On the way to Moscow I spent half a day laying over in Frankfurt, Germany. This is, without a doubt, the hot city in Germany that everyone in the world dreams of one day, some way, somehow, finding themselves. That was sarcasm.
Frankfurt is the banking center of Europe and apparently the flight hub of Germany, since I would have opted for laying over in Berlin or Munich if those were options but they most definitely were not. Frankfurt is German for hot dog fart.
Traipsing through the massive Frankfurt airport and down into the bowels of the train station beneath, I was presented with two banks of nearly identical, but clearly different, ticket-selling machines. Hrm. My best guess was that one ticket machine was for short trips within the region, and the other was for if you’re Jewish. I’m kidding! Oh Germany, we have fun don’t we?
I was in the middle of figuring out how to buy a train ticket to the Römerberg, the historic center of Frankfurt, when two South American girls standing in line behind me tapped me on the shoulder and asked if this was where you buy a ticket to where the shopping is. Whoever originated the saying “There are no stupid questions” was clearly a moron who was just tired of everyone making fun of his questions all the time. I know I’ve asked my share of them. And asking a confused-looking American who has been in Germany for four minutes what train goes to “where the shopping is” is actually the example they give in the dictionary under “Stupid Question,” so it was cool that we all got to experience that together.
I was only about 70% sure I was even buying the right ticket from the machine for my own use, and also had no idea what the girls were even talking about, but they wouldn’t take “Huh?” for an answer so I assured them that yes, this was where you do that. I get asked for directions a lot in foreign cities where I invariably have absolutely no idea where I am, I guess because I’m either approachable, confident-looking, or just tall and easy to see from far away. I usually answer with “Yeah sorry no idea” but if the asker is rude enough I take the time to make up directions off the top of my head for them. “Head down this street until you see the big chicken, then make a left. Don’t turn until you see the chicken! If you turn too early that’s gang territory.”
I turned back around to face the ticket machine just in time to see the 15 euros in change that it had been attempting to dispense while I was being quizzed about Frankfurt retail get sucked back into the slot. Then the screen announced that my ticket was cancelled because I had taken too long to take my change. Not that it was giving me my 20 euros back and cancelling my transaction, but rather that it was keeping the money and the ticket. Wait, did this German train ticket machine just straight up steal my money? I didn’t realize that level of screwjob was even on the menu. This seemed impossible, but further investigation confirmed it was actually what had happened. Damn, that’s some cold shit, Germany.
I took a photo of the machine and went to the complaints counter, explaining my plight to the very polite German woman there. She said oh yes, that’s too bad, and gave me a business card with a phone number I’d have to call to deal with the machine’s manufacturer, because the train station wasn’t responsible for those rogue machines. I asked her if it was normal for the machine to steal money and she said “Yes, it’s French.”
OOOOOOOOH sick burn otherwise very polite German lady! That was worth 20 euros right there.
I bought another ticket, careful to use my credit card this time. After riding the train to Römerberg I realized my ticket was never checked at any point, on or off the train, in or out of the station. No turnstiles, no nothing. Hmmm. Okay then. I proceeded to ride the train for free several more times across two different visits to Frankfurt, until the train system had worked off its 20 euro debt to me. Fair enough.
Wandering around Frankfurt, I realized that this landscape could be bewildering if you didn’t speak German. But don't worry, I ate a bratwurst once, so I am an expert.
Here we have the Ratskeller, which is German for Rat Seller, a place where you can buy rats. This is the place you want to be if you happen to find yourself low on rats. Some less savvy world travelers might mistake this for Rat Cellar, a basement full of rats, but that's actually Rattenuntergrounden, which is in a different part of town.
The secret to understanding German is understanding that it’s actually just English spelled wrong. A few examples.
Frankfurt had the highest barf to sidewalk ratio of any city I’ve ever been in, which makes walking around the city a bit of a dance. Later on in this trip I met a backpacker from Florida who complained that Frankfurt didn’t know how to party, but Frankfurt’s sidewalks definitely disagree.
I came into this trip with the mental stereotype of Germans as stoic badasses, which was shattered immediately the first time I saw a German guy in ridiculous shorts call out to his friends, “Yoo-hoo!” in the most preposterously unmanly way possible. This was refreshing and fun.
I made my way through several pretty churches…
…backed by some beautiful choral singing and in one case a gate that kept us gawkers away from the faithful inside.
St Paul’s Church is considered the Cradle of Germany, where the first governing body elected by the public, the National Assembly, met in the 1800s.
Crossing the river, I was charmed that Germany’s disdain for the French didn’t prevent them from love-locking up their bridges as if Frankfurt was the Paris of banking.
Römerberg (“Roman Mountain”? Sure, why not) is indeed charming, though you had to approach the charm from an angle because there was a huge Ironman Triathlon getting ready to start and so there was a bunch of shit set up in-between me and the charm.
This is all actually a bit of a simulation. These buildings were rebuilt from historic blueprints in the 1950s, as none of the originals survived WWII. None of the Chinese tourists I was sharing the square with seemed to mind.
I wandered up the river, past the museums and the multiple people asking me for directions. I made a left at the Drunken Chicken.
I managed an improbably delicious vegan lunch in the gleaming downtown business district, a meal which incongruously contained neither tube meat nor gigantic pretzels.
Walking down a back alleyway in the company of a small dog who may or may not have been a tourist as well, up ahead I saw a man in his driveway washing his minivan in the bright sunlight, tunes cranked.
“No giving thanks to all the Christmas joy you bring… But what it is, though old so new, to fill your heart like no three words could ever do…”
“I just called, to say, I love you! And I mean it from the bottom of my heart...”