I finished teaching an intensive short course at Georgetown on Saturday the 19th, got up Sunday morning at five, finished grading, did a little more lifting and toting in the new house, and headed to the airport. Flew to Philadelphia. Working my email, I noticed that a front button on my suit coat was about to fall off. My mother taught me basic sewing, so it was no problem to reattach sturdily. That quick task was nothing compared to one in November 1985, when, on my first business trip to Europe, the seam on the seat of my trousers ripped on the flight from Minnesota to Chicago – in the first hour of the journey. Three decades on, I vividly recall sitting on a toilet seat in a men’s room of the airport Hilton, needle and thread in hand. Always good to fix on the fly!
Although I was headed to London, I was not due to stand and deliver until the next day (Tuesday), so flew to Manchester. The plan was for most of a day in York. Unhappily, the three-hour flight delay changed things, but happily the railway staff took mercy on me and accepted my cheap, train-specific ticket on the 11:33 ride. I’m not sure airlines are that flexible!
We rolled into central Manchester, then east. I had been on that line in 2014, and it’s quite scenic – across the Pennines, low but sometimes steep mountains, astride the Rochdale and Huddersfield Narrow canals, past small villages.
We arrived York at 1:11 and in fifteen minutes the Transport Geek was in near-heaven: the National Railway Museum, a colossal collection of hardware. One could reasonably expect that the nation that invented the railway (George Stephenson is generally credited with “perfecting” the steam locomotive in the 1820s) would have an over-the-top facility, but it was still way cool. I visited the museum in 1977, but I recall it as small and limited. This place was vast. There was a vast “attic” of varied artifacts that alone would merit a day: signaling equipment, old signs, china from deluxe passenger services, uniforms. The interpretive panels were concise and clear. Animated docents, nicely relabeled “Explainers,” greatly enhanced the experience. I tarried in the cab of the Duchess of Hamilton, #6229, a steam behemoth built in 1938 for the London, Midland & Scottish Railway, listening to Chris (and his splendid Yorkshire accent, rendering much and London closer to mooch and Loondon) explain how the engine worked to a group of 11-year-olds. He was really good. Later, for adults, he added some interesting science, for example, the staggering inefficiency of steam locomotives – they were never able to convert more than 9% of thermal energy into motion, and early versions were closer to 3%. But it beat horse and carriage!
I was sorry the plane was late, because I could have spent a couple more hours in the museum, with time left to walk over to York Minster, the second-largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe. I had not been to York in almost 40 years, and I was also sorry not to have time to see a bit of the town. Still, the museum was an outstanding way to spend an afternoon. At 3:30, I grabbed my bags, walked to the train station, bought a late lunch, and hopped on the 4:02 express to London. The sun was out and it was a nice ride, high point being the paddocks filled with ewes and newborn lambs.
Arrived London about 6:30, hopped on the London Overground, and was at Scott and Caroline’s house by 7:15. Scott was still working and as soon as I arrived, Caroline zipped out, with me in charge of the slumbering Eva Rose. Scott arrived about nine, we had a yak, a beer, and some dinner, and I clocked out.
Tuesday promised to be full, and it was. Suited up, out the door at eight, onto the #52 bus south to Imperial Business School and two lectures to visiting students from Hong Kong. My Imperial host Omar introduced me and returned at 12:15 for a chat. Also had a nice visit with Mikhaela Gray, an Aussie described in a 2015 update. Great people, great school.
Next stop was traditional lunch with David Holmes, a former British Airways colleague. It was our eighth consecutive spring repast. We ate at The Wolseley, an upmarket café in a former (1921) automobile showroom of the same name. It was noisy, but we managed to cover the usual topics of work, family, UK and U.S. politics, and the mess elsewhere in the world, including sad reference to the Brussels airport and subway bombing that occurred six hours earlier. We both tucked into smoked haddock, splendid. We could not tarry, for I was due at the London School of Economics for a 4:15 lecture, so we peeled away at the Green Park Underground Station. It was grand to see him.
The LSE lecture went well, a small but engaged group. Worked my email after class ended, then walked a mile west to the Ship and Shovell, an historic pub on the slope below the Charing Cross railway station. Their featured tipples were Badger Ales from the Hall and Woodhouse brewery in Dorset, since 1777. But the main feature was Tim Letheren, a fine lad from Liverpool who I met at Cambridge in 2011. We had a great yak and a couple of Badgers. By then I was plumb wore out. Happily, the Bakerloo (Tube) Line was a block away, and it carried me within five blocks of “home.” Was asleep by 9:30.
Wednesday was a day off, much needed, the first true break in weeks, and I enjoyed it immensely. First stop was the Design Museum just east of Tower Bridge. The permanent collection is packed away, ready for a move to larger quarters in West London in November, but two sensational temporary exhibits carried the day. Cycle Revolution looked at the revival of bicycling, focused on four distinct “tribes” of users: performers (racers), thrill-seekers, urban bicyclists, and cargo carriers. Like the railway, the British perfected the two-wheeler, and the range of machines was impressive.
Better, though were the 76 nominees (in six categories) of the Designs of the Year 2015 competition. Professionals nominated many, and a jury winnowed them down. I had three faves: a 3D printing lab in South Sudan to produce prosthetic arms for amputee victims of the prolonged uncivil war there; the Moocall, a wireless sensor that attaches to a pregnant cow and texts the farmer when she is about the deliver, to greatly reduce bovine infant mortality (regular readers know my soft heart for domesticated animals); and the Loopwheel, a truly revolutionary design for wheelchairs that puts the suspension in the wheel, in the form of looped carbon-fiber springs. That the last two were UK inventions made me feel good: the British have long been innovators and creators across a wide spectrum. It was awesome, and I look forward to revisiting them in their new digs. I love design.
I ambled across the famous Tower Bridge (people think it’s old, but it’s only 122), past the Tower of London, and onto the Tube, north to Finsbury Park, then west to an interesting neighborhood, Crouch End. Hopped off in the “village” center, bought a couple of Hot Cross Buns, Easter favorites, and at 1:30 met another Cambridge-student friend, Fabio Scappaticci, who lives nearby. We ambled a few blocks north to a Turkish restaurant for a huge lunch and good yak, mainly about his career. He’s had hugely varied jobs, and is a seriously bright fellow.
I was back at the Sage house by 3:45, time for the first nap in a long time, then on to babysitting duties. It was a small bit of service for Scott and Caroline, who are so kind to me. And Eva was already fast asleep, so there was not much to do. Brought this journal up to date, ate leftovers from the huge Turkish lunch (at least another pound of yummy leftovers), and waited for the Sages to return.
I was out the door with Scott and Eva (who were bound for the U.S. Embassy to get the tot a passport), onto the Bakerloo Line south to Waterloo (the “loo” in Bakerloo) station and a cup of coffee with former AA colleague Matthew Hall, who has for the past five years been the commercial head at London City Airport. We talked aviation for awhile, U.S. politics (inevitably!), UK politics, family, commuting, and more. So great to stay connected with longtime pals, especially across the water.
At ten I headed back onto the Bakerloo Line (it was getting a lot of use that trip), north to London Business School for the last lecture of the week, to Prof. Oded Koenigsberg’s MBA class on strategic pricing. It was my 13th visit there. I arrived early, and sat in the reception area, working my email and listening for the low hum of brainpower – it’s one of Europe’s best B-schools. At noon, Oded appeared with Olaf, a Dutch guest lecturer, exec with SKF, the Swedish maker (pioneer, really) of ball bearings. We repaired to the faculty dining room, with food that would be at home in a fancy restaurant.
LBS is one of the most international schools I visit, and at 12:45 I worked the crowd in the classroom, meeting students, from India, France, Germany, the USA, Bulgaria, Chile, and more. For the first time in years, the AV system messed up, so I presented for the first 15 minutes without slides, adding a bit of pressure but also loosening both the class and me. They were laughing, and, I hope, learning. The rest went well, they applauded loudly, and I headed home, done for the week.
Later that afternoon, I stopped in St. John the Evangelist, the nearby parish church, for a brief afternoon prayer, on the day before we Christians observe Good Friday. I prayed for the victims of the terrorism in Brussels, and lifted up Christ’s example of fearlessness: on the day he was crucified, he was unafraid. The two are connected of course: if we give in to fear, then those Daesh assholes win.
It was a point I tried to make to a young woman in the neighborhood florist 30 minutes earlier. She told me she had a week off, and was heading to Amsterdam. “I was planning to go to Brussels, too . . .” but she didn’t complete the sentence. I offered the view above, and she only nodded politely. I’d go to Belgium tomorrow, without hesitation. “Do not be afraid” is a good way to live.
Scott and I headed to dinner at the nearby (less than a block) Parlour, a gastropub where he is a regular. Had a nice meal (salted cod and stuffed quail), some pints, and a truly great conversation. He is a truly bright and global fellow, and a really fine friend.
I was up at 5:45 Friday morning and out the door, onto the #18 bus to Paddington Station and the Heathrow Express to the airport, where the fun started. I was headed to Berlin for what under ideal circumstances would be a long day. Flying standby on British Airways, I didn’t get on the flight at 8:40. Hooray, I got a seat on the 10:10 flight, but my suitcase did not come with me. Happily the “bag lady” at Tegel Airport, Berlin, told me it was arriving on the next BA flight, due about 4:00. And, happily, Tegel is not far from the city – under 30 minutes on bus and subway. Another cheery take: I would save 4€ on a baggage locker at the railway station.
So after a little bad language (for me, not the bag helper), I bought a day ticket on the BVG, the city’s superb, integrated transit system, and headed to into the city. On the way through the airport, I spotted a poster advertisement from the (German) Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure. That last element alone is telling, but it got better: the headline read “Turbo-internet für alle,” which essentially meant the state was investing about US$3 billion into creating super-broadband infrastructure throughout the country. Do we do that in the U.S.? Nein!
Once downtown, I grabbed a sandwich and walked through light rain to the German Historical Museum in the oldest surviving building on Unter den Linden, Berlin’s famous boulevard. The museum had a special exhibit, Art from the Holocaust, 100 works from 50 Jewish artists produced between 1939 and 1945. Half of them were murdered during the Holocaust. And one, Nelly Toll, lives still, in New Jersey. I read about the exhibit in The New York Times after the January opening, and was determined to see it before it closed in early April.
The exhibition was superb, though grim. The saddest works were those that depicted or were created by children, and there were more than a few. Pavel Fantl painted for his four-year-old son, colorful and whimsical works as an “alternative reality based on imagination and hope” (it was an idea not unlike that depicted in the Italian film “Life is Beautiful”). Fantl did a caricature of Hitler, blood on his hands and on a guitar, entitled “The Song Is Over,” which prophesied the end. But Fantl did not see that end; he was shot in a death march in January 1945.
Many works, including Nelly’s, offered sunny scenes or color, which contrasted markedly with the colorless and oppressive ghettoes, labor camps, and death camps. Some artists drew or painted at great personal risk; some did work for the oppressors in exchange for materials. One created linocuts from a discarded tire; Zvi Szylis, painting in the Łodz ghetto, used potato sacks as canvas and produced his own pants from aniline (coal tar). In a 1981 interview, Lev Haas (1901-1983 – he survived) said he painted not art but documentation for prosecution.
Several poems punctuated the art. Two days before her death in the Theresienstadt ghetto in 1942, Margarethe Schmahl-Wolf titled hers “But my soul is free.” Here is what 13-year-old Abraham Koplowicz wrote in the Łodz ghetto a year before he was killed in Auschwitz; it caught my eye for an obvious reason:
When I will be 20 years old,
In a motorized bird I’ll sit,
And to the reaches of space I’ll rise.
I will fly, I will float to the beautiful
And skywards I will soar
The cloud my sister will be
The wind is brother to me . . .
Whew. When I finished three walks through the show, I wrote in the visitor book that I admired the will of postwar Germans and their government to take specific responsibility for, and atone as best they could, the genocide the Nazis perpetrated. And I wrote more: this stands in marked contrast to America’s unwillingness to do the same for genocide of Native Americans and the subjugation of slavery. We need to own up.
The rest of the museum looked really interesting (I recognized that the new wing was designed by I.M. Pei, because in line and material it closely resembled the symphony hall he created for Dallas). But I was worn out, and still needed to fetch my bag, so I walked briskly back to the station, and out to the airport. Woo hoo, the suitcase arrived as promised, so I headed back to town and to the Hauptbahnhof.
My flight home the next day was from Frankfurt, so I hopped on the 7:49 ICE (fast) train to Hanover, immediately heading to the dining car for a beer and a big dinner, a sort of German meatloaf. Changed trains in Hanover, napped a bit, and was at Frankfurt Airport at 12:30. Thrifty Rob reckoned it made no sense to get a hotel, so I found an agreeable bench, used my backpack as pillow (the foam on the back was surprisingly comfy), wrapped my arm through the suitcase handle, pulled my raincoat over my head to block the light, and conked out, sleeping well for four hours.
The Japan Airlines lounge, also for AA customers, opened at 5:30, and I was first into the shower, then some breakfast. Waiting to board the rocket to Charlotte, had a nice T-t-S with a fellow carrying on an insulated container labeled “live cells” in English and German. “May I ask what’s inside?” I said. Nothing, he replied, he was on his way to pick up stem cells. So I launched: social conservatives in the U.S. have hijacked medical research. Him: and you seem to have plenty of money for weapons. Me: I like your country, your priorities and your determination are in order. Somehow we got onto the topic above: owning up the past, and he mirrored my observation: “The genocide of your Indians was pretty awful.” Yep.
We landed Charlotte at 1:30, hopped on a flight north to Washington, and had the dogs on the leash by 5:30.