5th – 7th May 2017
The day before dinner with my Polish housemate, I had gone for a drink with two friends from uni. They have been together since our second year and will soon be married. After a fair few beers (and a more ‘miss’ than ‘hit’ stand up comedy show), they asked me to be their best man. Flattered, drunk and somewhat surprised, I don’t think I managed a very eloquent (or normal) reaciton; I spent most of the night babbling about making a speech (the prospect of which is still terrifying me).
The day after knocking back too many vodkas (viz. “more than one”), I saw my friends again for (I hope) a more coherent conversation. At the beginning of May, I went to visit them in Frankfurt.
Recently, a few friends seem to be encircling Frankfurt. These two live in Darmstadt, south of the city. A German friend of mine has recently moved to Wiesbaden, the capital of Hesse; just across the river from a school friend in Mainz, itself a regional capital.
I arrived late the first night and headed straight to my friends’ beautiful apartment in Darmstadt. In Germany, places are rented unfrunished (down to the kitchen and the light fittings) so they had done a great job with a few purchases and plentiful treasures found on the street. (In my experience, Germans are as houseproud as the British). Some flavourful, smooth beers from a local producer kept us up until the early hours.
Darmstadt is a quiet town in the German style: lively at appropriate moments; quiet when deemed correct. Saturday saw crowds out for lunch and a drink, enjoying the good weather. After a tour, we settled outside a Bierkeller for Schnitzel in the sun. Sunday, on the other hand, I witnessed a ghost town; the residents instead preparing for the week ahead.
This was the third time I had flown to Frankfurt airport, but Saturday was my first time in the city. People had compared it to Canary Wharf: offices and not much else. It isn’t quite that bad but I can see what they mean; unmistakeably a finance centre. If there’s to be an influx of London bankers, Frankfurt is going to need a few more bars.
But it has a lot going for it: a beautiul square with a few surviving/rebuilt pre-1945 buildings; a riverside that formerly earned the city the title of Paris of Germany (not so much today); and a social scene. That night, was Nacht der Musseen with events organised in museums all night.
My friends and I met my schoolfriend (now living in Mainz) in Frankfurt and found a spot along the riverside to wait for our German friends. To pass the time, I stuck to beer but one of my friends and the Germans once they arrived had Apfelwein. The tart cider from Frankfurt is served in a diamond-cut glass, das Gerippte; now the moniker of one of the city’s skyscrappers.
The evening was upon us without warning and we headed to our first museum. In the art gallery, I was suddenly quite aware of being tipsy. And hungry. Luckily, there was a van selling bratwurst outside and a pop-up bar. When my German friend suggested we give them a try, I didn’t protest.
I don’t find German cuisine, in essence, exciting. But in the same way that a steak isn’t an inventive dish, simplicity can often pay dividends. The Schnizel I had for lunch (breaded pork, fried) was tender, flavourful; a squeeze of lemon the only seasoning. So too with the Wurst; sausages in England have long been the fate of less palatable pieces of meat; in Germany, they are cared for. A rich well seasoned white Wurst with a squirt of mustard. Strong, confident cooking.
The next stop was a cinema museum with an interesting collection of ingenious pre-film contraptions for displaying illusions and moving images. The third floor, however, was an unsettling place to be at night, inebriated: a room divided by a maze of transluent red curtains behind which scenes from various films were projected, all predominately red (read, blood-soaked).
The final museum of the night couldn’t have been more of a palate cleanser. The architecture museum was bright with white walls and a rock band and room full of dancers greeted us. There were wonderful miniatures of dwelling from different eras and regions. And an exhibition dedicated to Offenbach, a notoriously bad neighbourhood outside Frankfurt.
I can’t imagine the intention was to publicly denigrate Offenbach; yet the curator hadn’t done a good job of promoting it if that was the plan. Under the slogan Offenbach ist ganz okay – Offenbach is almost okay, displays highlighted the levels of poverty, crime and lack of education. Grey blocks of concrete flats were reproduced. Photos of unhappy locals were displayed.
Nextdoor, a crowd danced to a live band. A strange juxtaposition.
My friends took me the Darmstadt museum the next day that houses an impressive, diverse and well-curated collection. Even their large collection of stuffed animals was more engaging than eery (with the exception of one distorted monkey hidden on a top shelf).
We went for a German lunch (for my benefit – and to the chagrin of my friends) before my flying visit forced me off to the airport once more. But the pleasure of such a weekend is in sharing full days with my good friends (even if only fleetingly).
We lived together for three years at university and it is nice to still be able to wake up in the same house, have breakfast together, spend a day wandering, chatting, eating together and finally fall asleep again under the same roof. There are very few people I know so intimately and I’m very lucky to have them.