I had the pleasure of crossing paths with Gordon in January through a mutual friend while backpacking in Hawaii. The three of us became quite the team, conquering some treacherous hikes and drives on the islands of Kauai and Maui and continuing the adventures in snowy Vancouver shortly after. Gordon even came for a brief visit to Florida before continuing on home to Germany. Months later, our friendship has lasted and I found myself connecting through his home of Frankfurt enroute to Thailand.
Here I was, spontaneously dropping in with no expectations, but that European hospitality that always seems to catch me off guard met me upon arrival. No questions asked, Gordon met me at the airport and assumed the role of tour guide. Frankfurt, having one of the largest airports in the world, is one of those places that all travelers seem to connect through to various cities, but never stop to explore. What I expected to be no more than a brief 3 day stay turned into 6 days of fun.
The city itself is a mixture of both old and modern architecture. Standing on one of the various bridges suspended over the Main river you can enjoy views of many beautiful old churches mixed in to interestingly shaped modern skyscrapers. My favorite bridge, the love lock bridge Eiserner Steg, provides the perfect view of both sides of the city skyline. There is an unexpected amount of history and culture to Frankfurt that I had never realized existed. A variety of museums can be found along the Mein, as well as in the city center. There is a bit of something for everyone. If architecture is your thing, you can simply walk through the town center displaying quaint buildings in the traditional Fachwerk style.
As always, my favorite part of travel is getting to be a part of local living. I definitely enjoyed that side of my trip. Gordon grew up in the small town just bordering Frankfurt and I had the pleasure of seeing his small town, as well as the city. Whether it was enjoying currywurst at Best Worscht in Town, chatting over coffee with his friends, hanging out at the nearby uni, beer by the river to the sounds of musicians, nights out in the Alt-Sachsenhausen region drinking Äppler or simply strolling through the Shirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt modern art museum, there was no lack of activity.
Being totally immersed in the German culture was intense, having very little experience with the language. I was thankful to have someone who could communicate fluently in both languages to show me around. I made a game of trying to read all of the German street signs and shop fronts. Gordon patiently corrected my pronunciation and translated for me upon request. It intrigued me on how my perspective of Germans changed from my short visit.
Hearing spoken German has always sounded rough on my ears. I believe I unconsciously paralleled the culture to be a bit gruff based on the way the language sounded to my ears. I now see it as just the opposite. The language really has a musicality to it. Even the guttural more percussive sounds are actually nice when in context with some of the more fluid words. I found the people to be surprisingly welcoming to me as well. I’m sure it helped to be traveling with a local, however everyone was over-accommodating to the fact that I knew no German. I was continuously surprised with the many apologies I received from the locals of their rarely choppy sentences in English with which I had no problem understanding. When they couldn’t think of the English equivalent, they’d ask Gordon to translate, a favor I never expected.
In one case we ended up in a bar lock-in with a group of Gordon’s friends on the uni campus. They were listening to music and having a rap-off, an interesting experience for me to hear in German. One individual who I’d been speaking to throughout the night and found quite amusing had a particularly musical sounding string of rhyme. I turned to applaud him, saying I had no idea what he had said but that it sounded very nice to listen to. Immediately afterward the guy next to him who’d heard my comment and had only spoken German up to this point began rapping in English to make me feel included. It’s those little things that made me really appreciate the people. They have an unspoken sensitivity to those around them.
I feel that I’ve only brushed the surface of Germany. There is so much to learn about each state. While the country is notoriously known for beer, meat and Oktoberfest, I have discovered a hidden charm. There’s a kindness behind the clipped and oftentimes dry humor. While they do enjoy their beer and football, I found a unique reaction to their history in regards to accepting other cultures to be prevalent among the young people that I met. Frankfurt has taught me some unexpected lessons that I look forward to furthering my knowledge of in the future.