On Saturday, May 12, I headed into town for a quick meeting with an Argentine former student, then across to National Airport. The Metro was not in its finest form that morning, and departure was, shall we say, stressed. But I made the flight with 10 minutes to spare, south to Charlotte then across the Atlantic for my third trip to Germany in 2018. Landed in Frankfurt at 6:55, waited a couple of hours, and hopped on the fast ICE train north, 180 mph. I was bound for Dortmund and my second visit to the Technical University there. The train stopped for 40 minutes north of Cologne; my Deutsche Bahn app showed the reason as “persons on the tracks,” which sounded bad.
Arrived Dortmund at 12:30, walked only a block to the hotel, checked in, changed clothes, grabbed a sandwich and potato salad from a quick-stop in the station, and headed back to my room. Rain was forecast, and it looked imminent, but I had just enough time to hop on a bikeshare two-wheeler for a quick zip around Dortmund’s compact center. Bombs flattened it in March 1945, just two months before Nazi surrender, and leftist postwar city leaders opted not to rebuild the old structures (“too bourgeois,” according to a local) and the result is charmless and utilitarian. Here and there are some splendid old buildings, welcome sights indeed. As I returned the bike, the skies opened, and I made fast for the Mahn- und Gedenkstätte Steinwache. Built as a municipal jail during the Weimar Republic, it became a center for Nazi torture from 1933 onward. In the early 1990s, Dortmund’s municipal archives office recreated cells and posted interpretive signs through five floors of the building. The signs were auf Deutsch but they provided a printed guide in English.
It was chilling. And it was a reminder that unlike Americans, Germans are not in denial about sordid aspects of their past. Indeed, when leaving, I had a brief T-t-S with a young man about 20; after establishing that he spoke English, I complimented Germany’s willingness to confront the Nazi era. “We don’t do that in the United States,” I said, “for example with slavery or the genocide of American Indians. You should feel proud of your country’s honesty.” He nodded, but seemed a bit taken aback by the vigor of my argument!
Grabbed a quick nap, and at 5:00 met Thorsten Autmaring, a Ph.D. student at TU Dortmund, and Sorush Sepehr, doing postdoctoral work after earning a doctorate at the University of Newcastle in Australia, a partner institution. Thorsten was from nearby, but Sorush was Iranian. We had an interesting discussion over beer and German food at Zum Alten Market, yakking about their research, careers, travel, the merits of various places.
Was asleep before 9:30, a hard doze to 5:30. Up and out the door for another bikeshare spin, brief, four miles. My host, Hartmut Holzmüller, picked me up after breakfast, and we drove to the TU Dortmund campus, a few miles west of the city. Worked the rest of the morning. From 12:15 to 1:45 delivered a talk on airline revenue management. Grabbed a quick lunch with Oliver, a student office staffer, then worked a bit more. At 6:30 I presented a leadership talk to ten Dortmund businesspeople, members of an association linked to TU’s business school. The core of the German economy is the Mittelstand, small- to medium-sized businesses, often family owned, and most of the audience came from this sector – B2B enterprises that made stuff, and exported nearly all of it. After the talk, over beer and sandwiches, had a good chat with a couple of people from ICA, that make self-service ticket machines for transit systems and railways, and Karl from Dolezych, makers of lifting equipment, slings, and ropes. An interesting window on the German economy.
Was up before six Tuesday morning, blue sky and sun, out for a quick six miles on a shared bike, big breakfast, and onto the 9:25 train north and east, through Münster, Bremen, and Hamburg, to Lübeck, once upon a time an important center in northern Germany. It was the capital of the Hanseatic League, a trade and defense confederation of about 40 core members, and many more associates (all the way west to London). Early on, these places understood that trade created prosperity – think of a 13th and 14th Century version of the EU, without the massive bureaucracy. Other members were nearby Hamburg and Rostock, Germany; Stockholm; Gdansk, Poland; Tallinn, Estonia; and others. The whole broad partnership began to wither in the mid-1400s, and declined quickly after the Thirty Years’ War (1618-48).
The ride north on a sunny spring morning was pleasant. Along the tracks I saw fawns scampering in woods; cows grazing in lush early-season pastures; wheat and barley coming along well; solar panels on south-facing roofs of barns, sheds, houses; wind turbines (these latter two a reminder that Germany is meeting its goals in converting to renewable energy); canals still very much in commercial use; a weathervane capped with a copper sailing ship as we rolled into Bremen. And lots more.
At 1:15, I stuffed my suitcase and backpack in a locker at the train station and headed into town for a good look. The place was immediately captivating, and a visitor could see why it was a UNESCO World Heritage Site. First stop was the tower of the Petrikirche, St. Peter’s (Lutheran). I love views from church spires, and this one was superb. Even better, an elevator up and down. Visitors got great perspective on the compact Altstadt. The sanctuary was stark.
Next stop was the Willy Brandt Haus, an interpretive center honoring the life and contributions of the former mayor of Berlin (1957-66), German foreign minister (1966-69), and federal chancellor (prime minister), 1969-74. I told the two woman at the entrance that Herr Brandt was to me “a Cold War hero,” for his efforts to reduce tensions between East and West. “That’s a good phrase,” one said, “I like it a lot.” More broadly, Brandt helped rehabilitate the German reputation; he said, “My true success was to have contributed the idea that in the world in which we live, the name of our land, Germany, and the idea of peace can once again be spoken in one breath.” That is the Germany I have known and respected since my first visit in 1972.
After a good look (a foundation bearing his name operates a similar center on Unter den Linden, the famous street that was once in East Berlin, east of Brandenburg Gate), I headed out, pausing for a nice T-t-S with a mother and adult daughter who were just outside the door with a very cute Shetland sheepdog (Sheltie). I walked through neighborhoods in the old city, north to a museum devoted to the Hanseatic League, but it was getting close to closing time and my senses were close to worn out – so I walked back toward the railway station. At 4:45 I sat down at a sidewalk café along the River Trave for a cold beer and a relaxing sit.
I took an earlier train from Lübeck to Lüneburg, where I would catch a connecting train. The ride was pleasant, through a landscape reminiscent of central Minnesota: woods, lakes, small towns. We crossed the wide Elbe River, and arrived Lüneburg at 7:30. I had done a bit of research, and made fast for Neptun, a fish restaurant a few blocks from the station in the middle of town. It had clouded over, but was warm, so I sat outside, admiring some 15th Century brick houses while tucking into dinner. Lüneburg was another Hanseatic city, though inland from the Baltic. Salt was a major export and the city held a monopoly on salt production in northern Germany, a position that propelled them into the League (salt was essential for preserving the abundant stocks of fish in the Baltic). When the Baltic herring (coincidentally my dinner choice) fishery collapsed in 1560, the town declined. I read about the city in Wikipedia while eating, and learned two other tidbits: J.S. Bach went to the equivalent of high school here, 1700-03; and a precursor to the postwar Nuremberg trials were held in town just after Nazi surrender, when the Allies convicted 45 SS troops for atrocities at Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz.
Walked back to the station, called home, then at 9:50 I hopped on the Austrian Railways (ÖBB) “Nightjet” overnight train south to Zürich. From there, I was headed east and north to St. Gallen and my 18th visit to the B-school there. For the price of a Swiss hotel room, I got a single cabin, the train ride, and a nice breakfast. The ÖBB have invested heavily in an extensive overnight-train network, which cannot – to this Transport Geek at least – be profitable. The sleeping-car porter welcomed me, showed me how all the stuff in the “room” worked, and departed. I was totally worn out, so changed into my pajamas and clocked out, sleeping hard. Woke up after six, and it was clear that the train was about an hour late, meaning I’d miss my connecting train, and I had a discount ticket for that specific departure. Took a pleasant shower in the washroom at the end of the sleeping car, changed, ate breakfast. At Zürich I caught a train 30 minutes after my ticketed service. I was expecting a fight with the SBB (Swiss Railways) conductor, but after calmly explaining the situation she said “no problem.” Nice!
Arrived St. Gallen, hopped on the #5 bus up the hill to my first stay in the Executive Education Center (I always stay down in the town). Checked in, got a beautiful contemporary room in the “AlumniHaus,” dropped my stuff, and hopped back on the bus, down the hill for lunch with a MBA student, Thomas Paul, who I met last time I was in St. Gallen, in September 2017. Super-capable young guy, looking for a job in aerospace. We had a great lunch at a new organic-vegetarian place, and a wonderful yak across a lot of topics: Swiss industrial competitiveness, local wages, U.S. immigration laws (bad for him), emerging technologies, robotics. It was the kind of chat that made me wish I were his age, to see all the changes that would unfold in four or five decades. Back in my room, I worked a bit, took a quick nap, rode 17 miles on a fitness bike, showered.
At 6:30, I met a group of about 30 students doing a certificate course in marketing management, an interesting group, mostly Swiss. Delivered a talk on airline advertising and branding, answered some questions (they were clearly worn out from a long day), and tucked into some hors d’oeuvres and beer while yakking with a friendly fellow from Bern, a senior at the cantonal bank – most Swiss cantons (counties) have a local bank totally or partially owned by the cantonal government.
I was worn out, and instead of heading to dinner down the hill, I returned to my room, worked a bit more, and clocked out.
Up early, a little work, and at seven tucked into a big breakfast and plenty of coffee. My seatmate was Andre from Munich, who worked in commercial real estate. He had lived in Dallas 1999-2001, so we yakked a bit about Texas, about Bavaria, the future of bricks and mortar retailing, and more. Headed back down the hill to the railway station, and onto local trains to Bussnang, where I met Niko, a sales and marketing planner for Stadler, manufacturers of a wide range of rail rolling stock, from streetcars to high-speed intercity trains. The Transport Geek was close to heaven: trains and industrial process (my longtime fellow T-Geek Michael Beckmann kindly arranged the visit). Niko gave me a thorough slideshow-overview of the company, then we had a great tour of the plant, where workers in teams assembled the cars. Stadler has grown into a leader in the sector in spite of the high costs of doing business in Switzerland (average monthly wages for workers was around $5000). A great window on Swiss manufacturing prowess.
We said goodbye at noon, I hopped on two trains for Zürich Airport, tucked into a big fish lunch (I think I was still in deficit from no dinner the night before), and flew to Düsseldorf, a quick 276 miles. Landed at 4:40, jumped on the S-Bahn into the city, then the U-Bahn to my hotel (another superb location, directly above the subway station). I needed a workout, so hopped on the gym fitness bike for 40 minutes. That was tonic! Showered, read a bit, then ambled a block south to Uerige am Markt, a smaller version of one of Düsseldorf’s many producers of Altbier, the amber ale for which the town is famous. Tucked into a bigger-than-huge plate of roast pork and potatoes, and three (250 ml. / 8.5 ounce) glasses of Altbier. I was just on the edge of feeling stuffed, but it did propel me into a coma-like sleep.
Up at 5:30, back to the gym, then breakfast. I wasn’t teaching until 1:30, so I did a second day of “T-Geeking,” on the train 20 miles east to Wuppertal and onto the city’s famous old Schwebebahn, a monorail that opened in 1901. I rode the whole length, south to north, 19 stops on “hanging rails” directly above the Wupper River. It’s a scenic ride, especially in spring. Hopped back on the train, suited up, and walked to the Düsseldorf campus of WHU, the private German business school I’ve visited for almost 20 years (in February I was on the other campus, south on the Rhine near Koblenz). Had a quick catch-up lunch with host Jochen Menges, and from 1:30 to 3:00 delivered my leadership talk to MBA students.
Said goodbye, back to the hotel, changed back into jeans, and set off for the Altstadt for some beer and food. Wandered from brewery to brewery, four in total, standing or sitting outside on a clear spring evening. At all of them, when servers pass a newcomer, they don’t ask “what would you like to drink?”, but assume you’re there for the beer, and set down a full glass. The people-watching at the second and biggest, Uerige, was superb; I had a spot on a bench a few steps above street level, so had a broad panorama of tipplers and passers-bye. At one point a wet black Lab ambled past, fresh from a swim in the Rhine two blocks west. Nice!
At the last, Schumacher, tucked into sausage-and-potatoes dinner, hopped the U-Bahn back to the hotel, and was asleep by nine. Up at 5:10 Saturday morning, short walk to the train station, onto the fast ICE to Frankfurt Airport, and flew to Philadelphia, landing early afternoon. Connected down to DCA, and was home just after 6:00, dogs out for a good walk.