I get through the customs in Frankfurt airport and am instantly lost. I was very smug about my German language abilities, but I’m apparently not good enough. I need to get to my hotel, and I know that the airport is a good 5 miles or so away from where I’ll be staying the city center. The question I am now faced with is how to actually get there.
My first port of call is Uber. That way I don’t have to actually buy a ticket or tell the driver exactly where it is I’ll be going. Now, I normally don’t approve of Uber because of how terribly they treat their staff, human resources complaints, and their terrible, misogynist board members. But needs must, and I get out my phone. One quick tap or two later and I am 100% certain. Uber hasn’t reached Frankfurt yet.
I quickly come to the realisation that I will have to navigate the U-bahn. The German public transport system. A small railway line that operates in Germany, with Germans, all speaking German. This could be really rather daunting. But first, I have to buy a ticket using the very efficient and clean machine. The machine that only had German as an option.
I have a mixed history with ticket machines. There is one in Leicester train station that I now refuse to use due to my repeated mistakes it helped cause. I used to work in Syston, a village that was a good 8 minute train journey away. Every morning I’d leave my house and try to catch the 07:14 to Lincoln. Now, I am a relatively heavy sleeper, and would often leg it to the station and find the time was about 12 minutes past 7. There was one ticket machine that, no matter what, would choose this time to decide not to work. I could paw at the screen like a mad cat and the machine would simply sit there, thinking, and then think some more, looking at the clock ticking away and then it would finally deposit the ticket I’d so desperately need. And then the train would pull away just before I could get on the platform. So I’d have to walk through the foyer again to get the bus, past this satanic, possessed machine that quietly mocked me as I went.
This ticket machine in Frankfurt is, luckily, brilliant. I press a button and I get an instant reaction. I scan the screen and look for words I recognise. ‘Bahnhof’ – that’s a good start. ‘Frankfurt Hauptbanholf’ – A better start. I try to recall my GCSE German, and I think that this is the one I want. I reckon that means central station, and from there I’ll be fine walking to the hotel. It’s only about a mile from there and I can walk that easily. I buy the ticket.
Wow. Just wow. It’s spacious, clean, quiet, and full of people all reading or listening to music in near perfect silence. If the rest of Frankfurt is like their trains then I’m in love.
After 25 minutes and a journey that takes me past The Frankfurt Stadium and across the river Main, shwoing Frankfurt’s lovely skyline set against the falling sun. I’ve now been flushed out of the U-Bahn and onto the bustling streets. I pick the direction and walk.
After 20 minutes I realise I’ve been walking the wrong way and turn on my heel. I plod forwards, dragging my travel case behind me and my laptop bag playfully bashing against my side. Around me is a scene that I for some reason never equated with Germany, Turkish shops and people. I pop into a shop to buy something for supper, some hummus and carrots, and chat to the owner in my minimal Turkish. He seems pleased, I’d like to think because someone is trying to speak with him in his native tongue, but mostly because there’s a weird, tall ginger man badly trying to speak Turkish.
Frankfurt slowly started to reveal it’s fun side, as i walked past a huge red stoned Cathedral that had been thoughtfully lit in dark orange. It is the most evil building I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen the MI5 building in London. Then I found a giant, brightly lit Euro sign, with which I immediately took about 12 photos.
I’m not the biggest of political chaps, and I’m not going to start a Brexit rant here. But as I stand here, in front of this giant symbol of a united Europe as politicians in my own country are busy cocking up our withdraw, and I felt dejected. I’ve always felt European, and suddenly I felt even more a foreigner.
I kept on walking, along a fairly busy dual carriage way, scored with tram tracks. I come to another pedestrian crossing, the light turns green and I go, as do the other people I’m waiting with. They all wait for the light, even if the path is completely clear, and the lights don’t change that often either. We’ve been waiting here for nearly 4 minutes. As we walk I spot a BMW start to turn left and at the crosswalk we’re using. I speed up. The car slows down. I walk in front of it and nod. The driver looks confused. Once I cross and the path is empty, he just drives on, still bemused.
After 45 minutes and 3 miles walking I make to the hotel. I go to the receptionist, ‘Ich tut mir leid, ich spreche eine kleine bischien Duestche. Sprechen Sie Englisch?’ The very German woman behind the desk stares at me blankly. I panic, thinking that I’ve completely knackered what I was trying to say. She then smiles, and goes through all the hotel admin with me in perfect English, without batting an eyelid. Asking if she spoke English was like asking her if she could count to four.
I get to the room, and it is exactly what you expect a hotel room to be, just in German. I put my bag down, hang up my suit, and look for the kettle. I don’t drink tea or coffee, but a hotel is meant to have a kettle, with a few types of tea, tiny packets of UHT milk and little biscuits. There is nothing in the room that looks like it can boil water. I’m confused, so confused. These Germans are weird. I take a look out of the window, with my hotel sat square in the middle of the Turkish sector of Frankfurt, between the finance sector and the artisans, and across the road I spy a lovely looking establishment could
The Penthouse. It doesn’t quite fit in with everything else.
I leave. The room is nice, but boring. It’s only 8pm and I want to have a look around the city.
At 9pm I’m back in my hotel. I’ve flicked through German freeview, watched ten minutes of Family Guy in German like some bizarre alternative reality where the D-Day landings failed, and found a channel that is just footage of people doing farming. This has become my favourite.
I’m back here because I went for a walk past The Penthouse. It’s everything I thought it would be and is the most typically German thing on the block – a lap-dancing bar, “specialising in Kinks!” the sign boasts, with a sex shop attached. But that’s not why I’m back. I kept walking, and after 15 minutes I’m in the middle of a shopping square, with German shops, a few Swiss flags and then I saw it. Not the McDonalds, which has a huge range of condiments that put British restaurants to shame, but instead I stumbled across a Primark, complete with winter sales. I immediately trudged off home, utterly annoyed that the virus of cheap, slave powered clothing had infected Germany as well as middle England.
I ready myself for bed. I’m settled. It’s calm. It’s quiet. I start to drift.
And then the trams start screaming past on the street, some 6 floors below.
As much as I love you, Frankfurt, you’re bloody annoying.