I was home for most of January. By the 25th, I had itchy feet, raring to get back on the road, into the skies, and into the classroom. That Saturday I flew to Charlotte, then east on a big Silver Bird to London.
Landed Heathrow at 7:30, zipped through the airport, onto train and Tube, and was at friends Scott and Caroline Sage’s house by 9:00. Caroline was in the U.S. on business, so Scott was Mr. Mom to Eva, now almost five, and Sadie, two. We yakked for a bit, then walked east to a Sunday farmers’ market, then into Queen’s Park, first to the wonderful farmyard (a nice idea: bringing domestic animals to the city), then a long stay in the playground. Sadie especially wanted me to hold her hand while she walked along gently rising round wooden steps. “Again,” she squealed. It was fun to be “Uncle Rob” with two small children.
We ambled home, tucked into quiches bought at the farmers’ market, then naps for all. At 3:30, we walked a few blocks to see David and Claire, and their kids Rose and Emily. The grown-ups had a good chat in the kitchen, then the kids ate dinner. Always fun to get to know new people: they were Australian, a lawyer and PR exec. Headed home, bath time for kids, then Scott and I tucked into Indian takeaway and more chatter. Scott is seriously well informed and well read, so conversations are always varied and stimulating.
Up early Monday morning, out the door, onto the #52 bus south to my 19th appearance at Imperial College London. Slurped two pricey coffees, did some work. At 11, it was time to stand and deliver, the first talk of 2020, to 150 masters’ marketing students. As in previous years, the venue was just off campus, in the auditorium of the Royal Geographical Society. This geographer felt right at home! Ate a quick lunch in a café in the B-school building, worked a bit of email, and from 3:00 to 5:00 delivered a second talk, on crisis management. A good start to the semester, but by the end I was a bit tired. Hopped the bus back to Scott’s. Continued our conversation over dinner. After, Phil, a business associate who lives nearby, came over for a chat about his start-up company, 7 Bridges. Fascinating stuff.
Up with the kids Tuesday morning, Scott peeled off, and I headed into central London for a quick meeting, then to Euston station and up to Milton Keynes, 50 miles north, for my sixth appearance in the air transport management program at Cranfield University. As we’ve done twice previously, friend Jan Meurer, a retired exec of KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, joined me for a lively discussion. About 2/3 of the questions were about climate change and the environment, proof of how quickly that issue has become front and center in the airline business.
At 3:45, one of the university’s drivers, Jason, zoomed us back to Heathrow. I was expecting traffic jams along the way, but we got there quickly, and without a hitch. Jan peeled off at Terminal 4, and I zipped away at T5, with plenty of time for a couple of beers and a spicy vegetarian curry. Flew to Frankfurt, waited 90 minutes, and hopped a late train up to Koblenz, for my 19th visit to the private business school WHU. Head hit the pillow at 1:40.
I slept in, 8:30. My alarm clock were the tradesmen in the corridor installing air conditioning for the hotel, but it was time to rise and shine. After breakfast and a little detour to buy a new bottle of 4711 (the original Eau de Cologne made not far from me; generically, cologne is called that because of 4711, produced since 1799, a citrusy fragrance that has been my long fave), I hopped on the #8 bus across the Rhine to Vallendar, the small town that’s home to WHU. Worked a couple of hours in a glassy student common room.
At noon I met longtime host Sandra Boedeker for a pasta lunch at Petrocelli, a few steps from campus. It had been two years, so there were plenty to update, and some good conversations about contemporary Germany, particularly about primary and secondary education; like the U.S., the country needs more teachers. At 1:30, it was time to work, back-to-back lectures to grad and undergrad classes. At 5:00, I was plumb wore out, but happy with great discussions in both courses. Hopped back on the #8 bus, worked a bit in my hotel room, and ambled a few blocks to a long fave place, the Altes Brauhaus, serving beer and good food since 1689. Wednesday night, the place is hopping, but I found a stool at a small circular table (I had perched at that spot a few times before, with a good view of the whole place), asked for a beer, then a plate of herring and fried potatoes. Yum. Was asleep early, a hard sleep finally.
Thursday was a “day off,” and I had a plan: a day trip to Trier, Germany’s oldest city, upstream on the Moselle River. The train ride followed the river, past storybook villages, vineyards on steep slopes, hilltop castles, a deer (hunting) stand right next to a field of solar panels. (As I’ve noted admiringly before, Germany committed awhile back to boosting renewable energy, and they’re meeting targets; it’s all about will, and about common agreement across political parties.)
We rolled into Trier at 10:40, and I set out to explore the town. First impressions, around the train station, were unfavorable, even seedy, but soon improved as I ambled along Kaiserstrasse, lined with large homes that spoke of rising prosperity in the last decades of the 19th Century and the first one of the 20th, before it all tumbled down in two wars. Trier was an important outpost of the Roman Empire, and evidence still exists, as in stop one, the Porta Nigra, a city gate built 160-200 AD, and an impressive piece of engineering. Walked on, toward the main square, the Marktplatz, lined with splendid buildings. Then to the colossal cathedral, the Dom, a church for 1700 years. That’s a long time, and the interior was a blend of lots of architectural styles: Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque. Wow.
Equally impressive was the Liebfrauenbasilika next door, Germany’s oldest Gothic church, from the 13th C. It was cruciform, with 12 pillars supporting the structure. Beneath these soaring structures, we are made small, humbled, and that’s a good thing for us, even for nonbelievers. At noon, “the sound of Europe,” tolling bells above, in the Dom.
I hopped a bus a few blocks for a quick look at the Roman baths, but didn’t go in. Circled back to the old town, the Altstadt, bought a sandwich at a supermarket, and hopped on a bus out to the Roman amphitheater, also 2nd Century, site of spectacles and processions, and of course lions versus gladiators. Way cool.
After four hours, I had seen a lot, and was flagging a bit, so doubled back to the station and hopped on a slow train back down the Moselle. Hopped off at Cochem, a town I saw on a 2004 visit to WHU, with a huge castle looming above town. Back on a train, a fast one, and soon back at my hotel. A fine day out.
The grocery-store lunch was a bit thin, so I headed out for an early dinner. I love German food, but a little spice is good, so I zipped into a Thai place a block from the hotel. I had seen it many times before, but never eaten there. When I ordered the curry, the waitress asked, “Mittelscharf?” (medium spicy). “Nein,” I relied, “sehr scharf, pikant.” She nodded, and awhile later, she delivered. A huge plate, well spiced, yum.
Up early Friday morning, back across the Rhine to WHU. Worked the morning, and brought this journal up to date. Ate lunch in the Mensa. At 1:40, I met Lisa Eidenberg and Nicholas Peterson, active in a student group called WHU Inside Business; I had done some things with them in previous years, and that day it was time for another video interview. A long one, in the splendid setting of what probably was the dining room in the huge mansion that was WHU’s first building on campus. We yakked for almost two hours, and the students were really happy with the interview. I said goodbye, walked to the bus stop, and back across the river to Koblenz.
The day was warm, sun was out, an hour of daylight left, so I changed clothes quickly and headed out for a stroll, bound for the Deutsches Eck (literally “the German corner”), at the confluence of the Rhine and Moselle rivers. Towering over the historic site is a huge 1898 bronze of Kaiser Wilhelm II (Willy2 as I call him) mounted on a horse, an angel at his side. I hadn’t been to the Eck for many years, and wondered if the American flag was still at the end of a row of flags of the Federal Republic and its 16 states. Yes, there it was, and it made me happy to see it. Further along, a nice reminder of the awfulness of the Cold War: slabs from the Berlin Wall and interpretive panels.
Walked back to the hotel along the river, did some work, and headed back to the Altes Brauhaus for dinner. Found the same stool and little table in the corner, and watched the busy Friday-night scene develop. Was especially happy to see that a lot of the servers were immigrants (mine was Tunisia). Tucked into a nice plate of Himmel und Erd (“Heaven and Earth”), blood sausage and liver sausage, mashed potatoes, and apples. German soul food, for sure. Walked back to the hotel and had a nice conversation with Frau Demmer, one of the owners. She and the other family members know me by name, and we all remember why I’m a loyal customer: in 2009, another small hotel locked me out on a Friday night; no one was there, and a helpful person at a nearby Italian restaurant walked me to the Trierer Hof, where I was welcomed. You stay true to those people and places. Just like at home after dinner, I read a chapter or two of a novel, and clocked out early.
Up at 6:25 Saturday morning, quick breakfast, out the door, brisk walk to the railway station, and onto the 7:48 train to Mannheim. The ride was nice: along the familiar Rhine valley, then through Mainz and Worms (where the Emperor tried, unsuccessfully, to nail Martin Luther in 1521, only five years after he launched Protestantism). Changed trains in Mannheim, through Stuttgart and Ulm and Augsburg (another famous place in Protestant history, where the Lutherans laid down their articles of faith – for example the sensible idea that priests should be allowed to marry). Crossing the Danube, I could tell we were in Bavaria, because the shape of the church steeples changed toward round and onion-like.
I hadn’t been to the capital of Bavaria for more than a decade, and was excited to be there, if only for 24 hours. Arrived 12:30, grabbed a supermarket lunch, and hopped on the #16 tram, slow, but direct to my Airbnb. In no time I was chatting with host Ruth Lange and getting to know her swell sheepdog Camilo. A seriously nice Airbnb: big room in a beautiful apartment, building from about 1910. Ate lunch in the room, and hopped back on the tram, all the way across the city to Nymphenburg Palace, an enormous and sprawling “low rise” castle on the west end of Munich. Lots of people were walking the grounds, but the castle interior was almost empty. For the second day in three, my mouth was permanently agape, gazing at the wild Baroque ornamentation. Whew. Spent an hour walking through the various rooms (including the bedroom where crazy King Ludwig II was born – the interpretive panel was a case study in euphemisms about his two-decade rule and removal). Hopped back on the tram to the next Baroque site, Asamkirche. I roamed all over Munich in many visits in my 20s, but I had never seen that one, almost literally dripping excess. More slack jaw!
I walked across the center – most of it closed to cars, very pleasant – drawn magnetically to the Hofbräuhaus. I paused at the entry, my mind gliding back to 7:00 PM on Friday, September 21, 1973, when about 10 friends (and my beloved Linda) and I met at that very place on the eve of Oktoberfest. Incredible that we all aligned in a time before smartphones and email and all that. I clearly recall that pal Greg served as banker for the group, and when we sat down asked for enough deutschmarks for each of us to have three liters of beer. That’s 100 ounces, people. Some in the group drank Coca-Cola at the ‘fest the next day. Just nuts, just youth.
It was 4:30, and the place was not that full. Found a seat, asked for a half liter, and drank slowly, taking in the scene. Two young Russian women sat down across from me. We had a short yak; they were both in children’s animation, working for private TV channels in Moscow, in Germany for a trade show. I walked out and into steady rain; when I left the Airbnb three hours earlier it was a spring day, sunny and warm, so I didn’t wear my raincoat. Dashed to the #16 tram and was soon home. Worked my email, washed my face, and at six headed out again, bound not for a touristy place but for the echt (genuine), restaurant called Wirtshaus in der Au, a big place on a side street near the Deutsches Museum and the Isar River. A place with the slogan “Beer and dumplings since 1901” has got to be a good place, no? It was crowded, and I offered to eat at the bar, but a kindly server said I could have a table that was reserved from 8:00, almost 90 minutes away. Sat down, smiling broadly.
After asking for a beer, I fell into a splendid T-t-S with two young people in the next table. He was a recently-graduated physician in the German Army, the Bundeswehr: the military will pay for all your medical training and living expenses (6 years) if you agree to 11 years of service. We yakked across some other topics before and after I tucked into two dumplings filled with pork chunks on a bed of creamy, mustardy sauerkraut. Yum. When the doc left, I thanked him for his service, adding that after my dad became badly injured fighting in the Pacific in May 1945 military doctors like him helped him recover. “I might not be here had it not been for people like you.” He smiled. I hopped the tram home, put on pajamas, and read. Slept a long time.
Up early Sunday, a bit of writing and two cups of instant cappuccino compliments of host Ruth (there were other touches, such as a spring of spearmint on my bath towel, and men’s washing gel in the shower). Ambled a mile to a bakery and café, through the upmarket neighborhood of Bogenhausen. Had another coffee and a huge sweet roll with nuts. Walked back, yakked with Ruth, rubbed Camilo’s tummy, and said goodbye. Hopped on the #16 tram one last time, riding nearly to the train station. I spent a fine 75 minutes worshiping at St. Matthäus, a large Lutheran church. The place was perhaps one-quarter full, rather a lot for Germany. The pastor had a wonderful singing voice. I recognized only one of the hymn melodies, but God heard me (I pray!).
Wheeled my suitcase through light rain several blocks to the Hauptbahnhof, bought sandwiches and a Coke for lunch, and hopped on the EuroCity train to Zürich, where I would teach the next day. The spread between first- and second-class fares was small, so I splurged for a big seat. An hour west and a bit south of Munich, the Alps came into view, small at first, then bigger. It was an awesome sight (mouth agape again).
We rolled west and south, around the east end of Lake Constance (Bodensee), through familiar St. Gallen, Switzerland, and arrived Zürich just before five. Hopped the #6 tram a few stops, up the hill to my hotel, also familiar. Worked in my room a couple of hours, then hopped another tram to my dinner venue, Tibits, a vegetarian buffet. Moved down the food chain with a nice meal, and was back home in 90 minutes.
Up Monday morning. I had a client call at ten, which allowed just enough time for the Transport Geek to unfurl his new travel umbrella and walk several blocks to the Dolderbahn, a rack railway that climbed several hundred feet up toward the city zoo. Took the call, stored my bags, and hopped the tram into the center and lunch with Sander, a new fellow from the University of St. Gallen, at Hiltl, the oldest vegetarian restaurant in the world (1898). Then back up the hill to the University of Zürich for my fourth appearance there, a lecture to a large undergraduate marketing course. Had a quick apple juice with my host prof, Martin, then back to the main station.
Unhappily, the express (ICE) train to my next destination, Kassel, Germany, was canceled, so had to take two ersatzugen (substitute trains) one to Basel, then on to Kassel. I was so looking forward to dinner in the ICE dining car, but the Deutsche Bahn train from Basel to Kassel lacked any foodservice (save for a fellow wheeling a cart with overpriced snacks and drinks); luckily, I had 20 minutes in Basel, so found my seat on the ersatzug and dashed through the station to find some grub. Done, and back on the train. It was a long ride, almost six hours, shortened nicely from Frankfurt, when Norm from Wisconsin entered the compartment. Norm, whose parents emigrated from Germany in 1963, liked to talk, and the time went quickly. Arrived Kassel right on time, and walked 10 minutes to my Airbnb, another nice place in a prosperous neighborhood. Host Renate did not remember me from a short visit in December 2014, but I remembered her and the house. Was asleep fast.
I did not speak until 7:30 that night, so I donned jeans and a sweater, bought a day ticket for the city trams, and hopped on the #4 into downtown. Had a light breakfast and coffee at a simple place. After apologizing to the cashier for my poor German, we had a nice, of brief, T-t-S. I told her why I was in Germany. Rare for Germans, she then asked me what country I liked better. I replied that I liked Germany a lot. “Und kein Trump,” I said, no Trump. She laughed. Up to speed, I ambled to the university and worked the morning in a student union. At 1:00, I walked a couple of blocks to the apartment of Patrick and Elli, long friends, for a splendid lunch and good conversation. Daughter Lotta, now nine, returned from school, and we soon packed up a lot of gear, drove to the Airbnb for a quick change of clothes, then to the Kassel ice arena. Lotta has become a devoted hockey player, and it was fun to watch her suit up and head onto the ice. Sadly, I didn’t have time to watch the practice, because my host Oliver picked me up for an early dinner.
I met Oliver nine months earlier, and he was one of those people you like right from the start. We had a great conversation and an enormous dinner, huge schnitzels with potatoes. I told Olli I was in a food coma, probably not the best state for a presentation to the local marketing club. We stopped briefly at an uber-cool ad agency where his wife and son work, then to the speaking venue, in a converted 19th Century warehouse by Kassel’s older railway station (still called the Hauptbahnhof, but was less busy than the other station on the edge of the city). Met a bunch of people before the talk, delivered the presentation, and met more afterward. A very warm reception, super nice people. But by 10:30 I was worn out. Olli delivered me back to the Airbnb, and into Zzzzzzzzz.
An early start Wednesday morning, 5:15, with immediate bad news: my train to Hanau, near Frankfurt, was 40 minutes late, which meant I’d miss my connecting train to the airport, and maybe my American flight home to Charlotte. I hatched a Plan B, standby on the Lufthansa nonstop to Washington at 12:50, showered, and walked 10 minutes to the station. Ah, serendipity: an ICE train was leaving in two minutes for Fulda, halfway to Frankfurt, so I hopped on. Even more luck: a regional express train left Fulda for Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof four minutes after we arrived. I’d arrive at the airport only 17 minutes after the original train, but still no guarantee of making the flight. The ICE dining car had just opened, and I enjoyed a big cup of strong coffee enroute to Fulda.
I had six minutes in the Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof to make the connecting train for the 13-minute glide to the airport, plenty of time. Arrived FRA at 8:30. It was winter, fewer passengers, and I changed terminals, got through immigration and security, and was at the gate at 8:59, woo hoo. When I got on the big Airbus, I told one of the flight attendants, Fran, “I am SO glad to see you.” I told her the train story, and after settling in, told her and her colleague Geraldine that I had worked for American for 22 years, and was happy to help if they needed help. Fast friends. Later in the flight, I got to know Fran a bit more: this was her 50th year as a flight attendant; she started with Piedmont Airlines when she was 19. Just a great gal.
Landed Charlotte at 1:55, hopped on an earlier flight, and was home by 5:15. A great first teaching trip.