Traveling alone while on business during the summer can make you feel cut off from both the familiarity of home and the pleasures of the place you are visiting.
It can seem as if you leave and return and see and experience nothing in between except the harmonious monotony of the world's conference rooms. The secret to preventing that is to leave enough time on your schedule to participate in local life and, to the extent that your business relationships permit, to invite the people you have come to work with to join you.
I had those rules in mind when I landed in Munich on a hot summer's day. Once the most recognizably German of the country's major cities, Munich has been transforming itself into what the Germans call the northernmost city of Italy. In the summer, cafes open their streetside tables, and no one even thinks of sitting inside.
Munich does not even appear tolerant of its own cliches these days. The Hofbraeuhaus, famous for beer served to tourists and for locals huddled together at their Stammtische (regulars' tables) so as to avoid the tourists, closed soon after the dinner hour had passed, even as locals waited in line for outdoor tables at Schumann's, a popular cafe less than 10 minutes away by foot. Schumann's also serves good beer, albeit in smaller portions than the standard mass (one liter) at the beer hall. The scene at Schumann's indeed had a very Italianite look to it. Add a cappuccino here and there, and it would have felt like a night in Verona.
I ended up at Schumann's at the recommendation of a local business associate, after a see-and-be-seen dinner (alfresco, of course) at the popular Oskar Maria, in the Literaturhaus. The American artist Jenny Holtzer has provided the Literaturhaus with artworks containing her aphorisms and sayings -- the poignancy of which largely continue to elude me. As with many Munich restaurants with a contemporary eye, the traditionally robust Bavarian cuisine has been lightened up, with such dishes as beef tartar with a fried quail egg.
A visitor from France perhaps wouldn't hunt in Munich for French cuisine, but I know enough people in Munich who certainly would, which explains the popularity of Le Faubourg. The menu, which is carted around on a blank-sized blackboard, is in French, and the waiter speaks to you in French, which created a challenge for me because my second language is German.
Soon after a business associate and I arrived, a thunderstorm broke, sending all diners indoors except for a young couple, who stayed at their outdoor table, sheltered by foliage, enjoying their wine. The picture windows of the restaurant remained open, and the rain fell in sheets, pelting the street and the tables and filling the air with the fragrant melancholy of a summer rain.
People in Munich are proud of their city and like to show business colleagues around. If you get a chance, see if a local will take you into the Englischer Garten, which is to Munich what Central Park is to New York: a capacious, rambling park with something different going on in each corner. In one area, people sunbathe in the nude, but where a business associate and I went one afternoon was an area full of families and of young men surfing the strong rapids of a stream called the Eisbach.
Each had a surfboard secured to his ankle and each waited patiently for his turn. The goal was to try to stay upright as long as possible. The lone woman among them, rising above the torrent in a green wetsuit, did not last long in her attempt, but spectators admired her persistence as she returned to take her place in line and try again.
For a good part of every summer, the city prepares for the famous Oktoberfest, which takes place mostly in September. One of the offices I visited was directly across from the field of "tents" being built for Oktoberfest. The work takes months to complete because many of the tents are in fact large and complete wooden beer halls, kept in storage the rest of the year.
I toured the grounds with my contact from just across the way, as workers went about their jobs, ignoring us as they put together what looked like a theme park dedicated to beer. My colleague said that she had just bought her third dirndl, the traditional Bavarian dress that women wear to Oktoberfest.
"Everyone looks good in a dirndl," she explained.
I took a fast train from Munich to Frankfurt and arrived in a very different kind of Germany. Frankfurt is not large by world standards, but as Germany's skyscraper-topped financial center, it is the tallest and outwardly most immediately impressive city. Unlike Munich, where a good summer's heat will bring even professional people outdoors in shirtsleeves, in Frankfurt, bankers in crisp suits filled the sidewalks, ties knotted tight.
It is a bit more challenging in Frankfurt to pretend that you are not there on business when you actually are, not only because of the way people dress but because the city is so business-oriented and visually contemporary. You can feel it in the streets. The stores are busy, people are on the move, and almost everybody clearly has something important to do.
A key thing to remember about financial centers, however, is that food and culture follow money. That is why there are great restaurants in Frankfurt and why an impressive row of museums graces the Museumufer (museum bank) on the relatively tranquil southern bank of the Main River.
With business associates, I enjoyed a brilliant meal at Lohninger, the restaurant of an Austrian chef, Mario Lohninger, who was named the Gault Millau chef of the year of Germany for 2011. The small restaurant, shaped like a "V" and with large ground-floor rooms with high ceilings, offers a chef's menu of tasting portions.
One of the great advantages of dining with colleagues who are local is that they tell you what is best to do, and I was very well informed to take the chef's menu, which was presented as a deliberate mystery. You do not know what you are getting until you get it, from the amuse bouche to (that night) the "strawberry surprise" dessert, which featured the berry in multiple guises. In between, you might be treated to favorites from the regular menu, including oxtail soup and a fillet of beef with scrambled eggs.
It is always good to leave a couple of extra hours on the last day of a business trip because that is when you have to run and buy presents and do other things that remind everybody back at home that you thought of them while you were away. Near the Villa Kennedy, my sophisticated and demure hotel in Sachsenhausen, on that more relaxed southern side of the river, I found an antique store, Laterna Magica Antiquitaeten, where I bought mid-century jewelry for my wife.
Antiques dealers always know the best restaurants in their neighborhoods. It was on her recommendation that I went to the very traditional Zum Gemalten Haus. The name means the painted house, and that is exactly what it is. It sells several kinds of sausages and a variety of potato dishes, and you get the local specialty drink, the apple wine, served either as a spritzer or straight up. Drinks come to you in a copper holder and bread arrives separately, in a large sack. In informal German restaurants, you help yourself to a seat at a table occupied by others, and my seatmate was a local, wearing a "Frankfurt am Main" T-shirt, no less.
What makes for a successful business trip? Getting your business done successfully. What makes a business trip enjoyable? Leaving enough time for yourself to have fun in the company of people you know. That's what in business is called a win-win.
>If you go
For a business traveler, location is essential. My favorite hotel in Munich and my pick in Frankfurt offer complementary alternatives.
On the theory that when time is short you want to be near both work and pleasure, when in Munich I stay at the Vier Jahreszeiten. It gives me a base right on the fashionable Maximilianstrasse, putting within reach everything from historic churches to the Hofbraeuhaus itself. And the value of having a great lobby bar to which you can invite business associates cannot be underestimated -- especially on hot days.
On the alternative theory -- having a quiet retreat while undertaking the pressured life of the business traveler -- when in Frankfurt, I stay at the Villa Kennedy, which is on a broad street in a residential section of Sachsenhausen. The combination of a traditional house and contemporary decor is spot on -- and in the summer, you can take your breakfast alfresco.
One thing both hotels have in common: terrific spas. Nothing suits the tired business traveler better. Rates and contact information:
Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten Kempinski, Maximilianstrasse 17, 80539 Munich; telephone 49 (0) 89-2125-2799. A single room starts at about $390. Reservations: firstname.lastname@example.org or through The Leading Hotels of the World at 1-800-745-8883.
Villa Kennedy, Kennedyallee 70, D-60596 Frankfurt; telephone 49 (0) 69-717-120; www.willakennedy.com or 1-800-745-8883. A member of The Rocco Forte Collection. Room for one night: about $500.
At these selected restaurants, a dinner for two, with beverages, is about $150, except where indicated:
Le Faubourg, Kirchenstrasse 5, 81675 Munich; telephone 49-89-47-55-33.
Oskar Maria Brasserie, Salvatorplatz 1, 80333 Munich; telephone 49-89-29-19-60-29.
For drinks: Schumann's Bar, Odeonsplatz 6 7, 80539 Munich; telephone 49-89-22-90-60; as in all of Germany, the beer is superb and priced quite comparable to mineral water.
Lohninger, Schweizer Strasse 1, 60594 Frankfurt; telephone 49-69-247-557-860. Surprise tasting menu: about $120 per person.
Zum Gemalten Haus, Schweizer Strasse 67, 60594 Frankfurt; telephone 49-69-61-45-59. Lunch for two: about $60 if you go easy on the signature apple wine, which, on a warm summer's day, can be a challenge.