The last teaching trip of the year began on Saturday, December 3, up to New York and across to London. Made my way to the home of longtime friends Scott and Caroline Sage and their cutie-pie, two-year-old, Eva. Had a quick yak and a cup of coffee, washed my face, and walked back to the Bakerloo Line and into central London for an annual tradition, Advent service at St. Paul’s Cathedral – it was the fourth consecutive year. The choir was great (when they would end a hymn, you could hear the music continue on into Wren’s soaring dome and back), a fine homily from the head of the Anglican Church in Canada, a time for renewal.
After the service, I headed back to the Underground. Waiting for my train, I spotted two small dogs getting off. I caught the eye of a woman about my age walking a Welsh terrier:
Me: I’ve only been away from home 18 hours and already miss our dogs
She, without missing a beat: Would you like to give him a stroke?
Me: Yes, please.
He jumped up on hind legs, we had a few hugs and licks, and I said thanks. Hopped on the Northern Line, riding north-northwest to suburban Hendon and the Royal Air Force Museum, last visited in 2004. The collection and interpretation are good, not great, but the chance to touch a Spitfire fighter used in the Battle of Britain was way cool, as was the sight of a U.S. Army Air Force B-24 Liberator (beneath the bird was a plaque noting that 26,000 U.S. airmen died 1942-45).
Headed back to the Sages for a good suppertime chat in the kitchen with Caroline, then sat down to a simple supper of vegetable soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. She’s a fine cook. We yakked a bit more, and at nine I headed to my room, not yet to sleep but to begin assembling an Ikea toy kitchen, a Christmas present for Eva. It had been some years since I put together an Ikea product, but the basic logic came back quickly. After an hour I was plumb wore out, so I put down the screwdriver and hex wrench and fell asleep.
Woke up Monday morning at 5:40, resumed assembly, and was done by 7. Showered, headed down to breakfast, then out the door on Scott’s bike. Headed west on the towpath of the Paddington Branch of the Grand Union Canal, a waterway that runs 137 miles west to Birmingham. The branch runs west-southwest, toward Heathrow Airport. The first few miles were relatively crowded, mostly with work-bound commuters, and I rode carefully, steering clear of the water. Parts of the path were bumpy, but it was a bright morning, and I worked up some momentum, riding 25 miles round trip.
After noon I headed into London for a spicy Indian lunch, bought Linda a Christmas present at Liberty, a wonderful old store, then walked west to Grosvenor Square and the U.S. Embassy. The statue of General Eisenhower exerts some magnetic pull, and in no time I was peering up at Ike, whispering my thanks. But, as I have written before, the fortifications around the embassy make me really cranky. General Eisenhower was fearless, and now, the building behind me, indeed U.S. legations all over the world project a cowering fear. Just so silly.
I was tired of walking, so grabbed a red shared bike (at £2 for 24 hours, cheaper than a short ride on the Tube), and set off for the Battle of Britain Memorial near Westminster, then upstream along the Thames to Belgravia. Worked for a couple of hours on my laptop, then walked to The Orange, a fine gastropub in Pimlico, where I met former American Airlines friend and fellow Minnesotan Don Langford. We had a nice dinner and a fine yak. Headed home, way worn out.
Up early Tuesday morning. The original plan was a morning flight to begin teaching in Germany, but British Airways canceled it 15 hours in advance. I scrambled a bit, and booked Ryanair from Stansted to Dortmund. I had used that flight twice before, and would have booked it originally, but wanted a bit more slack: scheduled arrival was 3:20 and my lecture an hour north in Münster would begin at 6. Back at the Sages, I looked after Eva after Caroline left for work (Scott was working late the night before), had an all-too-brief chat with Caroline’s father, Michael, who stayed overnight in their other guest room. Michael, 75, was still going strong, still working, still active. Keep moving, that’s the idea!
At 9:50 I began to head toward Germany, by Tube and train via Stansted Airport (a truly bad airport, like an endless shopping mall). My worry about cutting things too close became reality. Ryanair was, uncharacteristically, 45 minutes late, then the regional train was almost 10 minutes late, putting me into Münster at 5:35. It’s not a big place, and I know my way, so I “landed” in the classroom with six minutes to spare. Just-in-time education! The talk went well. Afterward, my student host Julian, five doctoral students, and the prof, Sebastian, headed to a traditional restaurant, Töddenhoek, for my first plate of grünkohl, kale cooked with onions, potatoes, and ham. German soul food, good for the 25% of me that comes from Deutschland. After the meal I said goodbye and walked briskly across town to my Airbnb; it was my fourth time with Svenja, a friendly young woman who has a really comfortable apartment. It truly feels like home.
Tuesday was a short night. Up before six Wednesday, out the door at 6:30, onto the 6:33 bus to the train station. The local train to Hamm was late, and I just barely made my connection to Hannover, then south to Kassel, a day trip to teach at its university. Met my friend and host Patrick Rath at 10:35, headed to the uni, then a noon lecture to a large class of marketing undergraduates. The first question after the talk was about Trump and his insularity, which provoked a small rant on my part, and nods of accord from the students. I told them their country seemed to be the last large place led by adults, by people who understood that things were not simple, and by people who understood that an open and liberal global system had served the world well for 70 years. Many times during those days in Germany my thoughts returned to this idea: did it take the debacle of the Third Reich and the destruction of their country to embrace those ideals?
Patrick’s officemate Sven joined us for lunch. Sven was from Leipzig and among other interesting things he told me that when he was in high school he and classmates made a video about Kurt Masur, the legendary conductor of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and New York Philharmonic, and – unknown to many – a key figure in the collapse of East Germany. Pretty cool.
We had a nice fish lunch in the university mensa (student cafeteria), a coffee, then walked over to Patrick’s apartment. Picked up his son Louis from day care (what Germans call Kindergarten, this one a shining example of Germany’s large commitment to early childhood development), then over to meet kids from a student business group called CTK. We had a short chat, then I delivered a two-hour lecture to about 25 CTK members. After the talk, we walked to Kassel’s Christmas market for a cup of glühwein, spiced red wine. I said goodbye to a dozen students, then jumped onto the tram to the train station. More delays: my train was an hour late, but so was the one an hour in front of it, so I hopped on, made my connection in Hannover, and was asleep by 11:15. A long day.
Slept in Thursday morning, until 7:20. Put on jeans because my talk was not until that night, and headed out for coffee and breakfast, then over to the university’s Marketing Center. It was my 16th visit to Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität, and since 2002 I have gotten to know waves of grad students. My longtime host Manfred was at Kellogg in Chicago (working with friend Anne, who introduced us years ago), but Julian and the doctoral students took good care of me. I worked the morning, had a quick lunch with the team, then headed out to do a bit of shopping, by long tradition buying small guardian angels made in the Erzgebirge, low forested mountains on the border of Saxony and Bohemia (Czech Republic). Walked back to the Airbnb and brought this journal up to date. Svenja’s two cats both greeted me. Momo is shy, but Findus decided my lap was a good place to stand while I tapped on the laptop!
Took a much-needed afternoon nap, the first one in a week, and at five set out for my evening gig, the 12th talk to a group called “Circle of Excellence in Marketing,” a select group of Bachelors and Masters students. The “fireside talk” (called a kaminabend or kamingespräch) didn’t begin until eight, so I stopped in at the Pinkus Müller Brewery for a small cold one, then met my student host Julian and two other grad students, Nora and Charlotte, at 6:30 for another dinner of grünkohl, this time topped with a big slab of meatloaf. Yum! The CEM talk went well, but lasted past 10:30. Said my goodbyes and walked a couple of miles across town, back home.
It was another short night: up at six, out the door, repeating the journey two days earlier (this time without any train snafus), back to Hamm, then east to Hannover and south to Kassel. The difference that morning was that Patrick Rath joined me at Kassel and we continued on. The Friday-morning train was packed, and we stood the whole way to Frankfurt, yakking across a range of topics. Hopped on the Taunusbahn suburban train for the ride to Königstein and my sixth visit to the Siegfried Vögele Institute, a training center owned by Deutsche Post DHL. My job that evening was a dinner speech to a small group (seven) of EMBA students.
We walked from the train station to the institute, working up a major appetite (we intended to eat a late breakfast on the train, but the dining car was packed). Once again, the institute’s chef, Heiko, delivered the goods, in that case a huge lunch of wildschwein (wild boar), slow-cooked and tender, with dumplings, brussels sprouts, salad, and a heavenly apple tart. Whew. Repaired to my room, worked a bit, took a long nap to catch up on sleep, then rode 14 miles on a bike in the gym.
At seven, I met the group – three were not from Deutsche Post DHL – and we tucked into a dinner of roast duck, red cabbage, and more. I skipped dessert. Gave a short talk after dinner, answered questions, and enjoyed some conversation with Patrick and others. Each weekend of classes, one student brings food and/or drink from their region, so Beate brought Landskron beer from her native Görlitz, close to the Polish border, plus three flavors of glühwein, and schoko spitzen, chocolate cookies filled with raspberry jam, from Pulsnitz, near Görlitz Whew!
Although my conversational German is weak, I have a pretty good vocabulary, and am always happy to add to it; that night I learned waschbär und holunder. The former means “raccoon,” the literal translation “washing bear,” because ‘coons habitually rub their front paws like they’re cleaning their hands. The latter means “elderberry.”
Up the next morning, breakfast with the group, then Patrick and I walked briskly back to the station and hopped the 9:01 to Frankfurt, where we hugged, then split. I headed east and south to Ulm, a mid-size city east of Stuttgart in the state of Baden-Württemberg. By long tradition, I would have gone to Berlin to see the Beckmann family, but we were together in late September (still, it seemed a bit odd not heading to see Michael, Susan, Niklas, and Annika).
I walked a short way from the Ulm station to my simple hotel, which was a stone’s throw from the city’s major draw: the largest Protestant church in the world, with the world’s tallest steeple, and a tower to the top, 768 steps. Had to do it, and not just because Lutherans are my people! Checked into the hotel (commenting on proximity to the church, the owner said “it’s like sitting in the front row at the cinema”), then made fast for the tower. It took awhile to climb 469 feet, but had a nice T-t-S with Markus while inching up the last 200 steps. Yes, the view was spectacular, and going down was easier on my gimpy knees than I thought it would be.
Scenes from the top:
Grabbed a quick lunch at a nearby bakery, then ambled about the Fischerviertel (fishermens’ neighborhood), seriously old and filled with half-timbered buildings built around two little tributaries of the Danube. Walked across the Danube to Bavaria (the place is called Neu Ulm), then back to the hotel for a much-needed nap.
At five I headed back to the Fischerviertel and into the boatmen’s guild hall, the 550-year-old Zunfthaus der Schiffleute, for a Christmas beer. The friendly bartender and I bantered in English and a little German. The place was fully booked for dinner, but the barman told me if I returned at 6:30 I could sit at a tiny table in the corner of the bar. I ambled around the area for a bit, had a short beer in a very unfriendly place, then returned for a nice dinner.
But a not-so-nice exchange. I guess it was inevitable that at some point in my more than four decades of travel in Germany I would meet a bonafide German far-right redneck (oops, that may be redundant), and there was Josef standing next to me at the bar. He asked me where I was from, and I told him. He replied “Ku Klux Klan.” I did not respond. He then showed me some small piece of jewelry attached to a necklace and said “SS.” I replied “God help us,” and did not engage during the time it took to eat my enormous main course. I kept thinking, “get me outta this place.” I paid the bill and rocketed away. What an asshole.
Slept a long time. Up Sunday morning, out the door for a walk around town, then into the big church for 9:30 Lutheran worship. Attendance was larger than expected. The hymns were unfamiliar, but melodies and words were simple, so I sang along. The huge church would be impossible to heat, and it was right at 32° F outside, so most people helped themselves to red blankets from a large. I’m from Minnesota, so I toughed it out, but it was pretty chilly!
After church, I ambled a few blocks to the Museum of Bread Culture, formerly the German Bread Museum, built in a 1592 grain warehouse. I like bread, but the original impetus for the visit went back more than 40 years: the parents of my pal Tim McGlynn owned bakeries, visited the museum in about 1975, and brought back a postcard that lodged in my memory.
I was glad I went: the museum told the story of grain cultivation, breadmaking technology from 10,000 years ago to the present, bakeries, bakers, and more, all with wonderful artifacts, including paintings by famous artists like Brueghel, Chagall, and Dali. Lots of “I didn’t know that” facts, for example, that in the 19th Century, bread products accounted for about 80% of a German’s daily nutrition. And as expected in a country willing to frankly confront its past, even a specialized museum had exhibits about the Nazi debacle. The museum was funded by the Eiselen Foundation. Willi (1896-1981) and his son Hermann (1926-2009) owned a business that was a major ingredient supplier to bakeries. The superb audioguide explained that both father and son knew hunger during the two world wars. Remarkable.
Below: Scenes from the museum: a kleiekotzer, roughly translated as “bran puker,” a common decorative element of small flour mills in Europe; bran is now a valued nutrient, but back then is was discarded; tabletop artwork with bread as centerpiece; a baker’s horn, used to announce that fresh loaves were available; a 17th Century painting; and a late-1940s CARE package from the USA, in the section on bread and hunger.
I left the museum, walked the town a bit more, then crossed the Danube into Bavaria, into the town of Neu-Ulm. My eye caught the modernist St. John the Baptist Church built in the 1920s, then crossed the street to a small Christmas market, which in food and crafts exhibited an earthiness unseen in other December markets. Inspired by the bread-as-80%-of diet fact above, and needing to eat less after a succession of huge, hi-cal means, lunch consisted of two hard rolls covered with sunflower seeds, a perfect repast. Walked back to the hotel to get my suitcase, and had a nice chat with the young owner, Florian Röhrig, who bought the hotel two years earlier and was working hard to make it a success.
Some last scenes of Ulm:
Hopped on the 3:51 ICE express to Stuttgart, cued some German composers on my iPhone, and sat back. At Stuttgart, I connected to a local train, absolutely packed, and rode west to Durlach, an agreeable suburb of Karlsruhe, next stop on my teaching tour. Walked some blocks to my hotel, the eight-room Gasthaus Zum Ochsen, in a splendid half-timbered house built in 1746. After the right-size lunch I was hungry, and found sustenance less than two blocks away (the Ochsen has a superb, but very pricey, French restaurant), venison goulash, dumplings, red cabbage. A multinational family sat at the next table, speaking mostly Spanish and German, but with some English. When I got up to leave, I wished them “Muy buenas noches,” which launched a wonderful T-t-S in three languages. The Germans were local, and the others were from Barcelona and Mexico City. I mentioned Georgetown University, and the Spanish mother told me she had a son studying there. I wrote down my email address and invited the student to be in touch. We parted with a hug and two kisses!
Up before dawn Monday morning and onto the tram, west to my fourth visit to the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), a place with a long history of serious brainpower: auto pioneer Karl Benz, electrical whiz Heinrich Hertz, and nuclear physicist Edward Teller all studied there. I worked the morning, interrupting my labor for a little walk around town. As I wrote in a 2015 post, a German artist, Gunter Demnig, began a multi-year project to remember Holocaust victims by placing brass “stumbling stones” (stolpersteine) on sidewalks in front of their former residences. Online one can find lists sorted by city, so I looked up Karlsruhe and found that one memorial was quite close to KIT, and the surname, Ettlinger, was the same as older friend of mine, Harry, whose family departed Karlsruhe the day after Kristallnacht in 1938 (I emailed Harry, now 90, to see if they were kin, but have not heard back).
At 12:30 met my host Prof. Martin Klarmann, plus doctoral students Max and Sven. We had a long discussion on the way to lunch and at table about the current political messes in Europe and the U.S. Sigh. My scheduled 2:00 lecture was rescheduled to 5:30 because of room shortages, so I worked and read after lunch, and brought this journal up to date. The spare office where I sat afforded a splendid view of parkland and the tower of the 18th Century castle that belonged to the Baden nobility. Delivered a talk from 5:30 to 7:00, then hopped on the tram home to Durlach. Changed into jeans and ambled across town to Der Vogel (The Bird), a brewpub. Monday night in Advent, the place was hopping, but I managed to get a stool at the bar, and enjoy a Christmas beer and a plate of the Swabian version of ravioli (maultaschen).
A small part of the massive Karlsruhe palace, just around the corner from the KIT campus
My scheduled 2:00 lecture was rescheduled to 5:30 because of room shortages, so I worked and read after lunch, and brought this journal up to date. The spare office where I sat afforded a splendid view of parkland and the tower of the 18th Century castle that belonged to the Baden nobility. Delivered a talk from 5:30 to 7:00, then hopped on the tram home to Durlach. Changed into jeans and ambled across town to Der Vogel (The Bird), a brewpub. Monday night in Advent, the place was hopping, but I managed to get a stool at the bar, and enjoy a Christmas beer and a plate of the Swabian version of ravioli (maultaschen).
Tuesday was a day off, no teaching, and I planned a full day. Out the door, back to the station, and onto a regional train to Heidelberg, the storied university town. I had only been there once before, in 2005, but I remembered the basic layout, the old town south of the Neckar River. Ambled through the old town to the core of the university (founded 1386) and the baroque Jesuitenkirch (1711), then back to Bismarckplatz via the river. I was glad I stopped briefly, and was reminded that the geographer is an efficient tourist (riding the tram back to the station, mused about times when I got acquainted with a new landscape in just an hour or two, and immediately recalled Ottawa in 1993, New Orleans in ’77).
However interesting, Heidelberg was just a 90-minute detour from the main event of the day, a tour of BASF’s massive chemical works – the largest in the world – on the Rhine at Ludwigshafen, about 15 miles away. Checked in at their visitor center an hour before the 1:30 (English-language) site tour. There were no restaurants nearby, but I earlier scoped out something called the BASF Gesellschaftshaus, much like an executive dining room, and open to the public. Posh, with prices to match, but had a plate of pasta and zipped back to the start of the tour. There were only five of us, three BASF employees from India, one from Poland, and me. We climbed on a fancy Mercedes tour bus and set off, zigzagging through the facility. Vast doesn’t even describe it: within the complex are 200 separate plants, 38,000 employees (17,000 of whom arrive by bicycle, hooray!), consuming the same amount of power as the city of Hamburg. The tour guide offered facts and figures nonstop, and by the end of the hour drive we had covered 10 miles inside the complex!
The guide had impressive command of the plant and all that it made, and – in keeping with German forthrightness – he even told the tour about a fatal accident eight weeks earlier (three firefighters were killed after an explosion and fire when a propane line was accidentally cut). No denial there, and I couldn’t imagine the equivalent U.S. company being so transparent. Back in the museum-like visitor center, he also flagged a 1921 ammonia explosion that killed more than 500. Lack of denial is always good.
The exhibits in the visitor center told lots of stories and introduced us to the myriad products made with things from the complex. Like 15% of the CO2 for Europe’s fizzy drinks, or synthetic indigo dye for blue jeans (the guide mentioned with some pride that BASF synthetic indigo launched German immigrant Levi Strauss’ denim business in faraway California).
We think of chemical plants as messy places, and a big chunk of the visitor center described their efforts to reduce emissions. I don’t know how other big producers stack up, but I was impressed that 93% of the chemical raw materials that arrive at the plant are used, and only 7% are incinerated. Other exhibits explained how various BASF products promote sustainability, for example, insulation for residences; a Paris villa renovated with their insulation products yielded an 87% drop in annual energy consumption. German know-how!
After the hour site tour and 90 minutes in the visitor center I could absorb no more. Hopped on a tram across the Rhine to Mannheim, worked my email, and at 5:30 met KIT host Martin, who offered a walking tour of the city before dinner. We headed first to the university, built in a sprawling former palace. As we walked, I learned a bunch more about Germany, including a fascinating intro to its ecclesiastical geography, which is way more complex than I thought (didn’t know that Calvinist reformers came north from Geneva, and squabbled with Lutherans about who had true Protestant theology). I had passed through Mannheim many times on the train, and from the tracks you see lots of modern buildings, but on the tour we saw quite a bit of the central city that survived massive Allied bombing. Martin even provided some marketing lessons, for example, when we stopped in a retail store of the coffee roaster Tchibo, which sold way more than coffee – clothing, cookware, toys, and I was astonished to learn they rotate 100% of their inventory every week.
We walked on and on, then at 7:15 sat down to dinner at Marly, a one-star Michelin restaurant right on the Rhine. It was a colossal dinner, five courses; most were small, but the roast duck main dish was not. I was enjoying the meal, and especially conversation with Martin, who knows more about U.S. politics than I do, but was a little stressed about being 40 miles from my bed. At ten, Martin suggested that we might amble back to the station. Good idea! Head hit pillow after midnight, a really full day, and way cool.
Wednesday morning, out the door and onto the tram to KIT. Worked the morning in the spare office, and at 12:30 headed to lunch with Sven, Max, and Wiebke, a new doctoral student. Had another plate of maultaschen, huge, then ambled back to campus to deliver the airline-pricing lecture to 20 undergraduates. Changed into comfy traveling clothes, said goodbye, and hopped on the tram to the Karlsruhe main station, then north to Frankfurt, out to the airport, and onto an Aer Lingus flight to Dublin. Before boarding, had a nice T-t-S chat with an Irish woman about my age, returning home after visiting her son and grandchildren in Frankfurt. Her other son is a pilot for Aer Lingus, so we yakked briefly about the joys of the airline “magic carpet,” a perk that lets her visit her grandchildren every six weeks.
I woke about an hour earlier than expected, because Ireland is an hour behind Germany. Step one was to iron my trousers, step two was instant coffee in the room. Tucked into an enormous breakfast, including black pudding, the Irish version of blood sausage. Rolled my suitcase to the bus stop, and hopped the #16 south a mile or so, then walked several blocks to Dublin City University, DCU.
Met my host Naoimh (pronounced “Neeve”) O’Reilly and some new faculty, and delivered a couple of lectures. The semester had ended six days earlier, so I was honored and pleased that more than 50 students came back to campus to hear me speak. The highlight of my fifth DCU visit was a short chat with Nimra Khan, in her final year. When she entered the classroom, she looked familiar (maybe because you don’t see a lot of hijabs in Ireland); after class, she reintroduced herself, said she heard me speak in 2014, and thanked me for career advice I had provided back then. But the best part was when she showed me her American Airlines ID card and spoke proudly of her new job in operations at Dublin Airport. Moments like that are so joyful.
Ate a quick lunch with Naoimh and colleagues. When I was planning the visit, I reckoned I had just enough time to zip downtown before heading back to the airport, so hopped in a taxi. The driver was a total character, a man of strong opinions. When I told him I was from Minneapolis, he asked, “Do you know the Juicy Lucy?” I was astonished; the Juicy Lucy is an only-in-Minnesota food, a burger with cheese stuffed inside the meat, invented at a small tavern in South Minneapolis. His accent was thick and he spoke softly, so I could not savvy how he knew about the sandwich, but he had never visited my home state. Whew!
Even in mid-day, Dublin traffic is challenging, but at exactly 2:15 I rolled my suitcase into Mulligan’s, one of the world’s greatest drinking places, and greeted my longtime chum and former Aer Lingus executive Maurice Coleman. We hoisted glasses, and crammed a lot of yakking into 65 minutes. Hewing to timetable, I hugged Maurice precisely at 3:20, walked a couple of blocks, and hopped on the airport bus. Flew back to Germany for the last lecture of the year.
Several times that December 15, I celebrated the ten-year anniversary of being fully retired from corporate life. It was a great decision. And a couple of times I cued the soundtrack of the 2016 Irish film “Sing Street”; the lyrics from the cut “Drive It Like You Stole It” fit perfectly:
I heard an angel calling
This is your life
You can go anywhere.
Landed in Düsseldorf at eight, hopped the S-Bahn downtown, and walked a few blocks to the hotel. Checked in, changed out of the suit, and headed across the street for a late dinner at Uerige, a city institution. Up Friday, out the door, and a mile to the Düsseldorf campus of WHU, the private business school I’ve visited for almost 20 years. Met my host Jochen Menges and delivered my “ten things” leadership lecture to 11 engaged MBA students: 5 Germans, a Finn, Argentine, Pole, New Zealander, and Chinese, and an American, Nishant from California. A great group, and as always, my thought was “these people are the future, and that makes me confident we are in good hands”:
Peeled off at 12:30, hopped on the subway back to the main station. At one, I met Tobias Hundhausen, a young German pal I’ve known since he was an exchange student at SMU in Dallas. We had not seen each other for 30 months, and it was great to catch up on his new wife, new job, and coming new baby. And to enjoy a swell lunch in an atmospheric old brewpub (called a hausbrauerei), Füchschen, in the Altstadt. Tobias lived nearby, and knew the place well. We parted and I headed back to the hotel.
Worked a bit, walked the town, and at 5:15 ambled into another brewpub, Schumacher. The place was packed, but I found a chair in the corner of the front bar, and settled in to watch the scene of holiday merriment. In that part of Germany, beer comes in one and only one size, 0.2 liter (not quite 7 ounces), which means you might have a few over the course of several hours, as I did, chatting with folks who sat at the table. Like the Dutch couple who asked “Do you have places like this in America?” Emphatically not, I replied. Every half-hour or so, we heard the loud pop of a fresh keg being tapped, traditional oak barrels. The last T-t-S in Germany was at table with two brothers, Peter and Roland, and their wives, both named Gabi. They spoke zero English, so the chat was rudimentary, accented with plenty of laughs. In between, I tucked into my third plate of grünkohl; my trip goal was four, well, close. Kissed the two Gabis and shook hands with the brothers as I left, happy to have met them.
Up way before six Saturday morning, homeward bound at the end of a long but fine trip, most of the time in Germany, such an admirable place. Hopped on the ICE, which at a max speed of 186 mph got us to Frankfurt Airport in a little over an hour. Onto the Silver Bird to Charlotte, where things slowed down because the connecting flight was first late and then broken. Silver lining was a wonderful T-t-S with Salisha, an actor in the traveling troupe of “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” and (drum roll) Miss California World. Just a delightful person. Finally rolled up the driveway at 11:15.