Wednesday in Frankfurt


This morning began with the wail of a fire alarm in the hotel at 6am. Given that I only fell asleep at 2am following a snap decision to listen to “Chess in Concert” at midnight, I imagine today will be sponsored by caffeine, coffee shops, and tall cups of cappuccino. I’m sitting in Starbucks opposite the main railway station in central Frankfurt typing this.

This is the second time I’ve been staying in a hotel when a fire alarm has gone off in the night. The first time was many years ago – perhaps the strongest memory was one of the reception staff leaving her room ahead of me in the corridor, dressing herself as she ran. No, it was not a travelling strip-show in reverse, in case you were wondering – it was all very above board, panicked, and bleary eyed.

After watching a fire engine arrive – remarkably quickly – and the crew run into the hotel to do their job, the alarms silenced and we all trudged back to our rooms. Perhaps 500 of us. Mercifully the rain that had been falling all night paused for the duration of our stay on the pavement – somewhat fortuitously, because I picked up a warm sweater, but no coat. I did think to grab my passport, wallet, and phone, but not my work computer. I wondered if that was telling while shuffling around outside among everybody else. How do we make our choices in an emergency?

I have no doubt the fire alarm was tripped by some idiot smoking pot in their hotel room. I can’t imagine they would have felt any remorse either – people that cause difficulty for others rarely see outside their miopic bubble.

So. This morning I have taken a different route to the office. As mentioned at the start, I’m sitting in Starbucks opposite the central railway station, about fifteen minutes on foot from the office. I’ll give myself twenty to get there. While wandering along the main street towards the city I stopped at a supermarket and bought lunch. The longer I spend here, the more brand names I learn, and the more easily I’m reading the language. The letter combinations are so markedly different from English that I cannot read by inspection – I’m having to read words twice to really take in the letters, and form the sounds in my head. I’m slow, but I’m getting faster each day.

While walking through the steady rain this morning I realised once again how much value there is in walking the streets of a foreign city. There is so much to take in – the signs, the brand names, the road markings, the people – the behaviour of the people. A girl with red highlights in her hair passed me in a business suit while appoaching a road junction – she smiled. I wondered where she was going – what she did for a living.

I need to shut this down for the moment. I have to drink half a cup of coffee, and then make a move. Places to go. People to see. Hours to keep up the pretence of being clever.

Somewhere in the region of eleven hours pass.

I’m sitting in the hotel room on my own once more. The day went well. Another day ticked off. Another day closer to going home. While climbing the stairs to the fourth floor in the hotel this evening it occurred to me that I crossed the line today between it being fun, exciting, and interesting, to it being a slog, and somewhat lonely.

On the evening I arrived I unpacked clothes into neat piles in the room, and have been packing them back into the bag each day as I wear them. I had one extra of most things, in case some kind of disaster befell me – I always do, and it never has (touch wood). While working on-site I tend to wear exactly the same things each day – khaki trousers (which will last three days), and a clean white shirt, socks, and underwear each day – all identical. Some might say it borders on obsessive compulsive, and it probably is a little, but it works, and makes life simple. I don’t have to choose. On evenings I wear jeans, and have a clean t-shirt for each night. The t-shirts are different.

In-between writing I’m sipping orange juice bought from the supermarket down the road. The supermarket is called “Rewe”, and seems to have branches open throughout the city, dotted here, there, and everywhere. It’s much like supermarkets at home, except there is no self-checkout, and there is an entire side of the building devoted to dairy products. I’ve never seen so many different types of milk – it doesn’t help that I can’t read the labels. For all I know, the Germans may well talk about milk in the same way the French talk about wine – “Oh, I’ll have an Alpine full cream, September 2017 please” or rather “Oh, ich werde eine Alpine volle Sahne haben, September 2017 bitte” (thank-you Google Translate).

While writing this, two German gentlemen are having a discussion in the next room, and I can hear almost every word of it. Given that I’ve not heard a word so far this week, I’m wondering what on earth is going on. They are probably catching up on what each-other’s families have been up to – but given the naturally more agressive delivery of German, they could well be having a massive argument. Instead of “We took the children to the coast this summer”, they could well be shouting “You can stick that chair right up your arse”.

Anyway. Enough rambling on about nothing in particular. I’m not bored, honest.

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