In spring this year I was assigned to a project that involved travelling to Frankfurt in Germany to spend several days on a client site doing “proof of concept” work. I had never been to Germany before, didn’t speak a word of the language (outside of comedy phrases learned from TV shows), and certainly couldn’t read or write any German what-so-ever. I also hadn’t been through an airport, or flown on an aircraft in years.
I wrote at the time about my various adventures – everything was new, and rather strange. Visiting the supermarket became an adventure. Finding places to eat became a trial by fire. Walking the city streets, camera in hand, because an escape.
I discovered that the Germany people are polite, funny, warm, and charming. I also discovered that Frankfurt is much quieter than London, and much cleaner. Having only really known the mayhem of London, being able to sit down on a rush-hour train was something of a novelty.
Throughout the year I visited three times – staying in hotels twice, and in a hostel perhaps a mile from the city center. While the hostel was more basic, it’s location also forced me to explore a little more – I discovered Turkish and Chinese restaurants, and all manner of small supermarkets built to service the non-existent army of office workers.
Perhaps the most inexplicable puzzle was the lack of coffee shops. While travelling around England with work I invariably arrive on-site an hour early, and sit in a coffee shop gathering my thoughts. They don’t seem to exist in Germany. One morning I took it upon myself to find the legendary Starbucks in central Frankfurt (well – legendary to me), and sat almost alone with a cappuccino at 8 in the morning.
It turns out the people I worked with while visiting Germany thought I did quite a good job. A conference call yesterday morning served as the first step towards many more visits. After visiting for three days, another three days, and another three days over the least year, an order arrived this week for over a hundred days throughout next year. My chin probably hit the desk with an audible clunk.
I suppose it’s time to learn a few more words of the language. Time to find a few more places to eat. Time to make a few friends in the city perhaps. How do you even go about making friends in a place you only visit for a few days now and again?
It’s funny though – actually spending time in a place. You see the photo of the central railway station accompanying this post? What the photo doesn’t tell you is the experience on the ground. To the right of the entrance, somebody painted the car parking spaces across the kerb-stones of the pavement. Drunks hang out around that area. The low buildings on either side of the central arch cover the passenger food and drink halls – filled with coffee shops, and various food outlets. Down in the far corner of the station there is a McDonalds – I laughed when I saw it. Directly across the road from the station entrance there is a small Starbucks, usually filled with international travellers. The train platforms within the station are huge – stretching on for the better part of half a mile. I’m guessing the trains that travel out across mainland Europe would be long though, right ? The entire place is pristine – clean – organised – far removed from the bustling stations I’m used to in London.
Maybe in the new year I should concentrate on the small things, rather than the big things. I see so many blog posts about “how to live your life”, and very few about “this thing I noticed on my travels – isn’t it interesting”. I know which I would rather be remembered for.