Keeping it in the room: health, happiness and living in Berlin
‘Oh, you’re going to Frankfurt,’ is what most people said to us when we told them we were going on a short break to Frankfurt. ‘Poor you!’
Frankfurt isn’t renowned as being a particularly beautiful place; and with a population of little more than half a million, it’s a pretty small city, despite having a big reputation. It’s mostly known as being a financial centre – when you arrive, one of the first things you see is a massive skyscraper with a giant euro in glistening steel in front of it. ‘Maybe that’s where the sensible, prudent Germans keep all the euros before bailing out the less sensible other Europeans,’ we thought. It turned out it was the European Central Bank, so we weren’t far wrong.
We’d rented an apartment on Airbnb, and were looking forward to seeing where it was; it turned out to be at the less salubrious end of one of the main shopping streets, Zeil. The main train station is at one end of the town centre, and we were at the other, a 15 minute walk away; although there’s a frequent underground train service (U-Bahn), it was a nice day, so we decided to walk, so that we could see what the town was like.
We passed two street markets – one looked like a regular street market, with fruit, veg and cheap clothes, while the second was in one of the main town squares, and runs every Thursday and Saturday. Because it was the first warm day of the year, it was packed; there were a few fruit and veg stalls, but it was mostly prepared food – think meat in a roll – and drink. The Germans love their beer, and the square on a sunny Thursday evening was no exception – there was a really friendly, welcoming atmosphere as people stood at high tables chatting, laughing and drinking
We found a stall selling steak in a large crusty bread roll, which proved to be a lot tastier than we expected. For about €4 (£3.30) we got a delicious organic, free range slice of meat which had been lovingly marinated and served in a fresh roll with onions. Perfect.
Frankfurt, with its rich investment bankers, has a thriving art scene, and we were invited to the opening of an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. The three floors were dedicated to heaven, hell and purgatory by contemporary African artists. We weren’t sure about the art – some of it was a bit weird for our liking – but if you’re an architecture fan, then you’ll love the building, which was clearly designed with contemporary art in mind. The plethora of nooks and crannies mean that if you’re not a fan of one piece, then you can turn a corner and see something quite different. Unfortunately, the Viennese architect Hans Hollein didn’t offer the same amount of attention to the outside of the building, which is a bit soulless, and more like the service entrance to a shopping centre.
The museum is located in amongst a number of art galleries, and so we found it interesting walking along quiet streets looking in at the range of different types of work. We also dropped in on the opening of Berlin-based artist Murray Gaylard’s solo exhibition at Philipp Flug Contemporary, with his fun and kooky pieces, including 20 attempts to sculpt a perfect arse from play dough in under six minutes and Disco schlampe (loosely translated, it means disco slag).
Not far away was the Schirn Kunsthalle, with an exhibition by Tobias Rehberger presenting total sensory overload – black & white camouflage patterns and patterns that make your eyes go funny, followed by installations and sculptures. A relatively small exhibition, we would have been disappointed if we’d paid the full €12 (£10) to get in, but luckily a nice lady at Frankfurt Tourism had given us super saver Frankfurt visitor cards, which got us half price entry to lots of museums, along with unlimited public transport.
Frankfurt is surprisingly green, with a wide slow moving river running through the centre. A ‘green belt’ of meadows, woods, hills and water meadows surrounds the city, and rumour has it that a recent mayor had a lot of bushes cut down from one spot after it was revealed that it was a popular gay cruising spot. The gay people living in the city were outraged and said they’d never vote for that politician again, so the bushes were promptly replanted. The city won’t confirm the rumour, but if it’s true, we love it for showing off the power of the pink vote!
We visited the Chinese garden, a (free to enter) 4,000 square metre spot in one of the parks which was planted and pagodas constructed in just five months back in 1989, as well as the Palm Garden, a (€7 (£5.80)) mini version of Kew Gardens, with its green houses and various zones with different humidity levels. We weren’t sure we approved of the two bird cages with very bored looking parrots in – these seemed to be a throwback to a previous time.
Frankfurt felt to us like a very safe, friendly city; despite our apartment being a street away from the red light district (prostiution and brothels are legal in Germany), we were comfortable holding hands while walking around even late at night. We’d probably have got bored if we’d spent more than a few nights there, but it’s definitely one we’re pleased we visited.
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