After fun on Thanksgiving (including a trip to see the Washington Capitals pro hockey team, with way-cool fifth-row seats thanks to Robin), I flew to Charlotte and on to Frankfurt for the last teaching trip of the year, six schools in Germany and one in Ireland. Landed early, still dark. Waited a few hours, then hopped on the ICE fast train to Cologne. As I have for the last several years, stayed at the newish youth hostel in Deutz, across the Rhine from downtown and the big cathedral (long readers nay remember that I served on the board of the U.S. hosteling organization in the 1990s). Rolled my suitcase into a storage room, bought a day ticket on the KVB, the local public transit, and hopped on a tram for the university. It was already lunch time, so of course I headed for the Mensa, the student cafeteria. As in Tübingen three weeks earlier, diners needed a special stored-value card, but this time I got creative, asking a student in front of me in the checkout line if she would be a “bank,” and she agreed; I gave her cash, she charged my lunch on her card. Problem solved, and I tucked into a huge bowl of lentil stew, eintopf, with a big sausage on top. Yum.
Hopped back on tram #9 for a bit of joyriding, then back to the hostel and a nice room, clean and ready. Took a tonic nap and a shower, suited up, and headed back to the uni for my first of 12 gigs in 9 days, to a student marketing group called MTP. About 40 attended my talk on American Airlines’ marketing after the 2001 terrorist attacks. As we did in previous years, we hopped back on the tram to one of the ubiquitous Christmas markets for some conversation and traditional Advent glühwein. It was a larger group than usual, more than 15, and it seemed like everyone wanted to ask a question.
A handful of Muslin women firmly asked some hard questions about discrimination after the attacks and subsequently; I answered forthrightly, no excuses, no rationalization. In 18 years of presenting the talk, that gentle-but-firm intervention was a first. Even more interesting, none of the students were marketing or even business majors; they were students of medicine, economics, history. They must have seen the talk promoted on campus, and chose to attend. I was glad to be able to provide an American view far different from what they hear from Trump.
After 90 minutes, I was worn out, and hungry. After some selfies and a group photo, I peeled off, back to the hostel, changed clothes and zipped across the street, literally, to Lommerzheim, surely one of Germany’s greatest bars. Tiny, convivial, cozy. It was my third visit, now a December tradition. As on previous trips, even at ten on a Monday night the place was hopping. Got standing room at the bar and asked for a beer. Like many places in Germany, the servers keep track of beers (the traditional glass in Cologne is small, less than seven ounces) with pencil on beermat, and to identify my bill the bartender asked, in German, for my name. “Hans,” I replied, “mein name ist Hans.” A friendly fellow next to me heard me talking to myself in English, and he said “Hello, Hans,” starting a nice T-t-S with him in English und Deutsch, and with his mother-in-law, who only spoke German. She asked what I did, and I replied. She expressed respect, then told me, as best as I could figure, that she was a street-sweeper for the city. I managed to reply that all jobs are good, important, needed. She smiled.
It was past dinnertime, so I tucked into the trip’s first plate of grünkohl, the traditional cooked kale (with potatoes and onions). My December-trip target is always four meals with this best of German “soul food.” So good. With that as base, I slept hard, eight hours.
Up Tuesday morning, smiling in the youth hostel breakfast room, imagining that I was young again (and in many ways, still feel that way). Quick breakfast, some welcome coffee, and out the door, across town for a little sightseeing in ordinary neighborhoods. Then back to the hostel, grabbed my suitcase, and headed to school #2 and my 19th trip to the Marketing Center at the University of Münster. The first part of the ride was through the now-dreary industrial landscape of the Ruhrgebiet, Germany’s historic industrial core, now mostly hollowed-out. But the last 40 minutes were through the familiar rural landscape of Westphalia, past small farms with brick buildings and barns (solar panels covering many of the roofs), grazing sheep and cows, hunters’ deer stands.
Arrived Münster a bit late, ambled to my hotel, changed clothes, and at 3:30 met a new host, Michael Gerke. From 4:15 to 5:45, I delivered a talk to Masters students. Next gig was at eight, so ambled a few blocks to Pho, a Vietnamese nudelhaus I visited a year earlier. Tucked into some spring rolls and a spicy tofu curry, stopped briefly at the hotel, and proceeded to gig two, to the Münster chapter of MTP. It was the debut of a new talk on airlines and climate change, a topic very much on the minds of Europeans. The “airlines are evil earth-wreckers” narrative has taken control, and it was up to me to, in a small way, re-balance the discussion with facts and a reminder of all the good things that airlines make possible. Candidly, I expected more push back, even hecklers, but it was all calm. Walked home and clocked out.
Wednesday morning dawned sunny and cold, and my third Münster gig was not until evening, so for the second year in a row I rented a comfy (and well-maintained) bike from the hotel and set off, first on the leafy promenade that circles the city core, then south around the Aasee lake, then east to the bike path along the Dortmund-Ems Canal. This was a waterway far different from those I know in England, because a) it was very wide, and b) it was still very much in use as a commercial route. I rode several kilometers north to a lock, and lucky for the Transport Geek, a long barge was in the lock, headed downstream toward the North Sea. I watched the whole process, far different from the muscle-powered routine I knew from locking through in the West Midlands. Fascinating stuff for the T-Geek. Rode back to town, stopped in the offices of the Marketing Center for a chat with some friends.
Here are some scenes from the morning bike ride:
At 12:30, I met Julian Allendorf, who for four years was my student host at Münster. We ate lunch atop the new city offices, with great views of the Old Town, Altstadt. And the lively conversation was better than the view, mostly about all that he had done in the past year: finished his doctorate; worked for three months for the Foreign Ministry in Berlin; traveled around Western Canada in an RV, to Egypt, and England; and more. He’s now interviewing for jobs, and it was fascinating to hear the many prospects he had. We also discussed political woes in Germany and the U.S. A super-interesting fellow.
Peeled off, back on the bike, a few blocks to the store that sells little Christmas guardian angels, schutzengelen, that are handmade in a region called the Erzgebirge in the state of Saxony. I’ve been buying them at the same store for years. Check and done, back on the bike for some last miles, for a total of 25.4 for the day. Napped, worked a bit, and at 6:00 met four Ph.D. students who hosted me for dinner, then to the now-traditional Kaminabend (“chimney evening”), an informal discussion of career advice and other topics with bright undergraduates. That evening it was a small group, nine, but lots of questions. Started at 8:00, finished at 11:30. I was worn out, but it went very well.
Slept in, until 7:45, breakfast, suited up, and headed to the third stop, the Technical University at Dortmund. Walking to the Münster station along Grüne Gasse, I spotted a lone stolpersteine, the small brass markers embedded in sidewalks that note the former residences of Jews. It caught my eye because you usually see multiple markers, noting the deportation of an entire family. It marked Leonore Kaufmann, born 1902, deported by Nazis in 1942 to Izbica, Poland, a transfer point for Jews awaiting deportation to concentration camps in that country. Her fate was simply listed as Verschollen, missing. That would have been in many ways the worst outcome, because survivors would hold out hope that she would be found, and alive. So grim.
Arrived Dortmund at 10:40, checked into the hotel, a dropped my suitcase, and hopped on the S-Bahn for my fourth visit to the Technical University of Dortmund. Met a great host, Hartmut Holzmüller. We yakked for awhile, then ambled to the Mensa for a fish lunch and a longer chat. I have many academic hosts, all nice, but Hartmut stands out, because our values and world view are aligned; I always enjoy meeting him – he seems more like a cousin. From 2:15 to 3:45, I delivered a talk in his marketing-engineering class. Worked a few hours, and from 7:00 to 8:30 spoke to a dozen members of CEFU, a local business group associated with the uni’s marketing department; we had drinks and sandwiches afterward, and Hartmut drove me back to the hotel.
Up a bit late again Friday morning (7:30!), down to breakfast. I was at a NH Hotel, originally a Spanish chain, and based on two samples, Dortmund and Düsseldorf, they offer the best hotel breakfast buffet on the planet. Just a colossal array of food, and all high quality. I only had a sandwich the night before, so I tucked in, so good. My train to stop four, Kassel, was at 10:43, so I zipped out for a walk. In 90 minutes I had covered a good part of the center, on foot, then three miles on a shared bike. I’ve always been a bit proud of my ability to cram a lot of touring into a short time, and that morning was a fine example. Just a great little outing.
Hopped on the train to Kassel, enroute a nice T-t-S with a woman about my age returning to her hometown of Paderborn for the weekend. We mostly yakked about the decline of punctuality on the Deutsche Bahn (though our train was almost on time). Arrived Kassel at about one, into howling winds and icy temperatures. Took the tram three stops west to the end of the line, then hiked up the hill, past the huge sandstone castle that was the summer residence of “Willy 2,” formally Kaiser Wilhelm II, the last German emperor. (I later learned that the castle was also the HQ of the German command during World War I.)
My hotel (where the MBA students I would address later that day were staying) was seriously posh, a spa hotel, four stars. Checked in and zipped next door to the Alte Wache, a pleasant café in a building from 1842, for a late lunch. Next stop was the hotel fitness center, for a needed 25 miles on an exercise bike. That was tonic.
At 7:30, I met my host Andreas Mann, as well as several of the MBA students. Had a nice chat with Sebastian, a project manager with Deutsche Post DHL, then headed into the classroom for a “dinner speech” that was actually before dinner – so I quickened the pace a bit. The class was tired after a full day, and only one question. Applause, and walked to a huge buffet dinner. High point was a long conversation with Andreas, an executive at Wintershall Dea, a Kassel-based oil and gas company partly owned by the chemical giant BASF. We yakked about mergers (they were in the process of integrating a smaller company, and it was challenging), organizational culture, his home region around Freiburg, in Baden-Württemberg, and about one of that state’s most famous exports, Porsches (he owned one). Super interesting guy.
For whatever reason, I tossed and turned that Friday night, maybe fearing that I would oversleep and miss my train to weekend fun. Rose at 6:15, shower, breakfast, then down the hill a mile or so to the train station (the tram did not start on that line until 10). Onto a fast train a short distance to Fulda, then onto another ICE east to Erfurt, capital of the German state of Thüringia. It was the 14th German state visited in my nearly 50 years of travel in that country (only two left). We arrived a bit late, but still plenty of time for a full day of touring. Stashed my suitcase and backpack in a locker, and headed toward the Altstadt.
There was plenty of evidence of post-reunification investment, like the new train station. The German federal government has spent billions and billions in the former East Germany. Remarkably, in recent Thüringia state elections, Die Linke, the Left Party, comprised of recycled former Communists, and the neo-Fascist AfD party got the most votes, and Die Linke formed a minority government. What part of the old failed system – an abusive system where at least 1% of adults were spies for the Stasi, the state security service – do people not understand? And how is a return to positions that gave rise to the tragedy of National Socialism, the Nazis, going to move things forward? Just makes me crazy.
Thinking about the leftists reminded me that the day before, David Brooks wrote a column in The New York Times reminding people of the multiple failures of socialism; here’s just one snippet that seemed to fit the local situation:
It doesn’t matter how big your computers are, the socialist can never gather all relevant data, can never construct the right feedback loops. The state cannot even see the local, irregular, context-driven factors that can have exponential effects. The state cannot predict people’s desires, which sometimes change on a whim. Capitalism creates a relentless learning system. Socialism doesn’t.
But, hey, I was a tourist, and I took an immediate liking to the urban landscape, especially the ornate buildings from the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. The city was crawling with “Christmas tourists,” locals and visitors milling about the many Christmas markets in the center. First stops were the cathedral, the large Dom, and the adjacent St. Severin church, both Catholic. Then I climbed up to the Zitadelle Petersburg, a 17th Century fortress nearby, with good views of the city. Back down the hill, and across to the Krämerbrücke, a bridge over the small Gera River that didn’t seem like a bridge, because it was covered with shops and houses – the only one of its kind north of Venice. Way cool, but way crowded.
At the east end of the bridge, I spotted the logo of the Methodist Church, seemingly out of place in a land of either Catholics or Lutherans, but there it was, the Ägidienkirche, originally from 1110 and rebuilt in 1324. Sorta old. And with a tower you could climb for €2.50, less than $3. Up I went, with a nice T-t-S along the way, a young mother who grew up in Erfurt but now lived in North Rhine-Westphalia, not far from Münster. The stairs were in way better shape than the rickety ladders I climbed to the top of a church tower in Göttingen three months earlier (must be Methodist discipline!), and the views from the top were superb.
Back down, it was lunch time. Some earlier web research suggested a nearby place, Wenigermarkt 13, with Thuringian specialities. Tucked into two Kloßscheiben, sliced fried dumplings filled with sausage, and a nice salad. Yum! (Not so yum was the waitress, who assumed that because I was an American she could help herself to a 30% tip, and not give me change for the €20 note I tendered; in Germany, service is included, but it’s polite to leave some coins, perhaps 8-10%, which I did.)
Hopped on a tram back to the train station, collected my stuff, and rode east 12 miles to Weimar, my overnight venue. Checked into the Hotel Kaiserin Augusta, steps from the train station, dropped my luggage in the room, and zipped back to Erfurt. I had a day ticket on local transport, so again did a bit of joyriding, on Tram #3 to the edge of town, past blocks and blocks of Soviet-style highrises. Socialist paradise, at least until 1989.
Rode back into town to the last tourist stop, the Augustiner Monastery, where Martin Luther lived as a monk from 1505 to 1511, six years before he decided to protest the corruption of the Catholic church (he was ordained in Erfurt Cathedral, visited earlier in the day, in 1507). Ambled around the grounds, and at 4:30 attended an Advent concert featuring 14 brass musicians, who played in a courtyard. Through the years, I’ve visited a number of monasteries, but almost all of them (like Bebenhausen near Tübingen last month) are no longer alive. But this one was, not just that night, but always, as a center for Protestant teaching, thought, and reflection (you can actually sleep there, but the rooms were already booked when my plans were clear). Listening to the music, I thought of Gram, my German grandmother and devout Christian; she would have known the tunes, which were unfamiliar to me, except the last, “Tochter Zion,” to the melody of Handel’s “See the Conq’ring Hero Comes.”
After the music I walked back to the tram, rode to the Hauptbahnhof, then back to Weimar. Brought this journal up to date, and at 7:30 walked south into the Altstadt. My first restaurant choice was full, but across the street there was space in the Köstritzer Schwarzbierhaus, in a splendid half-timbered building. Tucked into leg of duck, two enormous boiled dumplings, and red cabbage with a distinctive smoky essence. So good, and a nice platform for a long sleep.
Up and out the door at first light (about 8:20), for a good walk around Weimar. It’s a graceful city, with lots of old buildings and not much of the awful “modern” architecture from the East German period. The city was marking two centenaries in 2019, the birth of the Weimar Republic, so named because the structure was hammered out in the city, and lasted until the Nazis took power in 1933; and the Bauhaus architectural movement, which began at the small design university. I ambled south a mile or more to the uni, then tried to get to one of the famous Bauhaus homes, a mile further on. Unhappily, I had to cross a stream, and the bridge I needed was closed for repair. I was running out of time, so backtracked to the university, where, to my great amazement, the main building was open. Pure serendipity. Wandered around inside, snapping pictures and expecting to be thrown out as a trespasser, but no. As I left the building, I told two couples, in broken German, that the building was somehow unlocked, and they ought to go inside.
Hopped on a bus back to the hotel, stored my luggage, and onto another bus west to a grim destination, the Buchenwald concentration camp (KZ in German). As I have written many times before, Germany does not deny genocide and slavery like the U.S. does, and these memorials are powerful. The Germans have a long word for it, vergangenheitsbewältigung, translated as “a painful history that citizens would rather not confront but that must be confronted in order not to be repeated.” Let’s hope, but the rise of nationalist and racist political parties like the AfD, which received 23% of the vote in the recent state election, is discomforting. William Faulkner’s fine quote came to mind: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
I spent two hours walking the grounds where Nazis murdered 56,000 during 8 years of operation. Almost 300,000 people, age 2 to 86, were incarcerated in brutal conditions, with forced labor, medical experimentation, and torture. Ten percent of that number were children. Along the way were helpful interpretive panels, including one noting that the large stone memorial to the “Little Camp,” a particularly horrific place separated from the main camp, was designed by inmate #87900, New York architect Stephen Jacobs, then Stefan Jakobowitz.
Spent an hour in a building with exhibits that told the story, along with a trove of artifacts. Tears welled several times along the way, and into a full sob as I walked through the last building, the crematorium. A grim few hours, a reminder.
Took the bus back to Weimar, grabbed my suitcase and backpack, and took three crowded and late trains across Germany to Karlsruhe, in the southwest state of Baden-Württemberg (where I was in November, in Tübingen), for my seventh visit to KIT, the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. Walked to my usual lodgings, the Zum Ochsen, a half-timbered old inn built 1746, dropped my stuff, and walked across Durlach, a small town a few miles from Karlsruhe and a now familiar place (indeed, all the German teaching venues are now like an old neighborhood!). Sat at the bar of Der Vogel, a brewpub annually visited, and tucked into the third plate of grünkohl in six days. Yum.
Up Monday morning, out the door and onto the tram to KIT. Spent the morning working. Enjoyed a sort-of-spicy Thai curry for lunch with postdoc Sven and Ph.D. student Ingo. Quick lunch, as is the custom, back to work. From 3:45 to 5:15, delivered a talk to undergraduates. Walked back to the marketing department, worked for a bit, and at 6:45 drove with host Martin Klarmann to Anders auf dem Turnberg, a fancy restaurant at the top of a nearby hill. Like the year before, we had enjoyed the “Goose Menu,” with that bird as three of the four courses: goose pastrami as starter, goose noodle soup, and the main dish of leg of goose. Yum. It was a long dinner, three hours, and I got home late.
And left early Tuesday morning, out the door to the Durlach train station and onto a regional train east to Stuttgart, capital of Baden-Württemberg. Had 45 minutes until the next train, south to my ninth visit to the European School of Business at Reutlingen University; the train station and adjoining tracks are undergoing a huge reconstruction (one of the most expensive infrastructure projects in German history), and there’s no warm place, so I ambled across the street (as I did the previous spring) to a fancy Steigenberger hotel, used the clean toilets, and enjoyed the warm lobby.
Hopped on a nonstop train to Reutlingen, met host and long friend Oliver, and zipped up to the university for a short meeting with another prof. Then down the hill to a huge lunch in the center. From 1:45 to 3:15 I delivered a talk to a big group of undergrads. Said goodbye to Oliver, and hopped on a bus to the train station, just making the first train back to Stuttgart. One of Oliver’s colleagues mentioned that Stuttgart has one of the oldest Christmas markets in Germany, and close to the train station, so I opted for a train an hour later and walked a few blocks to take a look. It was nice, but those markets are so ubiquitous that little seemed distinctive. Back to the station, and into a fast train back to Durlach. Oops, turned out that my day ticket for trains within Baden-Württemberg was not valid on fast trains. The conductor was polite, but I felt badly; I like to follow the rules, so I got off at the next stop and onto a slow train home to Durlach. Changed clothes and headed back to Der Vogel for a late dinner. Lights out early.
Packed up Wednesday morning, backpack on suitcase, rolled to the tram, and back to KIT for a lecture to Masters students, 11:30-1:00. Sven and Ingo suggested another spicy lunch option, an Indian buffet, and I happily agreed. It was so good, seconds, full, probably no need to eat dinner. And they had whole green chillies to really heat things up. Said goodbye to the boys, and hopped on a tram to the main station, then a fast train to Frankfurt Airport, and a flight to my 28th and final school of the year, Dublin City University (my seventh appearance there).
Landed Dublin, hopped on a shuttle bus to a nearby hotel, and clocked out. Up early Thursday morning to the gym, steps from my room, for a tonic bike ride, then onto a Dublin Bus (way cool, every one of them has free wi-fi) a couple of miles, and a fairly long walk in the rain to DCU. I was an hour early, so sat down at a tiny table in the lobby of the business school, and quickly fell into a wonderful T-t-S with Peter, owner of a carpentry business. We had a fine yak across a bunch of topics: fitness, longevity, drivers who text while at the wheel, and more. The chat was a reminder of the basic sense of equality in Ireland: Peter and I regarded each other as peers.
At 10:15, I met my longtime DCU host, Naoimh (pronounced “Neeve”) O’Reilly. We repaired to the B-school café for a cup of coffee and yak with a few fellow professors, then back to back talks to her class and that of Cathal Guiomard, lecturer in the aviation management program at DCU. Then it was time for a huge late lunch in the faculty restaurant, called 1838, three courses, and good chatter with Naoimh, Cathal, Marina, another aviation prof, and Nimra, one of my long-distance mentees (she works for American at Dublin Airport, and is hoping to start a Ph.D. in 2020). Hopped the bus back to the hotel, worked a bit, changed clothes, and headed into the city.
I was not due for an annual meeting with longtime chum and former Aer Lingus exec Maurice Coleman until seven, so had some time to walk a bit, along the main retail street, and across the River Liffey. Then spent a truly wonderful hour or so walking the grounds of Trinity College Dublin. The quadrangle off College Street was quiet, a huge contrast with the hustle bustle of downtown streets, filled with shoppers and tourists. Spent some time in the university’s Science Gallery, a fine effort to bring basic science and technology to the public. On display was a cool exhibit on plastics, focusing especially on environmental impact. I had a nice T-t-S with Nizam, one of the docents, working at the gallery to help pay for his medical studies, which he had nearly completed. Born in Ireland, grew up in British Columbia, Canada, but moved back to Dublin to save on tuition. Headed for a career as a GP.
Was inside Mulligans of Poolbeg Street, one of the world’s best drinking places, a bit before seven, bought a pint of Guinness and waited for Maurice. Spotted him on the other side of the pub, negotiating a couple of seats for us. We got caught up (this was the fifth consecutive December meeting) on lives and families, and a bit on Irish politics and culture (he’s a savvy observer of both). After 90 minutes, we engaged Andrew and Stephanie across the table; Andrew was Irish, had worked overseas, and was back in Ireland working in mental health; Steph was American, moved to Ireland with her father, a retired eye surgeon whose grandparents emigrated from Ireland in the 1920s. It was a wonderful evening among the hugely talkative Irish. There’s no better place for talking with friends or talking to strangers!
Was up early, back to Dublin Airport, short meeting with Nimra, then onto a big jet west to Philadelphia. Four hours there, then on the short flight to Washington. Linda was heading out of town, so I picked up our car in the airport garage, drove home, and was hugging the only ones home, Henry and MacKenzie, by 7:45. The last trip of the year, another fine one.
Postscript: a month after visiting Buchenwald, I went with my nephew Evan (visiting from Minnesota) to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. Outstanding, and grim. We then walked across the National Mall to the Museum of American History, and while touring an exhibit on money, came across an interesting artifact, a 2 Mark note only usable by prisoners at Buchenwald: