Over the last week or so, I have been in Singapore or traveling to/from Singapore. I spent two nights on a plane, about eight hours in Frankfurt on a layover, and two full days in Singapore. This was my first long-haul trip, as typically I stick to traveling within the States, so this was also my first trip to Asia and first experience in Europe. Singapore itself has a reputation as a mini-utopia (albeit a very strict one) and an excellent place for doing business, so I was excited to see what this city-state was like in person.
The journey there was quite lengthy (from Friday night to Sunday morning my time), but that’s because I had a long layover in Frankfurt, Germany. I partially planned this so I could see a bit of Germany as I’ve always had an interest in the country and would really like to do a full tour of Europe some day, and also since I was unsure of how long it would take to get from one plane to another, I opted for a longer layover as opposed to an astonishingly brief hour layover (why would the website suggest that? I have no idea). My biggest gripe with the States is that it is so difficult to experience other countries and cultures and I’ve always been jealous of these smaller countries, especially those that facilitate easy travel between countries in the Schengen Area (another interesting tidbit I learned when preparing for my travels).
When I arrived in Germany, I decided to take advantage of the mass transit options in practically every other large city besides home and head to the city to experience a small section of Germany. The Frankfurt airport itself is obviously quite large but has pretty clear signage everywhere in both German and English, so navigating was relatively easy. McDonald’s and KFC are quite common in both Germany and Singapore, and in Singapore, both restaurants deliver! (I can only imagine how the obesity epidemic would expand, quite literally, if that was offered here.) Getting through immigration in Germany to exit the airport was shockingly easy for visitors, although I was jealous of the automated lanes that were offered for EU citizens (not the first or last time that I am jealous of the bonuses that come with being in the EU), which had a longer line but proceeded much quicker. The German police officer checked my passport, asked my final destination, stamped my passport, and I was on my way. And yes, getting in and out of Germany really was that simple every time. The “land of the free” could do with some pointers.
First things first, I withdrew some euros from the Deutsche Bank ATM that I found in the airport. I can always appreciate how connected technology has made us because even though my bank is US-based, it was easy to use my card both for regular purchases or withdrawing money from the ATM. However, the euro is slightly more expensive than the USD, so withdrawing €20 cost me $22.48 and in general, purchases in Germany were a bit higher on my bank statement, but usually only by a few cents. There is also a currency exchange booth, but the minimum withdrawal is €100. However, if you turn around with your back to the currency exchange, there is an ATM directly across, and for me, my bank does not have any foreign ATM fees, which made it an easy choice.
The Frankfurt airport is directly connected to a train terminal (both regional and longer-distance), but I would strongly advise looking up where you want to go in advance and how to get there as opposed to making sense of the maps! I found a few helpful blog and forum posts that were useful, although they weren’t of much help when I got on the wrong train (in my defense, trains really need to be color coded like the NYC subway system). The ticket machines are also easy to use and have an option for English (just press the UK flag at the bottom of the screen). A one-way ticket is €4,65, but an all day ticket is €7, which is a better option if you plan on using the train to return to the terminal as I did. However, they will not take foreign cards (which is the same in other countries, such as the Toronto system), so make sure you get euros from the ATM. The trains themselves were clean, busy with commuters, and on time (or only a minute or two late late, which they would immediately update on the display screens). I was also quite excited to see the German police at the terminal with a Belgian Malinois (but not to worry, I’m sure they use German Shepherds as well).
It took me well over an hour to figure out the S-Bahn (short-distance commuter trains) to get into the city center, ending up at Hanau Hauptbahnhof when I really wanted to get to Hauptwache, and butchering the pronunciation of both when I was trying to ask the unamused station employee for assistance. I thoroughly apologize for probably further ruining her impression of uncouth Americans, and next time I visit, I promise to be less horrible at pronouncing these words. The S-Bahn starts out in German and English, but a couple stops after the airport, it switches to German, although hearing it repetitively for quite a few minutes means that I was able to pick out “next stop” and “this is the S-9 train” quite easily. The trains also have a marquee on the front and back of the trains that textually announce the next stop, which is what I stuck to since we already know my German pronunciation is horrific.
I didn’t really have any plans for Frankfurt besides simply walking around, as it’s never really proven me wrong in the past when I plan to see a city the pedestrian way. I initially thought I might like to go to Mainz and see the Gutenberg Museum but after spending so much time trying to figure out the S-Bahn (and realizing that there is probably no way that I could navigate a smaller German city without basic German language knowledge), I decided to stick to Frankfurt as a safer option. I am definitely going to go through the Duolingo German tree before returning to Germany; while quite a few Germans are bilingual, English is not their language of choice from what I overheard, and given the States’ international reputation, I didn’t exactly feel like less of an American asshole for expecting everyone to automatically know English without even an attempt at German. The most amusing instance was a panhandler who approached me in Frankfurt to ask for money in German. I said that I don’t speak German, and he immediately switched to relatively fluent English to ask the same question, at which point I said that I didn’t have any change (not entirely a truth, but given that I was saving the change for a coin collection, not exactly a lie either).
Frankfurt was full of some gorgeous German architecture, which I love. I also stumbled onto a large march against the TTIP and CETA, which snaked its way around the city center, surrounded by watchful police, with random protestors carrying flags or posters walking around the rest of the city or getting lunch and socializing while still doing their political activist part. I didn’t take many photos besides those with my phone because Frankfurt was a bit of a dreary city and there just wasn’t much to see. I spent most of my time walking around the city, looking around, and realizing that all of the museums I was interested in demanded backpack checks, and as pretty much my entire livelihood was wrapped up in that backpack, I had no desire to part from it.
I got in quite a bit of walking on this stop in Frankfurt, well over the 10,000 steps that my Fitbit demands. However, the city itself seems to be rather pedestrian-friendly, including some lovely bridges over the Main River, where I got a nice view of the city and clouds…
Frankfurt was disappointing as the tourist attractions were rather limiting due to my backpack, and the only vegan option I could find in the city center was Burger King (where I ordered “pommes large” and “coke light”). However, this was my first exposure to Germany and while it seems that Frankfurt is not a typical German city (at least according to the opinions of the Internet), I did enjoy the architecture and little bit of sightseeing I did do, and I hope to return to a different area of the country quite soon!
In conclusion, my 10-hour layover in Frankfurt was worthwhile for the benefit of experiencing another country. I didn’t much enjoy having to spend two nights on a plane and getting about two hours max sleep between both nights, but getting to experience a bonus country was worth the sleep deprivation. I have always been interested in Germany from cultural, historical, and industrial perspectives (as well as just general curiosity about being a global citizen), and while Frankfurt itself was disappointing, I really suspect that the rest of Germany would be far more interesting and enjoyable.
Frankfurt was a visually impressive city. It’s not the intense urban overload of New York City, the lush greenery of Singapore, or the hipster sprawl of Seattle or Minneapolis, but it is an impressive view of historical architecture meeting industrial progress. Frankfurt is probably not going to be my favorite European city, but it was my first, and for that, I will have fond thoughts of my experience here.
Up next: my experiences in Singapore as well as the stories of a long-haul flight and how to make me hate you as a seatmate!