On Saturday, February 4, I headed to Europe for the 180th time. But it’s still so exciting to cross the Atlantic. Flew to JFK, then, although bound for Germany, to Paris to visit the fourth bar, Comptoir Voltaire, that terrorists attacked in November 2015. Regular readers may recall that in July 2016 I planned to visit all four but only made it to three.
Arrived Charles de Gaulle early, at six, and was on a RER suburban train soon after. Stashed my suitcase and laptop in a locker at Gare de l’Est, the station from which I would depart five hours later, then picked up a Velib shared bike (bought a day pass for the equivalent of $1.92 online the day before). It was still dark, and Paris was still asleep, which made for a pleasant and quiet ride. It reminded me of the voice on an American Airlines TV commercial promoting our Europe services; our jets were landing in Paris (and other places) “just as the city starts to stir.” Rode to the bar to locate it, then headed south a couple miles to Coulée verte René-Dumont, a pedestrian and bikeway on a former railway that was one of the inspirations for New York’s High Line. Gliding past other early-morning riders, I was reminded of a swell quotation from H.G. Wells: “When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the human race.” Amen to that!
While doing a yo-yo on the trail, it started raining, lightly at first, then pelting. By the time I circled back to Comptoir Voltaire, I was wet (the Gore-Tex coat helped, but my head and lower legs were soaked). But it was warm and friendly inside, lots of regulars greeting the barman with a smile and handshake. Had a café au lait and dried off a bit. Before leaving, showed the barman my iPhone with the following in French, thanks to Google translate (I did the same thing, with a shorter message, last July):
Good morning. I’m very glad to visit Comptoir Voltaire for the first time. I’m here to enjoy a cup of coffee, and to remember the people who were injured here in the terrorist attacks of November 2015. I worked for American Airlines for 22 years, and was there on 11 September 2001, so I am well familiar with terrorism. But we are not afraid, because if we fear, then the terrorists win. And they will not win.
He read it, shook my hand, and wished me a pleasant day (in French, naturellement). Back on the Velib, in lighter rain, toward the railway station. About a half-mile south, the rain stopped, so I changed direction, following the Canal St. Martin south, past the Theater Bataclan – site of the worst carnage in the terrorist attacks – to the Bastille, then on to the River Seine. Rode west past Notre Dame, then back north to the station. A fine morning in a city that is so visual and so majestic, even in the dumpier parts. There’s no place like it. I was feeling young. And connected, thanks to changing wireless providers, from AT&T to T-Mobile, which offers unlimited data and texts in France and 139 other countries (as well as voice calls home for 20 cents a minute vs. $2). Cool!
At 1:01 the Deutsche Bahn ICE to Frankfurt rolled out, and pretty soon we were at 320 km/hr (about 200 mph, zippy). Ate sandwiches I bought in the station, read The New York Times on my iPhone, and brought this journal up to date. Crossed the border that flipped-flopped several times in recent centuries and arrived Kaiserslautern, Germany, at 3:30. Got on a branch-line train at four, down a narrow valley, very scenic, into the Nahe Valley, and finally to the Rhine at Bingen, just downstream from Mainz. Arrived Koblenz at six, walked to the hotel, and took a much-needed shower and a 20-minute nap.
At 7:30 I ambled a few blocks to the Altes Brauhaus, a swell bar and restaurant that’s been in business for 328 years, so they know how to serve a beer and a plate of food. The place was surprisingly empty. Sat down, had a couple of beers and a plate of (cold) herring and fried potatoes. Yum! Back to the hotel and asleep by ten, all the way through to seven. No time-zone woes, nice.
Out the door Monday morning and onto the bus across the river to WHU, a private business school I had visited 12 times before, including a stop at their graduate campus in Düsseldorf seven weeks earlier. On a walk around the small town of Vallendar, I looked down and saw four stolpersteine, remembering four murdered in Treblinka.
The two classes weren’t until the afternoon, so I worked the morning, and at lunch met two longtime WHU friends, Heidi Heidrun and Susan Boedeker. I see Heidi once a year, but hadn’t seen Susan for about six years, and it was good to catch up. At 1:30 I met my new host, Raphael Silberzahn, a friendly young guy filling in for my usual colleague Jochen. Delivered two talks on leadership and at seven hopped the bus home. Worked a bit, changed clothes, and at eight walked back to the Altes Brauhaus to meet Raphael (we planned to eat at another place, but it was closed Mondays). Tucked into an enormous plate of venison stew with spätzle and red cabbage, really good and really a lot. Even better, a long chat with Raphael, a seriously interesting guy. We yakked about a lot of stuff, including his recent unpleasant academic experience in Spain, his research, his entrepreneurial bent, and more. A nice evening.
Up Tuesday morning, repeat Monday, except class was in the morning. Walking up the hill to the campus, I spotted four more stolpersteine. The Nazis murdered three of four of the Loeb family on Wilhelm-Ross Strasse, parents Felix and Flora and younger daughter Martha; Anna, born 1923, somehow managed to flee to Belgium, then on to the United States. I thought of the Loebs a few hours later, when at lunch I read in The New York Times that police arrested 20 rabbis obstructing traffic at Trump Tower. They were protesting Trump’s order restricting Muslim immigration. Rabbi Jill Jacobs said, “We remember our history, and we remember that the borders of this country closed to us in 1924 with very catastrophic consequences during the Holocaust.” Memory is a good thing.
Finished class at 11:15, worked a bit, grabbed lunch in the Mensa, and got on the train back to Koblenz, then south. The Rhine Valley south of Koblenz is of storybook quality, with steep slopes, cliffs, hilltop castles, and picturesque villages. I shot a video on the iPhone to send Dylan and Carson, updated this journal, and worked a bit. Arrived Stuttgart at 4:22. The 4:52 local south to Reutlingen canceled, slowing things a bit, but was working in my hotel room by 6:30. Met my longtime friend Oliver Götz from Reutlingen University’s B-school at 8:15 and tucked into a light dinner (I’ve been eating plenty). Slept hard.
Up and out the door, on foot up the hill to the university Wednesday morning (it was my fourth visit in under two years, so I knew the way). On the way, a nice walk through the old town, passing through two ancient gates, the Gartentor and the Tübinger Tor:
Worked a couple hours in the Mensa, and from 11:30 to 1:00 gave a lecture to a quite diverse group of marketing students: half from Germany and kids from Mexico, Bolivia, Costa Rica, the USA, Pakistan, Korea, China, and more. Oliver peeled off to a meeting and I got the bus down the hill, picked up my suitcase at the hotel, changed clothes, and ambled to the train station. Late lunch al fresco on platform 1, then onto the 2:48 local back to Stuttgart, then a fast ICE north to Cologne. The wi-fi was not working, so I couldn’t get some needed work done. The ICE track between Frankfurt Airport and Cologne parallels an autobahn, and it’s always cool to see the 180 mph train zooming past cars – even tricked-out Porsches – like they’re standing still.
On the connecting train north to Münster, somewhere between Wuppertal and Hagen, my brain locked up, but positively, on the following simple thought: What I Get to See. The privilege of mobility, it’s such a blessing. Arrived Münster about 30 minutes late. Got to the hotel (I normally stay with Airbnb host Svenja, but this was just one night), dropped my bag, and walked briskly toward Altes Gasthaus Leve, long a favorite restaurant. I tried to visit on my December trip, but the place gets booked months in advance of Advent and the city’s popular Christmas markets, so I hadn’t been since 2012. Lunch was late but small, and I was way hungry. Tucked in, maybe too much, but it was really good.
Up Thursday morning, a bit of work, then some meetings with doctoral students Julian Allendorf and others. Pizza lunch, walked back to the train station, and headed south to Cologne. It was a long way to go for short meetings, but I kept a promise. Arrived Cologne at four, and checked into the youth hostel in Deutz, across the river from the center. It was my first hostel stay since 2009, and that was at the same place, a quite new and very convenient place. I was looking to save a few dollars, and to link to my past, because youth hosteling was one of the activities that expanded my horizon as a teenager, and because I had served on the USA youth hosteling association board of directors for nine years in the 1990s (as “compensation” for my service, I received lifetime membership, and when I checked in I showed my card).
They were installing wi-fi in the building, and it was only working on the main floor, so I grabbed my laptop and headed down to a table and bench to do some work. Swirls of teenagers on school trips swirled around. Then a wonderful T-t-S: a little girl about seven walked up to me, hovering right over my computer, and began speaking, in German of course. I mustered my best skills, and we were able to have a little chat. I vividly remember the last such encounter, in Vietnam in November 2010, and recalled what worked well was to scroll through family photos on my iPhone. So out came Dylan and Carson, then Robin and Jack, then Linda, then Henry and MacKenzie. After about five minutes, her mother and grandmother appeared. They spoke some English, so we filled in the blanks. The little girl was Viola. I told her, auf Deutsch, that she had a pretty name. She proudly spelled it for me, V-I-O-L-A. Then said auf Wiedersehen.
Took a short nap, and walked a block to the tram, riding across the Rhine to the Altstadt, the old city. At 7:15, met Jan-Marc, an undergrad at the University of Cologne and one of the heads of the student business association, at Gilden im Zims, one of the city’s oldest bars – from the 13th Century. The place celebrates “Heroes of Cologne” with a series of large black-and-white pictures on the walls and messages on the little glasses (by tradition, the local beer style, Kölsch, is served in 20 centiliter (6.7 ounce) glasses). I had visited once before, and again admired the photo of Konrad Adenauer, a former mayor of Cologne, but more important the first Chancellor of the postwar federal republic. I often think of Adenauer, leading the rebuilding of a country and economy flattened by the Nazis’ horrific wrong turn. (Indeed, while I waited for Jan-Marc near the entry, I noticed behind me a photo of Gilden in spring 1945 – buildings on either side destroyed, but the bar still standing tall.)
We got to know each other, and talked about future guest presentations. His friend Kevin arrived, in high spirits because he had just written his last exam and only had to prepare a thesis to graduate. The topic then moved to Carnival, the annual big party in Cologne, and the anecdotes reinforced my belief that this is one of the party capitals of the world. Soon Tina and Johanna, Kevin’s roommates, joined. In a small world moment, Johanna had just finished at ESB, the school I visited the day before, and her adviser was my host Oliver. I tucked into a traditional Cologne meal, Himmel und Erd (“Heaven and Earth”), blood sausages with mashed potatoes and a little side of apple compote, yum. The youngsters were staying on, but I departed at 9:30, walked across the Rhine, and fell hard asleep.
Up at 6:30, four-minute walk to the train, onto the 7:13 ICE to Frankfurt and the flight home.