They’re not the most interesting German cities and this is certainly not any sort of in depth profile of them but it’s the five cities which give me good memories. It helps that I spent 13 years working in the chemicals industry in Europe and of course three of the biggest chemical companies were German and there were many others besides.
Hamburg: I worked for Dow Chemical for 16 years including 13 in Europe and one of its two major chemical sites was in Stade some 45 km west of Hamburg. I first had jobs in distribution and purchasing which took me to Stade but my biggest involvement related to my four years as product manager for a range of products including Methocel cellulose ethers which were manufactured there. We also had a distributor, Nordmann Rassmann (NRC) based in Hamburg.
Stade itself is not an unpleasant small port but most of the time I stayed overnight in Hamburg and in those days that meant the Hamburg Plaza, a Canadian Pacific hotel then and now a Radisson Blu. It was a modern high-rise hotel without character, I guess it still is, with one redeeming feature: its sauna suite. Saunas are not unusual in German hotels and of course they’d generally be mixed and be used au naturel. What made this one special was a balcony outside the cooling off room giving you a panorama of the city which you could enjoy unencumbered by unnecessary clothing.
One time I attended a celebratory dinner with the NRC and for that I stayed in the Atlantic Hotel which is a grand hotel on the Aussenalster. It’s a Kempinski hotel, it dates back to 1909 and features generously sized bedrooms, big doors and wide corridors. I’m told that it was designed so to accommodate the trunks of the sea captains who stayed there before joining their ships.
My visits to Hamburg too often where of the bed and breakfast variety but I remember two fine restaurants which are still there. Fishereihaven was and remains fine dining but I always preferred Fischerhaus which was much more a restaurant where you could simply drop in and enjoy generous portions of good food. I always ordered Dover Sole.
It’s sad that I spent little free time in Hamburg. I remember a city with both maritime and Central European character: lots of water, big buildings and long straight streets. Although I’ve got to confess to a couple of visits to the Reeperbahn I saw little of the city at large except for my hotel and the trips to and from the airport. I’ve got little to show for probably 20 and more visits to the city.
Munich: I spent a working week in Munich in the mid 80s when I persuaded Dow to pay for me to attend a total immersion German course at Berlitz. I didn’t become fluent, far from it, but it gave me enough for me to feel comfortable as an occasional visitor to Germany.
It was a week during the summer and I enjoyed a simple routine. I stayed at the Blauer Bock, a simple Hotel Garni in the centre, I ran every morning and spent my days doing my best to think in German. I wandered round in the evening appreciating the Italianate character of the city, I visited Schloss Nymphenburg and the Olympic Park and strolled in the English Garden. I remember seeing the local German glitterati in its finery attending concerts and enjoying pleasures of summers’ evenings. In order to give my brain a chance of handling the German I drank no beer until my last evening on my way to the airport for my flight home.
I’ve enjoyed some business in Munich, Dow had a sales office there, and they introduced me to regional delicacies such as Spanferkel (suckling pig), which I’d now regard a the devil’s food on account of its sat fat content, and Weisswuerste, which we’d eat mid morning with a glass of beer.
My most recent visit to Munich was in the late 80s when we attended a wedding. That involved a mid day service and lunch and then a party in the evening. Both were rather fine but it was hot and I could have done without the formal attire. However being in Munich then gave us the opportunity to visit the Palace Neuschwanstein on the Sunday and then to head up to Coberg, where Juni’s brother was studying, on the Monday.
Frankfurt: you often judge a city by its airport and so it is with Frankfurt. I’ve used it multiple times and find it big and largely charmless. It’s a contrast to Schipol which is maybe as big but a more pleasant experience. However there was one plus, a branch of Harrod’s where I could buy Stilton cheese to complement my diet in Switzerland.
Frankfurt was Dow’s head office in Germany so I was often there and we’d stay at the Hessicherhof, a good no nonsense German hotel most memorable to me because they gave you a gift of a small dish, maybe an ash tray, everytime you visited. But whilst we talk of hotels Frankfurt was the base, or at least close to the base, of Hoechst and once when I visited them they booked me into the Nassauerhof in Wiesbaden. That’s one of the best hotels I’ve ever stayed in and I remember an epic roof top pool with a glass roof which I enjoyed for my early morning swim before breakfast one winter.
I didn’t see much of Frankfurt and you might say there’s not much to see. Sadly we (the Allies in WWII) destroyed most of its elegant Gothic half timbered one night in 1944. There’s a massive program to rebuild the old town and although this didn’t complete until 2017 I did witness work in progress in the early 80s. I was visiting Degussa (the splendid acronym for the Deutsche Geld und Silberscheidenanstalt) and after a meeting in which I made several unreasonable demands, I was in purchasing at the time, they showed me what was being done before putting me in a limo to go to the airport.
Berlin: I’ve only been to Berlin twice. We went as a family early in the 1980s to visit the city which had been Juni’s home in the early 70s when she worked and attended university there.
We toured the city, saw the difference between east and west, reunification was still recent, and visited the Reichstag and the (another) Olympic Park
The highlight of our trip came on day 2 when we visited the splendid block where Juni lived for a while. Looking down into the courtyard I saw a film crew so I went down to see what was going on. It was from Channel 4 which was doing a series on the Hitler plotters and it seems that this was the scene of the execution of Graf Von Stauffenberg and other officers involved with him. There is a memorial in the courtyard and the street which had been Bendlerstrasse is now, since 1980, Stauffenbergstrasse.
My second visit to Berlin was in 2003 when I gave a paper at a conference, the ‘inkjet and thermal’ conference at the Krasnapolsky Hotel. It was a two day event and with no ‘gala dinner’ on the middle night I looked outside the hotel for something to eat. Not far away there was a restuarant in a courtyard similar to the one at Stauffenbergstrasse. It was a fine March evening and there was service at outside tables. It’s a special experience: an open sky above, surrounded by the building that surrounds the courtyard, little noise, just the chatter of the diners and the sounds of the waiters serving them, and good honest German efficiency with decent food to go with it.
Dusseldorf: you can’t be in the chemicals business and not visit Düsseldorf. But it’s not just chemicals there’s also the exhibition centre which is home to global trade shows like the K (Kuntstoffe, plastic) and Interpack. These are multi day events and you understand demand pricing at hotels when you see overnight rates at the hotels go from EUR100 to 500 and more for the duration.
The last ones I attended were Interpack in 2003 and then 2012 when the companies who hosted me had cabins booked in floating hotels on the Rhine adjacent to the exhibition site.
Dusseldorf is also noted as the Japanese capital of Europe and that means a Nikko Hotel and multiple Japanese restaurants to cater for the Japanese companies which have European HQs there. One time I was visiting Hitachi helping them to develop a partnership with a Spanish company and to grease the wheels of business they took us to Nagaya, a Michelin star restaurant and rather expensive but very good.
My main interface in Dusseldorf was with Henkel, the company that brought Persil to the world. It was forced to give up the brand in the UK and some other parts of the world after WWII but it still markets under that name in Germany and elsewhere. Of course it advertises in the city and I was most disappointed that the high rise with a big Persil in lights on the side was not the Henkel head office.
You don’t go to Dusseldorf without visiting the Altstadt and you’re rewarded by drinking Altbier which colourwise reminds you of an English bitter. The taste though is somewhat different. And for entertainment there’s jazz and everyone’s heard of Dr Jazz!.
I’ve always been of the opinion that when you’re on business trips you are there for business but I’ve generally tried to appreciate the places I’ve visited as well. But as I’ve reflected above I realise how little I learnt about these five cities beyond my business and a small handful of hotels, restaurants and historical and cultural sites. The supporting evidence is that I have so few photographs even though I would always have travelled with a pocket camera. There’s plenty of reason to return and that’s before I get round to the other cities which I’ve visited, just not so often as the top 5.