When traveling back home, I am lucky to have a few airport options I can land at. They can also make for greater confusion (more options tend to do that), but Luxembourg and Duesseldorf are the closest in proximity with 1 to 1 ½ hour driving distance away. Of course I can also deal with the beast of Frankfurt International airport. And usually the best deals in out of Germany do indeed involve FRA. It is a 2 ½ hour drive from my parent’s home – which is always my first destination on these trips. While 2 ½ hours does not seem extraordinarily long in terms of the US and its distances, it is quite a ways for Europeans. Especially when you consider traffic jams, exorbitant gas rates, and other factors. So I really do appreciate the patience and time both of my parents have taken and took this time to pick me up and drop me off again.
After my almost 12-hour-travel (I had a stopover of 1 ½ hours in Iceland), I was unusually hungry and had almost not slept at all. So instead of stopping in one of the smaller towns on our way back, such as Koblenz or Trier, I asked my father to check out the Altstadt (old city) of Frankfurt instead, so that I could get my food fix.
Now, Frankfurt as a German business and banking capital is also considered one of the ugliest cities in the country. Below are a few impressions I had accumulated to that date:
1) I remember searching for a club here once when I was 20 years old and studying in a city nearby. I ended up getting lost in little industria together with a majorly frustrated group of friends. Needless to say, we didn’t do a ton of sightseeing at 1 o’clock in the morning.
2) I also remember going to the Frankfurt Book Fair when I was a child and teenager, as this is one of the biggest book fairs in the world. But since this is not really located in a central spot, we never actually strolled around the city afterwards.
So while sitting in the car, I was a bit reserved in terms of what to expect from this very dubious city. But pretty much as soon as we parked and went to the pedestrian zone (Fussgängerzone) all my doubts disappeared. I discovered that Frankfurt is actually not as ugly as people make it out to be. Instead, its main shopping area reminded me much of Cologne and also Berlin. Of course these are not the most beautiful cities in Germany either, but I wouldn’t consider them hideous, necessarily. The cobble-stoned middle part split wide open and had room for tons of people, who were miraculously strolling through this part of town on a Monday noon.
Aside from the high amount of people, I was also struck by the wide entertainment offered in the Frankfurter inner city. I saw a balloon guy and some costumed fellas walking a few minutes apart and was just waiting for the cotton candy guy to appear. It sort of reminded me of Disneyland or Times Square, but you usually don’t see these kitschy figures in a German city (on a weekday).
After shopping around some stores and deciding on some super cheap 10 Euro kickoffs of Converse shoes, we ended up at a restaurant indoors. Although it was nice outside, we figured that service would be faster inside and indeed, we were served within a few moments of taking a seat. Our server was excellent and brought our food in a superbly fast manner. Ironically, I ordered cauliflower soup and Flammkuchen (dishes I had been devouring at German restaurants in NY previously). My father had gone with a baked fish in salad and that was about as equally good, even though I was simply not in the mood for fish. I’d say the soup was solid and the flatbread was amazingly fresh with grated cheese on top.
After strolling around and walking into a hyper-new shopping center, we finally went back towards our parking lot. We came across a few older statues, one being Goethe. This also reminded me what an important role Goethe had played in Germany’s and especially Frankfurt’s history. Not only was he born in this city and spent parts of his early life here but also an array of institutions such as the main university, and a hospital to name a few, are named after this inspiring poet, writer, and philosopher. Ironically, the city I studied in, which is Heidelberg, also displayed a high affinity towards Goethe and I already saw Goethe following me around when traveling throughout Germany on this trip.
Frankfurt might not be the most populated town of Germany, but its work opportunities and potential to become a great expat destination are certainly there. While Berlin has an unemployment rate of a whooping 20 percent (!) and is considered the Mecca for start-up businesses (which can also equal lower salaries), Hamburg and Munich might be nice to look at but you will most likely be dealing with extremely high rent prices and other snobbish behavior. My friend and I once discussed how Frankfurt makes for a great middle zone, especially when it comes to traveling (I mean, that airport in itself says a lot). I’ve also enjoyed reading expat blogs of this lady when she lived in Frankfurt and was talking about some of the great (food) culture she had enjoyed there.
Frankfurt might be the city to consider when you want to spend work time in Germany , as it seems you can get around without speaking much German (even though I am always opposed to not learning the language of the country you live in). It also has pretty friendly people and appears international on the surface.