Whenever I cycled through Frankfurt’s Bahnhofsviertel, the part of the city directly opposite the main railway station, I used to find it disturbing and fascinating at the same time. There are junkies shooting up openly on the pavement as well as hipsters sipping espressos at trendy cafes. You see uber-cool restaurants and cheap chain stores, luxury apartments and brassy sex shops. Some houses are really stylish, others rather dilapidated.
Recently, I joined a guided tour of this part of town to see it from another perspective -the one of a homeless person. Thomas Adam, a man in his late 50ies, lived on the streets of Bahnhofviertel for more than ten years when he was an alcoholic.
Now he is a tour guide and he shows Frankfurters as well as tourists parts of Bahnhofsviertel, where he used to sleep rough and beg for money, where he bought booze and cheap food, where he found a rich sponsor who gave him a few hundreds euros – and the place where he finally found help and the strength to overcome his addiction.
When living in London, we heard a lot of praise of the German cycling infrastructure by British cyclists: A wide network of bike paths which means you barely need to venture onto the road. Thoughtful drivers which are used to watch out for cyclists when turning and overtaking. Wasn’t Germany one of the few perfect countries for cycling?
But in reality it is anything but. The cycle paths in towns and cities are often not purpose build and are only separated parts of the existing pedestrian paths. You have to watch out for pedestrians as well as for cars crossing your path at junctions. Often there are parking spaces to one side of the cycling paths which means you have to look out for passengers opening doors. Sometimes tall hedges make it difficult for a car turning to see you on the bike path. Many cycling paths are in a deplorable state with holes and other obstacles such as tree roots. Often the lanes are just way too narrow which makes overtaking slower riders almost impossible.
Another problem recently caused my husband to come off his bike and break his kneecap in pieces: bollards which look rather innocent and elegant because they are grey and unflashy. They are usually installed in spaces which are prone to illegal parking. They are embedded in concrete and usually made from strong materials such as steel or concrete.
I am not a staunch vegetarian. Most of the time, however, I do avoid meat. One reason is the environmental impact of meat farming, which – to name only a few issues – is a major source of greenhouse emissions and driver of deforestation. Ethical reasons are another motivation for me to cut down on meat.
In London, it was easy to do so, as vegetarianism and other eating habits have become mainstream. Vegetarian options at official dinners are the norm. Official invites always ask for “any dietary restrictions”.
Returning to Germany meant it has become harder to live like that. Especially on formal occasions like press receptions, Christmas dinners or corporate summer parties, you cannot take it for granted that vegetarian alternatives will be provided. Continue reading “A wasteland for vegetarians”
For a mayor of a town which is in the pole position to become a Brexit winner and attract bankers from London, Peter Feldmann is surprisingly unfazed by this outlook. Frankfurt’s mayor wants a second term. Since he missed out a clear victory in the first round, there will be a second round on Sunday, 11 March. In his campaign Brexit and the prospect that the city’s financial sector will grow and might lead to considerably higher tax revenue does not play a role at all. Feldmann does rarely talk about the subject publicly. When he does, he sounds indifferent if not hostile. And the city does not do anything to convince London-based banks it is the place to move to.
In a way, this reminds me of Boris Johnson. The former mayor of London – one of the most globalized cities, economically powerful and vibrant, with more than 270 nationalities – decided two years ago to become a Leave campaign’s prominent cheerleader, despite the fact that London will be a clear loser of Brexit.
The big German supermarket group Rewe had a reason to celebrate a couple of months ago. The company was named as the country’s most popular online food delivery service. Online sales of groceries and other food products have been sluggish in Germany. Management consulting firm A.T. Kearney expects e-commerce will account for 3 percent of the grocery market by 2020, up from just 1 percent now. But almost half of the people ordering fresh groceries online use Rewe.
I’m among them but I have to admit I’m not a happy customer. After having used Ocado in London for quite some time I was curious whether Rewe could match Ocado’s level of quality and service. They can with regard to punctuality. They are even a bit better by sending you a text message on you mobile about half an hour before the expected delivery which is usually in a two hour time frame of your choice. That’s quite convenient whereas as an Ocado customer you choose an one hour delivery slot and might have to wait until the end of this chosen time frame.
Nobody can accuse me of not liking bikes. I prefer cycling to any other means of transport. And I would not mind at all if more streets and parking spaces would be converted into bike lanes. But I am turning into something like a bike hater of late. A hater of all those rental bikes which are causing chaos in Frankfurt, to be more precise.
You have a choice of five different services and since there are no docking stations like in London or Paris, the bikes are all over the place – they are freefloating, that’s how this is called officially. Sometimes you find them abandoned in the middle of nowhere and pretty often you just find them knocked over by the wind, tangled up with others or dumbed near the river.
According to rental companies there are probably 6500 bikes to rent in Frankfurt. You have 11 000 in circulation in London and the city has a population of more than 8 million. Frankfurt has not even one tenth of this. Continue reading “What a colourful chaos”
After four months in Frankfurt there’s still a lot to discover but there are also two places I am very much familiar with. When I have an appointment with somebody in the morning they often suggest one of those two cafés for the meeting: “Zeit für Brot” (Time for bread), a bakery with a few tables, or “Brot und Butter” (Bread and butter), another bakery with many more sitting opportunities which is part of a store selling lovely household and garden goods made with traditional methods.
The people I meet there, sometimes PR specialists or consultants, sometimes bankers or lawyers, do not only enjoy having breakfast at those places with a nice crescent roll, an open-faced sandwich or a currant bun, they also buy some bread to eat at home. Those two bakeries do not offer the biggest variety but regarding the quality of their products is probably among the best in Frankfurt. Continue reading “Time for bread”
It’s a fun place to visit, it’s fantastic and magical. Those were some of the compliments for a big wooden tower in the southern part of Frankfurt, close to where we live. The iconic tower was named after the writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe since it was dedicated to the public in 1931 – shortly before the centenary of Goethe’s death. Unfortunately the tower burned down a few weeks ago and we had not visited it beforehand. The firemen had no choice but let it burn. The cause for the fire was probably arson.
And now the good news: The Goethe Tower will be rebuilt and it will be made out of wood again. I could not believe this when I heard this recently. Why on earth would somebody want to rebuild a wooden tower exactly the way it was and make it again so easily flammable? But that’s what according to a survey 78 percent of the people in Frankfurt want. And that’s what the politicians in Frankfurt approve of as well.
In early October, I told the story how fiendishly difficult it was to tell Postbank about our move from London to Frankfurt and update the address. After several attempts and branch visits, I though the issues were finally sorted. Little did I know.
A few days after a joint foray to a branch with my husband, we received a letter from the Postbank customer service in Hamburg. They asked us sign yet another form to get the address finally changed. Since it was a joint account they needed the signature of the two of us.
That struck us as odd. Why had none of the people serving us in the branch told us so? Had they not been aware of the fact that signatures of every party were needed when updating the address of a joint account? Anyway, we signed the form, posted it to Hamburg with gritted teeth and seriously considered leaving Postbank for good. But as we had already invested so much time in the Postbank experience, we wanted the reward.
The German financial hub it tiny relative to London and lacks the city’s cultural buzz. Yet mounting evidence suggests that it will still turn into one of the biggest beneficiaries of Brexit. Much to the chagrin of its ordinary citizens, and of some anglo-saxon bankers already enjoying Frankfurt’s high quality of living.
Believe it or not, but there are anglo-saxon bankers who are deeply in love with Frankfurt. I met one a few days ago, and he was raving about my the town I have been living in since early September.
In London I only heard mockery and scorn. Frankfurt was tarred as too boring, sleepy, completely unglamorous. Nowhere could match London’s unique financial centre, many argued. Why would you want to leave London and live there, they asked? Since the city is more than ten times smaller than London, doesn’t it feel like being sent off to a desert outpost?
The other day, I came across a British banker making a slightly different point. “Frankfurt is like a small jewel,” he told me. “I never want to work anywhere else.”