Berlin Cathedral

The D&O Diary was on assignment in northern Europe last week, with stops in Berlin, Hamburg, and Paris. I know from past experience that traveling in northern Europe in January can be a formidable experience. On this trip, however, mild and dry weather conditions generally prevailed, allowing for some really pretty enjoyable travel experiences.

 

The primary purpose of the European visit was to attend the annual Euroforum Haftpflicht Konferenz in Hamburg. I have attended this event before, and it was a pleasure to be back and part of the event again this year. I delivered the Internationale Keynote address on the topic of “Key Developments in D&O Claims.” Fortunately, I was able to address the audience in English. I would like to thank Karin Hanten of Euroforum for inviting me to participate in this well-organized and well-attended event. It was a pleasure to be able to see many old friends and make new friends as well. It was also enjoyable to learn how many in the audience members follow The D&O Diary.

 

When I look at this picture, taken during my presentation, all I can see is that somehow the cord for the microphone got looped outside of my suit jacket.

 

 

With Sebastian Gemberg-Wiesike, Financial Lines Underwriter for Germany and Switzerland at Tokio Marine HCC. Sebastian spoke immediately after I did, discussing the liability risks for companies with American Depositary Receipts trading in the U.S.

 

With Matthias Andres of Zurich Insurance

 

 

With Markus Haefeli of Haefeli & Schroeder Financial Lines AG in Zurich, Switzerland

 

 

With Sebastian Vogel of Airbus Aeroassurance.

 

 

With Alexander Stampf of Tokio Marine HCC in Barcelona

 

Before traveling to Hamburg for the conference, my wife and I traveled to Berlin for the weekend.  I have been to Berlin before, and every time I have visited I have made exactly the same mistake, which is that I fail to allow enough time to explore this vast and fascinating city. This trip was my wife’s first visit to Berlin and so of course we had to visit the city’s most famous landmarks, including the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag, and the Berlin Cathedral.

 

In Pariser Platz, facing the formerly East Berlin side of the Brandenburg Gate

 

 

 

In front of the Reichstag

 

The Berlin Cathedral with the Fernsehturm in the background. We attended the worship service at the Cathedral on Sunday morning. We were very fortunate that the service featured the choral performance of a Bach cantata.

 

There is so much history in Berlin, in some ways almost too much history. We spent a considerable amount of time exploring the remnants of the Berlin Wall and the other remaining vestiges of the city’s division between 1961 and 1989.

 

A remaining section of the Berlin Wall, in the Berlin Wall memorial

 

A preserved watch tower, in the Berlin Wall Memorial. Before the Wall came down, the Wall cut straight across the road on the left side of the picture.

 

Checkpoint Charlie, the security control gate for the former American sector of Berlin. (Note the McDonald’s on the right side of the picture; things have changed a little bit since the Wall came down.)

 

One thing we did this trip that we both enjoyed was exploring some of the city’s residential neighborhoods. We walked through the atmospheric streets of the Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood, a pleasant area full of shops, cafes, and restaurants that was inside former East Berlin. We came upon a lively street market, where we enjoyed a makeshift currywurst lunch. A little bit of unexpected sunshine during our stroll made for a very pleasant visit. We also visited the Kreuzburg neighborhood the next afternoon, which was also a very interesting place to visit.

 

A street market on Kollwitzstraße in Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin

 

One tip for anyone planning a visit to Berlin anytime soon is to make sure to make time for a long visit to the Deutsches Historisches Museum, which is located right on Berlin’s most famous street, Unter den Linden. We spent three hours there and could have easily spent longer. The ground floor exhibits on Germany’s fraught and complicated 20th Century history were particularly well done. I would go back to Berlin just to spend some more time in the museum. Another tip, the Gemäldegalerie art museum, located near Potsdamer Platz,  has an excellent collection of northern European paintings, including works by Dürer, Cranach, Holbein, van der Weyden, van Eyck, and Vermeer.

 

One particularly enjoyable thing we did while in Berlin was to attend a concert at the Konzerthaus Berlin. The concert hall was beautifully illuminated at the night we were there.

 

From Berlin, we took one of the excellent Deutsche Bahn Inter-City Express (ICE) trains for a quick two hour trip to Hamburg. The mild weather followed us to Hamburg, which allowed us upon arrival to enjoy a quick walk around Hamburg’s two famous lakes, the Außenalster (Outer Alster) and the Binnenalster (Inner Alster). I actually walked around the Außenalster three times during our visit; the Fitbit that my children gave me for Christmas recorded that it is about 10,000 steps around the larger lake. (It is about 4.7 miles around.)

 

 

 

 

One key factor involved in traveling in Northern Europe in January is that the days are short. Daylight starts to dwindle by about 3:30 in the afternoon, by 4:30 only a little evening light remains, and by 5:00 pm, it is dark. At 53 degrees northern latitude, the afternoons in January in Hamburg feel particularly short.

 

This view of Jungfernsteig, Hamburg’s most famous street, was taken from the west side of the Binnenalster, at around 4 pm. I enjoy walking around Hamburg’s lakes so much, in large part because of the many different views.

 

We also attended a concert while we were in Hamburg, at the venerable Laiszhalle, in the Hamburg city center. There is a brand new concert hall, the Elbphilharmonie, on the river. When we arrived at our seats for the concert, we discovered why the city might have felt the need to build the new hall.

 

The column almost entirely blocked our view of the stage — I was able to see only the percussion section and two french horns. The sound was muffled as well. I could hear just enough of the music to get the feeling that we were missing a pretty good concert. We left at intermission.

 

We left Hamburg to spend this past weekend Paris. It was chilly in Paris, but we continued to enjoy dry and pleasant weather.

 

By a long standing tradition, my first stop in Paris is to visit the Jardin du Luxembourg. When I am there, I feel fully in Paris.

 

Even deep in winter, the Jardin is still beautiful

 

One of our other  important priorities in Paris was to stop by Notre Dame, to check in on the progress of the repair and restoration of the cathedral, after the April 2019 fire.

 

Signs posted around the work site explained that the repair process at this point is still focused on trying the stabilize the structure

 

 

Around the structure, they have inserted wooden braces to support the buttresses and columns. It is clear that this process is going to take a very long time.

 

Our main objective on this visit to Paris was to see the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition at the Louvre. The exhibit had been sold out when I was in Paris in November, so this time I was sure to purchase timed-entry exhibits in advance, online. With the timed-entry requirement, there was a little bit of crowd control. Just the same, the exhibit was mobbed. It was, nevertheless, amazing. There are only 15 surviving paintings attributed in whole or in part to Leonardo; many of them had been gathered for this exhibit. The exhibit also featured extensive displays of Leonardo’s notebooks. The notebooks very convincingly showed Leonardo’s vast curiosity and brilliance. Even with the crowds, it was a really great exhibition.

 

 

 

When we emerged from the museum, we found that while we had been in the exhibit, a massive protest march had developed along the river. The march was organized as part of national strike organized by the transportation unions about proposed French pension reform. The march was peaceful and even had something of a festive atmosphere. The relatively pleasant weather helped. The problem for us was that the march blocked our route back to the other side of the river and to our hotel. So instead, and in the best Paris tradition, we found a cafe and enjoyed a late lunch. We had assumed that by the time we finished our lunch the marchers would finished filing into the Place de la Concorde. We underestimated the size of the march. The marchers paraded along for hours. We finally managed to made our way around the parade and found a river crossing so that we could make our way back to our hotel.

 

 

 

A nice light lunch while we waited for the protest march to pass.

 

 

Protesters fill the Place de la Concorde

 

One of the highlights of our Paris sojourn was a return visit to the Le Christine restaurant in the 6e Arrondissement. We first dined at an earlier version of the restaurant while we were in Paris on our honeymoon in 1983. We returned to the restaurant with our children in 2000, and again in 2005. Though the restaurant has changed over the years, it remains excellent. Once again, we enjoyed a wonderful meal there.

 

 

In addition to many familiar sites in Paris, we also visited some new places. One of our more interesting discoveries on this visit was the Musée National Gustave Moreau, in the 9e Arrondissement. Moreau was one of the prominent members of the  Symbolist artistic school  in the 19th century. His unusual paintings are full of references to Greek mythology and Christian iconography. When Moreau died in the late 19th century, his home and studio were converted to a museum. The walls of the museum are covered with Moreau’s paintings, many of them unfinished. Many of his paintings are unusual and interesting.

 

 

All in all, it was a great visit to Europe. You wouldn’t think that January would be a great time to visit, but it actually turned out to be a fine time to be there. Of course, I know we were very fortunate with the weather. (The only rain we had the entire trip was on the day of our departure from Paris.) But the cities themselves made the visit so enjoyable. As always, on the way back I found myself trying to figure out when I can go back again.

 

More pictures of Paris:

 

Here’s something you won’t see very often — the Jardin du Tuileries without any people. The Jardin was closed during the protest marches

 

The Louis XIII statute in the Place des Voges

 

Scenes of Montmartre