Okay, I probably should be a little clearer in that while Frankfurt is a gateway into Europe it isn’t the only gateway (the first time I landed up in the old world I entered through Heathrow, and Charles de Gaulle airport is also an option, if you are travelling through Singapore that is – I believe that you can arrive at quite a few airports if you fly one of the UAE airlines, though I’m told that you can find that they have shuffled you off your seat at the last minute which can be really annoying if you are like me and prefer a window seat). Even though I have entered Europe through Heathrow once, the last couple of times I came in through Frankfurt namely because I wanted some practice with my German and Frankfurt is pretty central (and is also a four-hour high-speed train journey from Amsterdam).
Actually, the last time I was in Europe in 2013 I really only stopped off here for a day and had a quick wander around (and didn’t actually go into any place other than a few bars and the U-bahn, though the hotel that I stayed at did give me a free train ticket to use while I was here). This time, however, I decided that I was going to stay a few more days, if only to actually get a much better feel for the city, despite the fact that I did end up staying at a hotel across the road from the railway station, which as it turns out is probably one of the sleazier parts of the city (there were a few undesirables floating around here, including some girls that seem to target vulnerable people, which I have to admit indicates a rather special kind of dispicableness about the person). Actually, one of the roads that heads away from the railway station – Tannaustrasse – happens to be where the clip joints and the eros buildings are located, and I wouldn’t recommend wandering down that street, especially if you don’t like people trying to drag you into bars where you can meet ‘pretty women’ (and unfortunately the ‘je ne comprehend pas’ generally doesn’t work on them).
Before I continue though, here is a map of Frankfurt courtesy of Google Maps.
Actually, my first thoughts probably drift all the way back to 2011, when I decided that I didn’t want to catch the train to Paris from Amsterdam that went through Belgium (namely because our Eurail pass didn’t include Belgium, though I since discovered that The Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg are counted as a single block), so decided to travel via Frankfurt. Mind you, it turned out that we had to pay a premium to catch the train to Paris anyway because the French high-speed trains all have reserved seating, something that the German high-speed trains don’t have (though I also discovered that they can get a little crowded, which means you end up sitting on the floor). So, when we arrived in Frankfurt back in 2011 we dumped out bags in some lockers and went for a quick wander around the city and pretty much didn’t really see anything, with the exception of the river and the inside of a pub.
When I returned in 2013 it was only for a little over twenty-four hours, and was also pretty much a spur of the moment decision. Originally I was going to spend the time in Hong Kong but then I had this bright idea that I really wanted to see Les Miserables (namely because I had recently seen the movie, and the multitude of posters that I saw on the London Underground back in 2011 had implanted the desire to see the musical into my head), and felt that if I didn’t see it then, I would never get to see it. So I decided to book a flight to London, via Frankfurt, to practise my German, and then travel to Amsterdam because, well, it happens to be Amsterdam.
So, this time I had a bit more time to wander around to explore Frankfurt, especially since the plane arrived at something like 7:00 in the morning (or even earlier because I remember it was still dark when we were coming in to land). This also meant that I had the entire day to explore the city before I had to catch the train to Amsterdam the next day. Even then I was only in Amsterdam for one night because I then caught the train back to Frankfurt to then fly to England – the main reason I did that was so that I could go for a ride on the ICE, which I discovered travels at around 300 kph between Frankfurt and Cologne (though I’m not sure if it actually reached that speed when I was on it this time, but still, it was travelling pretty fast). Anyway, here is a video (not mine) of the ICE:
The thing was that the second time I was in Frankfurt I didn’t actually see anything other than, as mentioned, a couple of bars, the Romerplatz, and some pretty tall buildings, but then again I didn’t actually make any effort to find out what was in Frankfurt to see (and despite the fact that I had very little sleep that night, namely because I was sitting on a plane travelling from Hong Kong – actually come to think of it I believe I did have a decent sleep because I kept on trying, and failing, to watch Cloud Atlas), I didn’t end up getting to sleep until around about midnight. However, this time, at least before I left, I made an effort to find out what there actually was to see and do in Frankfurt so that my trip was a little bit more than a simple excuse to practice my German.
Okay, maybe not everybody’s first experience of Europe is an airport, but it certainly has been the case where I’m concerned. Actually, this day and age, if you are travelling from anywhere outside of the continent you’ll probably land up in an airport, particularly since I suspect boats don’t actually do the trans-Atlantic journey anymore, and if they do it is more of a luxury service than anything else. As for coming from Australia, or even Asia, unless you are travelling by the Trans-siberian Railway, the only way to get into Europe is by plane (though once again I’m sure there are ships that make the trip, but once again you are probably going to be up for a lot of money, and also need an awful lot of time to actually make the trek).
As a side note, the plane that took us to Frankfurt this time was actually travelling to New York and only stopping off in Frankfurt to refuel (though there was no doubt a number of us were leaving the plane at Frankfurt). However, upon discovering this made me realise just how far away the United States actually is if you get to the United States by going through Europe. However, apparently it is only five hours to New York from Frankfurt, which is the same amount of time it takes to fly to Perth from Sydney, whereas it is a twelve hour flight from Singapore to Frankfurt (or is it Singapore to Heathrow – it might be a little shorter to Frankfurt).
Actually, we had a little problem on this flight, namely one of the heat sinks blew after the plane had taken off and we ended up flying in circles for about two hours. Mind you this annoyed me somewhat because I had planned to arrive in Frankfurt at about 7:00 am and had my whole day set out. Actually, I had my entire day set out from when I got up in the morning to when I went to bed and included not only the museums and other sites that I wanted to visit but also a list of all the bars that I was planning on having a drink at as well. Mind you, I ended up dumping the lists – well, not really, but I decided that I really didn’t want to visit half the places that I had flagged to visit, and I did end up getting a bit sick of visiting bars after a while. However, just so you know how detailed my itinerary was, here is a picture of a couple of pages:
Anyway, the plane flew around in a circle for about two hours before they decided that they couldn’t actually fix the problem while they were in the air, and decided to land. However, they had a tank full of fuel, and apparently you can’t land a plane with a tank full of fuel, so they had to spend another hour dumping it (which had the effect of horrifying me, not just because I thought I would end up missing out on half the things I wanted to see in Frankfurt, but also because of the environment). Anyway, the plane landed, and another hour past before we were ready to take off again, and by about five o’clock in the morning we were once again in the air, and finally arrived in Frankfurt at 12:00 midday (I was keeping track of the time by the way).
Well, I guess I should make mention of the airport, but in reality it is basically a pretty big international airport. Mind you, when I arrived I discovered that the Germans seem to have an aversion to credit cards – I went to the O2 store to get a simcard and was rather rudely told that they only accept cash. That was a bit of a surprise, particularly in an airport. Fortunately I had a second phone with a travelsim in it, so I did have internet access (though that travelsim ended up running out of credit after a couple of weeks, and I suddenly discovered that I didn’t have the ability to top it up again – when meant that the phone it was in pretty much became useless – okay, I could have got another sim, but I didn’t bother).
Sleeping at the Savoy
Like the other cities that will be writing about, I won’t be going into any details about some of the specific places I visited in Frankfurt, namely because I will be writing a more detailed post on them. However, I did end up getting to see everything that I wanted to see while I was in Frankfurt, and some more (such as the Caricature Museum). Okay, I didn’t end up visiting all of the bars that I wanted to visit namely because I would get to a point where I wanted to get back to the hotel and sort out the stuff that I had already compiled over the day. I did have a notebook with me that I used to take notes on all of the places that I visited, though I am sort of wandering if I will be able to find the entries when I come to post them up on Yelp.
However, as I mentioned, even though we didn’t end up at our hotel until 2:00 pm, I did get an opportunity to wander around the city, and visit some of the places I wanted to visit, despite the fact that when I arrived at the hotel that I had booked months in advance I discovered that they hadn’t actually received the booking – which was really annoying because the platform I used was supposed to be a purely online platform (Webjet), which meant that when I booked the hotel the booking should have been made and secured. As it turns out they still needed somebody to manually make the booking, and they had forgotten to do it, so after a rather frustrating discussion, which required me to make an international phone call, the booking was finally put through. Mind you, this wasn’t the last problem I was going to have with Webjet, as you will discover in due course.
The next delay involved locating a simcard, and after the rather annoying encounter at the airport, I made my way to the shopping mall, only to discover that the first place I walked into didn’t do pre-paid sim cards. Fortunately I found a place (Vodafone), that did do prepaid, and not only that but the salesperson gave me some handy tips on surviving in Germany – Cash is King. For some bizarre reason the Germans simply do not like EFTPOS or Visa transactions – many of the places only take cash. This meant that I had to make sure I always had cash on me. Actually, the other really annoying thing was that their autotellers (Geldautomats) don’t print receipts either. Actually that goes from being a little annoying to really annoying, but I ended up dealing with it.
So, now that I had a sim card, which meant that I had access to the internet (namely Facebook, Yelp, and Google Maps), I could then start crossing some things off my itinerary. Mind you, some places simply involved walking in, looking around, and walking back out again – one of those places being the Romerplatz, though that is basically a town square so there is not all that much wondering around here. Actually, the Romerplatz isn’t the only square, it is just the really touristy one (though I had since discovered that this actually isn’t the original, namely because the Allied bombers did a pretty good job on the city during the war).
Trains and Trams
I seem to be getting a little ahead of myself here because the first place that I arrived at after leading the airport was the railway station. Actually, getting a ticket for the train was quite annoying at first, namely because the train was advertised as the S-Bahn, however the only ticket machine that I could see was one of the Deutsche Bahn ticket machines – I wanted a ticket for the Frankfurt trains, not the regional or even national trains. Actually, as it turns out, Deutsche Bahn operates the suburban trains in Frankfurt, which means that you buy your ticket at the Deutsche Bahn ticket machines (I can’t actually remember where we purchased our tickets for the trams and the subways – though I believe that there was a ticket machine around there somewhere).
My first thought when I got off the train at the Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof was that it reminded me a lot of Southern Cross Railway Station in Melbourne. I guess the reason for that is that Southern Cross is where all of the regional and interstate trains terminate, but all of the metropolitan trains pass through here as well. The problem with the Frankfurt station is that it can get a little confusing. Sure, a number of trains terminate at the station, but a number of them pass straight through as well, usually from the platforms underground (it appears that Frankfurt has its own city loop as well, though none of the trains I caught went around it). Also, one of the U-bahns passes through here (actually, I believe it is two lines, but that is beside the point) and sort of crosses the city from east to west. There is also quite a large underground shopping mall which I ended up getting lost in a couple of times as I wandered through here – wandering around underground does have an annoying habit of disorientating you at times. Anyway here is a map of the station that I found on the internet.
The other thing that I noticed about Frankfurt, or at least about the public transport, was that the trams seemed to be operating throughout the night. I remember waking up at 4:00 am, because that is what you do when you are hit with jetlag, and hearing trams trundling past the railway station, and picking up and setting down passengers. Actually, I also remember that despite all the trams on the road, nobody seemed to be doing hook turns. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that Australians simply can’t drive (or it could also be that nobody actually drives in the centre of Frankfurt, though from what I remember there were a reasonable amount of cars passing through the inner city).
Since my brother isn’t a big fan of heights, we didn’t end up going up one of the numerous buildings that seem to be around the place. Mind you, unlike many of the European Cities that I have visited, Frankfurt does have a fair number of high-rises, but that probably has a lot to do with the old city pretty much being flattened during the war. Actually, it could also have something to do with the idea of preserving a city’s heritage didn’t really come about until the 20th century, and up until that time people simply went around knocking down buildings willy-nilly. Actually, it looks as if some of the buildings were specifically rebuilt in an attempt to preserve the cultural heritage of the city, though from what I could see from Frankfurt is that the city seems to be a mish mash of old and new, both historic and modern. While the Romerplatz has attempted to recreate the old market square, a short walk to the north brings you to what is essentially a modern shopping centre (as well as a number of highrises, which included the European Central Bank).
Anyway, after visiting the Romerplatz (which didn’t take all that long mind you), we then made our way towards the Romerdom, or the Frankfurt Cathedral. However, it turned out that getting to the Dom was a little tricky, namely because of a heap of construction that was going on in the area. Also, as we made our way through the station, I also noticed a number of advertisements for a couple of art museums there – in fact it seems that Frankfurt has a fair number of art museums, though I suspect the one that was advertising itself as “Kunst fur Alles” (art for everybody), was more of a contemporary art museum (though the Stadel also had its fair share of contemporary art). Well, it seemed like that along with the Frankfurt Museum, the Archeology Musuem, and the Caricature Museum, I also had this other museum to visit (which is actually called the Schirn Kunsthalle, and is Frankfurt’s major gallery for temporary exhibitions), though I ended up not having anywhere near enough time to go to that one as well (though when I went to the Caricature Museum, I was told to come back in fifteen minutes because I would then be able to get in there for half price).
Well, once again I seem to have drifted off a bit, particularly since it was my intention to say something about the Dom (which is German for Cathedral). Actually, there probably isn’t all that much to say about the cathedral, other than that it was pretty small. In fact, compared to a lot of the other cathedrals that I had visited, this one was comparatively tiny. Sure, like a lot of the other Cathedrals, there was a fair amount of religious art on display, though sometimes I wonder whether these pieces of religious art are simply there for visitors or if they are actually used (from what I can tell the altar pieces are supposed to be closed when not in use during a service, though these days it seems that they are perpetually left open). What did stand out in here were the number of wood carvings (okay, three that I noticed), and the intricate detail and effort that went into creating them. Sometimes I wonder if the amount of effort that went into creating some of this artwork actually went into doing good for people whether the world would be a much, much better place.
A part of me wants to suddenly jump in and start talking about some of the art that I saw in the Dom, but I am going to leave that for another time. However, like many of the cathedrals (though not all of them) the Frankfurter Dom also has a museum attached to it. Actually, the museum is split into two parts, with one part in the cathedral and the other half on the other side of the road. Mind you, the museum wasn’t really all that exciting namely because all it happened to contain were a bunch of items that used to be in the cathedral, but had been replaced by other things, so ended up in the museum because, well, they can’t really throw them out (or sell them), and they did want them on displays, it is just that as there was no room in the cathedral they might as well put it in a museum and charge people admittance. Oh, they also had the priest’s clothes in there as well, though these vestments are probably pretty old.
I was going to write something about our trek over the Main to South Frankfurt, but I have to admit that here didn’t seem to be all that much to actually write about in South Frankfurt. Okay, I did catch the train to Schweizerplatz, and did take a couple of videos of trams passing through there (though it wasn’t the first time I did that because I also did that the last time I was in Frankfurt). I also discovered the frustrations of actually finding a place to have some breakfast, though the thing is that a German Breakfast and an English Breakfast are actually two completely different things, so I discovered (no bacon and eggs unfortunately, and the definition of a big breakfast certainly didn’t match up with what I considered to be a big breakfast).
Actually, now that I come to think of it, half the reason I went over to the south side of the Main was that I wanted to see what hipsterville looked like in Frankfurt, and I had this bizarre idea that I would find it here. Well, I’m not really all that sure if I can call it hipsterville, though there were a number of coffee shops floating around, and a couple of bars. However the hipster feel didn’t seem to exist here – south Frankfurt seemed to be a place that was oozing more money as opposed to hipsters. The other thing about South Frankfurt is that there are a number of museums running along the bank of the Main (though I had no idea of their existence before I started working out where I was going to go and what I was going to do once I got there). In fact there seems to be a museum related to almost everything in that part of the city, though we ended up only visiting the art museum, the sculpture museum, the film museum, and the telecommunications museum (all of which I will write about in an upcoming post).
However, before I finish off, here is a video of a tram passing through Schweizerplatz):
And this really, really cool tower called Eschenheimer Tor.