Germany for a Workweek, and Always Glad to Be There

One of Germany’s biggest infrastructure projects, a re-do of the Stuttgart main railway station and surrounding district. The work has been underway for years, and on twice-yearly visits I didn’t sense much progress. I finally took time to study the explanatory signboards and, slap my forehead, now I get it: they are rotating the tracks 90 degrees, building new tunnels, and more. We Americans talk about fixing transport infrastructure; Germans get it done.

I was home for the whole of April, after returning from Europe.  By May, I had what my mother called “Itchy Feet,” so on Sunday the 5th I flew to Germany via Charlotte for a week of teaching.  Landed Frankfurt Monday morning, an hour late, stressing a bit about making my connection to the train south to Stuttgart and Tübingen.  Thanks to German efficiency – a new, faster shuttle bus from terminal to airport train station – I actually caught an earlier train.  Enroute to Mannheim, had a brilliant Talking-to-Strangers time with a Dutchman, CEO of a midsize software company, working mostly in Germany but still living in his hometown of Breda, south of Rotterdam.  We covered a lot of topics, notably the astonishing pace of IT change in the last decades.

Left, yellow fields of canola east of Frankfurt; right, the high-rise downtown and Main River. Below, my Dutch seatmate on the ICE to Mannheim.

Had an hour between trains in Stuttgart, and needed to pee, so I followed my dad’s direction – developed over years of driving across the Midwest – and looked for a nice hotel near the station.  And there it was, right across the street: the Steigenberger Graf Zeppelin (yep, named for the blimp). Posh, clean men’s room, and a warm lobby. As Cliff Britton taught me decades ago, you walk in the front door, make it look like you belong, and no one bothers you!   Refreshed and warmed up (it was 42° F, chilly, and the station was unheated), I ambled back across, through the station, and onto the local train to Tübingen.

Apartments in Plochingen, east of Stuttgart, designed by the Austrian artist and (whimsical) architect Hundertwasser.

Walked a few blocks to my Airbnb, met Vera, the owner, and in no time I was living like a local, in a large one-bedroom apartment.  Dropped my stuff and walked a few more blocks south, through a neighborhood where I stayed (in another Airbnb) on my first trip to Tübingen in 2015, to Gastätte Loretto, a restaurant operated entirely by people with varied disabilities; I found it quite by accident while looking on Google Maps for the location of my digs.  As it says on their website, “People with disabilities can find workplaces suited to their abilities in all areas of gastronomy – kitchen, service, and housekeeping. Many gain confidence in meeting guests and discover new abilities.”  Hooray for that!  And lunch was superb – a huge bowl of tortellini Alfredo and salad.  It reminded me of Day by Day Café in St. Paul, where recovering addicts have run a successful eatery for almost 40 years.  You feel good when you support places like that.

Above, pleasant, solid houses in my Tübingen neighborhood; below, the Gasthaus Loretto and a cool BMW with sidecar; at bottom, the old town at dusk.

Ambled back to the apartment, took a needed nap, went out for breakfast fixings, and worked a bit.  At 6:30, I walked across the Neckar River and into Tübingen’s old town, the Altstadt, for dinner at Forelle, a nice restaurant.  Spring is asparagus season, Spargelzeit, in Germany, so I tucked into some fresh white spears, simply prepared with butter, with a German-style savory pancake.   Just after the server brought me a glass of wine, the owner asked if a solo diner could join my table, common practice in Europe.  “Of course,” I replied, and a friendly fellow of about my age sat down, to begin the second great T-t-S of the day. Ulrich Deiters, known as Ulli, was back visiting the university where he studied to become a teacher four decades earlier.  We covered lots of topics, laughed a lot, and I learned a bunch. Just one small-world tidbit: in the middle of the 19th Century, his great-great-grandfather owned a clothing store on in Münster (a city where I also teach, and know quite well), number 48 on the premier shopping street called the Prinzipalmarkt.  It was the only building that survived multiple Allied bombings during World War II.  I would have stayed longer at table, but I had a 9:00 PM client call.

Inside the cozy Forelle restaurant, and my agreeable tablemate Ulli

The view from my Airbnb apartment

Up early Tuesday morning, brewed a pot of coffee (nice to be in a homey place), ate breakfast, and hopped on the train and bus to the European School of Business, ESB, at nearby Reutlingen University.  Worked the morning in the Mensa (student cafeteria), ate lunch, and at 1:00 joined a group of faculty and fellow part-time teachers for a meeting with a review team from the AACSB, the (once American but now global) accreditation body for business schools.  ESB had applied to be certified, and we were trying to help secure approval.  Meeting was easy and positive.  From 3:30 to 5:00 I spoke to three combined classes, a good talk.  My longtime host Oliver Götz and I then drove into downtown Reutlingen for beer and dinner.  It was a sunny spring afternoon, and we sat in the biergarten of Barfüsser, an agreeable brewpub, and had a nice chat.  Oliver dropped me at the station, hopped the train back to Tübingen (11 minutes, quick), and headed home.  Lights out early.

The view of Reutlingen University from my familiar “corner office” in the Mensa

Wednesday morning, time to move on.  Took the local train back to Stuttgart and the fast (ICE) train north through Frankfurt to the second school, University of Kassel.  Met long friend and young host Patrick Rath at the station at 12:20, and we drove downtown for lunch, then a nice walk in a big park, past an Orangerie built by one of the German kaisers.  Back up the hill to pick up daughter Lotte, already seven (she’s the up-and-coming ice hockey player described in a previous update).  It was fun to walk through a German elementary school; it was still the lunch hour and it was as actually a bit wilder than a U.S. school: kids pushing and shoving, playing ball, running through the halls, zipping around the playground.  We drove back to the Raths’ apartment.  I worked a bit, spoke to Patrick’s partner Elli when she returned from work, and at 5:45 walked a couple of blocks to meet a handful of business students from CTK, a student-run consulting firm (I’ve known the group for many years).  Did an informal Q&A for an hour, then we all hopped on the streetcar a mile or so to Lohmann, Kassel’s oldest pub.  It was raining hard, so we couldn’t sit in the biergarten, but had beer and dinner inside.  Patrick joined the group at 8:45.  Jumped in
Patrick’s car, drove home, and slept hard.

In the huge, leafy central park in Kassel; below, scenes of the Orangerie

Spring flowers in the Raths’ kitchen

Elli and I walked Lotte to school, then we hopped on the #1 tram out to the railway station and onto a fast train 30 miles north to Göttingen, an historic university town (Elli works for the school).  You immediately knew from the people on the street that this was an academic, intellectual place.  We walked a few blocks from station into town.  Elli peeled off, and I set out exploring the compact old town within ancient walls.  Very cool old town hall, churches, academic buildings.  Stopped for a coffee and bread roll.  Fortified, I climbed the spire of the St. Jacobi (Lutheran) Church.  I love church towers and have been up many in Germany, but this one (built almost 600 years ago, 1427-33) was both really high and sort-of-challenging, because more than half of the 200 feet of climb was on ladders.  It was not dangerous, but slightly rickety – some of the railings wobbled, and you needed to duck in places, because centuries ago people were shorter!  The views from the top were superb, once I figured out how to open the wooden shutters.

Above left, the “Ganseliesel,” Göttingen’s most famous sculpture, a girl bringing her goose to market; at right, the old town hall, 15th Century. Below, ceiling and wall frescoes in the old town hall.

Above, shop windows in town; below, the 18th Century university Aula (auditorium)

Above and below, the town has lots of wonderful half-timbered buildings, many ornately decorated; below at right, a turret in the corner of the old town hall and a nearby church.

Above, St. Jakobi Church and the entrance to the rectory; below, one of the tower ladders.

Above, views from the tower; below, my man Martin Luther and distinct columns (they create a distorting optical effect) inside St. Jakobi.

Above, Michaelishaus; below, facades on the main shopping street; at bottom, architectural detail in a very old place.

Climbed down, ambled back to the station (passing an academic building, the Michaelishaus, where, according to a plaque, Benjamin Franklin visited for two days in 1766), south to Kassel, onto the tram to the university.  At 1:30, I met doctoral students Sven and Florian for lunch at the Mensa, second such lunch in three days, big plate of gnocchi with side vegetables.  Had a good chat about their research.  At 3:30, I met their boss, Andreas Mann, the Marketing Chair, for a short chat, then walked to class in a huge lecture hall, 175 students.  Technical problems: only the lectern microphone worked, and I hate to stand at a podium, so I mostly hollered for an hour as I moved across the stage, but it all went well.  Chatted briefly with the team, then hopped back on the tram to the station.

Herr Scheidemann lived in the same buildings as the Raths; he was a Social Democratic politician and one of the founders of the Weimar Republic; he fled Germany after the Nazis took power.

I was returning home the next morning, Frankfurt-Charlotte, and the scheduled departure is 9:20, so I couldn’t stay in Kassel.  I hate airport hotels, so I booked a room in Wiesbaden, a pleasant city 40 minutes from the airport.  The ICE (fast train) left Kassel on time, and we were zipping along, then stalled in Fulda, an hour from Frankfurt, for 20 minutes.  We rolled on, slowly, then 10 minutes later stalled in the burg called Schlüchtern.  I could only pick out a few words from the German PA announcement, but people were grabbing their stuff and racing for the doors, so I followed the crowd, across to an adjacent track and onto a regional train to Frankfurt.  That one was late, too.  By that point, dinner in Wiesbaden was out, so I grabbed a pickled herring sandwich and a beer in the Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof, then onto a suburban train, munching happily.  The hotel was less than five minutes from the Wiesbaden Hauptbahnhof, so was asleep quickly.

Up at six, to the airport by 7:20, zip, zip, zip.  Then another stall: the Charlotte flight was late, but I passed some of the time in a happy T-t-S with a native Californian who had served in the Army for 30 years, all of it in Germany, his German wife, and seriously cute five-year-old daughter (who was wearing a T-shirt that read “Straight Outta Time Out”).  We talked about the Cold War, all the changes since, and more.  When we parted, I thanked him for keeping us (and Western Europe) free during the Cold War.  Really nice people.

I sped through Charlotte airport, from arrival gate through Customs to departure gate in under 20 minutes, and onto a flight to Dulles.  A thunderstorm right over that field closed operations, so we sat in North Carolina for an hour, but was home by 6:45, Henry and MacKenzie on leashes.

American Airlines’ gate agent at Charlotte, one of the millions of airline people who keep us moving every day; at right, the muddy Potomac River near Washington Dulles Airport.



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