Inch Perfect

Trip Start Feb 04, 2007
Trip End Mar 09, 2008

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Flag of Germany  ,
Tuesday, July 10, 2007

We travelled late in the afternoon from Fes as our trusty discount airline Ryanair could get us there for just $50 if we were prepared to arrive about midnight. No problem.  

We paid, got the confirmation, and then discovered the airport they use was a healthy two hours from the city centre. No problem we thought, still with the giddynessof a good bargain  washing through our veins, we can sleep at the airport for a few hours - after all, we've done it before.  

However, the times before were each hideous exercises in sleep deprivation and sheer hatefulness that we vowed never to repeat them.  

No matter how you organise two chairs to face each other, they are never comfortable. No matter how much you try to arrange the loaded baggage trolley between the seats, your end product in no way resembles a bed. Ultimately I put my little remaining self respect to the side and arranged my "pillow" (daytime role: dirty jumper) on the Avis Red Carpet Customers carpet. Twenty three minutes of blissful slumber followed before my body cottoned onto the fact that the red carpet provides little shielding from the concrete beneath it.  

Seeing my innovation, Claude abandoned her own lacklustre chair-bed attempt and espied the big plush rolly chairs used by the Avis check in staff. Easing herself behind the counter she curled up leaning forward in the preferred Accounting B lecture style. That lasted about 4 minutes. Those chairs have wheels.

We got a quality hour on a stair before the morning staff came to open up at 4a.m. I had abandoned hopes of sleep somewhat earlier and was taking the walking tour of Frankfurt Hahn airport. They advertise real estate and prefab housing there, as well astounding wood carved 2 foot bible scenes at about 300 euro each. And if you haven't slept at all you can easily find yourself thinking "yeah, one of those would look great beside the telly". That's some highly targeted marketing work there.

The morning was icy, but being Germany the 5:00 a.m. bus was of course there at 4:55. Of course, the driver wouldn't actually_open_the_door until he had done his 29 point internal safety check. Dilemma: does one risk returning to the terminal knowing he will leave on the pinpoint of five? Does one continue to freeze one's cods off still basically attired in what one left 42 degree Morocco in?

We ended up taking turns. We both enjoyed that bus trip - Claude enjoying the warmth to get two of the best hours of sleep she has enjoyed in the last 30 years. For me it was like a free sightseeing tour and was an immediate immersion in the pure Germanic approach to organisation. The Mercedes coach was seemingly brand new and just out of the plastic. The roads and highways for the 90km run into Frankfurt were perfectly black, edged and mown, without exception. Everything - inch perfect.

You don't need to be in a place very long on a barely conceivably smooth road with German sedans just belting past you - which, yes, I love a little too much - being flanked by gargantuan wind turbines, before you form a judgment. Wow, have these guys got it figured out.

Opinions formed of Frankfurt were made in the first couple of hours and didn't really change much over the 5 days we stayed. Buying a ticket at the train station was akin to checking into the Park Hyatt, with expansive plush offices and courteous multilingual staff. Yes, selling train tickets. Go figure.

Its a grand old structure that main train station, and we spied an excellent old bar in which to try the local specialty Apfelwein accompanied by Handkase mit Musik. Adept linguists will have pegged that the first item is apple wine. You may even deduce that item two is cheese. I hope the last part stumps you.

It turns out that the local specialty is apple wine (pretty nice) served with hand cheese (description denoting size) with music. And without a word of a lie or a puerile reinterpretation -skills that are two of  this writer's forte(s) - that description explicitly denotes that the diner's own ass will supply the music.

The cheese itself is one of the most horrible concoctions on God's green earth. Soaked in oil and vinegar with diced onions it ends up with the flavour, aroma and consistency of old running shoe inner soles. Worse: my old running shoe inner soles, apres India. Reading the description, we should have known this, but you get the happy German vibe going inside a beautiful 1930's bar and somehow you Just Do It.

Our hostel in Frankfurt, one we so yearned for while trapped in the airport, was a living hell. There were some Mormons checking in and I prayed to my own God that they would be in our room. No such luck - we scored an alcoholic Kiwi, a Korean with a personality disorder and two of the noisiest Nordics yet found. When we checked out for our dawn bus ride my passive aggressive traits were released and I poured coins onto a laminated desk, reopened my zips about 20 times and opened the curtains all to a silent thumbs up from a wife who normally poo poos such childish retribution. Bwa-ha-haaah. 

Next door, however, was the sleep deprived's worst nightmare: the wannabe Bob Marley. About 25, always white, always earnest, always dreadlocked, always with a bloody guitar. We have seen this prototype enough times now that if you ask me to visualise the most inconsiderate person in the world then 'pop', I'm done. 

Frankfurt we saw on foot, each time accompanied by another traveller from the hostel. On one day we were with Liz from San Francisco who had studied in Germany so was pretty good at giving us the history behind the monuments and the churches. On another day we were with another young American, Mike, still in raptures that you can drink beer, like, totally on the street man. Awesome. He was so young that when I did my quite excellent "Ho-gaaaan!" in timbre perfect Colonel Klink voice - replete with crooked finger but still sadly lacking accompanying monocle - he had never heard of its origins. Philistine.

Given my recent studies, on occasion I daydream what "my" perfect state would look like, and I got an early jolt when I realised how many elements here were simply beyond where I thought the modern world was up to, making my own envisioning sadly out of date. Its not that there is much to see in Frankfurt per se, its just that all the humdrum elements click so well together.

Its interesting though, that the Germans renowned worldwide for enlightened recycling and environmental practices are now seemingly tiring of it: "Pfand free!" is marked with a starburst on some containers, calling out the advantage of a container somehow exempt from carrying a recycling deposit.  

A final impression that turned my head is that nobody crosses the road against the red signal. I stepped out into a road that was empty as far as could be seen and heard gasps of astonishment behind me and one or two admonishments for being such a crazed lawbreaker. However, once you do it, more than half will follow you, presumably not wanting to miss out on the adventure and the few seconds of your life you are stealing back from the state. And that has been Frankfurt: perfect, polished, risk free.

I liked it, its a whole world of neat people. Its inch perfect, maybe too perfect even for me.

* * *

Iīve never been so tired in all my life.  I donīt care what they say in about Frankfurt Hahn airport - it's all lies. 

It was torturous.  Despite my living dead zombie-like state something always managed to keep me just an arm's length from the edge of slumber.  Iīd like to think it was the pea underneath all those mattresses, but there were no mattresses, nor any peas.  Just uncomfortable positions; hard, plastic, squeaky chairs; an automatic door which opened regularly at random to ensure that the 1mm exposed bit of flesh between my jeans and my top was kept sufficiently frosty.  I looked around at all the dozing sleeping-bag people and cursed to myself.  Why was my Thai sarong/Moroccan desert scarf/fleece combination not working as a comfortable bed?  It could have been worse though.  I looked around at the guy in the wheelchair leaning his head on his mumīs chair and thought myself a bit spoiled. 

I could make this work for me.

Amazingly noone crosses the impenetrable barrier (read: roped divider) surrounding the rental car company cubes after the staff have packed up for the night.  This is astounding as absolutely nowhere else seems to be out of bounds.  People are fast asleep on every other surface of the airport.  It looked warm and cosy behind the barrier with the plush office chairs and somewhat dimmer lighting (the rest of the airport has about 1,000 fluroescent bulbs running all night).  It wasnīt.  I tried to make something comfortable out of their desks, chairs and even used some of their leaflets to prop up my head.  To no avail.

Then I found it.  Nirvana!  I finally managed to doze with a sarong over my eyes on a carpeted step (used for staff to wipe their feet on as they entered their office cube).  It was brilliant.  It was fantastic.  It was unoriginal - as I was copying the snoring elderly couple on the next step down.  It lasted about 40 minutes until the 4am shift began and two staff hit my head while opening their glass cube door.  "Guten Morgen!" they chirped with voracious zeal.  I think they got a huge kick out of which of them could wake travellers with more vigour each day.  Today my guy won.   

I awoke to find Iain, crazed from sleep deprivation, pacing up and down the airport pushing our overloaded luggage trolley.  The first bus to town was 5am - to think I actually thought we might have slept through and missed it.

Frankfurt is a nice enough place.  It is quite clearly Germanyīs business capital, with its large buildings, CBD district and masses of suit-wearing employees wandering here and there.  The shrine to the Euro was an intriguing piece of art we walked by every day - just before we reached the sex district and then, of course, our hostel.

Iain immediateley bonded with all things and all people Germanic.  He ooohed about the neatness and punctuality, he aaaaahhed about the wind farms and the energy efficiency.  (I think he has finally met his match in Germany: a country where organising Masterfoods spices in alphabetical order is not unusual.  It is a prerequisite to life).   He repeatedly pulled my arm to make sure I witnessed every single Audi accelerating down the perfectly manicured main street.  "Watch this, watch this, the Audi A8 is going to hammer it off the lights.  Listen to that engine noise." Ho hum...

I shouldn't complain.  I also love being in Germany, but for different reasons.  Finally I get to try out my high school German on someone, anyone.  I am completely and utterly hopeless, but I am loving giving it a go (and the poor, unsuspecting Germans I have targetted have been patient and kind despite my complete bastardisation of their mother tongue).

It has been astounding to wander down the street and overhear snippets of conversation and actually understand what is being said.  I can read signs, interpret notices, translate menus.  Its fantastic - particularly coming from Morocco where I had no clue what was going on most of the time.

I too am incredibly impressed by the German commitment to recycling and cycling.  The former demonstrated by all public and private bins dividing waste into categories, bottle pfands and the enormous charge on plastic bags in supermarkets (up to 1 Euro) to encourage people to bring their own.  The latter from the bike lanes zig zagging across the city, the bike stands all over the place and mostly illustrated by the zillions of cyclists choking up the bike lanes on their way to this or that (often wearing clothes that are not befitting of going for a cycle).  It is a common sight to see people shopping in the supermarket, opening their backpacks to load up the groceries and then getting on their bikes to cycle home.  Fantastic.

Frankfurt has been a great start to Germany.  We are both looking forward to visiting some other German cities with more history to sink our teeth into.  That is after our little detour to the Netherlands!
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