My second week in Frankfurt after eight years in London is almost over. And guess what, the two of us, the city and I, begin to become fond of each other. And there are already six reasons for this. I am sure more will follow.
1. Supermarkets and their opening hours
It took us a while to get used to it, but in London we did 90 percent of our grocery shopping online. When we first heard of online supermarkets, we were rather sceptical. Why on earth would we need this? There were supermarkets close to our offices and on the way home. But grocery shopping, especially buying heavy stuff such as water, other drinks and cans, gradually became a nuisance. We did not own a car and had to haul everything home on the bike.
The next step was pretty straightforward: We tried the Waitrose delivery service and later Ocado. Getting a delivery slot on short notice seemed to be easier with the latter. And from that time we were very happy online shoppers.
Before moving to Frankfurt I started to do a bit of research what could replace Ocado – fully aware of the fact that online grocery shopping in Germany is still in its infancy. Rewe, the German supermarket chain, is offering it. But the small print is less attractive than Ocado. They offer two hour delivery slots rather than 60 minute slots.
Since actually living in Frankfurt I do not care about this any more. How the Rewe delivery service works, whether it works at all? I have not tried yet because of the incredible long opening hours of the Rewe stores in Sachsenhausen where we live.
Two of them are less than a five minute walk away, and one of them is open until midnight. Isn’t that wonderful!
I still remember vividly the great joy when we lived in Düsseldorf. Back then, stores could open until 8pm. What an achievement at that time, compared to the the 6:30pm closing time that was the standard for decades in Germany. And now I can buy my groceries until midnight!
In case I bake one of my sourdough breads late in the evening and I run out of pumpkin seeds, no need to delay the bread baking, I just walk to Rewe and get what I need. It probably takes me no more than 15 minutes.
Now you could argue that I still have to carry heavy stuff such as water. But wait for reason number two why I love Frankfurt.
2. Water quality
I do not need to haul Evian, Volvic or Buxton home. The Frankfurt tap water tastes excellent compared to London. Over there, drinking unfiltered tap water feels like taking a sip from the swimming pool. Here, it does not have any traces of chlorine, even without being filtered at home.
Moreover, the water is here much softer than London’s. It’s difficult to describe the culinary voyage for your taste buds when drinking my favourite London coffee beans Red Brick or my favourite green tea brewed with Frankfurt’s tap water. That’s just thrilling and it’s the best way to start in the day – followed by a shower which leaves your hair soft and silky.
And no, Frankfurt’s tap water isn’t just something which can make women rave about. My husband is also avid because the soap he uses for wet shaving foams up easily. He can go back to basics when shaving wet and uses his traditional shaving soap rather than canned foams like in London.
3. Underrated and understated
Understatement is part of the British culture. The British do it a lot and better than anyone else. No question about that. It’s deeply written into the nation’s character. I always have to chuckle when thinking about some examples of understatement in British history.
Think of the conversation between the Earl of Uxbridge and the Duke of Wellington when the former’s leg was blown off during in the Battle of Waterloo. The Earl reportedly said: “By God, Sir, I’ve lost my leg.” The Duke responded: “By God, Sir, so you have.”
Monty Python sketches are another great resource for British understatement. Or take the British Airways pilot talking to his passengers after flying into an volcanic ash cloud: “Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We have a small problem. All four engines have stopped.”
Granted, people in Frankfurt will never be able to top that. But there’s a different kind of understatement abound here. Not too many people are talking in a positive way about the town they live and work in. Most of them just either admit that they hate it or concede with gritted teeth: Yeah, one can live here, it’s okay.
After almost two weeks, I have to say that this self-flagellation seems off the mark. It’s really not that bad here. Frankfurt is pleasant with a lot of green spaces. Sure, the city center, the area around the main station and the financial district are rather ugly and drab. But Frankfurt has several residential areas which, for a German city, have an amazing amount of period buildings. Many houses survived World War II intact – for example in Sachsenhausen.
There are also food markets and nice little designer shops, cafés and specialty stores. There’s probably so much more to explore. But based on what I have already seen I’d say: Frankfurt is probably one of the most underrated towns in Germany. People saying otherwise either don’t live here, or are indulging in understatement.
4. Eppelwoi-Pubs for a Teetotaler
I am a teetotaler, have been for ages – long before people like Richard Woods, the award-winning head of spirits and cocktails at London’s “Duck and Waffle”, called it a trend. According to him, “non-alcoholism is the new vegetarianism.”
In Cologne, where I lived for six years, going to a traditional pub where Kölsch beer is brewed – the Brauhaus – and not being on the sauce can be quite unpleasant. The guys serving Kölsch are called “Köbes” and are probably paid to be rude. If you do not want to get into trouble with a “Köbes”, do not order anything but Kölsch. Ordering plain water can come close to an insult in that case.
The quintessential drink of the Frankfurt area is Eppelwoi, a weird form of apple wine. It has an alcohol content of about five to seven percent and a tart, sour taste. I tried a sip and have to admit it will not change me from staying a teetotal. But nevertheless I do like the traditional pubs serving Eppelwoi. The people working there take it with humour and a lot of composure when you order something else – unlike the Köbes in Cologne. They even happily offer quite a choice of other drinks.
5. A wild mix of languages
It has been a few weeks ago that I walked through Frankfurt from a notary’s office north of the city centre to our home south of the centre. It took me about half an hour and I passed dozens of pedestrians. Almost nobody spoke German. I heard many people speaking English, some of them gabbling in Japanese or Chinese, Polish or Russian. Some languages I could not place.
Besides Berlin, Frankfurt is one of the most international cities in Germany. Officially more than half of the people living here are foreign born or have a foreign born parent. Frankfurt has a population of more than 730 000. Many multinational corporations have their offices in Frankfurt. English is very well understood.
6. Short distances
Frankfurt has pretty much the perfect size. It does not take me more than 15 minutes by bike to get everywhere. Yesterday I had three meetings. Each journey took 5 minutes one way.
In London, it took me in London 20 minutes to get to the office by bike, which is pretty good. A one-hour commute seems to be the norm for many Londoners. But to get to press conferences in Canary Wharf, in the City or in Mayfair I usually planned with half an hour or up to 45 minutes. For journeys to the airport I needed at least an hour, usually more than this.
All this is so different here. There’s a bus very close to our flat which brings you to the airport within 25 minutes. And there are even flights to London.