Thursday, December 28, 2006

Frankfurt am Main

Tower at Night, Frankfurt a/MMy European life and sensibilities have always to some extent orbited around Frankfurt am Main. On my first trip to Europe in 1991, I had a layover at the airport before heading further east. While waiting for my flight, I called my friend Sascha whom I knew from our East Texas community college band days and who was from this city on the Main River. I'll write more about Sascha later.

Old Town Half-Timber Bldg., Frankfurt a/MWhen I actually moved to Europe to conduct research for my thesis in 1995, I flew to Frankfurt to begin my six-month excursion. Sascha was working in Köln at the time, so I was entirely lost on my own in this strange city that reminded me so much of my own Dallas--boxy glass skyscrapers and all--but remained totally alien to me. The armed guards at the airport I expected from my first time there. And after getting into the city by train carrying a huge backpack, a duffle bag full of books, and a couple of smaller bags, I walked across the street from the main train station--Hauptbahnhof would become one of the first words of German I learned--and checked into the first hotel that looked acceptable. It was run by some Russians who seemed quite confused that I intended to spend the night. The entire night. My experience at the front desk made much more sense after the sun set: the entire neighborhood literally turned on red lights that because of jetlag I ended up staring at all night; that is, when I wasn't watching the guys on the street below get high. The next day I checked into a youth hostel. After a few days of visiting the museums that dotted the south bank of the river, the zoo, and Jonathan Borofsky's Hammering Man in what seemed to be the business district, I left Frankfurt and took the day train on to Prague.

Christmas on Ziel Street, Frankfurt a/MThe following March I retraced my journey back to Frankfurt, hoping that I would get to see Sascha this time. I finally got a hold of him. He invited me to crash at his place for the night, and we went to the Frankfurt Music Fair because he had passes because of his job. I really can't remember now if I spent one or two nights hanging out with him and his girlfriend Ilka, and he doesn't remember either. Regardless, I do remember that he introduced me to Vietnamese food, and he even taught me how to use chopsticks. It became a bit of a joke later when I would come home to Texas while I was teaching in Japan and people would ask me about eating with chopsticks. Replying that I learned to use them in Germany always threw them off.

Christmas at Old Town, Frankfurt a/MWhen my contract in Japan ended in 1999, I intended to move indefinitely to Europe. My friend Ezawa-sensei, whom I was helping translate some English short stories into Japanese, insisted on helping me make my travel arrangements to leave Japan. I asked him to reserve me a ticket to anywhere in Europe--the cheapest ticket--and I would train to Poland from there (I was going to spend about six weeks in Lublin before making more definite plans). My one-way ticket was to Frankfurt. This time, I knew exactly how to get into the city from the airport and where to find a decent hotel that didn't have hourly rates. I felt entirely spoiled sleeping in a human-sized bed and bathing in a human-sized shower after leaving Japan! I spent a few glorious and relaxing days rediscovering the city before heading out east. It was really my first summer in Western Europe and one of the few times I had a pocket full of freshly converted yen.

On this last trip, we went into Frankfurt a couple of times. We trekked along the shops of Ziel Street and spent a few crowded hours checking out the winter market in the Old Town. We also spent a few hours in the bizarrely constructed Museum of Modern Art.

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