On Sunday, December 2, I flew back to Europe for the last teaching trip of the year, flying to Frankfurt via Charlotte. On the Metro to the airport, I had the first T-t-S of the trip, with Joan and Michael Cunningham from Chicago. They were in Virginia to watch their daughter, a senior at WashU in St. Louis, play in a Division 1 soccer tournament. We had a long and happy chat, a great way to start the journey. Landed in German rain and dark, typical December weather at latitude 50° N. Spent a few hours wandering the airport, working some email. Hopped on an ICE (super-fast) train, 180 mph, whoosh, arriving my first classroom stop, Cologne, about 11. Onto a suburban train (S-Bahn) for two minutes, across the Rhine to the Deutz neighborhood and my usual digs, the youth hostel. (Regular readers may recall that I served on the board of the U.S. youth hosteling organization for a decade back in the 1990s, and I have long believed in their mission, fostering intercultural understanding through travel.)
Checked in, locked up my suitcase, and hopped on a tram back across the Rhine to lunch at a fave place, Gilden im Zims in the old town, the Altstadt. Tucked into plenty of greens from a big salad bar, then the daily special, pork neck and fried potatoes. Turns out oinkers’ necks are lean and tasty! Had one small (under seven ounces, the customary size in Köln) beer, admiring the many big black-and-while photos in the big bar-restaurant, images of “Heroes of Cologne” through the years.
Hopped back on Tram #9 to the university and a short meeting with Prof. Reinartz, a longtime marketing colleague. Back to the hostel, got my room key, and took a short nap. Worked a bit, then at six got back on the streetcar for a little joyriding west of town, then back to the uni. While waiting to meet my host for the evening, two students approached me after they heard me speaking English on a phone call home. They were Language majors studying English, and had a disagreement about “shall” vs. “should,” which I was able to resolve, sort of! At 7:30, I met host Paul and other students – part of a student marketing organization called MTP – who organized my evening presentation. A big group showed up to hear me, good questions. I joined about a dozen students at a Christmas market (a tradition in German places big and small), quick mug of glühwein (hot spiced red wine), then peeled off, back across the Rhine and a late-night (for me) beer and dinner at Lommerzheim, a tiny neighborhood pub 100 steps from the youth hostel. When I first visited a year earlier it was earlier in the evening, and the place was packed, but at 10:15 it was just full. Stood at the bar and had a few small beers and my first plate of grühnkohl, cooked chopped kale topped with a sausage. I’m a great fan of the dish, sort of German soul food, that night served with some very strong mustard from a stoneware crock. Yum! Slept hard.
Up Tuesday, into the breakfast room, which was filling with French pre-teens, plenty of energy. I worked a bit in the hostel, then walked across the Rhine to the main station, pausing below the enormous Gothic cathedral that has delighted me for four decades. Bought a salad-bar lunch to eat on the train, and rode north to Münster, my 18th visit there since 2003. The town plan has confused me for years, but this time I found the hotel without looking at a map, hooray! Checked in, worked a bit, suited up, and headed to the university for a talk to Master’s students. In previous years, my young host Dr. Schmidt would take me to dinner afterwards, but he had a Christmas party, so I peeled off, changed back into jeans, and ambled a couple of blocks north to Töddenhoek, one the city’s many traditional restaurants. Tuesday night, and the place was jumping, but I was able to snag a tiny table. My seat was sort of a wooden throne, columns rising to a little roof. I felt like a prince as I tucked into cold herring in sour cream, fried potatoes, and a side order of grünkohl (second serving of the week; the goal is four). Back to the room, short phone call with a client, then to sleep.
After breakfast Wednesday morning, I rented a bike from the hotel. This from the city’s website says it all:
Münster is a city of bicycles, and the “Leeze”, as it is known in Münster dialect, is the most frequently used means of transport. Bicycles constitute 39 per cent of traffic in Münster. In 2014, the amount of motorized vehicle traffic fell to 29 percent, making it lower than the bicycle traffic statistics. This is unique in Germany.
So I was totally local. It had been several years since I rode in the town, and I quickly remembered that you really needed to be alert: for other cyclists, pedestrians, and cars and trucks. But especially other bikers. I rode south and west, out of the town, to a village called Rozel, then back, 12 miles. When I reached farmland, I spotted fields of kale, glistening with frost, source of many future plates of grünkohl.
At 11:30 I met a couple of former marketing students who had a clever idea for a start-up; I agreed to offer a little free marketing advice to Lara and Marvin, and they were appreciative. The meeting was in a business-incubator building out by the harbor on a canal (still used for shipping some bulk commodities, but not busy like the old days). The meeting ended at one and I rode a mile or so to the university’s marketing department, said hello to a few people, and walked a block to the Mensa. Had a nice chat with a student while I shoveled in some salad and needed vegetables. Back to the department, visited with a few people, and headed back out, bound for the shop where every year I buy a little wooden angel Christmas ornament, beautiful stuff from the Erzgebirge region in Saxony. I did a little web research and found some new models this year, so I was delighted that they had the piano-playing angel in stock!
At that point, I had put 17 miles on the rental bike, so I opted to do 3 more for an even 20, along the wooded Promenade that encircles the old city. Back to the hotel, short nap, then out for dinner at six. It was raining lightly and I didn’t want to go far, so I opted for a Vietnamese noodle joint a block away. It was awesome. Tucked into the traditional soup, pho, slurping happily. On the way out, a nice T-t-S with my server. I asked him if he was of Vietnamese ancestry, and he replied yes, adding that he was born in Germany. We chatted across some other topics, including his excellent English. “I am a soldier,” he said, “and I fought in Afghanistan.” Present tense “am.”
Back to the hotel, suited up, and walked a couple of blocks to give the only lecture that day, to the Münster MTP chapter, a packed hall, more than 100 people. By 9:00, I was plumb wore out, but had a quick client call, then off to sleep.
Thursday was packed, starting with a quick breakfast with my host-since-2000 Manfred Krafft, catching up on a bunch of stuff. Walked briskly to the train station, hopped on a fast train 40 miles south to Dortmund, then the S-Bahn a few stops to the Technical University. At noon met host Hartmut Holzmüller, a great fellow. We walked to the Mensa for lunch, a coffee, and a long yak. From 2:15 to 3:45, I gave a lecture to about 80 students, then departed. I checked my Deutsche Bahn (railway) app, and, Aieeeeee, my S-Bahn train at 4:19 was canceled. Could I make the 3:59 rocket? Well, I sorta had to, so walked quickly, and got to the platform on time. But it was the wrong platform, so back up the stairs, down the others, and barely, barely squeezed onto the 3:59. Hooray.
Was back in Münster at 5:20, washed my face at the hotel, and at six met Julian Allendorf and a new Ph.D. student for dinner at a fave traditional restaurant, Kruse Baimken. Julian knows the daughter of the owner, Walter, and he joined us at the table for some conversation about German and U.S. politics, then about Walter’s journeys in the U.S. as a young man in the 1970s – similar, but more adventurous, than my visits to Germany back then. A lot of laughs. From 8:00 to 11:30, I presented an informal talk on career and life to a dozen Master’s students, repeating a gig that we’ve done for more than a decade. Good questions, but by the end I was fatigued. Happily, the hotel was only a few blocks away.
Friday was an easier day, sort of. Onto the local train south to Hamm, then a fast train to Kassel, in the northeast corner of the state of Hesse (same state as Frankfurt). My young friend Patrick Rath picked me up at the train station, and we headed to lunch in a 18th century food market, still used for that purpose, and for restaurants. Tucked into a plate of pasta, then headed to his apartment nearby. Wife Elli and 7-year-old daughter Lotta were there. Patrick earlier told me about Lotta’s new keen interest (which she discovered without her parents’ suggestion), ice hockey, and after chatting a bit he showed me some videos of her on the ice. As native of Minnesota, a huge ice-hockey place, I was cheering loudly for Lotta, and just sorry I would miss her game the next day.
At two, we met Professor Mann, the marketing chair at the University of Kassel, for a coffee and a chat. Back to the apartment (two blocks from the uni), then at four Patrick and walked back, he to pick up son Louis (three) at kindergarten, and me to meet three student hosts. We yakked for awhile, then from 6:00 to 7:30 I delivered the last talk of that week. It was raining and we didn’t expect many, but 17 showed up. Nice! Walked back to the Raths’ house, had a light meal, and clocked out. That was a long, good sleep.
Up at six on Saturday. Nine hours of sleep were tonic and much needed. I had caught a mild cold, not bad, but sleep was helpful. Showered quickly in case the family needed the bath (like most older apartments in Europe, the Raths have only one bathroom), dressed, and sat in the kitchen, reading The New York Times on my phone. Patrick walked in at seven, and Elli a few minutes later. We chatted briefly, and at 7:15 Patrick walked me to a nearby tram stop. Rode out to the Wilhelmshöhe railway station, grabbed a big coffee, and hopped on the 8:37 fast train. I was hungry and was looking forward to a big breakfast in the dining car. Alas, they were out of eggs, and had no other hearty alternatives, so the server brought me one roll and butter (charging me for two, grrrrrr) and another big coffee. So I was stimulated, but still hungry. The ride from Kassel to Frankfurt is scenic, traversing a series of valleys and through tunnels under forested hills, storybook villages in the distance. Arrived Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof, made fast for the supermarket in the basement, bought a big tub of yogurt and a giant streusel sweet roll. Ahhh, much better!
Climbed on the 10:57 fast train east and a bit south to Würzburg, a city in the far northwest corner of Bavaria, another scenic ride, along the valley of the Main River . I passed through the city in 2012, made a note to return, and in 65 minutes I was back. It was raining lightly, not ideal weather for touring, but ya gotta get out there, so I found the storage lockers. After three tries, one finally seemed to work, but clogged with my four Euros inside. You know my thrift, so rather than just trying a fifth, I went to the Deutsche Bahn counter to ask for a refund or help. A middle-aged woman said “I’ll come with you.” Nice. I thanked her profusely. When we got to the locker, she suggested it was my fault. Wrong response. I politely told her I was a frequent DB customer, and had no need to trick the railway out of $4.60. She soon discovered that indeed the mechanism was kaput, gave me my money, and I finally found a functioning locker. Off to discover Würzburg, woo hoo!
Architecture from the 1950s and ‘60s close to the station suggested that the city was bombed in World War II, and further along it was clear that the Altstadt had been rebuilt to look old. Stopped for lunch at a simple restaurant, sitting at a large table with a couple of older, laughing blue-collar guys who were talking politics, and an even older (late 70s) couple who were tucking into roast goose and roast beef, along with some large beers. At that moment, I wished I were German-fluent, because I wanted to talk to all four strangers. They were out of my choice, lentil soup, so I had another soup and a beer, and headed back out in the rain.
Würzburg is best known for the Residenz, an 18th Century palace, and I was soon there. The huge building is relatively restrained on the outside, but inside it is Baroque to an exponent, largely the work of the era’s most famous architect, Balthasar Neumann. Just remarkable. In March 1945, the British Bomber Command flattened the city, heavily damaging the palace (with classic German balance, an interpretive panel I saw late in the visit mentioned Coventry and Rotterdam as other places similarly destroyed). Restoration has thus been underway for almost 75 years. It was all eye-popping, but perhaps the most astonishing was a parquet floor in the “Green Room,” which had been rebuilt 1969-1974, thousands of inlays.
After admiring a number of beautiful rooms, I found an exhibit focused on the bombing and aftermath. I smiled broadly and stood tall: U.S. Army Second Lieutenant John Skilton, an art historian and member of the Army’s Monuments and Fine Arts Section (the so-called “Monuments Men”), was described as “the savior of the Residenz.” I felt proud of Lt. Skilton’s work.
I left the palace and ambled around the center a bit, stopping in the cathedral (Dom), then back to the main station, grabbed my suitcase and rode one stop to Würzburg Süd, just steps from my digs for the night, at Olaf’s Airbnb. It was raining hard, and I was wet and cranky. Like a lot of Airbnbs I’ve used in Europe, this was up four flights of stairs, a slog with heavy luggage, but his welcome was warm and his apartment was awesome. He showed me around, then left with his girlfriend for the night. The apartment was mine. Nice! I unpacked, settled in, then headed out to find breakfast provisions at a nearby supermarket, and some cold beer after a long day. Started bringing this journal up to date.
At 6:30, I headed to dinner at SophienBäck, just a few blocks away. It was still raining, and I didn’t want to walk far, not back into the city. The restaurant was named for Princess Sophie, daughter of Bavaria’s King Maximilian I. The place was packed when I arrived, but just as at lunch, a kindly server found me a seat at a shared table. That was fortuitous, because as I was halfway into a much-needed big dinner of roast, stuffed duck, dumplings, and red cabbage, a husband, wife, and late-teenage daughter sat down. We launched an epic T-t-S, lasting about an hour as I finished my meal and they ate theirs. They were from Aachen in the north, visiting their daughter, a first-year medical student at the university. We had a wonderful discussion about ancestry; Thomas’ dad, a retired metallurgy professor, has taken charge of “roots research,” and is tracking multiple paths across central and even southern Europe. Fascinating. And we also yakked a bit about Thomas’ two years in Milburn, New Jersey, when he was just a boy. Walked back to the apartment and clocked out.
Up at 7:30 Sunday morning, no rain, hooray! Did more work on this journal, had a nice breakfast, and at 9:20 ambled several blocks to St. Johannis, a Lutheran church in Catholic Bavaria. Having been in a German Lutheran church a month earlier in South Tyrol, the sequence was familiar. Different hymns, Advent songs with which I was totally unfamiliar, but the cadence made it easy to follow. During the sermon I thought fondly about my German grandmother, a very devout woman, about the church universal, and about the need to be “our better selves,” a phrase on my lips in recent weeks. Two high points at the church. First, as noted weeks earlier, communion is truly communal, worshipers standing in a semicircle, and at the end holding hands for the benediction (I mused that the man to my right might well have been a child when the city was bombed in 1945). Two, after the service, we all processed to the church hall, gemeindehaus, for a lunch of soup, bread, and lots of goodies. The treats would have bested the fanciest in a Midwestern church basement, so delicious and sweet. And people were very friendly. A fine way to spend the morning.
Walked back to the main station, and at 12:37 got on a regional train south toward Stuttgart, and my next destination, Karlsruhe. Changed trains a couple of times. I wanted to do a bit of sightseeing before the short day ended, and that morning I did some online digging to find Bretten, a village that in 2017 celebrated its 1250th anniversary. Arrived Bretten about 3:30, back into rain, walked several blocks to the town center, admiring the birthplace of Martin Luther’s sidekick Philip Melanchthon, and wandering around Germany’s only Guardian Angel Museum. Back to the station, and onto a slow local to Durlach, a suburb of Karlsruhe and a familiar place. Walked a few blocks to my hotel, the half-timbered Zum Ochsen, from the 18th Century. Checked in, relaxed a bit, then walked a block (back in the rain) for a fish dinner.
Monday morning, back into coat and tie, and onto the tram west to KIT, the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. Found one of my student hosts, Max, almost done with his Ph.D. in marketing. We had a good yak, and he found me a vacant office. Headed out for lunch with Max, Ingo (another doctoral student), and host Prof. Martin Klarmann. From 3:45 to 5:15, I delivered a talk to undergraduates, then hopped in Martin’s car for an early dinner at a fancy restaurant atop a small mountain. The first three courses all featured goose, a traditional Christmas meat, but all prepared elegantly.
Tuesday was another “day off.” Bought a day ticket for unlimited regional travel in the state of Baden-Württemburg and headed east to the capital, Stuttgart. Rode a couple of trams up the sides of the slopes that girdle the city center, then west to the suburb of Zuffenhausen, home of Porsche automobiles.
Connections via Manfred Krafft enabled an afternoon tour of the factory, and I had a few hours to tour the museum. I probably should have expected that an upmarket car company would build a spectacular museum, but I didn’t, and was completely blown away by the place. The exhibits were all themed around the 70th anniversary of their first sports car, the 356, and their vehicles’ evolution since. The interpretive panels in German and English were very well written, for example, clearly explaining the importance of the power-to-weight ratio for engines (something in common with aviation teachnology). It was just totally awesome. There was also a look-back at the founding of the company, which included some very honest discussion of dark practices like slave labor during World War II. No denial.
Toward the end of the linear museum amble was a big exhibit on their forthcoming electric car, the Taycan. Porsche was investing more than a billion Euros, building a new plant on the grounds, and really gearing up. It was clear that they intended the $120,000 Taycan to best every other plug-in car on the market, for example, 15 minutes to wirelessly (induction) charge the batteries for a range of 400 kilometers (250 miles). They also pointed out that company founder Ferdinand Porsche built an electric car in 1900!
I had a quick lunch in the café, then joined the 1:45 tour. It was a more thorough look than the visit to Daimler Benz in nearby Sindelfingen a few years earlier. We spent a lot of time at several points in the final assembly building, then across to a building where the leather for interior panels (but not seats) was inspected and cut, and finally to the engine shop. The plant produces the 911 and 718 cars, 250 per day. Way cool, but a bit long.
Train delays made for a long ride home, only 40 miles, but took two hours. A cascading set of errors. When we got to Pforzheim, 15 miles from home, the destination, the conductor announced that the train would not continue to Karlsruhe, and the connecting train was right across the platform. The departure sign above the platform read “Karlsruhe,” but the sign on the car read “Stuttgart.” Germans and the American were confused, but we boarded, wondering which direction we’d head. We all sighed with relief when we started rolling toward Karlsruhe. “The Deutsche Bahn is a little like gambling in Las Vegas,” I said aloud, and fellow riders laughed and nodded. Got off the train at Durlach and walked a few blocks to Vögel, a brewpub. The place was packed on a Tuesday night, but I found a stool at the bar and tucked into salad and a pair of sausages.
Back to work Wednesday, lecture in late morning to Master’s students, then to a huge late lunch. Said goodbye to the KIT team, hopped a tram to the station and two fast trains to Frankfurt Airport. In my mind, the flight to Dublin departed 8:50, plenty of time. While I was eating a light dinner from a supermarket salad bar, I glanced at my iPhone calendar: Aer Lingus departed in 80 minutes, at a terminal quite a ways off. Yikes! A bit of stress, but made the flight with time to spare. Arrived Ireland 9:00, nice chat with a smiling immigration officer, then out into howling wind and onto a shuttle to a nearby hotel.
Thursday began remarkably. On Tuesday afternoon, Will McConnell, a young filmmaker from Belfast, emailed me about a 2015 post I made on a blog about a bygone Ulster firm, the York Street Flax Spinning Company, a company my father represented in the Upper Midwest for about a decade in the 1950s and ‘60s. I sent him a reply to which he responded Wednesday afternoon. I then mentioned that by coincidence I would be in Dublin the next day for teaching, and did he want to drive 120 miles for a longer interview. And yes, it happened at 9:15. Just a remarkable chat, all filmed, for a art-documentary he’s making about York Street. Quite an awesome alignment in time, space, and interest.
Will drove me to Dublin City University, and I headed to the B-school for three back-to-back talks (late lunch wedged in). Had good chats with host Naoimh O’Reilly, and colleagues Cathal and Andrew. It was dark when I finished at 4:30. Walked a mile to the bus, then back to the hotel to change clothes.
Headed back out at six, bound for one of the greatest drinking places in the world, Mulligan’s of Poolbeg Street. Traffic was awful, and it took 45 minutes to go 5 miles, but at 7 sharp I hugged my longtime pal Maurice Coleman, like me retired from a long airline career. As always, the pub was totally packed, but we found space next to Brendan and Tom, who immediately started yakking with us. Talking to Strangers is part of the Irish DNA! The lads peeled off, and Maurice and I stayed for another hour or so, chatting about politics, Brexit, families, and books. Said goodbye, ambled to the bus stop, back to the hotel, long day.
Up early Friday the 14th, glad to fly to Philadelphia, then home to Washington.