First Pitch at the Last Stop

Trip Start Nov 29, 2005
Trip End Nov 21, 2006

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Flag of Germany  ,
Saturday, October 7, 2006

There's something about Berlin that always made leaving so agonizing. It might've been the special bond I was developing with the city, but it probably also had something to do with the pub crawl and accompanying hangover. So it was with great pain and little sleep that I strapped on my bags and stumbled to the Hauptbahnhof to catch a train to Frankfurt, my final stop in continental Europe. This should've been a simple task, considering trains run hourly between the cities.

Not so fast. In one of the most foolish, inexplicable, obnoxious moves possible, Germany named two cities Frankfurt. One is a major international hub and one of the most important financial centers in Europe and the world. The other is a small village that nobody would have ever heard of or would ever be mentioned in a tour book if not for its name and the disclaimer 'don't make the mistake of boarding a train to Frankfurt (Oder).' I've got to think that there are enough German names and words and combination of names and words that there'd be no need to double up on town names -- or at least save the duplications for two towns that are equally anonymous. Fortunately, I had glanced at this part of the entry in Lonely Planet and had the sense to ask someone if I was headed to Frankfurt am Main as I had one foot in the train. I was informed that it was headed to the other Frankfurt (I'm making the blind, uneducated assumption that 'Oder' is German for other) and therefore avoided getting on a train that would take me in the complete opposite direction of where I needed to go.

Frankfurt had never really been on my itinerary. It's main role is as a financial center, so it's just a big, modern city with lots of corporate buildings and not a whole lot to offer backpackers. But when I was looking scattershot for the cheapest flight to Dublin (it's wonderful having a Eurail pass and no particular aversion to spending extra time on a train in exchange for saving a few euros), Frankfurt presented itself as the best option. As an added bonus, I had a friend in Frankfurt who I could crash with. For one night I'd be staying with my friend Corina, who I met way back in February at the Pickled Frog in Hobart (the amount of people I've stayed with from that hostel, the place has now practically paid for itself). We shared a room for one night back in Australia and hit it off well enough that we exchanged email addresses, partly because we were both going to Adelaide next and partly because she would be working at the World Cup and I thought that getting in touch with her might help me get tickets. Remember, back in February I was planning on being in Germany in June and home by now.

Finding Corina's house on the outskirts of the city turned out to be as much a challenge as finding the correct Frankfurt. For one thing, the system for buying tickets on the public train system is confusing and irrational, so much so that the woman who volunteered to help struggled to do so, even though she'd been commuting for years. Then it was a matter of finding Corina's street, and more to the point her house -- which was hidden from street view with no apparent way in. I paced her street back and forth, entered a children's hospital and accidentally walked into a loading dock. I could see the neighbors staring. I was waiting for one to call the police to report a suspicious character with a large backpack prowling their quiet streets.

I finally stumbled upon the place, where I was greeted by her parents. Unlike Mandy's parents their English was very limited so it was difficult to hold a polite conversation. But like Mandy's parents they were friendly and very curious, so we did the best we could while they rehydrated me and pumped me full of snacks. After a few minutes of not overly awkward conversation they informed me that I needed to leave if I wanted to catch the train back into the city so that I could sight-see and then meet up with Corina (who was at university in Worms, about an hour south). So her father escorted me to the station, paid my fare and I was on my way back to the city.

I was headed to Romer, the only part of the old city that survived the bombing raids during World War II. It was a nice spot, an open square surrounded by old German buildings with the triangular rooftops and tall cathedrals in the background. But it was also fairly small, so there wasn't a whole lot of material with which to kill six hours, especially with the museums closed for the day. I tried to explore every square inch of the place, past the church with a JFK memorial, through the pedestrian shopping center, over the bridge to a few other churches, and after all that I still had about five hours to go. Even after a nice casual dinner I still had more time than I knew what to do with, so I fell into the trap that I knew was coming, no matter how hard I tried to avoid it (I swear) -- I was out to find a bar where I could nurse along a few beers and maybe make some friends to pass the time until Corina's arrival.

I meandered the streets of Frankfurt in the general direction of the train station (her parents had also, thankfully, supplied me with a map) in search of a decent pub. But each bar I found was more depressing than the next, sparsely occupied by old men crumpled over beers with cigarettes drearily drooping from their mouths. The one lively spot I found wouldn't let me in without a collared shirt. Elitists. The next thing I knew I was across the street from the station and the only viable option was right in front of me, O'Reilly's.

Normally, I avoid Irish bars. For one thing they're everywhere. They generally don't offer much local flavor and are usually more expensive than the average pub, for whatever reason. Also, I was going to be in Ireland in 24 hours, so there'd be plenty of time for Irish pubs then. But my options were limited and it seemed fairly lively. O'Reilly's came with an added bonus. It had television. And not just television -- satellite television. And that day was the first day of the baseball playoffs! Now, I've seen more baseball games than most people do in a lifetime. This was the first season since I was about 5 where I didn't go to at least one Yankee game and had spent the summer before leaving interning with a baseball team. Yet the first live pitch I'd seen all season was going to be Boof Bonser serving up a home run to Eric Chavez in Game 1 of the ALDS. I killed the next few hours talking to Irish bartenders and scattered Americans, one expatriate and a couple guys who were on a layover after filming yogis in India for a Discovery Channel documentary (they hoped) until finally Corina arrived. We stayed until we had to leave for the last train, filling in the details from our travels (I had significantly more, she'd been home since May), catching up on old times and semi-successfully explaining how baseball works to her.

The next morning (and I stress morning) I got up, and after an excellent breakfast, went back to the city center with Corina, where she would have to get a connecting train back down to Worms. Now I had another six hours to kill in a city I'd already exhausted before heading to the airport. I set out for the English movie theater to kill a few hours. I only mention this because finding a theater in English is easier said than done. And, yes, I realize the irony in complaining about the lack of cinemas in a language that is not the official one of a country. But -- and this is not one of my crackpot theories, this is what I've learned from numerous Europeans -- this is the reason why Germans lag behind Scandinavians and Dutch in English proficiency. While the Germans dub their television and most movies, those other countries use subtitles, and many of my Swedish, Dutch, Norwegian friends cited the subtitles as the reason why they became so good at English.

After the movie and hours wasted walking pedestrian malls and markets, reading and unsuccessfully finding an Irish friend with whom I could crash I was back to the train station to pick up my bags and get on the shuttle out to Frankfurt-Hahn airport. Now here's the thing about Ryan Air. It seems amazing to be able to fly from Frankfurt to Dublin for a mere 18 euros, but Ryan Air comes with a catch. Flying Ryan basically means devoting a whole day to travel. Since they pay for their runway space, you must must must be on the plane 30-40 minutes before scheduled takeoff, which means you want to assure you're at the airport early. Also, they charge such a cheap rate because they use airfields out in the middle of nowhere. I could've practically walked from Corina's house to the major airport, but Hahn is so far outside of Frankfurt (about 2:30 hours) that it wasn't even mentioned in the going to/coming from section of the Lonely Planet. I actually spent more money going to and from the airports than I did flying from Germany to Ireland. Go figure. Fortunately Ryan is an Irish company and therefore uses the major airports there. So when I touched down in Dublin at nearly midnight it wouldn't be as much of an ordeal to get into the city where Adrian and CJ were waiting for me at the pub.
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