January 2, 2007

The morning after

For the first New Year’s in many years I awoke before noon and without a hangover. By 9:00 am, Kevin and I were already on our third cup of coffee and fifth helping of bread and jam and deep into conversation with Frau Krauss, the proprietress of our hotel, Pension Aller. [I love the socialist overtones of the hotel’s name and address; Pension Aller on Gutleutstraße translates roughly: “Hotel for Everyone” on “Good People Street”.]

I booked the hotel based on a recommendation I found on-line that described Frau Krauss, who has lived there for over 60 years, as the pension’s main attraction, and she did not disappoint. Once she learned I was from Arkansas, she regaled me with stories of her acquaintance with Sen. Fulbright, her introductions to other American heads of state (she met JFK just weeks before his death), and her opinions of those she has not met (unsurprisingly, she’s not a fan of Bush).

After breakfast, we toured Frankfurt again, encountering the remnants of last night’s celebrations and hardly another soul on the street. In the daylight we could see that Frankfurt is very much like Boston: Both are the historical intellectual centers of their countries (Boston had Emerson and Thoreau, Frankfurt had Goethe and Schiller); both now cater to white-collar industries (Boston has bio-tech, Frankfurt has finance); and despite a very international mix of more 600,000 inhabitants, both seem a little sleepy and parochial.

Of course, while Boston may be America’s most historic city, just about every building in Frankfurt’s Altstadt (old city) predates it by several hundred years. For instance, Kevin and I had dinner today at a tiny little 15th century Biergarten in the Römerplatz, Frankfurt’s old town square. The restaurant consisted of a single narrow room with dark paneled walls covered with old beer steins, pewter plates, and what I assume, by their illegible Gothic lettering, are ancient German advertisements. The place had such an air of history about it, you half expected Martin Luther to sit down beside you and order up a schweinschnitzel, a deep-fried pork patty (which, incidently, is what I ordered – and for the last time. As a Southerner I may have a high tolerance for fried food, but schnitzel is even too salty and deep-fried for me).

Before calling it a day, Kevin and I visited the Hauptbahnhof (main train station), where I finally put my German skills to some use. By speaking to the ticket sellers in a mix of German and English with dash of pantomime, I managed to book us two tickets to Würzburg for the next afternoon and buy myself a monthly commuter pass for my daily trip to and from Frankfurt. Not too shabby. But for the life of me I could not figure out how to purchase a subway ticket so that Kevin and I could do a practice-run of the route to my German school, where I had to arrive by 8:30 the next morning. Now, I had heard the Germans were an efficient and organized people, but after taking one look at the menu options for purchasing a subway fare, I’ve decided that reputation is unwarranted. There is nothing efficient or organized about this:

And to think, in Boston, you just buy one ticket for $1.25 and you can go anywhere in the city. Needless to say, Kevin and I have decided to take a cab to German school tomorrow.

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