I’ve begun a return trip to Jordan. It was rather spur of the moment, as ticket prices suddenly dropped $300 for the first week in April, and I bought them on a whim last month, a craving for schwarma and wadis re-awakening deep within me. I’ve just finished off the first part of trip, a 11 hour excursion through Frankfurt, Germany, the location of my single layover before reaching Amman in another few hours.
My morning started off inauspiciously. I apparently neglected to drink enough “brain juice” (i.e. coffee) to function properly, and as I sat at the kitchen table emptying out my wallet of every nonessential, I for some reason thought I wouldn’t need my debit card, only my credit card. Of course, when the taxi dropped me off at the Memorial Union 20 minutes later and I went inside to withdraw some money, I facepalmed my head pretty hard. What choice did I have? I called up the same taxi company (Green Cab) and requested a rapid round-trip service to my house and back to the Union again to collect a single piece of plastic, tripling my taxi fees. I suppose I’ve paid the stupidity tax for the day.
Transportation here in Frankfurt, however, has been a breeze. The eight hour journey, plus a seven hour time zone change, passed smoothly (I was amazed that Lufthansa has apparently embedded tablet computers, like Kindle Fires or something, into each plane seat, allowing completely autonomous movie/music enjoyment without needing to follow a plane-wide schedule). I didn’t get more than an hour of sleep, as the seats seemed to be gradually moving closer together in a vise-like fashion, but I figured I would find some more brain juice in Germany and play it by ear.
I had heard from friends before I arrived in Germany that there just isn’t much to do in Frankfurt. But with almost 14 hours between my flights, there was no way I was going to waste it sitting in an air conditioned advertisement center like Frankfurt Flugelhafen (which, by the way, should go on record for the funniest word ever).
I bought a Frankfurt Day Pass (I love these things; you may recall me using them in Salzburg, Innsbruck, and Vienna two years ago) which gave me unlimited public transport usage and 50% off all museums. It wasn’t quite as nice as the free-access passes that the Austrian passes gave me, but this pass was only 9 euro, instead of in the 20’s like the others. It was a fair trade, especially since I had such little time.
As the train burst out into the 7 AM sunrise, I blinked and found myself staring at a wall of graffiti. Was I actually in New York? The graffiti even seemed to be in English. However, the copious huge and lovely conifer trees surrounding me definitely weren’t in New York, and when we rounded a corner and saw an immense football (soccer) field, my juice-less brain finally hooked into the “yes, you are in Germany” mode.
At least a dozen skyscrapers rose across the Main River to greet me. I disembarked at the stereotypical European-esque central train station, the Hauptbahnhof (they all basically look alike, I’ve realized) and headed east into the city. My map, which the friendly lady at the Frankfurt Day Pass booth had also given me, pointed me towards the old city which was just ahead.
But first I wandered through a decidedly new-city neighborhood filled with nothing but ads and shops selling sex toys and sex shows. At this hour in the morning nothing was open of course, and it was basically just me, some street cleaners, and a few tired-looking businessmen who owned the sexy streets of Frankfurt. I was quite hungry; my chicken teriyaki on the plane had been either 6 or 13 hours ago and I wasn’t about to frequent the numerous McDonalds that were strewn about between the sex shops.
I finally found a place that was open, a suspiciously chain-looking restaurant named Der Bäcker Eifler and had a cappuccino and some sort of pastry with strawberries on it. Revitalized, and smarting against the cold of the open-air shop (there were no seats either, just tables to stand at) I decided to visit the Seckenberg Natural History Museum and wait until the sun rose higher in the sky before doing any more walking exploration.
The museum was positively gorgeous. They had exhibits ranging from plant evolutionary biology to dinosaurs to meteorites, and also continental divide, mammalian, reptilian, and avian exhibits numbering in the thousands, and a special exhibit on spiders that I did not pay an extra 2 euro to see. Unfortunately, 90% of it was in German. I suppose I shouldn’t have been too shocked, being that I had firmly decided that I was in Germany, but at the same time, I was. I’m used to major metropolitan museums in every country I’ve been to having their descriptions in the native language, and also English. Maybe Arab countries have spoiled me. Most of the reptiles had been translated into English, as well as most of the dinosaur skeletons, but that was about it. It was even more painful because the exhibits were amazing, with diagrams and flip charts and all kinds of details that I would have loved to have known more about. I had even asked the woman at the desk when I bought my 50% reduced ticket if the exhibits were in English, to which she replied “ya!” A slight miscommunication.
The museum was so good that even with me being able to understand very little of it (and skipping the plant evolution section altogether) I stayed there for two hours. By the time I left, the museum was packed with little German children, who appeared to be having the time of their lives. I will admit to jealousy. I wanted to take an educated-looking German person hostage and force them to translate the museum into English for me.
I next headed up to the Main Tower, which might seem like a boring name, but then you have to remember their river is named Main, too. The elevator had a small counter in it which showed us the rate of speed we ascended at (around 18 km/h) and we shot up to 190 meters in about 20 seconds. The sun was out by now and the observation deck was comfortably busy. I was expecting Empire State Building levels of “don’t kill yourselves, morons” security, but the the railing only came up to my hips. A lone security guard wandered the concrete deck, frowning at air molecules and crossing his arms. I could distantly see the Flugelhafen (hee hee) in the distance, and unsucessfully tried to find the museum. I was, however, able to use my map and my high vantage point to plot out my walking path around the old city.
By this point it was a little after noon, and I needed something besides sugar and caffeine to keep me going. I didn’t want to follow the instructions of my guidebook, and instead lucked out – as it was lunchtime, I merely watched the flow of importantly-dressed businesspeople flowing out of the skyscrapers, and went to the shop where I saw the most well-dressed people congregated. Ebenster’s Suppenstrube was my choice, and for a little under 3 euros I got a rostbratwurst on a kaiser roll with brown mustard. Wisconsinites rejoice; we truly are the descendents of these people. I would have photographed my immense wurst (it was over 8 inches long) but the people in business suits were already casting sidelong glances at me as I ate at their picnic tables in the sidewalk, so I decided to forgo the photo, this one time.
I wandered into the old city, and up into the “Dom” or cathedral. My Frankfurt pass got me a 1.5 euro ticket to climb the bell tower – 298 steps, a mere 66 meters. Remember how it took 20 seconds to get up the Main Tower in the elevator? It took me a good 10 minutes to climb a mere third of that, but I appreciated the view all the more. Sandwiched in a little crevice-like catwalk space, right below the spire of the main tower, surrounded by carved red gothic stonework and tacked-on lightning rods, I felt far more adventurous here than on the wide concrete slab of the Main Tower. Besides, from here I was only a stone’s throw away from the interesting architecture of the old city, instead of a hundred and fifty meters above it. Pigeons fluttered around me, but they didn’t land to cast aside their loads (so to speak): the church had wisely installed thin metal wires on every upward-facing surface above the catwalk, preventing birds from landing in opportune places.
After the harrowing descent (cracking my forehead into the low stones several times), I headed across the Main into the Suchenhachen, a district known for its alcohol brewing. My crossing took me over the Eiserner Steg, a wrought-iron pedestrian bridge with hundreds of padlocks curiously locked into every iron crevice, sometimes in clusters of a dozen or more. I peered over at one group, and found that they had couple’s names and dates engraved on them. I can only assume it’s a Frankfurt tradition that when couples get married, they add a lock onto the bridge to symbolize their unbreaking love.
I was looking for the best apple wine-serving pubs that a young tourist could afford. My guidebook recommended three different ones, but curiously enough two of them were completely closed on Mondays. I couldn’t imagine why, but it made my choice of Kanonesteppel all the easier. And what a great choice it ended up being!
I walked hesitantly into the courtyard, afraid of another defeat after being turned aside at my previous choices. A solitary man was walking ahead of me, and disappeared into the building at the opposite end. I followed him into the building, and rounded a corner to find him being handed a huge jug of dark yellow liquid wine by a smiling bartender. I found that the tender spoke English quite well, and we struck up a conversation about the food, the wine, motorcycles (he had just purchased a new Harley Davidson, and his eyes lit up with recognition when I said I was from Wisconsin). The barkeep, Marcus, gave me free samples of the wine and his favorite item on the menu, frankfurterschnitzel. Of course I sat down to be served a full meal with a couple glasses of the tasty wine, and nearly exploded trying to eat it all. Marcus patted his stomach and commented, “this is why most Germans look like this! You must eat more, you are built like a stick!” As I paid my check using my last euros (I had withdrawn 30 for the day, not counting the Frankfurt pass) he produced a wineglass filled with an even dark yellow beverage with a fruit floating in it. “My gift to you,” he beamed. It was an apple brandy with some sort of fruit called a mispel floating in it, and although the room swam a bit as I drank it, I managed to find Marcus’ extended hand and give it a firm and grateful shake.
I had given myself 2 hours of leeway to make it back to the airport before my flight to Amman at 8:20 PM, but it turned out that this much caution was unnecessary. Like most modern European cities, there is a rail station built underneathe the Flugelhafen (last time I use it, I promise) and I was able to make it from Kanonesteppel to the terminal in under 30 minutes. As I climbed the escalator into the main concourse, I was suddenly surrounded by tweeting, honking, and drumming people covered in protest signs. I thought I had stumbled into a march from Occupy Frankfurt (I had seen their tents assembled as I walked past the sex shops this morning) but it turned out that they were protesting the expansion of Frankfurt Airport due to the massive noise pollution it had created in their small peaceful villages to the southwest of the city. A young woman about my age (with impeccable English, of course) explained the situation to me, and when I mentioned that I wished there was something I could do to help, she smiled and said “anyone from anywhere in the world should make their solidarity known to our government!” When I scratched my name and address down on the piece of paper she extended to me, she noticed my name and said “Your surname is Heise, so you are a German anyway! How wonderful to have a German American stand with us!”
Now, as I sit at gate B20, waiting for the loading to start in 20 minutes, I’m surrounded by the familiar, yet sadly unfamiliar sound of Levantine Arabic. How much have I remembered, versus forgotten? Will my old Zain phone number still work? Will taxi drivers smell blood in the water again like they used to when I first arrived? Most importantly, is the Bu’ab al-Urdan completed yet? I’ll find out very soon.