4.12.2012

Frankfurt: Home of Zee Smirk

Pop Quiz
Question: What do you do during a seven-hour layover?
Answer: Get on a train, duh.


Monday afternoon I boarded a Lufthansa flight from Chicago to Frankfurt. Eight hours in the air passed rather quickly, and with not much more than a short nap, because I was seated next to a rather chatty guy. I hardly ever made eye contact with seat mates in the past but being away from your home and your community for so long can be rather isolating if you refuse to talk to strangers. So, throw elementary school caution to the wind!


We touched down in Frankfurt ahead of schedule, at about 5:45 am local time. Great. Early. Just what I needed with a layover that was already scheduled at 6.5 hours long. Somewhere over the Atlantic I had resolved to break out of the airport to burn some daylight while I waited for the Mumbai flight. It appeared I would now have even more time to use up and precisely during the hours I would typically be asleep back in Chicago. Challenge accepted.


The airport was creepily empty and I soon felt like I was in a bad made-for-TV movie. It took me about 40 minutes to locate a full exit and not just a terminal-to-terminal security pass. The guy in Customs gave me a classic German smirk when I proclaimed I was planning to stay in Germany but six hours and wanted to go see the sights!


“Zee shops are closed and do not open unteel eight ohhr nine zho I don’t know vaht you ahhr going to doo. But eeef you vahnt to, go ahead.” Smirk.

Yes, I do want to, thankyouverymuch.

Anyway, I bought an all-day Frankfurt train ticket for eight Euros and this turned out to be a completely unnecessary purchase. Never once did I encounter a turnstile or ticket taker. Aren’t the Germans supposed to be pretty strong when it comes to money matters?


Fifteen minutes later I had the airport behind me and the city center of Frankfurt just at the top of the station stairs. And what a charming town it is! A pleasant mix of old and new.
I wandered around on a pedestrian mall for a bit and eventually found myself standing in front of the opera hall.


Lots of commuters zoomed past on bikes or on foot.


Did you know that people in Frankfurt do not jaywalk or so much as preemptively cross the street? No, no, we wait for the little green man to appear before marching ahead, empty streets be damned.

Within a half hour or so I stopped into one of the many cafes on the mall and picked up a proper European cappuccino and a German strudel cake for breakfast. Minor discontent occurred when I spotted the cherry variety, politely pointed to it (I don’t speak German, they don’t speak English) and was told by the business man next to me:

“Yah, zaht is zee cherry tahhrt but you cannot have eet becauz I have taken zem all.” Smirk.

Well, okay then. I’ll take the apfel.

Coffee and apfel cake consumed, I marched back out to the streets and window shopped for a bit more.


Ultimately, I found myself in Frankfurt’s version of Harrod’s, complete with a splendid food hall in the basement. Seriously, if our grocery stores smelled half as good as this place did I might be inclined to gather and forage more often. For fear of looking like a weird American I didn’t snap pictures of the hordes of adults snatching up the discounted Easter candy, or the droves of little old ladies out doing their daily shopping, or the bent over old men trolling the liquor aisles. No, all I got was a snapshot of the candy rack, proclaimed to be “Fantastick.”





The train back to the airport was quick, easy, and reliable enough that this Frankfurt newbie got off a few stops early just to take pictures of the surrounding countryside. I spotted this little village on the way into the city and committed myself to stopping off just to take some pictures of it.

How cute are the tulips that match the flag? Those Germans, so precise.




Also, can we talk about the operable windows on a multi-story office building? Tuesday morning it was a delightful, crisp 55*F and office towers everywhere had their windows cracked for some fresh air. One of these days we’re going to learn from this.

Then there was this big glass building that caught my eye because of the very visible staircase, which drew your eye right up to the company logo, which happened to look just like the staircase it sat atop. Well played, Mr./Ms. Architect. At least the all-glass fa├žade got used for something other than "it looks cool." (Sidebar: I just looked up what this company is and it turns out they are a big investment bank in Germany. One might make the case that their building elevation with the visible stair looks like a rising bar graph, the kind you want to see when talking about your portfolio returns. See, architecture is neat!)



I caught the next train, which arrived 12 minutes later and exactly as promised, to head back to the airport. With only an hour and a half left to use up before heading south, I plopped down in the Lufthansa club, partook in my last continental meal, and called this little side trip a success.

Before I wrap this up, it’s time to introduce a new little series to the India posts, one in which we highlight places where I take my coworker on a stick, not unlike what they did in Up in the Air. I’m calling this “R on the road.”

R has traveled the world with various coworkers as part of a tradition that started years ago when he kept canceling vacations due to deadlines. Through the magic of bad photography and wrinkled cardstock, R gets to see the sights while completing all those drawings and submittals. Cool beans! And R, my apologies for wrinkling the cardstock in such a way as to make you look like you’ve got a double chin. Blame it on cramped overhead storage. (Smirk)

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