2004-10-25 : Mmm… Land of chocolate…

Now this is what's called “Reserve Storytelling” – I purposefully stayed home and didn't do much this weekend in order to be able to write about what I did LAST weekend. Cos that's the kind of considerate bloke I am.

As I've probably only alluded to 15 or 16 times, last weekend I went to Frankfurt (that's in sunny Germany, boys and girls !) to catch up with Paul (a former workmate of mine, distinguished participant in Scotchtoberfest, and all round good guy) and his girlfriend Sharon (who I didn't really know that well prior to the weekend, so it seems strange to provide an introductory line) on their European Tour.

Now the first challenge of the voyage was actually making it onto the plane in the first instance. It's no great secret that airports and I ain't the cosiest of bedfellows (althought realistically I've only ever missed 3 flights in my life – all of them from Perth – but this was no time ot take chances). The flight was scheduled for 9pm departure, so I figured that leaving work by 5 was a more than safe bet. I ended up leaving work at 5:30, and was at Heathrow by 7pm. Slow going, but still 2 hours up my sleeve. Checking luggage in at Lufthansa was no problem at all – 5 minutes there. Next, to departures.

At this point, I turned around and saw the BIGGEST F&@!ING QUEUE I have ever seen in my *entire* life – and that includes the Jaws ride at Universal Studios (where I grew a full beard and learned to play the saxaphone whilst waiting). And it turned out that this shuffling behemoth was the line I had to get through in order to be sucurity checked in order to leave Heathrow. Oh boy.

It turned out OK though – I got through it with about 10 minutes to spare… and then saw “flight boarding” displayed against my flight on the monitor. THEN I saw the map showing where Gate 36 was – an estimated 15 minutes' walk away ! AAAARGH !

After running to where the sign said to go, then getting confused by conflicting signs, running back, going the other way, deciding this was definitely wrong and running back the original way, seeing FINAL CALL on the monitor, then seeing some obscure little sign pointing off another way and running that way (bearing in mind that I haven't done a lot of running in the last 18 months or so…), and finally getting on board, I decided that holidays just didn't need to be this stressful. The plane then sat in place for another 20 minutes. Who said the Germans don't have a sense of humour.

On arrival in Frankfurt I was meant to meet Paul & Sharon in Arrivals. For future reference, that's like telling somebody that you'll meet them in Sydney. Thankfully we found each other and did the only decent thing – found the nearest bar and enjoyed a pint of Dunkelweizen. The pub reminded me strangely of Der Pizza Haus from Top Secret (Val Kilmer's finest film), but I didn't think it appropriate to take a photo.

1.5 train rides, a meeting with a Keanu Reeves impersonator, and a cab ride later, and we'd arrived at the Hotel Jaguar (pronounced “Yag-Waar”, and don't think we didn't !), and as it was now well after midnight the only reasonable course of behaviour seemed to be to channel surf and play drinking games.

One of the shows we found (apart from the “weather” channel) was some kind of courtroom show, like a Judge Judy kind of thing (Judge Helga ?). One of the protagonists was a blonde woman who was clearly cranked off about something. After a moment's inspection I noticed that she had a quite prominent Adam's Apple. Paul added that her 5 o'clock shadow didn't flatter her either. Hmm. Dude looks like… a Dude.

The next day we all rose at what we thought was 5am, owing to the darkness. Restlessness won out and we discovered the efficacy of the room's blinds, and found that it was actually 11:30. So that sealed the deal – lunchtime it was !

At this point I might explain that I don't really know that much about Frankfurt, and having now been there I am really not much the wiser for it. Well… I know that the place we had lunch used to be a prison of some sort, and I know that Frankfurtians are incredibly proud of the fact that someone called Goethe was born there. I don't actually know who he is – I'm guessing an author or playwright ? – but they were almost as proud of him as most of Lower Eastern NSW is of Ned Kelly. And I don't think Goethe ever robbed anyone or wore an iron helmet that looked like a letter box.

After lunch we did some more random sightseeing (the opera house, old guard tower, the river, churchy stuff…), and paused along the way for the odd pint and bizarre photo opportunity.

One of the particularly dim thing I did whilst packing was neglect to include any boxer shorts. Now whilst I'm a fervent advocate of the 4-day technique under the right circumstances (and briefly did research on a 6-day technique, involving the design of a pair of boxers with 3 leg holes), I didn't feel that this was the right time to employ this survival move… so one of the cultural experiences I enjoyed was a visit to this humungous department store in order to procure some German underpants. It turned out a lot more straightforward than I'd expected (i.e. the fact that I could speak no relevant German whatsoever didn't come into play), although I did get stuck behind an idiot who was buying 300 Euro worth of clobber and was using a bunch of 25 Euro gift vouchers he'd obviously been given… Mmmm… tedious.

After the undergarments had been acquired we popped up to the rooftop cafe in this store which afforded us with another excuse for a beer, as well as an excellent view of the city. Next step was to zip down again, take some more photos, look at more stuff, and then find a place to grab dinner.

I have no idea where Paul had read this, but he said he knew of a “beer cellar” from a travel book he'd read, and in the absence of any conflicting ideas we set off to find that. It didn't prove that hard, and fairly soon we were sitting in the awesomest eatery I think I've ever been in. If I could have invited all of my friends over, I'd have done so in a flash. It was almost dungeon-like, and included a couple of tables suspended from the ceiling by heavy chain. What would have made it totally awesome would have been a menu containing only Hawaiian food (obscure Meaning of Life reference), but even so it was pretty damn good.

The remainder of the night involved more getting lost, more looking at the opera house (although Paul seemed convinced there was 2 opera houses…), and finding our way back to the YagWaar. Sharon flaked straight out, whilst Paul and I chilled with a can of Bitburger each and enjoyed one of life's other simple pleasures – the obscure film dubbed into another language. Tonight's contender – Army of Darkness !

On the Sunday we worked out that we'd again slept in too late to get on any of the tours for the day, so resigned ourselves to… you guessed it: wandering around looking at stuff and stopping for beer !! Again. We dropped our luggage off at the train station and Paul & I tried to make some calls (I tried to call my friend Wibke but got her German and therefore totally unintelligible answering machine, and then I tried to get in touch with my mobile phone which I had gone and lost in the cab on the first night. Yay me. No answer though.). Next I tried to go and speak to the cab drivers out the front to see if there was any way of tracking down the taxi I'd left my phone in. Apparently the fact that it had been a Mercedes only narrowed it down to about 2,100 possible cabs… so that was no help. Oh god, and all the cabs are painted BEIGE over there !! Weird.

We commenced wandering around, decided the weather was just too awful, and found a bar to sit in and chat about this and that – the bar happened to be the one in the base of the old guard tower of Frankfurt, so that was SORT of participating in local history… sort of…

We'd started to get a bit peckish by this juncture so we wound our way around the district surrounding the main train station (Hauptbahnhopf, for future reference) which happened to be the main red light district of the city. We managed to track down a kebab place (it really was quite a healthy weekend, wasn't it ?), and sampled their wares – which I've got to say were pretty damn good ! It was like a regular chicken yiros, but instead of pita bread it was somehow sandwiched in Turkish bread ! Yummo !! For reasons which sort of escape me Paul decided that from this point forth Sharon was to be known as “Donna”, and Paul as “Kebap”. Seemed to make sense at the time.

Time started getting on, so we wandered back to the train station, grabbed zee luggage, then Doner & Kebap escorted me back out to Frankfurt airport to get on the flight home.

Again, loads of time, and so we said a fairly leisurely goodbye and I headed off to the tax-free shopping bit to get rid of my last few remaining Euros. The really obvious thing about Frankfurt airport from a departer's point of view however was that – in stark contrast to Heathrow – this place was organised. Checkin was extremely smooth, everything was quite well signposted, and the departure lounge had plenty of room to sit it. Oh, and the security queue was quite easy to get through. A few people trying to get through, but then they had about 3 scanning crews going FOR THAT DOOR ! Nothing remotely like the mess at Heathrow where they divided the queue into 4 smaller sub queues, 2 of which joined up again at the head of the line, and generally everyone was getting cranky because there were only 3 scanning teams for the entire terminal.

OK, rambling now. Essentially, I easily got on board the plane, made my way in a comfortable and relaxed manner back to Heathrow, and then was thrust into the teeming melee of the immigration control queue. And god, was that awful. 4 separate channels of people (a big throng descending from either end of a ramp, divided by a metal fence), recombined in the middle whilst being guided through a fence-aperture, only to be separated into the “EU nationals” and “bleedin foreigners” lines. I really wish Heathrow wasn't so uptight about people taking photos on the premises, because this sort of nonsensical queueing arrangement truly defies reason, logic, and description.

So the long and short of it is I made it back happily. I had an awesome time in Germany, a little cranked that I'd lost my mobile but on the whole very enthusastic about my trip, and I'm happy to say I'd go back there if given a chance, although Kebap said that he thinks I'd like Berlin better (to be honest we only chose Frankfurt because it had an airport and was pretty easy to get there, and none of us had been before !!). So yes, big cheers to Doner and Kebap for an awesome weekend, and I'll be in touch to see if we can get around these hurdles and organise a trip to Latvia to catch up with Sir Karl – another of our ex-Adelaidean workmates.