Back to the West!

Trip Start Aug 08, 2006
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Trip End Oct 11, 2006


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Sunday, September 3, 2006

Frankfurt, Germany (Country Name in Local Language: Deutschland)

It was quite a relief to return to the West! Although the cultures and landscapes of China, Mongolia, and Russia were fascinating, I did not feel a complete sense of security there. For instance, using the internet in Beijing meant temporarily rendering one's passport to an official and registering a computer with a complete log history of all the websites one was visiting. Hailing any street taxi in Moscow or St. Petersburg was advised against since tourist mugging was a common problem.

Getting out of Russia also was a big hassle. I had to have all my baggage X-rayed three times, wait in line for 2 hours to check-in and another 1 hour for passport control. Luckily I ran to the gate just in time for boarding call. I arrived to Frankfurt Airport in business class on Scandinavian Airlines from Moscow via Copenhagen. Arriving to the world's third richest country (Average GDP per capita: $30,400 US in 2005, source: CIA WorldFact), I felt a sense of familiarity, security, and comfort. In fact, I used to live in Berlin, so I was familiar with the language, culture, food, transportation, etc. It felt more like a long-awaited homecoming. Being able to speak German with the officials once again at the all-too-familiar airport was a great relief. I then walked directly to the train station and took the evening train into town. Although the Euro was at an advantage over the dollar (1 Euro = $1.28 US), the prices here were comparatively reasonable on some levels.


After landing at Frankfurt Airport, I had to wait an extra hour for my luggage, lost in Copenhagen, to be flown in on the last SAS flight to Frankfurt. Then, I called up my American friend Jana, who told me she was waiting with a German friend, Sabine originally from Jena, East Germany, at home. I took the S-Bahn train to Niederrad Station, then the Straßenbahn (Tram) to Triftstraße. It was already dark, around 9:30PM. The outdoor cafe of Sky Lounge was packed with customers on this busy, cool Saturday evening (65F). I walked two blocks north past the Post Office and turned right at the corner of Schwarzwaldstraße, where the best corner cafe in Niederrad was located. Then, I saw Jana and her friend, Sabine, walking towards me. After having moved to Frankfurt in April, Jana seemed well adapted to her new life here where she was doing her post-doc in Molecular Cardiology at Johann-Wolfgang-Goethe University of Frankfurt am Main. My first, striking impression of this American once lost in translation was that she had found herself in this linguistic labyrinth. I would see her mouth moving, but the sounds did not represent any recognizable English words. She spoke rapidly in unbroken German to me and her friend, which was a testament to her dedication and diligence in mastering the language in less than a year. It was quite a linguistic metamorphosis for her! If only our friend Sandra, Jana's German professor, could only see her stellar student shining now.

Her apartment was located in the suburb of Niederrad (Lower Wheel), 10 minutes southwest of downtown Frankfurt by tram. It was located conveniently only half a block (1 minute) from all the essentials of living - several banks, grocery stores, bakeries, fruit stands, butcher's, clothing stores, drugstore, cafes, post office, pharmacies, washateria, dry cleaner, internet cafe, restaurants, pubs, taverns, clubs, tram stop, and most importantly, Döner eateries. (Germany is invaded by cheap Turkish fast-food diners serving pita bread with mutton and lettuce).

After washing up briefly, we went straight to Schwarzwald Cafe, a cute tavern where Jana's friend, Maria was working at the bar on this particular night. All of Jana's friends showed up, and for a moment, I was reminded of our big social group at The Gingerman in Houston. It felt like Jana was surrounded by her new family and strong support group. Everybody was so nice, and they showed a genuine interest in helping Jana out. I was introduced to the special, regional alcoholic wine of Frankfurt called "Apfelwein," or "Apple wine." It had a slight tart apple taste with some sparkling bubbles.

Throughout the evening, I had a chance to practice my German with these new-found friends. We did not call it a night until probably 2AM.

The next few days in Germany were for me to run errands - like dropping my suits at the Dry Cleaning Store called "Fresh Bloom," near the corner of Schwarzwald and Bruchfelder Streets, right next to an Optometry Shop and a delectable bakery. Then, I would stop at a cafe for some Quarktasche, a German pastry with melted sweet cheese covered with powdered sugar, and a cappuccino. How I longed for good coffee and pastries when I was in Japan, China, Mongolia, and Russia! I did have a chance to visit downtown Frankfurt, Heidelberg, and Rüdesheim during my short stay in Germany.

Heidelberg, home to one of Germany's oldest (1386) and most prestigious universities, was one of the few medieval towns to survive intact the ferocious bombing of World War II. Poets had expressed their admiration of the city in prose and poetry, painters had sketched it with soft, pastel tones of fondness, while musicians had lavished the town in symphonic odes. With the advent of the German Romantic Movement (1750-early 20th century), Heidelberg was transformed into a legend, christened as "The City of Romanticism." Yet great minds from the German world of science and the arts flourished in this charming town on the Neckar River. Intellectual giants like Philosopher Georg Hegel (1770-1831, Founder of Slave-Master Dialectic and Self-Conscious Philosophies), Robert Bunsen (1811-1899, Chemist for which the Bunsen burner was named), Karl Jaspers (1883-1969, Psychiatrist and researcher into Schizophrenia and Delusional Theories), and Hans Gadamer (1900-2002, Philosopher and Founder of the concept of Philosophical Hermeneutics and Historically Affected Consciousness) conducted important works at the University of Heidelberg. Walking around the narrow cobblestone streets decked with summer flowers, one could really feel the quintessential ambience of Germany.

Not to be outdone, Rüdesheim, also 1 hour by train from Frankfurt, was a cute wine and chocolate-producing town on the mighty river Rhine, which originated in Switzerland and flowed through France, Germany, and The Netherlands on its 820 mile (1320 Km) trek to the North Sea. Overflowing with terraced vineyards, iridescent summer flowers, taverns, and a forest trail on the hills, Rüdesheim also was very charming in its own rights. One of the best activities in Rüdesheim was to get lost in the wine valley either on foot or by bike. From every distance, one could see the serpentine Rhine River flowing gently into the sunset.

Tomorrow (Friday, Sep 8) will be the big reunion day in Italy. I will be together with Lucia, Carlo, Jana, Christina, Uta, Annalisa, and many Italian friends in Lucia and Carlo's hometown of Gubbio (Umbria). Leaving my German dictionary behind, I long for the sweet, melodious cadence of the Italian language, its rich food, and warm sun. Then, Saturday at around 4:30PM is the wedding church service.

There will definitely be many songs and dances in Bella Italia in my next travelogue...
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