On Friday, February 22, I took the Metro and bus to Dulles Airport and flew nonstop to Copenhagen, standby, on SAS. My friend Peter at SAS headquarters in Stockholm emailed me that the flight, with a big Airbus A330-300, had lots of open seats, and indeed I got a whole inside row, four seats, to myself. Watched a movie and got a good nap, stretched out across row 51. Landed at seven and got a warm welcome from longtime friend Michael Beckmann and his son Niklas, almost 10. We drove to a supermarket to pick up fresh bread, then motored to their home to greet wife Susan and daughter Annika (7). We had a leisurely German breakfast, reconnecting after 14 months. For years I visited them every December in Berlin, then Michael took a big job with the DSB, the Danish state railway, and they relocated to Copenhagen.
After breakfast, we hopped on bikes (they had an extra) and rode to the Amager beach on the Baltic. It was sunny but a bit cold. Rode along the water, then back to the house. Took a short, tonic nap, had some coffee and cake, and about 4:30 we walked to the Metro and rode into town. We got off in Christianshavn, familiar from a 2015 visit (“my Airbnb was just down that canal and to the right”) – it’s always good when city layouts remain imprinted on your mind. We crossed the bridge into downtown, walked around Kongens Nytorv, one of the main squares, and to warm up went into a posh department store, Magasin du Nord. Wandered their basement food hall, then walked a few more blocks to a traditional Danish restaurant, Puk (not well named for English speakers, but pronounced like the ice-hockey disk).
The Danes have two related words for coziness, hygge and hyggelig, and Puk was certainly both. The friendly, engaging waiter served us well, huge platters of traditional Danish herring (of course with snaps, the caraway-flavored spirit), fried fish, then a second set of dishes, mostly pork. Denmark, as you may know, is a major pork producer, and that meat figures large in the Danish diet. It was a great meal, and the kids behaved well. Took a bus home and slept hard.
Was up before first light Sunday morning, tiptoed out the door and hopped on the bike, 12 miles around neighborhoods south of the center. The many construction cranes signaled that the Danish economy was growing – another social democracy that doesn’t seem to have trouble keeping the lights on! My iPhone battery discharged suddenly (it happened a few months earlier in Montreal), so I lost my GPS and maps, but after a few wrong turns made it back to the house in time for another relaxed breakfast.
At eleven, Michael, Niklas, and I took the train north to Elsinore, an old port town and home of the castle Shakespeare made famous in Hamlet. We walked around the castle grounds, then stopped briefly inside to watch some (free) multimedia shows with its long history. Essentially, the king made good money charging a toll to all ships that passed through the narrow strait called the Øresund, enough to build a huge castle. (I was fascinated to read that the castle played a role in ending the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, when Danish military observers at the castle confirmed that the Soviet ships carrying nuclear missiles bound for Cuba turned around nearby and headed back to Russia.)
We stopped for an ice cream for the lad, then walked a few blocks to the new Danish Maritime Museum, a fabulous place: innovative architecture in and around a former dry dock, a great collection of artifacts to tell the story of Danish naval and commercial ships, and concise interpretation. Hopped back on the train, a lively round of UNO (kids’ card game, now universal), then bikes home from the station for dinner. Asleep again early.
Michael, the kids, and I were out the door at 7:05 Monday morning, to the bus stop, into downtown, and a few blocks to Sankt Petri, the German school the kids attend. Dropped them and ambled to a nearby train station, then west to Høje Taastrup, a suburban office park home to the DSB headquarters. As I did in December 2017, I delivered a short talk (this time on airline pricing). At 11:30, Michael, two colleagues, and I tucked into an enormous, free lunch (referring to all the free perks, Michael described the place as “like Club Med,” which seemed true).
I peeled off at 12:45, back on the train, then bus to my teaching venue, Copenhagen Business School. The lecture was the next day, but I wanted to get a look around. The place was vast, four large buildings spread across several blocks in the Frederiksberg neighborhood just west of the center. Did a bit of work in the lobby of one of the buildings, snapped some pictures, and hopped on the #4A bus back home. It was before four, and granddaughter Carson had recommended I see the wonderful bronze sculpture of the Little Mermaid (from Dane Hans Christian Andersen’s book, not Disney!) in Copenhagen harbor. I had seen it several times before, but I figured she’d like to see proof, so hopped on Michael’s bike north to the water. Managed to get a good photo in between Chinese tourists who insisted on climbing the rock to get close to the mermaid. I growled a bit.
Back on the bike and into rush-hour traffic. The Danes are among the world’s most committed bicycle commuters, and separate bike lanes (and bike stoplights) are everywhere. It’s not scary like cycling in London car, bus, and truck traffic, but you need to be alert. Happily, I was one of the faster commuters, so was in the “passing lane” a lot. It was a great experience. And the Little Mermaid remains a wonderful sight. Check and done.
Tuesday morning, time to stand and deliver. Zipped out the door at 7:30, onto the handy (but slow and crowded) #4A bus that back to Copenhagen Business School. Worked a bit in the student cafeteria, met host Tobias Schäffers at 10, and from 10:45 to 12:25 delivered a revenue-management lecture to an engaged group of MBA students. I think it was my best “pricing show” yet – I deliver that talk frequently, and it is always fun to do. I had to zip out quickly, missing lunch with Tobias. Walked to the Metro, as fast as my gimpy knees permitted, then out to the airport an onto the train under the sound to Malmö, Sweden – it’s a bit jarring to ride a train 20 minutes and be in a whole new country, but there I was, hugging longtime airline pal Maunu von Lüders.
I first met Maunu, a Finn of Swedish ancestry, in 2000 when we were both working on alliances, he at Finnair and me at American. We’ve stayed in touch through the years, but I had not seen him since Stockholm in 2007, when he was CEO of FlyNordic, a low-cost airline that Finnair launched (and later sold to Norwegian). I had helped Maunu get his last airline job, as VP-Asia/Pacific for IATA, the International Air Transport Association, and as payback for my gentle push he promised two beers if I ever visited Singapore. Well, that didn’t happen, so he settled the “debt” at the café of the Malmö art museum. We had a great lunch; I traded one of the beers for a plate of poached salmon, and enjoyed a pale ale.
We had an even greater conversation, ranging across a lot of topics, including, sigh, the state of American politics. Like many Europeans, Maunu was very well informed. We also talked a lot about his Finnish homeland, a place with a lot to admire. One great story: a few years back, at the height of the Syrian crisis, Finland agreed to accept 60,000 refugees, roughly proportional to the larger numbers Germany accepted. The Finnish approach to settlement was different: as each wave arrived, Finland had a disciplined process that began, on day two, with a mandatory meeting with two police officers, a man and a woman. When the refugees gathered, the woman cop asked “Where are the women?” A refugee replied, “we represent them.” “No you don’t,” said the woman, “in Finland, they represent themselves. So go get them.” The men were mad, the women who arrived were stressed, but that was how it was done. The police and other government officials made it clear that if any refugees didn’t like the Finnish way, they were welcome to go back. Bleeding hearts might whine, but this is Tough Love, and a narrative that needs to be amplified in places where immigrants meet a culture far different from their own.
Maunu was recovering from the flu, and still a bit under the weather, so he peeled off at 3:45, and I wandered around downtown Malmö for a couple of hours. I had visited in June 2009, but had not spent much time in the center, so had a good look around. Walked to the main station, where I had a great T-t-S with a station helper, Violeta, who sorted out the touchscreen ticket machine, then launched a sort of monologue that started when I told her I was a part-time professor. She was of Serbian ancestry, but felt fully Swedish. A true character!
Got the train back to Tårbny and walked home. The family had eaten dinner, but I was able to read Niklas another book, then a short chat with Michael and Susan.
Was up early again Wednesday morning. It was technically a “day off,” but the last days were so leisurely that the whole trip seemed like a vacation. Ate breakfast, said goodbye to the Beckmanns, and hopped on Michael’s older bike, a vintage, Austrian-made Puch that once belonged to his dad, riding a mile south to Tårbny Station. Onto the local train to the main station, bought a large coffee at the 7-Eleven, and hopped on the fast train west and north to Aarhus, Denmark’s second largest city. It was another sunny, warm day, good for sightseeing out the window as we crossed the island of Funen, past Odense, then into Jutland. Although much of Denmark is flat (the highest point in the kingdom is only 561 feet above sea level), the landscape in eastern Jutland was hilly, dotted with lakes. Like parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin, the landforms were from the last glaciation. It was lovely.
The train skirted a number of small fjords, “not like the ones in Norway,” said my seatmate. Earlier, we launched a great T-t-S. I did most of the talking at first, then he took over. After some years working in oil and gas (for Chevron, which he disliked – “too bureaucratic compared to Danish companies), he took the helm of his father’s engineered-materials business. Fifteen employees, not a big firm, but he was determined to grow it. They had developed focused expertise in handling powders of all kinds, and because powder ranges across lots of industries, he was buying Google AdWords to reach global audiences. It was working. What was less than optimal, I sensed, was that his family lived in Copenhagen and his “big-city” wife didn’t want to move to a small town, Skanderborg (it looked pretty nice to me). A great chat.
We arrived Aarhus at 10:43, and I walked out of the station. I immediately took a shine to the place – I like midsize cities a lot. First stop was the town hall (1941), designed by one of Denmark’s most celebrated 20th Century architects, Arne Jacobson (1902-71). Interesting “mid-century contemporary” style. Then a couple of blocks to circle the AROS art museum. Then on to Den Gamle By, The Old Town, an absolutely wonderful example of the “open-air museum” genre that the Nordics do so well. The museum was in three sections, each focused around a year: 1864, 1927, and 1974. The early period was the biggest part, and I spent a lot of time zipping in and out wonderful half-timbered buildings that held workshops for crafts of all kinds, stores (the 18th Century apothecary was fascinating), tenements, and more. In the section on carpentry and building was an interesting story of a journeyman coach builder, Oskar Larsen, who took a three-year working trip from Denmark through 12 countries in Europe (all the way to Istanbul), sailing home from Portugal in 1849. Business travel is not new!
The 1927 section was small, and some exhibits/shops were closed, but the Ford dealer was very much hopping. At one point, they opened the big front doors and a 1927 Model T pulled away. Down the street was a milliner’s shop from the 1920s; I could imagine my milliner grandmother (1894-1983) feeling perfectly at home there, among the ribbons and feathers.
I had wandered the 1974 area for quite a few minutes when I slapped my forehead and recalled that was the year I first visited Denmark. It seemed so modern 45 years earlier, but now the shops looked old-fashioned, which says something about age and time. Nearby was a building (closed, unfortunately) where on the first floor there is an apartment used by the museum to promote memories with old people who suffer from dementia. You gotta love the Danes! Elsewhere was a house with a big exhibit and wonderful video about prefabricated houses from the 1970s (Scandinavia produces lots of prefabs). The video focused on a Danish entrepreneur, Niels Stellan Høm, whose company produced and delivered 25,000 cheap but fashionable homes, fabricated so that people with almost no construction experience could build their own home. Altogether, the museum was a wonderful window on centuries of Danish life.
I was in Den Gamle By almost three hours. I would have stayed a bit longer, but it was 2:00 and my stomach was growling. Ambled a few blocks to a supermarket, bought lunch fixings, and enjoyed a small picnic sitting in the sun, on a dock on the Aarhus River. It was a “we are young” moment, me feeling very much like a youth hosteler from four decades back. Ambled back to the station, hopped on the 3:14 fast train, and was home by 6:30. We enjoyed another family dinner, read Niklas a last story, had a beer, and clocked out.
Up way early Thursday morning, Susan kindly driving me to the airport (it’s only six minutes door to door). Flew Ryanair for $63 to London Stansted. Enroute, I read a fascinating article about a Dutch art scholar and dealer who has found the first Rembrandt in 40 years. Reading the article, I thought back, as I often do, to people who helped me learn about the wider world. In these pages, I don’t think I’ve lifted up Miss Margaret Feltl, my 6th grade teacher who spent a lot of time helping us learn and appreciate European art from the Renaissance forward. Of course, we made fun of her at the time, but she was the biggest contributor to my understanding of great masters. We’re always standing on the shoulders of others.
After a long wait in the immigration queue, hopped the train and Tube into town. I was bound for a lecture at Cambridge the next day, but detoured south to meet a former London Business School student and his partner for lunch. Was close to the agreed venue 90 minutes early, so plopped down at a Pret a Manger in St. Pancras Station, and brought this journal up to date.
At noon, I met Patrick and his business partner Alex for a nice lunch and chat about a business aerospace-manufacturing business they may buy. A lively discussion about airlines, suppliers, and the like – and another of those moments when I thank God for the gift of relevance at age 67. Walked a few hundred feet to Kings Cross station, hopped on the fast train to Cambridge, then a bus from the station to the center of town, and in no time was at Sidney Sussex College, my “home” for 22 of my 24 visits to this storied university. Alas, because the booking was late I did not get my customary large guest suite, but rather a small room literally in a garret beneath the roof, toilet and shower one floor below. But I’m flexible, and just was so happy to be back.
Just before six, I walked across town to the venerable Eagle pub, bought a pint of IPA, and spent an agreeable and stimulating hour with Paul Tracey, a professor of social entrepreneurship at the university’s Judge Business School. He’s a font of ideas, and there’s a lot to learn. At seven I met my longtime Judge, WHU, and now University of Zürich host Jochen Menges for dinner. We had a great meal, and good conversation.
Up Friday morning to prep for the second and last lecture of the “vacation week.” Down the stairs to the shower, then across to the historic college dining hall for the Full English (Heart Attack) Breakfast. So good. Had an agreeable chat with Dr. Colin Roberts, college Fellow in Medical and Veterinary Science (a physiologist, he knows all animals, but especially horses). Then ambled across town, and by long tradition stopped for daily prayers in St. Botolph’s a 14th Century parish church near the B-school. I had been there many times, but never noticed that Botolph is the patron saint of travelers. That fits!
Worked a bit in the Common Room of the Judge Business School, and from 11:30 to 12:15 delivered a talk to 40 students in Jochen’s MBA elective on leadership. It went well. Returned to the Common Room, grabbed a light lunch, and worked for a bit. Amelia, one of the students from my lecture, sat down to discuss career for 45 minutes. At 3:30, I returned to college by way of “The Backs,” the area along the River Cam at the back of several other colleges. Took a nap, and at five headed out for beer and dinner. First stop was The Maypole, a nearby pub that opened in 1851; since 1982 the Castiglione family have run it, originally as tenants (in the U.K. brewers have for centuries owned pubs and leased them), but since 2009 the family has owned it freehold. They offered a bewildering choice of real ale, and I settled on a citrusy Yello Cello, from the Three Blind Mice Brewery in Cambridge. Walked east to pub #2, St. Radegun, the town’s smallest pub, named for the patron saint (AD 520-587, awhile back!) of nearby Jesus College. Beer was cheap there, but the place was empty and lonely, so had a short brew and headed to dinner at a new Indian place, The Tiffin Truck. Tucked into a vegetarian meal, good but not great, and headed home. Read for a bit, then slept hard.
Rose early Saturday, walked briskly to Cambridge station, onto the fast train to London, Tube to Paddington, train to Heathrow, and a flight to New York. When collecting my bags from security screening, I spotted a woman five feet away who looked a lot like Peggy, a Dallas friend. And that fellow with her sure looks a lot like her husband, longtime American Airlines colleague Ken Gilbert. And it was them. Pure serendipity. They were returning from a week in Switzerland (even more coincidence: I emailed them some ideas of things to see). Hugs all around, zipped into the Admirals Club for a beer and catch-up. So cool.
Flew to Washington, Linda picked me up, dogs on leash by 6:15.
Postscript: in nearly five million miles of flying over 52+ years, I had been thanked many times, but never received something like this; absolutely over the top, from a truly exceptional flight attendant: