About me

Hello, my name’s Don. I’m an American living in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, which has been my home ever since I got married here in 1971.

My wife and I have three children and three four grandchildren — all of whom can decide for themselves if they want to have any sort of internet presence. (So you won’t see much about them here on my website.)

I became an opera fan at the tender age of fifty-one. That was the year the Frankfurt opera house re-opened, after a long closure due to a fire. That was also a Mozart year, the two-hundredth anniversary of his death, and there were numerous exhibitions about him, especially in Vienna.

Mozart’s operas were played even more often than usual that year, and it happened that I saw three different productions of The Magic Flute within a few weeks of each other. I found it fascinating that the stage directors could make three very different shows using the same words and music, so I started reading up on opera and attending more often. Fortunately there are five opera houses within a 50 km radius of my house: Frankfurt, Darmstadt, Wiesbaden, Mainz and Gießen.

The final nudge came a year later when my textbook publisher started sending me around Germany on weekends to present our books to groups of teachers. My presentations were usually in the afternoons, so in the evenings I was free to see a performance at the nearest opera house. Germany has eighty-three opera houses, of which I have been to seventy-one thus far.
(See my post
Seventy-one opera houses in Germany.)

Cycling is something I’ve been doing off and on since I was about five, but I hasten to point out that cycling for me is primarily a means of transportation, not really a sport and certainly not a business. I have never owned or worn any article of clothing made of lycra, so I’m not that kind of cyclist. In earlier years I used to take long bicycle tours around Europe, but today I cycle mainly in cities. I’m a great fan of urban bike sharing systems such as Vélib’ in Paris and Vélo’v in Lyon.

For me cycling is also a great time saver. I find I need one or two hours a day of moderate exercise to stay healthy. I also need one or two hours of transportation each day to get to destinations in different parts of the city. On a bicycle, these are the same one or two hours.

Brave new world in Evanston

I grew up in a house that no longer exists. It was in a city called Evanston, Illinois, which is the first suburb north of Chicago on Lake Michigan.

Evanston is no doubt a lovely place for those who fit in, but I was relieved when a scholarship from Columbia enabled me to escape and enjoy my four undergraduate years in New York City. After that I spent a year in Bern, Switzerland, followed by some time in Paris and an extended bicycle tour around Spain, Portugal, France and Germany.

As a draftee in the U.S. Army I spent a year in Vietnam, followed by some more travel in Europe and then a stint as news director of a listener-supported radio station in Berkeley, California. (See my post Mitterrand and the Panthéon for an episode from that period.)

I started teaching part-time while I was a student at the Goethe-University here in Frankfurt. As a Vietnam veteran from the U.S. Army I was entitled to educational benefits under the GI bill, but just before my first payment arrived the US dollar lost nearly a quarter of its value against the German D-Mark (due to the “Nixon shock” when the dollar was taken off the gold standard), so I had to look around for an additional source of income. I found it at the Adult Education Center of the city of Frankfurt, known in German as the Volkshochschule (VHS) — literally “the people’s university” — where I was taken on as a free-lance English teacher for evening courses.

Little did I know, when I started teaching at the VHS, that I would go on working at the same institution in various capacities for the next 48 years. After my studies I obtained a full-time teaching position at the VHS, and later I served for many years as head of the English department.

At age 62 I joined a team at the VHS that introduced a new database system for planning the courses, allotting the rooms, enrolling the students and paying the teachers. My role in this database project was to train the staff, write the user handbook and serve as a troubleshooter when people got muddled — which they often did because computers at that time were new and terrifying to staff members who couldn’t imagine running a school without huge drawers of index cards.

Volkshochschule Frankfurt (VHS)

Also at the Volkshochschule I taught a German-language opera appreciation course called Opern-Gespräche starting in 1999, and a similar course in English called Frankfurt OperaTalk starting in 2002. Both of these courses were still going strong when they were abruptly ended by the first coronavirus lockdown in March 2020.

For over a dozen years I was an active member of a travel website called VirtualTourist (aka VT). By February 2017, when VirtualTourist ceased to exist, I had posted 3,290 tips/reviews about 124 destinations in 12 countries and had accumulated 1,007,692 page views, according to the statistics provided by the site. My largest page, entitled “My Paris: not only operas and bicycles . . .”, consisted of 435 tips/reviews, 1849 photos and five travelogues. I have backups of my VirtualTourist material, and I intend to use a small fraction of it as the basis for updated blog entries here on my own website.

In addition to reading each other’s tips and pages, we VirtualTourist members also met (and still meet) in person at VT-meetings all over the world. I have attended such meetings in Karlsruhe, Antwerp, Bacharach, Frankfurt, Paris, Bonn, Aachen and London, among other places.

Over the years, thirteen visiting VirtualTourist members came with me to performances at the Frankfurt Opera here in Frankfurt am Main, Germany.

VirtualTourist EuroMeet in Karlsruhe 2008

VirtualTourist was a highly successful website until the summer of 2008, when its founders made their fortunes by selling it to TripAdvisor. I met the founders earlier that summer at the big VT “EuroMeet” in Karlsruhe, Germany, but of course they didn’t say a word about the impending sale. After being sold, the site went into a slow decline as its social function drifted over to Facebook and its software, dating partly from the 1990s, became increasingly outmoded and couldn’t be made to work properly on the new tablets and smartphones.

Like a number of other websites, VirtualTourist had a system of ratings, rankings and awards that seemed childish to outsiders but provided entertainment and even motivation to those of us who were directly involved. For the record, I eventually got up to number 18 in the ranking system. I was pleased when my Paris page was chosen as the “Best City Travel Page” of 2012 and especially when I was voted “VTer of the year” in 2015 — though now that the site has gone out of existence these honors have lost what little significance they once had.

See my posts on adult education.
See also: Cutting edge technology (of bygone decades)
and Conversation and more B2, about one of my English courses at the VHS.

70 thoughts on “About me”

  1. Don —
    Thanks for following my blog, jthine.com. I thought you already were, but I guess you were following freewheelingfreelancer.com with its crossover links. Anyway, I hope you enjoy the stories on both sites.
    Feel free to contact me on either site or by email:
    JT Hine
    Author, translator, cyclist
    Williamsburg VA 23188 USA
    Mail: jt@jthine.com
    Web and blog: https://jthine.com
    Travel blog: https://freewheelingfreelancer.com
    Publisher: Scriptor Services LLC https://scriptorservices.com

    1. Yes, I have been following both your blogs for quite a while now, and I very much enjoy reading them both. But several weeks ago I started getting double notifications of your new posts, not only on e-mail but also on my Jetpack notification list. This didn’t bother me much at first, but then it happened more and more often with other blogs, and my notification list was getting cluttered and hard to work with. So yesterday I went into Jetpack to see if I could find something to click or unclick that would eliminate the duplicate notifications. I think I might have found something, but the software interpreted it as a new subscription, not just a change. If all else fails, I’ll have to ask the Jetpack “Happiness Engineers”, who are always friendly but not very helpful.
      Have a good day — Don

  2. German trains are often late? I thought they ran like clockwork. I hadn’t considered Munich, but now I will, if that’s what you recommend.
    Danke, Don.

    1. Unfortunately the German railway system has been allowed to deteriorate for the past thirty years, with the result that now roughly 65% of trains are late (= six or more minutes behind schedule). The next six years promise to be even worse, since they have finally started a crash reconstruction program which involves closing major lines for weeks or months on end, especially in the summers.

      1. Just a few words to introduce what’s left of the (circa 1980s) winner de la “Battle of the Band Organs” hosted by the defunct “Geocities” server. I used my legal first name, ‘Eugene’ w/ last name Hayek as the creator. Recently I’ve posted on “youtube” as Don Hayek, under my cyber name “edonmusic”.
        As time would prove it necessary to proprieties the cyber name, I failed to. Many direvities have crowded my early cyber name, however Youtube has kept me barely alive. Being a salaried theatre organist at Lafayette Theatre Suffern NY. and Paramount Theatre, Middletown NY for many years, has
        helped me survive.
        I searched Google to find info concerning the Titanic Organ. Finding your nice blog about it.
        I thank you for that.
        Don Hayek, in Facebook as well.

        1. Thanks for introducing yourself and for finding one of my posts about the Titanic Organ.
          I’ll look you up in Facebook, although I no longer check in there as often as I used to, since Facebook has turned into a minefield of advertising and click-bait.

  3. Hi Don. I’d like to train travel from Paris to Germany this summer. My first choice is Berlin, but on second thought I’m thinking maybe it’s too vast. Too much ground to cover. Can you recommend a nice smaller city to visit with lots of cultural offerings (art museums, etc). Hamburg? Nuremburg?
    Thanks a lot.

    1. Have you considered Munich? Lots of museums, palaces, etc. Still a large city (1.5 million people) but less than half the size of Berlin. And Munich also has the advantage that there is a daily direct TGV from Paris-Est. Most other German cities would require at least one change of train, which can be a hassle because trains in Germany are often late and the connecting trains can’t always wait.

  4. You’ve had an amazing life. I couldn’t comment on your posts (Tan Ba, posts under Denmark). The likes and comments stalled in the loading and the comment box didn’t appear. That was incredible you found yourself at the same bridge 30 yrs later in Vietnam.

    1. Thanks for telling me about the problem of the likes and comment boxes not loading properly. Have you had this with other sites, or only with mine? I’ve been trying to troubleshoot this, and I think the problem might be with Jetpack.

  5. Hi Don,

    Thank you for your service in Vietnam. I’m a Vietnamese American writer in Phoenix. I would like to get your advice and see your pictures you took in Da Nang, Hue, and Hoi An 1995. I look forward in hearing from you.

    1. Hi Tiffany, thanks for finding my website and leaving a nice comment. I have just sent you an e-mail entitled “Vietnam 1995”, which I hope will reach you.

  6. This has got to be the most interesting ‘about me’ I’ve read in a long time. Just discovered your blog and am enjoying browsing.

  7. Well done for being so incredibly successful with providing us readers with so much detail. Thank you. Maria

  8. Some time ago I read some of your blogs and I always meant to come back and read some more, they are so interesting and as they cover opera as well I was very happy. However, life intervened and I never got the time I needed to get to your blogs but I’m hoping to correct that from now on. Great posts and I like your attitude to things.

  9. Whew! I’m exhausted, having read quite a lot of your posts as I’ve just found your blog which is fascinating and covers so much ground. I’m so pleased to catch up with a blog that covers opera, as it’s something I love. I don’t live too near London now and a visit to Covent Garden necessitates an overnight stay making an opera visit very expansive, but I try to see some opera each year. I love the open-air performances in Italy even though they can be a bit over-wrought at times and I manage to squeeze one in every time I’m there, and I’ve seen performances in Salzburg, Vienna, Paris, Barcelona, Budapest and Belfast. I am avidly awaiting our return to the cinema for the screened live performances from all over the world, especially the Met. I’ve seen operas recently that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise so I’m eternally grateful to whoever thought of the idea. Now I shall read some more of your very entertaining posts.

    1. Many thanks for finding my blog and leaving such a nice comment. I’ve never seen a performance at Covent Garden (though I have wandered through the building occasionally, as it always seems to be open). In fact the only operas I’ve seen in the UK up to now were in Birmingham — a guest performance by the Welsh National Opera in the Hippodrome — and in Edinburgh.
      The opera here in Frankfurt is just starting to open up again, so I hope to see a couple of live performances later this month.

  10. Hi Don, many thanks for following our blog, much appreciated. We had a great trip to Frankfurt a few years ago, really enjoyed our brief stay there. We aren’t Opera fans but we do love travel so will be interested in taking a look around your blog.

  11. Glad I came across your blog, Don! Your story is really inspiring, and it’s truly unique that you discovered your love for opera later in life. I can’t wait to read what other adventures you have in Frankfurt, in Germany, and in other parts of the world. 🙂

  12. Don —
    Thanks for following my blog, jthine.com. It will coexist with freewheelingfreelancer.com, serving the different readerships of the latter (fiction/narrative and cycling/nomadism)l.

  13. Well, well, well,

    look who I found! How are you doing my friend. I saw a comment on Easymalc’s page and thought, I recognise that face so I popped over here and there you were, complete with a fairly poignant piece about our beloved VT which I still miss.

    I am going to have a whizz round your site here although it looks absolutely huge and so well organised, I wish mine was but you know how technophobic I am! I am really looking forward to keeping in touch with you again and I seem to be bumping into more and more of the old VT crew which is so lovely as I do not use any of the antisocial media sites so I have sort of lost touch.

    Speak soon,


    1. Hi Fergy, great to hear from you. Yes, I still miss VT, too, but having my own website also has its advantages, for instance I can prevent having people’s heads cut off on my photos, and I can decide whether or not to have advertising. (None for the time being.)

      1. I must admit that I am quite enjoying having my own site as well. Can you imagine me with website, I am the original technophobe. It is a bit daunting to try to get to grips with and mine is still very basic but I am trying to make it more user-friendly and tidy as I go along.

  14. Hi Don, one of the things I love about this blogosphere is being able to connect to people all over the world with similar interests and being enlightened by their posts. Your blog is one of those which always intrigues and blesses me.

    My “French Quest” started when I was in my early 40’s and has remained strong even to this day. I discovered at that time that my birth mother was from Alsace, France (around Strasbourg) and this opened a whole new world for me. I lived for a semester in Paris during a graduate internship at the Sorbonne and have traveled many times back to Paris and around France. My favorite French authors are Balzac and Hugo and I have enjoyed your posts about both.

    Through this journey, I have also spent much time in German history and now pursuing the German language. My husband and I are planning a trip to Eastern Germany next year (he is a Marathoner so our trips typically are based around those races). We are both WWII enthusiasts and hope to also travel across Germany towards the west and north west to revisit these battle sights.

    I am not a cyclist or opera aficionado, such as yourself, but I am also a university educator, primarily teaching English Comp and occasionally French language. I appreciate your contribution to educate and enlighten adults towards the opera and the German language.

    Thank you for enriching our minds through your life experiences and for your support of my blog, My Frenchquest.

    Robyn Lowrie

    1. Hi Robyn, thanks for your very nice comment. I’m glad you are finding some things in my blog that interest you, even though you are not a cyclist or an opera fan.
      I hope you have a rewarding visit to eastern Germany next year. I did a lot of travelling there in the 1990s, mainly to introduce our English language textbooks to groups of teachers, and I have been back a few times recently to attend performances at some of the opera houses.
      I look forward to reading more of your French Quest (and Czech Quest) posts.
      All the best,

      1. Thank you, Don, for your reply! I will continue to read your older posts on Germany and France as I am a newer follower! I forgot to mention another connection to the German language:I am translating a newsletter from German to English for JerusalemMessenger.com which is written by a tour guide in Israel about the Jewish plight in the Holy Land. Much of the original text is in Hebrew so I am attempting to keep the original context and meaning from Hebrew-German-English!! It is a great exercise in linguistics!

  15. Don, Thank you for following my blog, too. I hope that you enjoy it. I’ll be catching up back issues of yours over the coming weeks.
    Smooth roads & tailwinds,

  16. Hi Don, Tonight is the 5th occasion am reading ‘About Me’. I want to admit that this is the most interesting, engaging, inspiring, truthful & the nicest arrangement of alphabets I have come across on the internet. With due respect to others, I would rate it the highest. A link is shared with my young colleague who is about to embark on his entrepreneural venture so that he could gain from this write-up. I hope we meet someday. Best wishes, Vijay.

      1. Thanks! I am mostly deaf, so it would be wasted on me, but I found several other things in your blog to love, and also adore the architecture of the opera houses!

        1. Lots more opera houses still to come, including some really beautiful ones (Lille, Milan, …) and some that only a mother could love (Massy, Pforzheim, …)

  17. What a fascinating story. And thanks for the follow on my blog. I will be returning the courtesy as I’m sure to be interested in your stories. I will apologise in advance that I won’t comment often, as I am also supposed to be working on a manuscript. Blogging is fun, but it sure can be time-consuming:-)

  18. Hi Don
    First off, thank you for checking out my website, I appreciate the visit and long for constructive feedback (it’s been a work in progress and I’m thinking of scrapping the whole thing).
    What an interesting life you have lead! I will check out more of your blog when time permits, I find it fascinating!

  19. Ahh thanks for the add on, and welcome to the world of blogging. I am doing since 2010 and it is great. Sorry about VT but I saw it coming when there was not even interest to monitor the forums. I see you have a lot to work on in the blog. Cheers

  20. Wow. That’s probably the most interesting About Me page I’ve ever read – what a life you’ve led! Thanks for visiting couchmagpie.com today and keep up the good work! 🙂

  21. Ich freue mich, Dich nun auch über Deine Webseite näher kennenzulernen. Die Zeiten mit VT waren toll! Aber die Zeiten ändern sich

  22. Hello Don – Like Sarah I was surprised that you got into Opera “late”. Thanks to my parents and their collection of scratchy gramophone records,. a brilliant Education Department that negotiated entrance tickets for today’s equivalent of 5p ( 1 shilling in old money) to Halle concerts and touring opera companies, plus the Great Caruso and a new girl at school, a German/ Jewish girl already addicted. One week we saw the Great Caruso at every cinema within walking distance, and frequently played truant to attend matinees of London based companies on tour. As a student at Cardiff University I was “in” at the early years of Welsh National Opera.
    Now octogenarians and living some distance from Cardiff we enjoy the streamed performances available at local venues.
    Thanks for your interesting Blog – I enjoy reading it.

    1. Thanks, Liz. I’m glad you like my blog. I have only seen one performance of the Welsh National Opera up to now, and that was a guest performance at the Hippodrome in Birmingham. Now I know a young singer who was a finalist at the Cardiff BBC Singer of the World competition and sang three performances at the WNO, all in the same week.

      1. That was quite a big ask for any singer!
        We saw all the rounds of this years Singer of the World competition (some live, others on TV) as well as the Song ( formerly Lieder) competition and were impressed by the standard.
        My daughter who worked at WNO for over 10 years was more critical and bemoaned the ” lack of
        feeling and failure to communicate dramatically”. But conceded there was a lot of talent there!

        1. The competition was especially exciting for us this year because two of the twenty finalists are members of the Frankfurt Opera ensemble: Louise Alder, who won the audience prize, and Iurii Samoilov, representing the Ukraine. (Iurii was my guest at Frankfurt OperaTalk one evening last season.)

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