The “fall semester” started on Wednesday, September 15, Metro to National Airport, short hop up to Philadelphia, and a big Silver Bird across the ocean to Frankfurt. Arrived after breakfast, waited a couple of hours, and at 10:45 hopped on the fast ICE train north. As I always do on arrival in a country I greatly admire, I cued their national anthem, “Deutschlandleid,” then closed my mind and conjured images of the place in spring 1945: flattened, broke, hungry. And within a decade, cities were rebuilt, there was money in the bank, and food and drink were in ample supply. That is about will, a trait that exists in abundance in Germany. It is that will that built the train that propelled me to Cologne at 180 mph. The train turned west toward the border with Belgium and The Netherlands, and I hopped off in Aachen, a city best known as the seat of King Charlemagne in the 9th Century.
Weather was poor: periodic showers and howling wind, but I stowed my suitcase and backpack contents in a locker in the train station, zipped up my Gore-Tex raincoat, and headed out, a short walk through a townscape immediately appealing, with a nice mix of contemporary and old buildings, a pleasant scale, and lots of sculpture on the street. First stop was the spectacular cathedral, begun in the 8th Century and modified through the years. Wandered the old town a bit, zipped into a supermarket for lunch fixings, and enjoyed the repast until another shower arrived. Next stop was the town hall, Rathaus, begun 1330 and finished two decades later. The public rooms were spectacular, and on the top floor a cavernous coronation hall, site of many royal banquets through the years. It was still howling and pouring outside, so I spent a good while in the various rooms, many done in Baroque style. Stop three was Elisenbrunnen, one of the original thermal springs. Despite the signs that read in German “Do not drink the water,” everyone who stopped took a handful, so I did too, slightly hot and highly mineralized.
Ambled back to the train station and still had more than an hour, so found a place to sit and read a bit. Hopped on the fast train back to Cologne and then a completely packed local train north to Düsseldorf, my destination. It was like the Tokyo Metro, and I was happy to get off, then onto a subway to my hotel. Checked in and took a tonic shower. I knew the neighborhood, just southeast of downtown, from a visit in late 2016, so made fast for Uerige am Markt, a cozy restaurant. The local brew, Altbier, comes in small glasses, and I enjoyed a few along with an enormous plate of pork, roasted potatoes, and green beans. Vast. Slept hard.
Up at 6:45 Friday morning, to the hotel gym, then breakfast. Spent the morning doing some consulting work. At 11:45 I walked a block to a station of the local bikeshare system, Nextbike. Their iPhone app was balky, but I got it figured out, unlocked bike 04445, and pedaled up Kölnerstrasse, then north toward Altstadt, the old town. Parked the bike, locked it, done.
While waiting for local friends to arrive, I sat down on a bench on Ratinger Strasse. An octogenarian woman with a large smile wheeled her walker into the Füchschen brewery for lunch. She was a perfect vignette of social democracy: taking care of the elderly so that they might live in dignity with enough. A few minutes later, a brief T-t-S with dog owners. The dog paused in front of me, so of course I nuzzled her face, then told the owners about missing our terriers when I travel. So they turned back around to let me cuddle a bit more.
At 12:30 I met Tobias Hundhausen (who I first met in Dallas in the late 1990s), his wife Sarah (who I had not met prior), and their seven-week-old son Tillmann. Linda had knitted a blanket for young Till, and parents were happy to have it. We had a delightful lunch at Füchschen, one of the many small brewers that make Altbier. Tucked into a splendid lunch and great conversation about Toby’s new job, Sarah’s travails during pregnancy, and the other stuff that close friends discuss. Lots of fun. Rode the Nextbike home, took a nap, suited up, and set off for WHU, the private German business school I’ve visited most years since 2000.
I spotted a shortcut on the map, and in no time was walking down Kiefernstrasse, which had a very Bohemian feel: graffiti all over, old wagons like the ones Roma people use, lefty-looking people on the street. When I arrived at WHU a few minutes later, I Googled the street name, then to Wikipedia: “Kiefernstraße is a street in the Flingern-Süd district of Düsseldorf that became notorious in the 1980s for squatting. In the mid-1980s there were connections to the Baader–Meinhof [Terrorist] Gang.” Whoa!
From 5:15 to 6:15 I delivered a career-advice talk to 30 brand-new full-time MBA students, a very international group. Only six were from Germany; the others were from China, India, Taiwan, Colombia, Venezuela, Canada, USA, South Africa, Kazakhstan, Finland (he was impressed I knew Sisu, a distinctive Finnish word that roughly means perseverance, something Finns have needed during the many years that neighbors ran roughshod over their land). I stayed around for 30 minutes or so, chatting one-on-one with students. A young Chinese entrepreneur invited me to go into business with him! I politely declined.
Walked back to the hotel, naturally via Kiefernstrasse, smiling at the young people who stared at the old man in suit and tie. Changed clothes, hopped on the U-Bahn, and in no time was on a stool at Schumacher, another Altbier producer. Had a nice T-t-S with a German bicycle enthusiast (we two-wheel geeks each had pictures of our bikes on our phones!). Tucked into a plate of roast blutwurst, fried onions, sauerkraut, and mashed potatoes, German soul food for sure. The biker, whose name I did not catch, was by that time chatting with three folks at the other end of the table. Germany could well be a land of T-t-S, especially in drinking places. Slept hard, again.
On the gym bike before seven, rode a bit further, then after breakfast went back out on a bikeshare cycle for 15 miles through town. High point was the pleasant and very affluent Oberkassel neighborhood across the Rhine River from downtown. Returned home via the state (North Rhine-Westphalia) parliament buildings, then a new district upstream on former port land. Took a short nap, walked to a nearby supermarket for sandwiches, then suited up for a late-Saturday-afternoon talk on leadership at WHU. Students were from the weekend MBA program, so nearly all of them were German. Great group, good questions, nice round of applause. Despite a whole day of blue skies, it was raining steadily, which made for a fast but soggy walk back to the hotel.
Changed clothes and hopped on the U-Bahn. I noticed a transit ad above the windows, noting the emergency phone numbers for Düsseldorf. In another vignette of social democracy, I counted nine separate lines – of course the equivalent of 911 in the U.S., as well as for abused spouses, abused children, missing persons, victims of anti-gay violence, and more. Got off at the edge of the old town, and walked a block west to beer at zum Schlüssel, another of the small brewery-restaurant combinations. Saturday night and the place was hopping, but I found a standing-room-only counter strategically 10 feet from the oak kegs. German pro soccer (Bundesliga) was on the big-screen TVs above the bar, and I got to see a nearby team Mönchengladbach tie the score with Leipzig. Had a nice T-t-S with a German fellow, which headed quickly toward the new President of the U.S. “We are afraid,” he said. “So am I.” The yak turned toward the Bad Old Days of the Cold War, and he told me he grew up in Lower Saxony only six miles from the heavily armed border with East Germany. More, he said, the Berlin Wall came down on his birthday, November 11. “Ein schönes geschenk,” (a nice gift) I said, and he smiled. One of the servers, Guido, greeted the elderly couple next to me like old friends. As noted above, German drinking places are social places.
My server, Wolfgang, was efficient (he even had an old-fashioned coin dispenser around his waist), and brought fresh beer (small glasses, drained quickly). I asked him in German if I could eat standing up, he replied yes, so I ordered another German favorite, cold herring in cream sauce, with onions and pickles (in that case from the famous picklemakers of the Spreewald south of Berlin), plus a huge mound of fried potatoes. So good. Headed back to the hotel and clocked out.
Up at 6:30, back to the gym, then packed up, and headed to breakfast. That hotel, the NH City (a Dutch chain) serves an awesome morning meal, and because I was traveling that day, I tucked into a lot of food. Another nice, if brief, T-t-S with two guys my age, half in German and half in English. They were from near Hamburg, and were eight longtime friends who gathered regularly to play cards. “Ah,” I replied, “you’re on a boys’ trip.” And they laughed, happy to learn an English idiom.
Checked out, hopped the U-Bahn to the main station, then a local train to Cologne. I had a 20-minute connection, so ambled out the south entrance to gaze up at the enormous Dom, the cathedral begun in 1248 and not truly finished until 1880. First seen more than four decades earlier, it always has the power to put humans in perspective. We are small. Took a short ride to Cologne/Bonn Airport, and flew to Stockholm, headed for five days of teaching in Sweden. We descended through cloud, and below was the pleasant rural Swedish landscape: mixed hardwood and evergreen forest, pastures, lakes, and red barns with red tile roofs.
Changed planes and flew 300 miles north to Umeå, a place familiar from 22 previous visits to the university there. Landed about seven, hopped on a bus into town, and checked into a comfortable hotel, the Uman, where we’ve stayed for years. The receptionist had the key to the bike that the Umeå School of Business and Economics makes available to me most years. It was time for a quick sauna. It was seriously hot, north of 200° F., so it only took about 25 minutes to work up a big sweat. Showered, dressed, and grabbed a light dinner in the hotel – they serve a free evening meal, one of the things we’ve enjoyed through the years.
Was up at first light Monday morning, onto the bike, 15 miles, including a nice ride around Bölesholmarna, a small island in the Umeå River, and (as it says on my blog homepage) one of my favorite places on earth. Even on a gloomy day it was lovely, birch and pine trees, autumn color. I looked for our terrier Henry’s cousin, Keso, who I had seen on previous rides on the island, but he wasn’t out with his keepers (Little aside: in previous dispatches from Umeå I spelled his name Queso, like the Mexican word for cheese; but the K spelling is right: Keso is a Swedish cottage cheese brand, which makes sense since both the food and West Highland terriers are white!).
Showered, suited up, and pedaled up the hill to the university. At 9:30, met Prof. Chris Nicol, and delivered a talk on airline alliances. Ate a quick lunch with his teaching assistant, Angelos Kostis, a really good guy with similar views on a range of subjects. From one to three delivered a talk to a big group, about 100, all grad students, a case study on airline strategy, first time to present it. Whew. Was plumb wore out. Rode down the hill, coasting in light rain, then took a needed nap.
At six I pedaled four miles downriver for dinner with Nils and Carolina Paulsson, their kids Johan (13), Petter (11), and Olle (8), and dogs Egil and Elton (German pointer and Engish spaniel). They are like family, so I was immediately at home. We got caught up on things since the previous September: the weekend house near the coast that Nils and Carolina built themselves (they also built the home where we sat); the kids musical interests; and lots more. Tucked into a delicious dinner of Icelandic haddock, along with potatoes and vegetables from their garden. After dinner, Johan and Petter played violin for me, and we enjoyed an awesome homemade apple cake. Hugged everyone and walked outside into steady rain. The ride back to town was wet and dark, and even cycling slowly I left the unpaved trail a couple of times. Oops. Happily, the rain tapered off, then stopped as I got close to the hotel, so I opted to ride over to Lotta’s, a bar and microbrewery, for a homemade beer. That I recognized the bartender from previous visits was pretty good indication that I feel like a local in Umeå!
Up early and out on the bike again, then up the hill to the (nearly) annual meeting of the school’s International Advisory Board. When I walked into the meeting room, called Samvetet, I thought of the many times I had been there, but I especially thought of when I entered the room about 2 PM on Friday, September 14, 2001, just three days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. On these pages I wrote:
The International Advisory Board was just finishing their coffee break, and when they reconvened I was introduced. The group applauded my persistence given the circumstances. The new B-school dean, Anders Söderholm, asked me to say a few words of introduction, and I simply repeated my view that not to come would be to yield to the terrorists. More applause. I sat down.
I was the first board member to arrive, and had a nice chat with the (relatively) new dean, Sofia Lundberg. Small talk focused on the weather: the whole summer had been cold and wet; “I didn’t even put away my winter clothes,” she complained. Two new board members arrived, Emma, a Ph.D. from the school, now working as an economist for Amazon in Seattle; and Stewart, an English sociologist turned business prof, now in Sydney. It was a good day, with updates on various aspects of the school’s progress. Looking back over the nearly 20 years of board service, they’ve made a lot of advances. Rode the bike down the hill. At 6:45, we ambled to dinner at a Köksbaren, a “new Scandinavian cuisine” place a few blocks from the hotel. First course was chunky, country-style bacon, oysters, and homemade potato chips, and the main course was one of my Swedish faves, Arctic char.
The weather was consistently bad, but I was determined to get some exercise, so I went out Wednesday morning in a raincoat for nine miles on the bike. At nine, joined a joint “strategy day” with two school advisory boards and the larger board of directors. I knew a lot of the people, which was proof of my many visits. Candidly, was irregular in quality, and I was glad to peel off at two for a talk to students. It was time again for another “Drink and Learn” at the E-Pub, which is run by the school’s student association, HHUS. Drat, the back tire on the bike was flat, so I ambled a few blocks to the bus for a seven-minute ride up the hill. Delivered a talk in the pub, good dialogue and questions, then hopped the bus back downtown for dinner with the group. Had a nice chat with a retired PriceWaterhouseCoopers exec and a prof from the school.
Was up seriously early Thursday morning, out the door to the bus and the airport and a 7:25 flight south to Stockholm. Had a nice chat at the airport with Angelos, the Greek Ph.D. student I met two days earlier, and a Romanian post-doc. Angelos was headed home to Thessaloniki for a long weekend, and the other guy was headed to a Cloud-computing conference in Silicon Valley. I collected my suitcase and walked across the airport to the train station, where I donned a necktie and changed into dress shoes. A couple minutes later a woman with a T-shirt that read “Keep Minnesota Green,” ambled toward me. Naturally that started a fine T-t-S. Kim was indeed from my native state, headed north to Dalarna for a funeral of a cousin two generations older. Through the years she had been back to the land her grandfather left in 1905, and in fact had bought the ancestral home a few years earlier. It was a fascinating chat, and a nice marker of the value of the jet plane: Kim owns a second home more than 4,000 miles from her first!
Hopped on the train, gliding 18 miles north to Uppsala, a historic town: seat of kings and of the Swedish (Lutheran) Church, and home of one of the first universities in Scandinavia, 1477. It was my 8th visit there, and I knew my way from station to business school. Worked my email and other stuff for an hour, and just before noon met Kim Larsson, a honcho with Ekonomerna, the student business association. Delivered a talk on crisis management to a full house. Said goodbye to Kim and tucked into a much-needed lunch, haddock and potatoes, in the student cafeteria. Worked a bit more, and from four to six gave another talk.
On the previous two visits to Uppsala I stayed with friends Hans and Mia Kjellberg, but Hans was traveling, so I booked an astonishingly cheap ($33) Airbnb room less than two blocks from school. My host was out for dinner, and hid the key. In no time was changed into jeans and out the door, into the center for a beer and dinner. Swedish food is swell, but I needed some spice, so found a serviceable Thai place for a green curry with tofu. As I was tucking in, an email arrived from a client, asking for some urgent work, so I paid the bill and walked briskly back to Skolgatan 1. My Airbnb host, Dr. Olle Svenson, had returned, and we had a nice chat – he was a professor of electrical engineering, and a musician. I would have liked to yak some more, but needed to get my homework done and sent across the Atlantic. It was a long day, and I was asleep by 9:30.
Up early Friday morning, out the door, down the hill to the train station. I passed the old house and garden of one of Uppsala’s most famous scholars, Carl Linneaus (the fellow that gave us the taxonomic system for flora and fauna), who lived there from 1743 until his death in 1788; he cultivated more than 3,000 plant species, making it one of the largest botanic gardens in Europe. Cool! The Swedish newsagent chain Presbyrån has complete breakfast fixings to take away, so I grabbed a cinnamon bun, yogurt, banana, and a large coffee, and ambled up to track 7. Ate in a platform waiting room, then hopped on the 8:06 train into Stockholm, 35 miles south. The SJ (Swedish State Railways) regional train was quite new, and really comfy – when I boarded, I asked a fellow traveler if we were in First Class. Free wi-fi, nice seats, spotlessly clean, I wished I were travelling farther.
Continued in Part 2