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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
From Berlin, we took one of the excellent DeutscheBahn 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.
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.
We left Hamburg to spend this past weekend Paris. It was chilly in Paris, but we continued to enjoy dry and pleasant weather.
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.
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 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 café and enjoyed a late lunch. We had assumed that by the time we finished our lunch the marchers would have 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.
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: