Walking the Streets

This post was going to be a rant-laden bucket of foaming invective about the failures of the Germany rail network, and the catalogue of first world failures exhibited by the down-market hotel I’m staying in this week. Instead, helped by a couple of glasses of wine and a couple of hours to calm down, I’m going to write about my evening instead. Roll up a chair, get yourself comfortable, and enjoy.

After spending the greater part of the day in an air conditioned glass conference room surrounded by laptops, bullet journals, and projected screens filled with code, workflows, and form designs, I took the lift down to the ground floor and walked out onto sun baked cobblestones – weary, but happy to have chalked another day off the project plan.

Returning to the hotel to get changed, I was somewhat surprised to discover that not only had the house staff changed the bed and cleaned the bathroom – they had also tidied all of my things away (which were already neatly stored) in entirely different locations. I can only now imagine the cleaner as an old lady – set in her ways – that arranges rooms the way she likes wether the guest likes it or not. I smiled after discovering my dirty laundry neatly folded back in my empty case, in the bottom of the wardrobe.

Taking advantage of the sunshine, I immediately set off on foot to explore Frankfurt a little more – passing the bearded hotel receptionist with a wave and a smile. I debated for some moments about eating at a nearby restaurant I have frequented many times before, but something about the long evening shadows and the city called to me, and before I knew it my feet were carrying me into the crowds.

Walking among the tide of people through the city streets is interesting when you have nowhere in particular to go. You wander along, keeping pace with nearby strangers, and see all sorts of things along your way. After leaving the hotel I kicked myself for not having picked up headphones – but a few minutes later realised that music or podcasts might have distracted from seeing, hearing, and smelling the city around me.

I followed a pretty lady with children sitting in the front of a butcher’s bike for quite some distance. Most of the footpaths in the city are half-paved for bicycles. She hardly seemed strong enough to turn the pedals, and the children never lost interest in the world around them. No tablets, books, or phones for them – just wide eyes at the sea of strangers passing this way and that.

A little further on the road opened up into a paved area, and a well known Japanese restaurant chain emerged in the distance. It had been the first restaurant I found when walking the streets during my first visit two years ago. I sat at a free table and smiled as a red shirted waiter made his way to me.

Eating alone can sometimes be very lonely. While sitting at the end of a bench for the next hour, pretending not to watch the couples and co-workers surrounding me, the lonelies stayed far away – no doubt distracted by the two blonde girls that kept looking over at me from the the next bench along. Did I look like somebody? Was there something stuck in my teeth? Was my hair stuck up? I never did find out. I smiled as the waiter persuaded me to add a coffee to the end of my meal, before paying, and setting off on foot once again.

Instead of heading back in the direction of the hotel, I walked in the direction of the tall glass towers throwing long shadows across the city. I have always liked architecture – I know nothing about it – but I’ve always liked it. Minutes later I found myself at the foot of the ten thousand ton monuments to concrete, iron, and glass, surrounded by self important people in suits, or driving past in expensive cars. I wondered if the cars were actually populated by non player characters, but didn’t dare pretty the triangle button to find out.

While walking past a grey haired businessman standing outside the towering glass doors of a marble atrium, I realised how much I like my little life, and wondered what his might be like. In the early evening he seemed to be furiously pacing in a circle in the depths of the city, talking animatedly to somebody somewhere – not on his way home, perhaps with nobody to go home to.

A little further on I crossed a busy intersection, narrowly avoiding a middle aged man with a very neat comb-over, engrossed in his mobile phone. On the other side of the road a glass lined bar filled to the brim with city workers drowned out all nearby traffic noise. Everybody shouted to hear each other, and everybody looked like they had walked from a magazine cover shoot. It was slightly surreal, but somehow expected – I’ve seen similar scenes in the heart of London. Again, it struck me that nobody was heading home.

While skirting another concrete and glass tower, a tall asian girl with impossibly long legs strode past on the way to a gym class – covered head to toe in lycra that revealed a figure that most women would either admire, or start judging themselves about. She turned sharply towards an animated sign for a spinning class, and skipped through the entrance.

Half a mile on the world changed entirely. The contrast was striking. Suddenly I was passing small bars and restaurants filled with couples and families – out for the evening together, meeting up with each other, smiling, laughing, and quietly enjoying each other’s company. It struck me how much more friendly, calm, and relaxed the world had become after turning just a few corners.

Nearing the familiar territory of the central railway station, I decided to take another turn, and descended a flight of stairs towards the subway station. I had vague memories of the underground labyrinth following the line of the main road back towards my hotel, and was proven right. A barely hidden underworld unfolded before me, populated with news stands, fast food restaurants, and independent stores selling everything you could imagine, and quite a few things you could not.

I passed a nigerian man with quite the most impressive dreadlocks I have ever seen arguing with his girlfriend. She was tall, willowy, and really quite beautiful. She was also very, very angry. He looked at the ceiling as she talked quietly and threateningly in his general direction – her eyes burning.

Climbing back towards daylight, I dodged to skirt around a drug user who appeared to be trying to read the newspaper. He was perhaps forty years old, had long blone hair pulled back into a pony-tail, and wore denim from head to toe. As he staggered around holding the newspaper at arms length, it struck me that he might have been a long sighted Marcel Marceau. I still wonder now if he was really on something, or if it was a form of performance art.

Turning the final corner towards my hotel, I passed an asian girl sitting on a stool in the street outside a bar called the “Africa Queen” with her boyfriend. They seemed to be conspiring with each other in guarded tones – laughing, murmuring, and laughing more. I couldn’t help smiling too as I passed – reassured somewhat that there is still a little laughter and happiness in this world.

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