It’s less than a week ago that I left London, where I lived for the past eight years, and moved to Frankfurt. The final cardboard boxes are just emptied, but I’m already starting to miss the big smoke. Or at least certain parts of living there.
1. The London way of cycling
It sounds strange to write this. When I moved to London in 2009, I was full of praise for the German cycling culture. Here, cycling is much more part of everyday life rather than a sporting activity where you dress for. However, back in Germany, I do actually miss the London way of cycling. It’s more purposeful, maybe a tad agreessive and certainly speedy. Sometimes too speedy.
While there are more cycling lanes in Frankfurt than in London, they are usually rather narrow, and often nothing more than a line on the pavement. People often are cycling next to each other, often almost in walking speed and frequently on the wrong side of the road. Sometimes people are pushing buggies on the cycle lanes, walk in them, and motorists love to use them as handy parking space for their car.
Another big problem is that – unlike in Britain – cyclists are legally required to use properly signposted bike lanes. While the police usually doesn’t care if you don’t, motorists expect it and often honk at you if you’re riding on the road.
In London I was one of the rather slow cyclist. I did not want to hurry on my way to the office to avoid sweating too much since I was cycling in my regular clothes. Here I am constantly cursing about the cyclists in front of me slowing me down and rambling along without being aware of anybody behind them who might be looking for an opportunity to pass.
2. Sorry – what a hard word to say
Yes, Brits use the word “sorry” way too often, and rather mindlessly. After eight years in Blighty I know pretty much when they they really mean: not a lot. However, it’s still nice to hear it, and helps to take the edge of everyday life. Not so in Germany.
Saying sorry here seems to be a very painful business, even when a small apology would be rather appropriate. There was a textbook example last night in one of the Sachsenhausen REWE supermarkets: The lady at the till didn’t realise that some sweets were on offer. The customer pointed this out to her, and her slightly annoyed replay was a terse “Ach so” (Oh well). That was it. Not even an apologetic smile followed. Maybe she expected the customer to apologise?
Another annoying habit which would require saying sorry: Many cyclists – at least here in Frankfurt – use the sidewalks for whatever reason. I am not yet very good in deciding quickly to which side to sidestep (I still confuse right and left) which obviously annoys some of the cyclists and leads to close encounters but so far I have not heard anybody of them saying sorry when almost driving over my toes. It’s me apologising for walking on the sidewalks and being in their way. It’s sarcasm but nobody notices but it does confuse some if them at least.
3. Almeida – what a gem
There are probably hundreds of theatre venues in London. The Almeida off Upper Street in Islington will always be the closest to my heart. It’s rather small, intimate and creates a real intense atmosphere. You can see the actors’ facial expressions very well even when sitting in the back row. The theatre never fails to put on a thought provoking or award winning production with some of the best actors you can think of.
We lived in walking distance to the Almeida. Whenever my husband embarked on one of his mad long distance weekend-long bike rides, I seized the moment and went to the Almeida. Olaf does not really share my enthusiasm for modern theatre, and there is always the risk of him leaving the show before the the interval.
The Almeida is very popular, and shows sell out quickly. However, there is always the opportunity to get last minute or return tickets. You either have to watch the website closely for this or queue on a Saturday morning.
I have not found anything similar in Frankfurt yet. Is there a theatre where you can get tickets on short notice for a play with Ben Whishaw, Ralph Fiennes or somebody from this league? Recommendations are welcome.
4. Free Museums
Granted, I may be I am bit more tight fisted than I should be. However, I really learned to cherish that most London museums are free. You can just drop in, enjoy a few great paintings or sculptures and then go home, get on with your shopping or whatever. In Germany, setting your feet into a museum almost always means paying. This creates an internal pressure that you really have to make the most of you visit.
Frankfurt does have some great museums such as the Städel. It’s pretty close to where we live. A few weeks ago, when preparing our move, I nipped in and had a look at the sterling exhibition “Photographs become Pictures. The Becher Class” – artistic photography from Bernd and Hilla Becher and their students.
Paying an entrance fee of 14 Euros is not over the top but I had only half an hour before my next scheduled meeting in Frankfurt. I did think twice wether I’d really pay the money. I did and I do not regret it. In London, however, that’s a thought you just never have to have. (But then, cost of living are lower in Frankfurt than in London that I probably could pay for every museum visit I ever fancied and still safe money …)
5. Brompton storage
There is something else I took for granted in London. Having no reason to worry about my bike. Bike theft is a real problem there and here, but I ride a Brompton folding bicycle. Within less than 20 seconds, you can reduce it to the size of a office bag.
In eight years of Brompton cycling in London, I never carried a lock. I just too the bike with me. In the museum or the theatre, I left it in the cloak roam. In the supermarket, it went into the shopping cart. In the restaurant, it was parked next to my table.
In Frankfurt you have to think more about Brompton logistics. The council where we got registered did not mind taking the folded bikes inside, the furniture stores where we bought some new stuff also accepted the fact that we pulled folded bicycles with us. But museums, theatres, concert halls may be a different cup of tea. This may mean taking a lock after all, or use a beater bike nobody would bother to steal.
6. Tube and bus
Since I usually used my Brompton to get from A to B in London, I was not a regular tube or bus user. And I definitely do not miss being crammed into a metal tin like preserved fish, and being charged an arm and a leg for this privilege. But on the odd occasion I wanted to use public transport – be it really foul weather or a trip to the airport – I always appreciated that you never have to wait long for the next tube or bus to arrive.
You just rock up at the station, start checking your e-mails and within a few minutes the tube or bus arrived. In Frankfurt, you can easily wait a quarter of an hour for the next bus to arrive. And 15 minutes is not even bad compared to other public transport solutions in Germany.
7. Black cabs
Eight years ago, when I moved to London, I brought a small palm tree to my London office. Today, this plant is taller than me. Taking it back to Germany required getting it from the office to our flat, so our removal company could haul it to Frankfurt. As we don’t own a car, I took a black cab. Some incredibly bulky, super-sized pictures from the office, two boxes of books and some other stuff also went into the cab.
There are many similar situations, like getting to the train station with two folding bicycles, three suitcases and camping kit for a two week holiday in Scotland. Two full sized bikes, luggage and two people? No problem at all.
Forget Uber, London black cab’s are the ideal way to transport move bulky and heavy kit. In Germany you have badger the taxi company, and better be familiar with the route, as the ordinary taxi driver these days has no clue where he’s going. London cabbies – don’t you want to open up business in Frankfurt? I’d be one of your first customers.
8. Pop-up business
It sounds like such a cliché but it’s actutally true. Something new and great opens up every day in London. I especially liked pop-up stores and restaurants – temporary places run by young designers or chefs who have brilliant ideas and lovely products but cannot afford a high street location permanently.
Strolling along through London’s street often is a grande tour de surprise. I loved it especially in Islington where we lived. Quite recently, the pop up economy brought us one of the best Thai restaurants we ever had the pleasure to eat, the Farang, and a lovely clothes store with garment by Suzy Harper. She’s a fantastic London fashion designer but had to vacate her permanent store a few years ago. An investor bought the property and is converting it into luxury apartments.
9. British humour
The topic fills lots of books and essays: the British humour. I do not want to pretend that I always understand the witty and sophisticated makeup of British humour. From time to time I am still the only nitwit when a Brit cracks a joke and one needs to read a lot between the lines. But there is one very important thing which British humour teaches you: taking yourself not too seriously and making tough and grim situations light.
Laugh in the face of adversity. One of my favourite examples are the supporters of Northampton Town, a mediocre at best (Sorry, Ian!) third-tier football club from the Midlands. When their team is three goals behind after 20 minutes, and the other team’s supporters are celebrating, they start chanting: “You’re nothing special, we lose every week!” I am still on the look out for this in Frankfurt.
10. London buzz
Double decker busses, black cabs, private cars, lorries and lots of bikes on the roads – how often was I annoyed by the chronic noise and traffic in London’s street. It’s not just the buzzing noise, it’s a certain excitement, movement, the huge number of people everywhere, no matter what time of day.
Escalators going faster than anywhere else, people in a constant hurry – London is buzzing all the time. Frankfurt? Well, it’s not. Not yet …