On March 24, the day after teaching all day in the first of three sessions of a Georgetown marketing elective, I headed back to Europe for the third time in two months, for three schools in London. Flew to JFK, then across to Heathrow. Along the way, I watched the movie “First Man,” about U.S. astronaut Neil Armstrong. Fifty-plus years ago, when NASA was determined to put a man on the moon, they sugar-coated a lot of the danger, which was evident in the film. (Now I know why my mom used to sob during the countdown to blast-off!). Landed at sunrise, and just like in Canada the week before, my iPhone wasn’t working. No cell carrier in the UK. I had time, so I connected to T-Mobile – which has otherwise been a superb carrier – and started down a long path that, after more than hour, resulted in no solution. So I hopped on the Tube, and by long tradition cued The Beatles, for a proper welcome to England. Changed trains twice, then a short walk to the home of my long friend Omar Merlo in Kew. Hugs to Omar and wife Carolyn (the phone snafu caused me to miss the walk to school with daughter Sophie, 10, and Freddie, 7), then some raucous playtime with their golden retriever Mr. Waffles.
It was a gorgeous spring morning, cool but sunny, and Omar kindly loaned one of his bikes. I know the area pretty well, so headed to the River Thames, and followed a path (sometimes paved, sometimes not) along its winding course, upstream eight miles to Kingston-on-Thames. Although it was a Monday, the Brits were out in full force, mothers with tots in prams, runners, lots of people walking their dogs. It was great fun, and a wonderful way to start the trip.
I stopped in “downtown” Kew for a large tub of yogurt, breakfast (the dinner on the flight was big), drained it on a bench in front of the Tesco (supermarket), and rode back to the Merlos. Yakked a bit with Omar, through the stuffed red fox for Waffles to fetch, and at 12:30 headed into central London. In my quest for more and different Indian food, I tracked down Diwana Bhel Poori House, a tiny hole-in-the-wall a block from Euston (railway) Station. Pure vegetarian, they had an awesome lunch buffet, and I tucked in. Even got a second helping of rice and daal (lentils). Not crazy-hot, but spicy. The place was packed.
Fortified, I walked east to the British Library. Their lobby desks and chairs are always packed, so I asked about the reading rooms. Easy access, you just need to register, and in no time I had an ID that has added about 20 points to my IQ. Spent the rest of the afternoon in their Business and IP Collection, working on the next Georgetown lecture, and keeping this journal current.
At six, I hopped on the Tube and train to Clapham Junction in South London walked a block to the Falcon, an agreeable old pub (lots of wood), and soon met a mentee, Freddie Brodermann, now working for Virgin Atlantic Airways. Two airline geeks sorting out the business, great fun for a couple of hours. But I was plumb wore out, so hopped on a suburban train west, stopped at a supermarket for a ready-made dinner (bangers and mash, a British classic), and walked a mile back to the Merlos. Was soon asleep.
Up early Tuesday, walked the kids to school with Carolyn and Mr. Waffles, then hopped on the Tube into town. Spent an agreeable morning in the Wellcome Collection, a museum and library established my Henry Wellcome, the Wisconsin-born founder of a big UK pharmaceutical firm – and now part of GlaxoSmithKline. It had been some years since I was there, and their motto, “for the incurably curious” certainly fits your scribe. The museum part has a permanent collection, and rotating special exhibitions, in this instance a wonderful display of a “Global Clinic,” a low-tech design for a mobile clinic for poor countries – the entire structure could be built inexpensively from pre-cut plywood kits, and assembled with only a mallet (fastened with either friction or wing nuts). Fascinating stuff.
I hopped on a bike from the Santander bikeshare, and road two miles south to Whitehall. Spent an agreeable 45 minutes reading in St. James Square, one of London’s nicest. At 12:45, met my long ex-BA friend David Holmes for lunch at his Oxford and Cambridge Club. Neckties required, very old school (indeed, David quit years ago over their refusal to admit women, and rejoined only last year). The main dining room was splendid (an enormous portrait of King William IV towered over me), food great, and conversation lively as ever. David is a fount of useful information about the island, and a man of strong, logic-based views. It’s always such a treat.
After a long lunch, it was time to stand and deliver, so hopped on the bike and rode east two miles to my 21st appearance at the London School of Economics. Students were a diverse and engaged lot; during the mid-lecture break, a student asked me where I was from. “Minnesota,” I replied, and she said, “I knew it. I could tell by the accent. I’m from Minnesota, too.” A wonderful moment. I peeled off after the talk down the hill to the Temple Underground station, which was packed, as were the trains – never in all my London visits had three trains departed with no room for a skinny standee. But I finally made it on, and was back in Kew before dinner. Omar had cooked a splendid dinner of steak and Swiss hash browns (rösti). Helped clean up the kitchen, then clocked out.
Like Monday, Wednesday was another free day. After walking the kids to school, I hopped back on Omar’s bike, this time riding downstream along the Thames. Back home, did a bit of work, and took the Tube to Notting Hill and another annual lunch, this time with Sir Geoffrey Owen, my original LSE host, and former editor of the Financial Times. Back-to-back lunches with active octogenarians was inspiring, for sure. I was a little pressed for time, but we managed to cover a number of current topics in business and society. Always interesting to get the British view. Zipped back home for a call with a consulting client.
At four I hopped on the train east to Vauxhall, to have a look at the new U.S. Embassy in Nine Elms, former industrial land being redeveloped mostly for housing. The embassy building was attractive, and the place was more accessible and less “paranoid” than I expected (though I still counted at least a dozen police with automatic weapons around the perimeter). But I found the new district creepy: way too dense, little green space, almost inhumane. The triumph of private development with, in my view, insufficient public input. Hopped the train back, ate another read-made supermarket dinner, watched TV with Omar and Carolyn, and was asleep by 9:45.
Up even earlier Thursday morning, back to work: on the Tube to Baker Street and a lecture at London Business School (my second visit of 2019). Finished there at ten, back on the train to a second visit to Imperial Business School. I had a couple of hours, so did some work in a cubicle adjacent to the aeronautical engineering department (appropriate!). Met Omar for lunch at one (the Brit version of a Midwestern tuna-noodle hot dish, true comfort food!), and from 2:15 to 4:00 delivered a talk to 15 MBA students. Omar headed home, and I zipped up to his office, changed into jeans, and did a bit of work. Spent a happy 30 minutes reconnecting with Calgary (Alberta, Canada) buddy Jeff Angel, a long friend and work colleague. At 6:15 I walked back to the Tube, rode through rush hour to Liverpool Street Station, bought sandwiches and two beers for dinner (after the big casserole lunch), and hopped on the train to Harwich.
I was bound for The Netherlands, and the original plan was to fly home from there, avoiding, as I have many times, the UK departure tax, now up to $285. But a few weeks earlier, I found a way to attend the big airline interiors and catering show in Hamburg, last visited in 2012. It started in a few days, so I arranged to spend the weekend in and around Amsterdam. The ferry was uncharacteristically late (a steward later explained that they were having engine trouble, but repairs were imminent), so we waited in the terminal for about an hour. Once on board, I found my comfy small cabin and was soon fast asleep.
The delay enabled another hour of sleep, welcome. Headed to the buffet for breakfast and plenty of coffee. On all previous sailings, it was still dark when we arrived in the Dutch port, Hoek van Holland, but it was light and sunny. After breakfast I headed out on the deck to watch us arrive, then grabbed my stuff, zipped down a long loading bridge, and just made the 9:30 bus to Schiedam. Onto the train into Rotterdam, then north to Amsterdam. Lots of quintessential Dutch sights along the way. Lots of canals and dikes, of course; as I have often noted in these pages, these folks know how to handle water; indeed the need to keep it at bay has deeply influenced their culture, creating a more cooperative, “in this together” mindset. Also saw lots of bike paths, clearly demarcated with brick-red pavement; lots of swimming birds (geese, ducks, snowy-white swans); an old windmill here and there; dozens of huge greenhouses; and some sheep and horses, but no pigs and few cows. It was a nice ride.
Arrived at the Holiday Inn Express, adjacent to a huge sports arena on the edge of town (therefore way cheaper) at 11:45. Happily, they had a room ready, so I dropped my stuff, walked back to the station, bought a two-day ticket for the GVB, the local transit, and hopped on the Metro into town. First stop was the memorial to Walraven van Hall (1909-1945), a banker who became the banker of the Dutch resistance during World War II; he’s the subject of a superb film, “The Resistance Banker,” available on Netflix – it was that movie that prompted the visit. The memorial was stop one that Friday not only because I wanted to see it since watching the film, but because of a deep interest in remembering. Indeed, when pausing at the memorial, I thought we ought perhaps to phrase these things in the positive: “Always Remember” is in many ways better than “Never Forget.” And in light of growing intolerance, nascent Nazis, and the like, again I thought of William Faulkner’s sage advice: “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.”
Next stop was also pretty remarkable. A month earlier, I read an article in The New York Times about a young Dutch art collector, Jan Six XI (yes, the eleventh), who in 2016 found the first original Rembrandt in 40 years (there’s some debate, but to me it has been authenticated). He opens his family’s art collection, in their wonderful old mansion on the Amstel River to anyone interested, but there’s a months-long wait; the article noted that if you look carefully in a second-floor window you can see Rembrandt’s portrait of the first Jan Six. So of course I had to try. Walked a few blocks from the van Hall memorial, admiring the classic Amsterdam gable houses along canals, and found Amstel 218. It was a sunny day, and the sun angle created a lot of glare, but I spotted a gold frame through a window. As I was walking away, I caught the eye of a young man inside. He opened the door, and I asked “is that the Rembrandt portrait of Jan Six I?” He said no, the portrait was one floor down, and behind closed curtains. “But I’ll open them” he said. Another reason to love the Dutch, I thought, and in a minute or two the curtains were open. It was impossible to see any detail, but it was really more the idea . . .
I have long admired Dutch urban planning, and before the trip I did a little research on a couple of new neighborhoods to see, so I walked across the Amstel River, hopped back on the Metro and the #34 bus. With a little triangulating found De Ceuvel, a tiny residential district built largely of recycled materials, including, yes, old boats, and all designed to minimize environmental impact. The place had a distinctly New Age feel, very earnest and upbeat. You walked around the place on a winding (wooden) boardwalk.
Ambled back to the bus line, rode two stops, and walked a few blocks to Oedipus, a craft brewery. After the massive breakfast, I only needed a bit, so tucked into a basket of French fries, a dish the Dutch have truly perfected (they were so crispy, served with piquant ketchup and the traditional mayonnaise), as well as a small glass of tropical IPA. Yum. Walked back to the Metro, back to the main station and onto a tram to Ijburg, a new and attractive linear neighborhood built on reclaimed land (as is much of Holland, a place at, or in some cases below, sea level.
I had been moving quickly that day, so headed back to the hotel to relax for a bit. Then back into the city (the Metro took only 16 minutes), wandering canals before heading to dinner at Tujuh Maret, an Indonesian restaurant (the Dutch East Indian Company colonized much of that country starting in the 17th Century, and The Netherlands has lots of Indonesian food). The traditional rijstaffel, a meal of many small dishes, was only available for two persons or more, but I managed a lot of variety with a different choice. The waiter asked “how spicy?” and I replied “Very. Dial it up. I love peppers.” So they did. It was a nice dinner. It was 7:55 PM, time to get back to work: sat down on a bench along the Amstel River and took a call with a potential client for 20 minutes. Then Metro back to the hotel and a long sleep.
Up at six Saturday morning, to the hotel gym for 10 miles on a bike, then breakfast, and out the door at eight, Metro and tram to the famous Rijksmuseum, Holland’s venerable art gallery, for “All the Rembrandts,” a blockbuster show to mark the 350th anniversary of his death. I bought a timed-entry ticket online, and was the first visitor into the show. It was colossal – more than 400 works, mostly etchings and pen-and-ink, but paintings as well. To describe Rembrandt as a genius understates his talent. He could capture the inner person, the soul, on the faces of his subjects (including lots of self-portraits). His subjects were broad: Bible scenes (from the Old Testament to Jesus’ death and resurrection); portraits of the well-to-do; landscapes, and the ordinary, like a pancake seller (the food truck of the 17th Century), a sow at the Amsterdam pig market, and a fat guy peeing in the street. Adjacent descriptions were well-written and not elitist; one panel noted that Rembrandt “suffered financial difficulties” toward the end of his life. I asked a nearby guard, and he replied, “drunk, women, spending too much.” Not unlike some famous artists today. Here are just a handful of his exhibited works:
I wanted to spend time in the rest of the museum, which included his famous, enormous “Night Watch (immediately above),” and scores of other works by painters of the Dutch Golden Age, like Vermeer and Jan Steen. There were also rooms that interpreted Dutch history in art and artifacts, including their maritime exploits – as I have written before, the Dutch pioneered globalization in the 1600s, and the wealth (including ill-gotten gains) that flowed into the country was remarkable, and visible today in the Amsterdam cityscape. Altogether a remarkable morning.
Hopped on Tram #19 to a suburban station, then on the train west 10 minutes to (the original) Haarlem, then north a mile to Bloemendaal. At the top of the platform stairs was my good friend Jan Meurer to hug and welcome me. We drove around the village, seriously affluent, then back to his house for lunch with wife Annatine and two of their four grandchildren, Frederike, 4, and Louis, 18 months. They were recovering from Chicken pox, and the worst was over, but it was hard to explain to the tots why Oom (Uncle) Rob’s words made no sense. Louis was especially wary, though he warmed up as the afternoon progressed. We had a delightful lunch in their back yard, quiche and salad, cheese, a couple of Heinekens, and chocolate cake. Plus plenty of fine conversation. Jan dropped me back at the station at 3:50 and I headed back to the hotel for a needed short nap.
Refreshed, I hopped back on Metro and tram into town, aiming straight for another craft brewery, Brouwerij ‘t IJ, beneath an old windmill just east of the center. The place was hopping. I bought a beer and found a spot at the end of a picnic bench in the corner of the terrace, a perfect perch for people-watching. Most of my visit was solitary, but then T-t-S kicked in.
“Two doctors, a banker, and an astrophysicist walk into a bar . . .” It was like the start of one of those jokes, only it was real. To my right were Caspar (“like the ghost” he said) and Anna, recently-minted Dutch doctors. To my left was a young woman who worked for the French central bank as an overseer of large and mid-size banks, and her boyfriend, a Ph.D. in astrophysics. “Okay, pretend I’m seven years old and explain what you do,” I said to him. He laughed, and provided a clear explanation of his research interests. He explained some of Einstein’s early ideas, then brought them forward. Fascinating stuff.
I mentioned that I was headed to Hamburg the next day; when Anna and Caspar left, she said “be careful with those people.” “What people?” I asked. “The Germans,” and she then went into passionate but brief (“All our dead people”) criticism of their sins against the Dutch from 1940 to 1945. Anna was born nearly a half-century after the Allies liberated her country, but she still remembered. Faulkner’s words, again. It was a remarkable dialogue, really the first time I had heard such remarks since my first visits to Europe in the early 1970s. But we cannot deny her view, likely based on family memory.
Last stop, and in hindsight not necessary, was an amble through the city’s red-light district. Just as in 1971, prostitutes stood in windows, preening. Unlike back then, some were staring at their smartphone screens. The place was teeming with gawkers from all over; orange-vested “hosts” directed the hordes to keep moving and keep to the right. Whew. Back to the hotel. After a huge lunch, I didn’t need much dinner, but bought a sandwich at the Metro station and ate in my room. Lights out on a long day, and a night shortened an hour as Europe moved to summer time.
Up at six again, gym, breakfast, Metro to the central station, and onto the Deutsche Bahn Intercity train east to Hanover. The rural landscape in the eastern Netherlands looked familiar – we were only about 40 miles from Münster, Germany, where I often teach. As the train stopped in Germany, it filled up, and both it and the connecting train north to Hamburg were completely packed. Arrived Hamburg about 3:15, walked less than a mile to my Airbnb, on a quiet street adjacent to the university. The city looked immediately familiar, and the prosperity I recalled from earlier trips was evident in solid housing from a century or more ago.
My host left the keys in the front garden. I let myself in, found my room, dropped my stuff, and headed out on a breezy, sunny day. Hamburg has a superb bikeshare program, StadtRAD, free for the first 30 minutes, and brand-new bikes. So I hopped on one from a nearby station and rode around the Aussenalster, the larger of the two lakes in the center of town. The houses and flats facing the water were seriously posh. The roads and bikeways were totally packed, so you had to stay alert. Was back at the Airbnb about 5:30, and had a long chat in the kitchen with hosts Amelie and Harm, really nice people, and welcoming. Washed my face and walked a couple of blocks to Brodersen, an old-school Hamburg fish restaurant. Tucked into crab soup and an enormous whole fish (plaice, or ewerscholle in German). Yum, though the fish was bony. Ambled back, met the hosts’ dog Lotte, read for awhile, checked scores of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament back home, and slept a long time.
Up at 6:30 Monday, another “day off.” I walked a few blocks to the supermarket for breakfast fixings for the next three days, then headed out, back onto a red bikeshare cycle (they’re almost brand-new and have some nice features that make it super-easy to rent). Rode back to the urban lakes, then into the center. First stop was Hafen City, redevelopment of the old port area on the Elbe River – a wonderful mix of renovated old brick warehouses and lots of new construction. I bought a day ticket for the city’s superb public-transit network, the HVV, and hopped on a ferry for a short circuit along Hafen City. Next stop was the Elbphilharmonie, the city’s new concert hall at the western end of Hafen City. Superstar architects Herzog & de Meuron designed it, and it took a long time and a lot of money to finish – they went over budget by 12X. People in the U.S. would have gone nuts, but according to Amelie and Harm the locals (Hamburgers!) just shrugged a bit, and are now immensely proud of what has become a landmark for the city.
I hopped on another ferry and rode downstream several miles to Finkenwerder, on the north bank of the Elbe. It was lunch time, and a simple café by the dock fit the bill, cold herring and fried potatoes. Back onto the boat, this time riding one stop and picking up a red bike for the ride home, several miles. When I was five minutes from the Airbnb, I spotted a fellow who looked familiar. Rode past him. Stopped. Yelled “Martin,” and he turned around. It was a former consulting client from a start-up inflight entertainment system; I hadn’t seen him in four or five years. Total small-world moment. Took a quick nap, then hopped back on a bike around the lake again.
At 5:30 I suited up to attend the first event of the big airline catering and interiors trade show, a party half-sponsored by my long Italian friend Lorenzo, owner of Castello Monte Vibiano, makers of artisan olive oil and wine, and major suppliers to airlines worldwide. The event was in the atrium of the Hamburg History Museum, a lovely venue. Chatted with a few people, had some dinner, and left. Airline folk tend to party hard, and I needed to be ready for the show opening the next morning. The day before, I noticed a lot of the stolpersteine (literally “stumbling stones”) described in previous updates – it’s a project to remember Jews who the Nazis forced from their homes, by placing 5” x 5” brass squares in sidewalks in front of the homes of the evicted. Each square provides brief biographical details of one person. On the way home from the Metro that night, I counted 12 in just three blocks, including 8 in front of an apartment on Hermann-Behn Weg. Whew. (I later read that 70% of Hamburg’s Jewish population lived in “my” neighborhood of Rotherbaum and adjacent districts.)
Up early Tuesday morning, show time. Walked to the enormous Hamburg Messe (exhibition center) and was one of the first into the expo when the gates opened at nine. Walking through the massive buildings, I had a sense of déjà vu from my visits to the show as an exhibitor in 2011 and 2012 (with Martin’s start-up). Even though I hadn’t worked directly in inflight services for 20 years, over the two days I ran into five or six people I knew from ago. It was super interesting, lots of new stuff, new ideas. But a lot of same-old same-old too. At two, I met up with some recent clients and we walked the halls; after closing, we headed into town for an agreeable fish dinner at Deichgraf, another traditional Hamburg restaurant.
Wednesday morning, out the door early again. I needed a cup of coffee, and as I walked to the Messe I spotted an agreeable-looking café, Aika. When I walked in, the owner asked in German if I saw the sign on the door. “Oh,” I replied, “I thought it meant you were closing at noon.” “No,” he said, this was opening day and they wouldn’t be ready until 12. “But wait,” he said, “you can be our first customer, and the coffee will be on us.” After mild protest, I agreed, chatted briefly with the owner, Peter Kaller, and his wife, and sat down. A nice variant on T-t-S. In the next block of Grindelstrasse was the former Talmud Tora School, now the Jewish community center – gated, with two policemen in front, a sad sign of of these times. A block further on, four stolpersteine to remember the Flörsheim family, mother and father, and two daughters who were exterminated at ages 14 and 10. I began to cry.
The day sped past, as we walked the halls, again learning about a lot of new trends and ideas. Trade shows are so interesting. High point was about an hour spent with a French company called Cuisine Solutions, who pioneered and perfected sous vide, the process of cooking food in a sealed plastic bag in water. The results are superb, and chatting with their chefs and sampling some dishes gave me another sense of déjà vu – when I led American Airlines’ catering team in 1998, we had just begun serving Cuisine Solutions dishes in First and Business Class. So tasty.
At the end of the day I walked across to the other half of the show, Aircraft Interiors Expo, another enormous set of company exhibits. Briefly chatted with Peter, an English seats and cabin designer, grabbed a Guinness courtesy of a seatmaker, and walked home. Changed clothes and hopped on a red bike for the last, seemingly obligatory, stop in Hamburg: dinner at Anno 1905, a small bar and restaurant seemingly unchanged in 114 years. Germany has convulsed and calmed over those decades, but the place, with worn wood floors and a massive wooden back bar, hearkens back to the old days. I had a couple of beers and another plate of herring, this time baked, and of course fried potatoes. It was dark when I finished, so hopped the train back to Dammtor station, then a very short bike ride back to the StadtRAD station a few hundred feet from home. Harm and Amelie were in the kitchen, and invited me to sit down for a beer. I declined the brew (I needed to rise at 4:45 the next morning to fly home), but had a nice final chat. Thanked them and hopped into bed.
Up before the chickens, train to the airport, flight to London, then Philadelphia, then Washington.
Dogs were on the leash by 6:45.