Among Skyscrapers and Half-Timbered Houses

April 8th, 2018

I felt the adrenaline flow though my stiff body as I looked out of the airplane window, the raindrops slowly dissipating as the grey clouds gave way to a mass of green and yellow fields spreading out towards the horizon thousands of feet below. After a gruelling 13-hour non-stop flight, I was more than willing to take in a fresh view other than the back of plane seats and monitors. It really was an exciting experience to finally be in European airspace. On the evening of July 19th I first landed in Frankfurt, my port-of-entry to the rest of Europe. After clearing immigration, I took a few minutes to calm my inner excitement and come to my senses, and thought to myself, “Wow, I made it, I’m finally here!” Stepping out into the open square in front of the Hauptbahnhof, or the central train station, I started to make my way to my hostel just a mere five minutes away.

The sun had already set, and the clear sky gave off a tint of dark blue. Speaking of hostels, there are not many in the city actually, and most of them are located in Bahnhofsviertel, a rather sketchy, but vibrant neighbourhood. It’s the area that not only contains the train station, but the city’s red-light district as well, and there are lots of neon-lighted strip clubs, casinos, and even shady brothels that give an element of vice and thrill in the area, along with the few dozen colorful (and weird) characters that wander the streets right across from the train station. It may come across as a bit of a shock for someone to walk among them for their first time here, let alone in Germany– as was the case for me!

The city itself gives off a very metropolitan vibe, but it gets boring after a few days– being the financial capital of Germany there isn’t really much to do besides chilling by the river Main and going to small flea markets and festivals in the area, the highlight of which is the Sommerwerft Festival, an annual affair consisting of both local and international art, music, dance, food, and of course, beers. I decided see what’s up and went with Leo, a Brazilian I met in the FiveElements hostel where I stayed for the duration of my time there. Leo introduced me to the really tasty Guarana juice and tapioca pancakes from his native Brazil. Tracing the sound of music, we stepped into a large tent and were instantly swept away by a breathtaking world music performance of seemingly South American origin.

Affectionately called ‘Mainhattan’ because of its proximity with the river Main running east-west, and due to its skyline being dominated by towering skyscrapers flaunting the names of major German banks, Frankfurt could be considered an atypical representation of a German city. Surprisingly there aren’t that many work-friendly cafes in the downtown area in which I could get work done, so I had to make do with whatever there was. I took a day trip to Bornheim, a quiet residential district nestled on the northeastern side of the city, where quaint cafes and local bars were serving regional apple wine. One of which was the famous Zur Sonne, a place that was a little out of the way, tucked amongst the low-rise apartments.

Leo and I spontaneously decided to take a day trip south towards Heidelberg, one of the most beautiful German towns situated on the Neckar River between Frankfurt and Stuttgart. If Heidelberg was a woman, I would have instantly fell in love with her. The sheer beauty of ‘Altstadt’, the Old Town, was mesmerizing. There’s a distinct romantic vibe that enshrouds the city, as I strolled among the pastel-colored walls of traditional German houses on the narrow cobbled streets, stopping by to people-watch along the way before deciding to hike up towards the Heidelberger Schloss (Heidelberg Castle) perched on the adjacent hill.

The view at the top was as though it came straight out of a classical painting. Down below, the Neckar River gracefully divided the town into two, running along the valley out into the plains towards Mannheim on the distance. Heidelberg itself is not a very big city compared to Mannheim and Stuttgart to the West and South, respectively. With a population of less than 200,000 residents, a quarter of which are students, Heidelberg would definitely be an ideal place in the region for someone to take a break from the hustle and bustle of contemporary city life.