Tuesday, October 6, 2009


I spent my 62nd birthday in Gutersloh, Germany. I was there courtesy of the Bertelesmann, the giant global media corporation. I read today in the New York Times that its founder Reinhard Mohn has just died aged 88. I met Mr Mohn who had built a the company from a small war-shattered publishing business to its present gigantic size. I didn’t know till I read his obituary that the company owns Random House.

Mohn did not believe in the top-down model of administration. He also believed that profit and humanity were not mutually exclusive. His group did many good works. I had helped select Mt Roskill College as the New Zealand school to represent our decentralised system at an education conference it had organised.

The German government had offered me a study grant. I was able to time the visit to follow on from a side-trip to Gutersloh for the conference there. Margaret Austin, ex Labour MP led the delegation.

I landed at Frankfurt to be met by a chauffeur who drove me to Gutersloh which is a sleepy provincial town. I’d describe it as the German equivalent of Ashburton. The long drive surprised me – more trees than I expected, more green than I expected, more church spires than I expected – a countryside surprisingly like Southern England.

The conference whirled past in a series of presentations, talks, discussions, bus rides and banquets – the stuff of such events. I recall the camaraderie of the last night, the Scots, Norwegians and Kiwis enjoying their whiskey.

Next day was my birthday. One of our party had to go to Hanover to fly out so I went along for the ride. I spent much of the day mooching round that city sight-seeing - zoo and the tropical gardens, lovely butterfly house - before catching a train to Gutersloh. (European trains are excellent). That evening I had a solitary dinner, roast duck. The next day I caught a train to Bonn – still then the capital - where I was met by a guide. After checking in to the hotel he took me to see the Rhine. Again, I was surprised at the amount of barge traffic. The following day my fortnight's study tour began.

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