We left Belgium with the motto “we’re finally heading to an affordable country”. We were looking forward to get to ‘our beloved Germany’ – that both of us have visited and know as a precise, affordable, clean and – if not extremely exciting – always nice and worth visiting country. Neither of us had ever visited Frankfurt though.
Frankfurt is quite a particular city. Generally not mentioned in tourist routes, considered as the ‘office and industry’ city of Germany (* italians tend to skip it because of the very famous cartoon Heidi, where a poor lil orphan swiss girl was forced to leave her chalet up in the Alps and move to the “grey and depressing” city of Frankfurt to “live in a concrete cubicle” with a tyrannic nanny), this city is a gem – unknown to most commercial tourists, and as such we like it. Approaching it by road you are immediately surprised by its skyline: in a huge plain, surrounded by a crown of hills, lies the city with its many skyscrapers and iron bridges (ok, you start thinking will it look like an american city like Pittsburgh?). Getting closer you start seeing medieval domes and cathedrals (like a belgian town, let’s say Gent). Entering the city by car you end up facing the many mooring docks for river boats (à la Amsterdam or Budapest maybe?) and when you finally walk into it, you end up in an ancient district with timber roof houses from 1290 and cider parlours (this very Deutsch indeed).
My German is quite rusty but I still feel like people are very kind to me, just because I’m making an effort to speak their language. Anyway this is the city of the Central European Bank, so they are quite used to foreigners, probably not of the tourist type. Actually I’d say most tourists are Germans. The peripheral part of the city is quite anonymous, some German-styled little houses, shops along the main streets, ubiquitous trams – normal stuff. When you approach the centre, though, things change radically and you can see the two souls of the city. In a very nice mix of antique and new (what is still a ‘work in progress’ for cities like London or Milan, for example) you will find bank skyscrapers and amazing old buildings, like the Rathaus in Römerplatz, or the shade of the Deutsche Bank twin towers projecting on the neoclassic Opera.
Alongside the heart of the city, lies an alley filled with food kiosks ending in a square – guess what? – filled with food kiosks. Seems like there are food kiosks everywhere. Ok, we might have been just lucky finding the Italo-Deusch week *and* the gassfress fest at once, but even far from those events, food (and beer) kiosks are flourishing with scents and colours – giving you the impression that the primary concern of Germans is wurst. In wurst we trust.
Despite its skyscrapers, Frankfurt is still quite balanced between concrete/glass and green areas, with trees along the main pedestrian streets and a large green area by the riverside. The riverside itself comes to life in the evening, when hundreds of young people populate it with beer and wine bottles(1). The iron bridges get illuminated, and – apart from the mosquitoes – the atmosphere is unexpectedly romantic and relaxed. And despite being in the Western country by definition, prices are ‘moderate’ – 4€ for a beer on a boat moored by the riverside are definitely affordable.
But now is time to move away, the border between West and East is close, and it’s time to go where our savings are worth more money than where they have been produced!
(1) Germans are quite strange about recycling. From one side, they have the very nice and environmentally responsible system of pfand – you take aluminium cans and bottles back to the supermarket and they refund you the value of it, even 25-30 euro-cents per piece. On the other side, when you walk through a park, you’ll find in the grass millions of caps of bottles, because there’s no recycling for those!