abbey church for morning prayers; it’s a place I have visited each time, in part to converse silently with the large wooden angel who hovers above the altar. She is an annual touchstone.
At one, I met my other St. Gallen host, Dutchman Winfried Ruigrok, and Georg, for the traditional lunch at Wienerberg, a nice restaurant adjacent to campus, vaguely Art Nouveau inside, and with sensational cooking. As I have previously, I tucked into rehpfeffer, slow-cooked venison in a hearty gravy, with roasted chestnuts, red cabbage, and spaetzle. Yum. Spectacular, and great conversation about the school, current business topics, and more. Rode down the hill, and met my suitcase for the first time in two days. Nice! Grabbed a quick nap, shaved with my own razor and real shave gel, and suited up. Lectured on airline alliances from 4:15 to 6:00, then walked back to the hotel in light rain. Changed clothes and, by routine or by tradition headed across town to the Goldenen Leuen, an agreeable tavern in the old town, for a beer and light meal (didn’t need much after a huge lunch). Back at the hotel more work awaited – was glad I didn’t have a second beer – so I cranked out some more tasks, then to bed.
I was up at first light Wednesday morning, rinse, repeat: downstairs to work my email and eat breakfast, packed up, and out the door. Last Swiss lecture was to the St. Gallen full-time MBA program, a lively group. I worked the crowd before the talk, meeting interesting students from Catalonia (not Spain, in his case!), Canada, the Ivory Coast, Israel, and Germany. The talk went well and quickly, and at 11:05 I was out the door for the train station, headed north 75 miles to Tübingen, a historic university town in Germany.
Short distance, long ride, four train changes. We descended to Lake Constance, the Bodensee, to Kreuzlingen, Switzerland, then a two-minute ride across the border to the German city of Konstanz. I mostly like der Schweiz, but I like Germany way better, and it was nice to be back (“these are my people,” I said aloud when I disembarked, lifting up the 25% of me that is Deutsch). At the ticket office, I bought a BahnCard25, 25% off travel on the German railways for a year, walked around town a bit, and hopped on the 1:38 train to Singen, which ran along the Untersee, a smaller lake west of Constance. Hopped onto a faster train then toward Horb. North of Singen we entered the storied Black Forest, and it was a lovely ride through dense forests. At Horb I made the last change, for a short ride up the Neckar Valley to Tübingen.
The rain had stopped. It was quickly clear I was in a college town: Birkenstocks, lots of facial hair and ponytails on men, women in Third World attire, and, unhappily, way too much graffiti. I ambled south and east less than a mile to my Airbnb digs on Mathildenstrasse (the street sign helpfully explained that, among other things, that Miss M was the daughter of King George III of England), in a comfortable, middle-class neighborhood of older homes. I met my host Philipp, who showed me to my room and around the flat. Changed clothes, did a bit of work, and at 6:30 met my host, Oliver Götz, who I have known for 14 years. He picked me up in his car, we motored a mile or so to a parking ramp, parked, and set off to explore the old town on foot. I felt badly for Oliver, because he had come straight from teaching and was wearing fancy but uncomfortable dress shoes. Had a traditional Swabian (from the historic region that rambles across two modern German states) dinner and a great conversation across lots of topics.
I was up at seven on my last teaching day, out the door, and through the pleasant neighborhood, back to the train station. The morning routine was underway: kids biking to school, moms taking younger ones by stroller or foot to the kindergarten (pre-school), working people hopping into cars, people queueing at the neighborhood bakery (a great German tradition). Walking briskly west on Christophstrasse, some shiny brass squares, about four inches on a side, embedded in the sidewalk caught my eye. I stopped, turned around, and read the engraved words on each of the four squares memorializing a Jewish family, four of whom were victims of Nazi evil. I have traveled in Germany for 43 years, but had never seen such a memorial, and a wave of sadness washed over me. Many people have been quick to criticize Germans after World War II, but I wondered whether we could find many memorials like this in the South, to black people murdered, deprived of their rights, and so on. Or to Cree people, or Ojibwe, or Navajo. William Faulkner’s fitting words came back: “The past is not dead. In fact, it’s not even past.”
The REWE supermarket by the station was open, and the store clerks all greeted me, smiling. This is a friendly place, almost Texas-friendly. Bought two yogurts and ambled on, stopping at the Gulde bakery for the last piece of breakfast, an almond-studded sweet roll (calling it a Danish in Germany didn’t quite seem right!). Hopped on the 8:15 local train several stops to Reutlingen West, then had a pleasant 1.5 mile walk up the hill to Reutlingen University, my first visit to this small school.
Begun as a technical school for the textile industry, the school has expanded into four other disciplines, including the B-school, branded as the ESB School of Business. The buildings were all new, white stucco with clever colored accents corresponding to the faculty – blue for ESB, orange for applied chemistry, etc. It was immediately clear that the national and state governments had funded the school well, and I once again mused about the value of European social democracies in general, and Germany in particular. I do admire this place.
I headed to the library to work, and at 11:30 met Oliver for a tour of Reutlingen, his home town, and lunch. It was a walled city in ancient times, and we walked next to the fortifications, through the center; it had been bombed in World War II, and nicely rebuilt, including a 14th Century Gothic cathedral, now Lutheran. Some very nice half-timbered structures. It was a glorious autumn day, clear and sunny, so ate lunch in a sidewalk café in the old market square. After the meal, Oliver hopped up to pay, and I jumped into a brief T-t-S with some friendly-looking Bohemians at the next table. Actually, I was looking to chat with their dog, so I asked in German if she were friendly. Yes, indeed, and I started stroking her face and chin. The couple told me that she had been rescued from a pound in Romania, and I said to the hound and the folk that she was lucky to now be in Germany, living a comfy life. “Liebchen, you are very fortunate indeed!”
We drove back to the university, and it was time to stand and deliver to 30 undergraduates in the ESB international business program. They were very engaged, asking good questions. At 4:20, Oliver drove me to the train station, I hopped the local back to Tübingen, walked home, changed clothes, worked a bit, and set out on my own for a beer and dinner. On the way, at Christophstrasse 15, I spotted two more of the brass squares:
I easily found Neckarmüller, a gasthaus and beer garden right on the river. The location and the day were lovely, but from arrival the vibe was not good, because 1) the place was teeming with noisy young Americans; and 2) the waiter who handed me the beer at the bar helped himself to my 60 cents of change. I might have given him a small gratuity, but 17% would have been way, way on the high side in a country where service is always included, and I resented his assumption that because I was American he was entitled to keep the change (a waitress in St. Gallen did the same thing two nights earlier). Still, it was pleasant to sit by the river and watch the punters pass, hear birds chirping above, and watching other tipplers enjoying the fall day.
I finished my beer and walked up the hill toward the castle, to Mauganeschtle, a restaurant I spotted online and that Oliver recommended. It was quiet and comfortable, and offered a special autumn menu: I asked for pumpkin and more pumpkin: pumpkin-cream soup for starter, and a main dish of pumpkin maultaschen, the regional version of ravioli. Both dishes were superb, along with a mug of autumn beer from a nearby small brewer. Walked home, worked a bit more, and turned out the light at 9:15, because Friday would start early.
At five, to be exact. And out the door at 5:20, onto a local train to Stuttgart, and the fast ICE to Frankfurt Airport. Flew to Charlotte, then back to Washington, and was home by 8:00. It was my 170th trip to Europe.