Europe, 1992

By Jack Welsch

Images © Copyright 1992, J. H. Welsch
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This is another one where I failed to keep a diary but I did make some notes in my Franklin Planner as I went along. The trip was scheduled as a business trip primarily to attend the "K92" plastics show in Düsseldorf, Germany in November of 1992. One of the other VP's, Rodger, planned on going as well. As I often do, I decided to take Linda along and tack on some vacation time. Rodger wanted to take his wife, Virginia, along too. Originally, I figured we'd do the show together, then Lin and I would go off on our own but because they'd never visited Europe, Rodger asked whether they could tag along with us for the vacation. He and I really didn't know each other personally and Lin and I really prefer to travel alone so I was reluctant but I acquiesced. It turned out that the four of us got along famously. In order to make it more worthwhile, we decided to attend a healthcare show in Zurich and a foodservice show in Milan since they all took place within a span of about two weeks. We agreed to drive rather than fly between countries and use that time as our vacation. The drill was to fly from NY to Düsseldorf , rent a car, then drive via a circuitous route to Zurich and Milan, then fly home from there.

The "K" show is held only every three years and it is huge. As a result, we could find no place to stay in Düsseldorf so we had to stay in Cologne. On top of that we had to pay big bucks for the Hyatt Regency. Cost aside, I prefer to stay in small European hotels but we were out of luck. We arrived a day before the show so we could have some time to see Cologne. My friend Wolfgang, who lives there, gave us a tour of the Cologne Cathedral and the Roman/German Museum. The cathedral is, I think, the most magnificent I've ever seen; absolutely stunning. One night during our stay, the four of us had dinner with Wolfgang and his wife, Helga. Another evening, we had dinner in Düsseldorf with our friends Karl and Gisela, who live in that city. After dinner, we had a delightful walk through the Altstadt and drank a fair bit of beer. Both cities are really beautiful and having natives show us around was a definite plus.

For three days, Rodg and I drove each morning to Düsseldorf to attend the show. The show takes up 14 buildings, some of which are quite large. It was both worthwhile and enjoyable but a lot of work. If you're in the plastics industry, this is a "must-see".

On Monday, we started heading south, stopping for the night at Schloßhotel Rheinfels in St. Goar on the Rhine river. From there, we headed to the beautiful medieval town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Rothenburg is still a quaint medieval city surrounded by a stone wall. What I didn't realize until I got home was that it's possible to walk on the wall. Rats! As is our custom when we're not visiting a major city, we had no reservations but we found two very nice rooms at the Romantik Hotel Markusturm. Rothenburg is where we first encountered the shop of Käthe Wohlfahrt. Their Christmas items are great and we've bought a lot from them over the years.

From Rothenburg, we headed towards the storybook castle of Neuschwanstein, one of several built for mad King Ludwig of Bavaria. A tour of this castle will remove any doubts that this guy was stark raving loony! It's a rather nice place to visit but is absolutely overrun by tourists. We ate in the town of Hohenschwangau but were unable to get a room there so we headed west. (Hohenschwangau is the name of both a town and the castle that was King Ludwig's boyhood home.) We drove in the rain to Lindau but didn't see anything we liked so we stumbled along the north side of Lake Constance (A.K.A. der Bodensee) until we stopped in Meersburg. We had to park outside the center of town and walk in but we got two nice rooms at the Gasthof zum Bären. We ate at the restaurant in the hotel and, on recommendation of the chef, tried Bodensee felchen, the local fish. This is a really cute town so we walked around again in the morning before putting the car on the ferry for a ride across the Bodensee to the German city of Konstanz. From there, we drove into Switzerland. The issue now was that it was still quite early in the day and we were not expected to meet our friends and associates in Zurich until late afternoon. As a result, we made a left turn and headed eastward along the south shore of the lake, eventually going through Liechtenstein and then on into Austria. From what little we could see, the scenery was great but the visibility was pretty lousy so we were a bit disappointed. Eventually, we made our way to the Hotel Zurich to meet our friends.

In Zurich, we had quite an adventure. There were quite a few of us from work and Willy, our European Director, suggested we walk to a local restaurant for fondue. After walking several blocks, we heard a low "thud". Walking a bit further, we walked into a street riot! There were people and fully-equipped riot police yelling and running everywhere and there was a flaming, inverted car on the street. I'm assuming that fire was the source of the noise we'd heard. The rest of us were ready to retreat but, after talking to a policeman, Willy motioned us forward and we simply continued walking along the edge of the riot! At one point we came across a man crouched down along a building. He seemed to be in pain and was saying something we could not quite hear. I thought he was drunk but when we walked into the tear gas, we realized he'd been saying, "Gaz.". Man, is that stuff mean!! Anyway, we soon entered the restaurant while the riot continued to rage just outside its door. Some people there were putting cardboard over a window that had been broken and we sat down to dinner not far from the same window!

It turns out there was a park in Zurich where there had been an agreement between the police and the prostitutes, drug dealers, etc. The police had agreed to stay out and the "bad guys" had agreed to keep their activities inside. On this occasion, the police had taken back control of the park and the "bad guys" were expressing their displeasure. I'll never again hear the word "Zurich" without recalling that evening. The following day, Rodg and I attended the healthcare trade show, then the four of us went out to dinner. We ate in another restaurant a few blocks from the original one and, on this occasion there was a demonstration outside but no riots.

The next day, we headed for Italy. It was cloudy early but as we approached the Alps, it cleared up. We'd planned on going through the St. Gottard Pass but, alas, it was closed due to snow. We were disappointed and traveled through a very long (16km as I recall) tunnel, emerging in the Italian part of Switzerland. We stopped for lunch in the delightful little city of Lugano. What a beautiful spot! After getting across the border into Italy, we headed for Milan's Linate airport to turn in the car and catch a cab into town. We were singularly unimpressed with Milan and even more so at its Capital Hotel. Our room was just OK but Rodger and Virginia's was downright depressing. That first night, we had a delightful dinner with our Italian friends and others from the company but Rodger learned that he and Virginia had to go home a day early to deal with an emergency so they left early the next morning. For lack of something better to do, Lin went to the show with me. With Milan being an industrial and commercial city, I'd assumed that with my English, French, a little German and a few words in Italian, I'd get along language-wise but I was mistaken. Things were challenging to say the least. To top it off, due to a strike of firemen at the airport, we had some difficulty getting home but eventually we made it.

As I indicated earlier, I'd been concerned about spending 12 days in a car with Rodger and Virginia. Rodger and I both have strong type A presonalities so, when we were discussing the trip, I said, "Rodger, we'll either come back as good friends or one of us won't make it back." I'm happy to say, the former came true.