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26.07.2009

Frankfurt Revisited 

The story of my weekend in Frankfurt, told in seven parts: 

1 - Obscured By Clouds 

I arrived in the Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof at 5:45, and the feeling hit me the moment I stepped off the train.  There I was again after four years, standing on the platform of Europe’s biggest train station, the site from which so many amazing adventures began.  But this time I wasn’t traveling from Frankfurt—this time it was my destination. 

As I walked through the old familiar station marveling at just how accurate my memories of it were, I couldn’t help but keep an eye out for Claudia, as I figured there might be a small chance that she changed her mind during the day and decided to come.  Naturally, that was not to be, so I would officially be on my own.  There would come to be many big advantages to that, but the first was having to take the U-Bahn to get where I was going, and the Frankfurt U-Bahn holds just as much nostalgia for me as everything else. 

When I’d been a student, my I.D. card served as a year-long public transport ticket, but since I didn’t have that anymore I figured I’d better pay.  So I coughed up €2.20 for a single-distance ticket and hopped on the U4 where I would change over to the U6 at Bockenheimer Warte, one of my most frequently visited tram stations due to its close proximity to one of the university campuses.  The feeling of nostalgia overwhelmed me as I stepped on the tram, as every city has slightly different tram cars and it’s a huge part of the city’s character.  That feeling grew immensely as I stepped out into Bockenheimer Warte, as like the tram cars each tram station has its own particular character as well.  In Bockenheimer Warte there were giant photographs of scenes from the Goethe University up on the walls, and those pictures were still there.  I spent so much time staring at those pictures while waiting for U6 or U7, so seeing them again was quite surreal. 

I couldn’t resist heading above ground to take a quick look around before continuing my journey to the hostel.  I headed up and found the place just as I remembered it, walking around for a few minutes with a big dumb grin on my face—I was back.  I’d always hoped I’d be back, and now I was. 

After satisfying that brief urge I went back down to the station and took the U7 to Konstablerwache, the city’s most central and busy location.  That too was quite a trip to see, but I didn’t spend much time walking around as I knew I’d be doing all that the following day.  My only plan at the moment was to walk to the hostel, about a 15-minutes walk from Konstablerwache that I and the other exchange students took countless times on our way to Mr. Lin’s, everyone’s favorite Thai restaurant, or just to Sachsenhausen for a drink.  The hostel was right in the heart of Sachsenhausen and right along the river. 

Crossing the river was also an incredible feeling, as the Main is really quite beautiful and there’s an excellent view of the city—Germany’s only city with a genuine skyline—from the bridge.  I got across and found the hostel exactly where I expected it to be. 

2 - When You’re In 

As I walked into the hostel there was a crowd of about two dozen Japanese tourists standing in the lobby, which reminded me of how I always found it curious that so many Japanese people came to visit Frankfurt.  The thing about Frankfurt is that there’s nothing particularly historically interesting, no great museums or places of interest—just a lot of big buildings.  I liked that about living there because it wasn’t much of a tourist town, though for some reason Japanese people were still there all the time.  Of course, Hannover is way less of a tourist town than Frankfurt, but you’ll still see Japanese tourists from time to time, always traveling close together in big groups and clutching their cameras and guidebooks. 

Checking in was easy enough, and I headed up to my 4-bed room and found to my pleasant surprise that nobody else’s things were in the room.  It was quite a nice room too, with clean beds, a sink, and a lovely view of the river right across the street.  I left most of my stuff there, taking just the essentials, then headed downstairs to use the computer to check my e-mail. 

I didn’t get any e-mails, so I was about to leave the hostel when I bumped into a group of about seven French teenagers, one of whom stopped to ask me if I spoke English.  Most people assume I’m German which I’m quite used to, so when I answered in the affirmative he realized that I was a native speaker and then asked where I was from.  When I said New Jersey some of the others in the group thought that was really cool, and they started talking to me and asking me questions about America.  One of them apparently has an uncle who lives in Brooklyn.  I mentioned that I lived in Frankfurt four years ago so they asked me a bit about the city, particularly whether “the girls are nice here?”  I kind of shrugged at the question and just said, “Yeah, I guess” because I’ve never noticed any general differences between the girls in different parts of Germany.  No matter where you are in the world, there will be a lot of hot girls and a lot of fat, ugly ones.  Nowhere has a monopoly on beautiful women (except maybe Eastern Europe).  The guys also asked me if I had any weed, and having brought none I just said, “I wish” and they told me they had some and if I wanted we could smoke later.  I was quite amused by this, as it took me six months to get weed when I lived in Frankfurt, and I’d been back for less than an hour and people had already offered to smoke me up. 

Anyway, I said goodbye to those guys and then headed across the street just to sit on the edge of the river for a moment and absorb the atmosphere.  I was still a bit melancholy about the Claudia thing, though my mood was picking up at that point, and I listened to “Marooned” on my I-pod which fit the scenery perfectly as the day was just now slipping into evening and the setting sun was reflecting off the water.  I’d been listening to Floyd the whole day, having gone several months without listening to it at all and feeling like my return to Frankfurt was as appropriate an occasion as any to bust it out again. 

Once I’d soaked up enough of that it was time to get something to eat.  There really was no question in my mind as to where I wanted to go: Mr. Lin’s.  I headed off in the direction I thought it was and passed a bunch of bars I’d drunk at once or twice but Mr. Lin’s wasn’t where I thought it would be.  I wandered around for a bit, wondering if perhaps the restaurant was gone now and what a shame that would be.  I spotted O’Dwyers after awhile and from there I knew it couldn’t be far.  Finally, I looked across the street and there it was, still alive and well. 

In previous travel experiences I’ve never really eaten at an actual restaurant alone but instead just get some fast food or something when I’m hungry, but I had to make an exception for Mr. Lin because it was the place to eat among the exchange students and I couldn’t be back in Frankfurt without going there.  It normally feels weird to eat alone at a restaurant, but there was a woman sitting outside alone when I got there so I didn’t feel weird at all.  Other than her the place was empty, but there were plenty of other restaurants right there and lots of people sitting outside and eating.  I popped inside to ask if I could take a seat outside, and found the guy I think must be the owner sitting around doing nothing.  I remembered his face immediately and was quite gratified to see that it was the same guy from four years ago.  Obviously he didn’t recognize me, and while I considered explaining to him that I was one of the Americans who always ate at his restaurant four years ago but decided there was no point. 

Anyway, I gave him my order, a pad-thai and a hefeweizen, and took a seat outside.  The waitress came out with my beer a moment later and that first sip felt heavenly.  That nostalgic feeling came back as I sat there considering the fact that here I was in Frankfurt, sipping on a delicious beer on a lovely evening, waiting for my food to arrive.  I didn’t have to wait long before the giant plate of noodles, veggies, chicken and shrimps came out, and I dug right in.  The food was even better than I remembered it being, and although I was full half-way through it I kept at it until the whole plate was clean. Feeling quite stuffed at that point and noticing everyone around me smoking cigarettes, I got a powerful urge to smoke one.  I hate asking strangers for cigarettes but I couldn’t leave to go buy a pack at that point, so I worked up some nerve and asked the lady who had been there alone and who was now smoking if she maybe had an extra cigarette for me.  I spoke perfect German and was very polite but she just abruptly told me that was her last, which I’m sure was a lie, but I thanked her anyway and went up to another table in front of another restaurant where some people were smoking and again very politely asked if perhaps anyone had a spare cigarette for me.  They too seemed very put-out by my request, but one of the guys begrudgingly gave me one and lit it up for me.  I thanked him twice and then went back to my table to enjoy the hell out of that smoke.  All I did was eat dinner, but I felt a strong sense of accomplishment. 

3 - The Gold It’s In The 

It was a little after 8 at this point and I figured it was late enough to start drinking.  When I did my lone traveling to Paris and London back in ’05, I didn’t do any drinking because I’ve always shied away from the idea of drinking alone at a bar.  Even in my loneliest times in Hannover I never went out to a bar for a drink.  I’m just too shy and I figured I’d basically end up drinking alone like a total loser and getting even more depressed. 

But I’m a new man now and I had to at least try to get some socialization going.  And what better place to do it than O’Dwyer’s, the first non-Caribbean bar I ever drank at?  Why not make it the first bar I ever drank alone at as well? 

My resolve for socialization was hampered a little when I walked into the place and found it virtually empty.  Granted, 8:00 is still pretty early in terms of city night-life, but I’d thought there would at least be a few more people.  There were a couple of patrons sitting at the tables, two bartenders and a really cute waitress.  I sat at the bar and ordered a hefeweizen in my friendliest voice, hoping that if all else failed I could at least chat up the bartender.  I’d assumed he would be Irish, as Irish guys are always good for a chat, but unfortunately these guys were German and didn’t seem too interested in doing anything but pouring my glass and then going back to their game of darts. 

I sat there for quite awhile waiting for the business to pick up.  I asked one of the bartenders after awhile when the crowd usually gets in and he said 10 or 11, so I still had a long time to wait.  I just passed the time nursing my beer, listening to the music (the reason we liked this bar so much has a lot to do with the music, as they play a great variety including classic rock, as opposed to the shit most other places play), watching the muted music videos on TV to see how they synched up with the music, and glancing around to see if I could spot anyone I’d be comfortable enough going up to and introducing myself.  I never got a good vibe like that from anyone, and I wasn’t nearly drunk enough to overcome that shyness, so about two hours went by of doing exactly what I feared I’d do, just sitting there drinking alone like a loser. 

A couple of guys sat down next to me shortly before 10 but for some reason I got the impression from them that they wanted to keep to themselves.  A new bartender started his shift at about that time, and I could tell by his accent he was American so I asked him where he was from and he said Sacramento.  I told him I lived in Santa Barbara for two years and he asked when.  I said 2007 and 2008, and he said I missed out on the “good” Santa Barbara.  Apparently he’d also lived there for four years back in the early 90s, when he said it was a much better atmosphere, people walking barefoot everywhere and whatnot.  Then apparently in the late 90s it started getting ridiculously commercial and the town became like one big shopping mall.  I found this pretty interesting but he said he had to go take care of something and extracted himself from the conversation with me. 

A bit later I was craving another smoke so I asked the same bartender if there was a cigarette machine.  He said there was one downstairs (thus confirming what I already remembered) but I needed a card for it, which he gave to me.  I headed down and bought a pack, then one of the guys who was sitting next to me followed me down and asked to use the card because he’d been trying to buy a pack earlier but couldn’t figure it out.  The guy was definitely Irish and I should have introduced myself then, but for some reason I didn’t as I just wanted a smoke.  So I went outside to have one, then came back in and found the friend of the other guy sitting alone. 

I honestly don’t remember whether I said something to him or if he said something to me, but he said he was surprised I spoke English as I’d just been sitting there for awhile and he figured I was a German who came to this place all the time.  I explained my situation to him—I lived here four years ago and was back this weekend for a visit but the girl I was supposed to stay with canceled at the last minute and now I was on my own—and he said well then why don’t I join him and his friend?  He was going to order a couple beers and take them outside where his friend Gavin, tall blonde guy, was smoking.  His name was Paddy, and he was a bit shorter than his friend and had extremely short black hair. 

So I quite happily walked outside and introduced myself to Gavin who was sitting at a table and talking to a German guy out there, saying his friend invited me to join them.  Gavin was delighted to have a bit more company and invited me to sit down and offered me a smoke.  I declined because I had my own pack but I joined him as he lit another up.  Apparently like me he only smokes when he’s out drinking, so his objective was to finish the pack tonight. 

At first the conversation with the German guy continued, who was struggling to speak English to these Irish guys who didn’t speak a word of German as they’d never been to Germany before.  But as soon as I admitted to the guy that I spoke a little German he switched back and I became the default translator for the group.  Apparently the guy was inviting us to go to the “speak-easy” around the corner, but the Irish guys had no interest in going anywhere.  Eventually the guy got up and went alone. 

I spent the next few hours getting acquainted with the Irish guys who turned out to be—as all Irish seem to be—really good company.  They were in Germany with Paddy’s parents who wanted to check it out, and they came to Frankfurt because it was the cheapest flight.  This was their second night here and it was just dumb luck that they came to O’Dwyer’s this night because there was a pub much closer to their hotel.  But apparently they made the mistake of buying a drink for a guy who’d been banned, and as a result they got banned as well.  Ultimately they said it was a good thing because they found this place which was much better, and they met me which was apparently good because they told me I was better company than that other guy who got them banned. 

I was surprised to learn that they were only 22 years old, and they were surprised to learn I was only 25 because I look and act much older.  I was a wealth of information about Germany, and even Frankfurt in particular, and I told them a bit about it but mostly we chatted about the standard bullshit—music, TV, movies, funny stories from our past.  Gavin seemed to have the same exact taste in music as me, really into classic rock shit like the Doors and Led Zeppelin.  Of course he was a Floyd fan too, which means big points in my book. 

Once we finished our beers we started ordering rounds of cocktails, as they were having a two for one special and we had to take advantage.  So as the night wore on we found ourselves drinking crazy things like Sex on the Beach, cosmopolitans, and something called a Galaxy Special which tasted like a strawberry milkshake and you couldn’t tell there was any alcohol in it.  When it got to be really late, because we kept getting four cocktails at a time for just three people (unfortunately the deal wasn’t three for one) we found ourselves drinking several things at a time, taking a sip from the cosmo and then from the Sex on the Beach and back and forth.  I knew we were getting into serious hangover territory for the next day but naturally when you’re at that point you just don’t care.  I was having a great time so fuck it. 

Also later on a very large American girl was talking to us, though I don’t remember her coming up to us or how we got to talking in the first place. Nor do I really remember what we talked about with her.  There was definitely a lot of talk about music, and because I still had my I-pod in my pocket I busted it out and let Gavin listen to a few tunes with me (we each had on earphones) and singing along like the drunken fools we were, which the girl got a kick out of. 

Finally when it was really late it was time to go “smoke some doobs”.  They had weed back at their hotel but I said the Turkish guys at the kebab shops could also get you weed or hash.  I never got any personally but I knew people who had, so I figured it was worth a shot.  We left O’Dwyers and walked around.  I went into a couple of kebab shops and asked them in German if they knew where we could find something to smoke.  They

smiled at the question but said they didn’t have any, which may or may not be true, and that we should go to Konstablerwache if we wanted some.  That was too far for me though 

I walked with the guys and the girl as far as the river, then figured I should probably just go back to my hostel.  They asked me if I’d be back at O’Dwyers the next night and I said I would, and they agreed to meet me there.  So we said our goodnights and parted ways. 

Back at the hostel, the group of French teenagers was outside smoking when I approached and they waved hello to me and invited me to join.  But just in the small amount of time it took me to get inside and go out to the balcony, all but two of them had gone to bed.  So I just chatted with the two of them for a minute or two about god knows what and then we all went to our respective rooms for some sleep.  There was only one other guy in my room when I got in, and naturally he was snoring a little.  The funniest thing about staying at a hostel is that there will always be someone snoring in your room, apparently even if there’s just one other person.  But thankfully I was too drunk for it to matter and I passed out as soon as my head hit the pillow. 

4 - Mudmen 

The hangover the next morning actually wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be, though it was still brutal enough.  I woke up around 8, probably after only 3 or 4 hours of sleep, and because of my bullshit sleeping schedule (always waking up at 6 or 7 now) I couldn’t get back to sleep.  The guy in my room left really early so I had the place to myself again, but it didn’t matter.  I stumbled down for some free breakfast amidst hundreds of other travelers, none of whom I bothered trying to talk to, and then stumbled back up to my room to pop an aspirin and try unsuccessfully to get back to sleep.  I might have made it if the people in the room next to me hadn’t decided 9:00 was a good time to start blasting crappy pop music at top volume, including that song, “California here we come” which got lodged in my skull where it was quite unwelcome. 

The music stopped after a half hour or so and then I came within inches of getting back to sleep but never quite made it all the way there.  But at 11:00 I figured I’d better start getting in gear for the day.  I took a nice shower (best showers of any hostel I’ve ever been to), shaved, brushed my teeth, and was feeling much better already though still nice and dizzy. 

The first thing I did was hop across the street to sit on the edge of the river again and listen to “Mudmen”, both to dislodge that god-awful California song and put some nice pleasant nostalgic-ish Floyd in there.  Turned out to be a great choice, and it successfully stayed in my head the rest of the day providing the most perfect background music for everything that followed. 

I walked back across the bridge to Konstablerwache and kept going east, as my plan was merely to have a look around at all the places I used to go and all those places were pretty much along a straight path east from Konstablerwache.  I refused to look at any maps, wanting to rely purely on the instincts that my faded memories have left me with.  The names of the U-Bahn stations as I passed them would confirm my heading in the right direction: Hauptwache, Alte Oper (where I had my infamous night of deep conversation with Lu), Westend, Bockenheimer Warte, Leipziger Straße, Kirchplatz, and finally Industriehof/Neue Börse where my dormitory was. 

The area between Konstablerwache and Hauptwache is the busiest part of town, and there were all kinds of street musicians and itty-bitty-political demonstrations everywhere, even some combinations of the two, like a group of five young women singing in really terrible voices about peace and love.  When I got to Hauptwache I was approached by an older woman who said something to me in German about “Politik”.  I just gave her the standard “Mein Deutsch ist nicht gut” and thought I could move on, but she started speaking English. 

Okay, I thought.  I’m really in no hurry so let’s hear what she has to say.  I might learn something.  She asked me where I was from and was happy to hear America, because she was out there on behalf of Lyndon La Rouche, probably one of the biggest radicals in American politics.  I could hardly believe it because the last time I was approached by these La Rouche people was outside the Trader Joe’s in Santa Barbara.  I had no idea this guy’s reach was so wide.  But when I heard the name La Rouche I explained to her that I knew all about him and I’d read the literature but wasn’t interested.  Why?  Well, there are a few things he believes that I don’t believe.  Like what?  Well, for example he says 9/11 was an inside job, which I don’t think is true.  She goes into an explanation of how she understands that people don’t believe the conspiracy theories like there were already bombs in the buildings and such, but the whole thing had to do with Saudi oil money and so on.  I had a hard time following her because her English wasn’t great and she seemed to just be pulling talking points out of the air at times, but I was curious so I kept the conversation going. 

Apparently Obama should be impeached because there are a few lines in the new health care bill that will give government control over people’s lives and will lead to some nightmarish dystopian society where doctors are forced to let old people die in order to save the government the cost of keeping them alive.  She said it would be just like the holocaust all over again and I expressed my skepticism but she insisted it was already happening.  Just look at the bank bailouts and the financial system.  Okay, I agree with you there—the economy is fucked and it’s all going to shit.  But then she goes on to say that Obama is a fascist and talks more about how the cost of healthcare will bankrupt everything, especially now “with the swine flu out of control”.  As soon as she said “swine flu” I realized there was nothing I could learn from this woman, but I humored her and said “Okay, so if what you say is true then what’s the solution?”  She had been quite good at pointing out problems but she couldn’t seem to give me any kind of solid idea of what to do about it.  We just need to “build up the economy” and spend more on education.  Yeah, okay, I’m down with that I guess but could you be any more vague? 

At that point a guy in a wheelchair rolled right up to us, put a cup down at his feet and took a flute out of a case he was carrying.  The woman started talking to him in German which I understood, saying this was their territory and could he please go play that somewhere else?  The guy was very polite to her but he didn’t budge, and she was getting noticeably pissed off.  When the guy started playing the flute and she turned away in frustration, I said I had to go anyway and I wished her luck.  La Rouche would not be getting any donations from me today. 

I was a lot less sure of myself for the next portion of the walk but I passed Alte Oper and got to Westend all right, which meant now I had to turn right and walk north a bit to come to the Western Campus of the university, the building where I had most of my classes, probably the second biggest must-visit location on my check-list, the first being my old dorm.  I had to rely purely on gut instinct to navigate the curvy roads to get there, but my memory served me correctly and before I knew it I was back in front of that building.  The place was open but virtually deserted, as the summer semester just ended and there are only a few scattered summer classes going on.  I amused myself with the possibility of bumping into one of the many girls I met or admired there, such as Andrea or beautiful Marie-Lena.  Of course I was much likelier to run into Claudia as she actually works there now, but luckily I didn’t see her. 

At this point I really had to shit, so a bit nervously I walked right into the building and down the hall, figuring with my backpack on I looked enough like a student to get away with it, and found the bathroom right where it should be.  I took a nice dump in their toilet, feeling totally badass for doing so, just a guy walking in off the street and shitting in the university’s toilet.  There was almost no one around so I didn’t get stopped or questioned by anyone. 

After that I walked outside to the really nice area behind the building and walked up the steps I used to sit on and smoke before class to sit on them once again and appreciate the fact that I was there.  The weather, I should say, was absolutely perfect with just the right temperature and cloud-cover.  Yet another reason it was fortuitous that I changed the original plans of coming in June, a weekend that ended up being kind of shitty.  But as I sat there admiring the beauty of the place and how awesome it was that I made it back, I realized that I might never come back again.  I’d done the whole re-visiting thing.  If I ever go back it’ll just be re-revisiting.  So along with the sense of accomplishment there was a slight touch of melancholy at the thought that this really was like an epilogue to a book I put down four years ago, but this really was the last page. 

From the Western Campus I found my way around the Palmengarten (which you could walk through for free with a student I.D. but of course I didn’t have one now) and back to good old Bockenheimer Warte.  I walked down the East Campus building where we had our intensive German class, and back around to the courtyard outside the Mensa, the cafeteria where we ate when we were there.  Also in that area were the bookstore where I got my books, the building where I gave Gabriel a few English lessons (which I suppose would be a prologue to the part of my life I’m in now), the Café Extrablatt where we ate a bunch of times, the kiosk where I bought all my cigarettes, and a Subway and kebab stand that we also ate at a lot. 

Those last two things were at the end of Leipziger Straße, which is the street you could go to find everything.  I passed the T-Punkt where we went through the nightmare of getting internet and stopped at the internet café near there where we used the internet while waiting to have it in our dorms.  Just then it started to rain a little, which was perfect timing because I wanted to use the internet anyway and I got in to check my e-mail and do some stuff while the rain ran its course.  It felt quite cool to be e-mailing Corey from the same place I e-mailed him five years ago, and I had to readjust again to the fact that the z is where the y should be on the kezboard…it’s bizarre because my fingers made the adjustment so easily and I’ve actually fucked it up several times while writing this now on a normal keyboard. 

Anyway, the sun came right back out after the rainfall and I continued down Leipziger Straße in search of my old bank, the Frankfurter Volksbank.  I had virtually nothing in my wallet at this point so I needed an ATM, and I wanted to get money from that particular ATM both for nostalgia as well as the practical fact that I now have an account with the Hannoversche Volksbank so I could only check my balance with a Volksbank ATM.  Oddly enough I walked right by without seeing it, and when I got as far as the Italian restaurant we also ate at many times (we called it “Prego Man” after the waiter who always used that Italian expression) when I knew I’d gone too far.  I turned around and this time found it, and not only that but found it exactly where I expected it to be, just outside the U-Bahn station.  I have no idea how I could have missed it when it was right where I thought it would be.  I went in and checked my balance, pleasantly surprised to find slightly more cash in my account than I thought I had, then withdrew €50 which I hoped would be more than enough for the rest of the trip, which I’d assumed would be pretty inexpensive. 

I could have walked the rest of the way but I wanted to take the U-Bahn from Leipziger Straße for that old U-Bahn nostalgia I mentioned earlier.  I also spent a lot of time staring at the art in the Leipziger Straße station so I wanted to check that out again, as well as hear the lady’s voice on the tram say, “Nächste haltestelle: Kirchplatz.  Aufsteht links” which always used to mean “you’re one stop away from home.”  At first I tried to buy a ticket but I was ten cents short (it wouldn’t take a 50) and the machine didn’t like my card.  But I figured that I lived in Frankfurt for a whole year and got carded maybe a dozen times so the odds were infinitesimally small that I’d get busted.  Of course it’s always the one time you don’t have a ticket that they check, and then you’ve got to cough up €40, but I decided to risk it and save myself the two euros. 

The tram ride was strangely exciting.  The lady said the Kirchplatz thing just as I remembered it, and I knew that in a moment the tram would emerge from underground and stop at Industriehof/Neue Börse from which I would be able to see my old dorm.  When I stepped out onto that platform, the most frequently used U-Bahn platform of my life, I was giddy as a school girl to look across the street and see the dorm, Friedrich-Wilhelm-von-Steuben Straße 90, my former place of residence.  Like I’d done thousands of times before I walked back and slipped inside the opening in the fence to the courtyard among the different dorms.  Technically it’s a private ground and I wasn’t supposed to be there, but there was almost nobody there and it’s not like anyone would ask you what you’re doing there anyway.  It’s a student dormitory—lots of random people are always coming and going. 

I walked to the center of the courtyard and looked up at building C, third window from the bottom, second to the right.  Motherfucker.  What a weird feeling.  There was my window, the same window I’d sat in thousands of time to smoke a cigarette and blow it out, the window through which I viewed the world for so many months.  It was open a crack so I could see just a tiny little bit of the room inside, which almost made me tingle.  The other places in Frankfurt are places I went occasionally, but that was my home.  I may not be proud of it, but I spent more time in that little box than everywhere else in the city combined.  In the four years since I left I’ve had several dreams in which I was back in that exact spot, either inside that dorm room or outside on the grass where I was now standing, and I would always wake up disappointed that I was actually in America and not back there.  Well, finally I was back there.  To think of all the amazing lucid dreams I had in that very room, and here I was making one of my dreams a reality. 

So from the dormitory it was a 10-minute walk to the park I used to walk around every so often, and doing that walk again was absolutely #1 on my list of things to do—which also happened to be the last thing on that list.  I had a feeling it was going to be the high point of the day, and I was right.  As soon as I got back in the park I was overwhelmed with this joyful feeling of being in a beautiful place I really loved—nothing but great memories there. 

Thanks to the few minutes of rain earlier, most of the locals seemed to be scared away and the park was much emptier than it would normally be on a Saturday, which naturally worked out wonderfully for me.  But during my walk the weather was beyond perfect—I couldn’t have asked for anything better.  I walked all the way around almost the whole perimeter, following the same exact path I used to take four years ago, memories reawakening with each new section of fields or woods I’d walk through.  Everything was exactly as I remember it, except the playground which now has two zip-lines instead of one, and the bridge under which we set off all those fireworks one drunken evening was having work done.  But man, what a beautiful walk. 

Of course at this point my legs were killing me, so I’d frequently have a seat on a bench here or there and soak up the scenery.  Once I’d gone all the way around I walked back up to the first bench I passed, the one with the best view of the park and sat there for a good long time appreciating the fact that I’d made it back there, feeling sad that I might never return, and trying to decide whether I like Hannover better than Frankfurt or not.  My mind is still not made up on that question. 

It wasn’t even 5:00 yet and already I’d done everything I wanted to do, so I sat on that bench for a very long time until a mother and her two adorable little daughters came and set up a picnic right in front of me.  Sensing the potential of such a distraction to completely alter my state of consciousness, I got up, said my last goodbyes to the park, and walked back out the way I came in. 

5 - Childhood’s End 

I had toyed with the idea of going to the HL, the supermarket where I always used to shop near the dorm, and now that I had finished so early I figured I might as well, as silly as the idea sounded.  I passed through the dormitory courtyard one last time and again stared up at my window, letting sink in whatever it was I wanted to sink in, then I bid farewell to my old box and headed off toward the supermarket. 

When I got there I was shocked to find that it was no longer a HL but a Rewe, Rewe being one of the two supermarkets I shop at in Hannover.  Suddenly it made sense why I haven’t seen a HL since I’ve been back in Germany when they were everywhere before, but Rewe’s are all over the place. I guess Rewe used to be HL, and I got a huge kick out of the idea that I’ve actually been shopping at a HL all this time without knowing it.  I actually went inside just to see how similar it was to my memories, and unfortunately the set-up had altered quite a bit so the nostalgia-factor wasn’t too high.  I walked around pretending to be searching for a particular item, then walked out without getting stopped by anyone to ask me what the fuck I’d been doing there if I wasn’t going to buy anything.  Amazing how much I was able to get away with. 

I took a different route back to the tram platform, passing the old post office from which I sent many packages including one full of German chocolate and other assorted niceties for Jessi, and the other student dorm where the Irish students lived and where we had a few nice parties on occasion.  I made it back to the tram platform and once again decided not to bother with a ticket (I found it makes the ride a lot more exciting).  I sat down to wait for the U6 as I’d done so many times before, and when it came I took one last glance in my dorm’s direction, then boarded it. 

I stopped again at Leipziger Straße to go back to an internet café, a different one this time because in spite of the nostalgia-factor of the other place, the internet there was kind of slow.  I looked up information about the English-speaking theater, hoping that Star Trek was still playing but unfortunately it wasn’t, but I still figured that seeing a movie would be a great way to kill two hours and get off my feet for awhile.  I also found Justin, one of my fellow exchange students, on Facebook and sent him a friend request with a message telling him where I was and what I’d been up to. 

After that I went back down to the Leipziger Straße station where I got a call from my mother while waiting for the tram.  I talked to her for awhile, having to stop while I was actually on the tram, then I got out at Hauptwache, another tram station I used to go to a lot and which was luckily the closest stop to the theatre.  When I reached the theater I checked to see what was playing and the only thing I had any interest in was the movie Hangover which I’ve been told was really great by a few people, including Oliver’s Irish friend Dazz.  But for some reason the idea of seeing a comedy alone just seemed weird to me so I considered not going in.  The next showtime though was 6:10, and it was now 6:00 so it was just too perfect.  I bought a ticket and went in to watch the movie. 

It wasn’t as funny as I’d hoped, but it was still quite good.  The subject matter, at least, was appropriate for this weekend, about getting extremely drunk and not remembering what happened last night.  The movie revolved around a group of guys who have a bachelor party in Vegas, and because I’ve been to Vegas it struck me just how many fucking places I’ve been in the world. 

Anyway, when that was over my legs were nice and rested up for the 40-minute walk back to the hostel.  It also rained while I was in the theater, but it had apparently just stopped, thus making the absolute perfection of the weather during my trip that much more bizarre. 

But the most bizarre part of the trip was just about to happen.  The background: four years ago I was a clean-shaven kid with short hair, not exactly the prime target of drug dealers.  I knew there were dealers at Konstablerwache so one day when I was desperate for weed I went there and walked around for over an hour until I finally found a dealer.  The guy took me to a back alley and told me to wait, then quickly made the exchange: €40 for what I discovered later was just a back of rocks—actual rocks from the ground. 

Four years later I’m sporting long hair and a beard, and this is literally my third time at Konstablerwache since returning and a dealer comes right up to me.  I smiled at the irony of it and asked him in English if he sells hash.  I know these guys sell to tourists a lot so they have to speak some English, and he said of course he could get me some, “Come with me, my friend, I get you some really good weed, marijuana, you know?  I get you fifteen euros of really good stuff.”  Fifteen euros sounded reasonable to me—just enough to get high with Paddy and Gavin if I saw them again that night, and I went with the guy as he led me across the street to meet up with one of his many other drug-dealing friends.  They led me to a computer game shop, a favorite hang-out place for Turks and told me to wait outside.  “You give me money, I go in and bring you back some weed.” 

“Oh no,” I said, “I won’t give you any money until I see it.”  Damn, that felt good.  He kept insisting I give him the money first and I kept refusing.  Clearly I’m a bit more intelligent than I was last time, plus I had the advantage of not really caring if I got any or not.  But it felt like I was finally vindicating myself—correcting a stupid mistake from four years ago by refusing to make the same one. 

He also offered to sell me cocaine or ecstasy but I politely refused that as well.  And he kept trying to up the price.  “You give me one hundred euros I get you good shit and go home.”  Sorry, that’s too much.  “Okay, seventeen euros.  You give me seventeen, it’s not so much.” 

Oh shit.  Wait a minute.  “Do you mean seventeen or seventy?”  German-speakers often have a problem with this, and I’ve had to correct my students on many occasions.  “When you said fifteen euros, did you mean fifty?  Five-zero?”  Yes, of course he meant five-zero.  Well, there’s a problem then because I only wanted fifteen.  One-five. 

At this point his demeanor changed entirely as he suddenly got very hostile.  “What do you mean?  You say fifteen I get you fifteen.”  Clearly he still didn’t understand the distinction between fifteen and fifty.  I tried to explain it to him like the English teacher that I am but he wasn’t listening.  He thought I was trying to back out because I no longer believed he was legit.  “You think I’m playing games with you, man!?  I been working out here 11 years, man.  I am here every day.  You want I give you my phone number?” 

“No, that’s not it,” I kept trying to say.  “I believe you.  I trust you.”  To which he smiled and offered me a fist-jab, but then I had to go further and again try to explain the difference between fifteen and fifty but this just got him even angrier.  At this point we were walking back in another direction to his other dealer friends who were going to get the stuff and they just kept telling me “It’s okay” like the problem was I didn’t trust them.  I finally just decided fuck it and I turned to walk away, but he physically grabbed my arm, pulled me back and got right in my face, literally inches away to the point where his spit was flying in my face and shouting at me about how he’s “not playing games”.  I know that, I kept saying, I’m just trying to explain that we didn’t understand each other at first, that it’s not a problem with him it’s just a problem with his English.  So he calmed down for a moment and I explained the fifteen/fifty thing again, saying the words as slowly and clearly as possible but it just wasn’t registering with him.  But thank fucking god his friend came back because I explained it to the friend who understood right away, and then his friend explained it to him, which of course pissed him off because now he just spent twenty minutes working his ass off just for a miserable €15.  But he handed me a little piece of hash which I could tell was legit and about €15 worth, then I took out my wallet which unfortunately had only two €20 and he wasn’t handing out change.  But I made the exchange and he walked away pissed.  I felt like that was probably some unnecessary spending but it was worth it just for that experience. 

6 - Free Four 

I walked back to the hostel, pausing on the bridge to admire the beautiful skyline with the setting sun bleeding through some clouds in the background.  I got back to my room, which was now populated by two Japanese guys to whom I said hello but nothing more because they clearly could only speak Japanese.  I remember thinking this was good—Japanese people don’t snore, right?  But I just quickly got my things in order and headed back downstairs.  With the hangover from the morning I wasn’t sure I’d be drinking tonight and that I might have to bail on Gavin and Paddy, but having just bought that hash and now feeling fine enough I figured I’d go back out. 

On my way out of the hostel I bumped into the two French teenagers from last night and they gave me a cigarette which I didn’t want but politely took anyway and smoked with them outside the entrance.  We talked about what we’d been up to today.  They’d been at a place called the Red Lion where apparently you can get a blowjob and a fuck for just €20.  So that’s what they’d been up to.  I asked about the girls there but they didn’t say they were hot, just that they were Latina or Portuguese.  An German girl came up to them too to ask them for a cigarette, and she also seemed to have met them before.  She started talking to me because she could tell I was American and soon enough those guys left and she complained about how all they talk about is sex.  Hardly a shock.  So we talked for a few minutes as I gave her the basic gist of my life situation which she found quite interesting.  One of the first things she said to me was, “It must have been so sad for your country when Michael Jackson died” and I didn’t quite know how to react to that.  I just said that his fans all over the world were very sad, not wanting to go into how most Americans view the situation with simple morbid curiosity rather than any genuine sadness or sympathy.  Anyway, I’m a little ashamed to say it but she wasn’t attractive or interesting enough for me to want to continue talking to her for a long time, so I just mentioned I was meeting some people at a bar and I had to go, then I said it was nice meeting her, gave her my name and got hers, and that was that. 

I got a quick bite to eat from a pizza stand, then popped into O’Dwyers at 9:30.  It was much busier than the previous night but it was still a bit early.  No sign of the Irish guys.  So I sat there again drinking alone like a loser, watching golf on the TV and slowly nursing my hefeweizen.  After about an hour a group of about a dozen English guys all wearing the same polo shirt came in and ordered shitloads of drinks.  Since they were standing all around my barstool one of them asked me how I was doing and I said I was pretty good.  He too was surprised to hear perfect English and he could distinguish right away that I was American.  “We’ve got a yank!” he exclaimed.  “It’s always great to meet a yank.”  I thought that was the strangest fucking thing to say but hey, to each his own.  Of course he then modified that by saying, “Well, it’s almost always great to meet a yank.  Not these guys we met last night—some soldiers who were real assholes.”  He also asked me if I found the term “yank” offensive and apologized to me for using it but I explained that I couldn’t care less. 

One of the guys turned back around to the rest of the crowd—apparently they were having a bachelor party (which the English call a ‘stag party’) and had come to Frankfurt because it’s the cheapest place in Germany to fly to—while the other guy continued talking to me.  He said, “Now, tell me if I’m out of line but if I had to guess I’d say you’re a democrat.”  Not wanting to get into any kind of political hair-splitting I just said yes and he said it’s the long hair.  He said he was fascinated by American politics and that he’s always following the political news.  So I thought it was going to turn into a political discussion, which I was quite ready for, but it actually went in a different direction. 

I told him everything about myself that I’d been telling everyone else but this time I remembered to ask about him.  Apparently he and the rest of the guys there were all schoolteachers, and he explained the British education system to me and complained about the job.  He said he envied me because I was living free but teaching high school and college (college in Britain is what comes between high school and university) is basically just teaching kids how to pass tests.  Every now and then he can go in another direction but most of the time he has to abide by the curriculum.  I mentioned how I almost went that route in Santa Barbara but stopped when I realized how much of a ball and chain it would be.  It was a really nice talk but before I knew it the group was heading off to another pub.  I exchanged names with the guy, Mark Pickwell, and he said to look him up on Facebook which I just might do.  Apparently Facebook might have a whole new use I hadn’t thought of—keeping in touch with random people you meet during travel.  I’m still not sure as to the utility of that, but I haven’t thought much about it yet at this point. 

Anyway, at this point it was a little past 11 and I figured I’d just finish my beer and then go home and go to sleep, but just then Paddy and Gavin came in and I knew the night just got a lot longer.  They came up to the bar by me, and Paddy’s parents soon followed, as apparently they also wanted to see what was so good about this place.  Paddy’s mom was English but she’d married an Irishman and lived there most of her life, and she seemed like a typical nice, intelligent British woman. 

But the three of us went outside leaving the parents in there for the time being, and we agreed to stick to beer tonight and just order rounds of pitchers.  We sat and talked about the events of our respective days, I told them the story of buying hash and said we could smoke it later if we could borrow rolling papers from someone, but ironically everyone around was smoking normal cigarettes, whereas in Hannover everyone rolls their own.  They said they had weed but they forgot it in the hotel again.  But at the end of the night I was invited back to their place to smoke some doobs, and I resolved to take them up on their offer this time. 

What followed was more hours of chatting about whatever, just a good pleasant time.  Eventually I spotted someone with rolling papers and Paddy went up and asked him for one.  So I started rolling one up right there, which surprised Gavin because he figured, you know, this was kind of illegal.  But I felt right at home, telling him we used to roll spliffs as this place all the time and the worst that would happen anyway is that someone tells us not to do it.  I kept it discreet of course, burning the hash below the table and whatnot, but of course nobody said anything.  That seemed to be the theme of the day: me doing something I wasn’t supposed to be doing and suffering absolutely no consequences.  So we smoked the doob, found that the hash was delicious and a bit later I went to buy some papers of my own. 

When I returned with the papers, Paddy’s parents had joined us outside, and I quietly asked Gavin if I should wait but he said they were cool, so I rolled up another and we smoked it right in front of Paddy’s parents.  I chatted with the four of them for awhile, mostly because the mother found me interesting and I guess I impressed her with all my crazy intelligence and knowledge and whatnot, and I found her to be just as pleasant as the rest of them in spite of the fact that she wasn’t Irish. 

As the night grew later the place got more crowded, and at one point a group of about seven other Irishmen, about as drunk as it gets, were sitting outside near us and singing drinking songs which they insisted all the Irish at our table sing along with.  So that was quite funny and I enjoyed it thoroughly.  Nothing like a bunch of drunken Irish men singing their songs.  One of the guys seemed like a real firebrand and he kept insisting that they sing more songs about fighting the fucking British, but one of the guys didn’t want to because he’d asked and found out that this guy’s wife was English.  But she didn’t mind any more than I minded being called a “yank” and the songs were sung.  Personally, I think it’s great that a culture has that kind of tradition.  I don’t particularly care for the songs in a musical sense, but just the idea that they memorialize their fallen heroes in song is something I think is pretty awesome.  I only wished I could sing along with the rest of them.  I think the one guy, the guy who seemed to be leading each song and getting really enthusiastic about it, noticed this because he then said, “You know what drinking song that everybody knows in every country in the world?” and then he started singing the end of “Hey Jude” which I was able to sing along with for the two or three times we actually went through it. 

There were two waitresses there that evening, the cute one from the previous night and another one who was also attractive but in more of a hot way.  The ‘cute one’ was German but the ‘hot one’ was Irish, and she kept coming out to chat with her fellow countrymen while taking their orders.  Towards the end of the night she gave out the last call, then started encouraging everyone to finish.  She said she was really torn about having to break up this wonderful gathering but the place has to close and we were all welcome to go with her to another Irish pub where she’d be drinking. 

As we were all finishing our drinks, the cute waitress came outside for a moment to sit down and I started talking to her, asking her about tips and confirming that even in a place like this most people tip around 5%.  I’m not sure how it came up, maybe because she apologized for her English not being so good, but it made me think of Krissi and I asked how hard it would be for an American girl with ten years of bartending and waitressing experience to find work at an Irish pub.  She thought it would be quite easy for any English speaker to do it, then she asked the hot one the same question and the hot one confirmed it.  So if Krissi wants to live in Europe it’s a safe bet that she can. 

Just before they closed the bar I ran in and gave my last €5 to tip them, as I’d been mooching off the pitchers others were buying all night long and I needed some karmic balance.  After that we followed the hot waitress to another Irish bar, Gavin or Paddy went inside to bring us beer, and a few of the other Irish guys expressed disappointment when it was revealed that the hot one had taken us here so she could meet her boyfriend.  I don’t know what they’d been expecting but a lot of them went home.  It was fucking late anyway. 

Things are pretty blurry at this point, but somehow I found myself introduced to an Arab-looking guy and when I asked him where he was from he told me he was an Iraqi born in Germany.  I believe he was a Kurd who lived in Iraq for awhile but got out before the war.  I being a drunken American immediately started apologizing up and down for my country having so completely fucked his country up, but he couldn’t have been more gracious, saying he understands and doesn’t hold me responsible for what Bush does anymore than he holds Germans responsible for what Hitler does.  I said I was so glad to hear him say that, and I think we may have hugged.  In any case it was a touching moment. 

Paddy and Gavin were there but I think they were just enjoying the scene.  I talked to the guy, I think he said his name was Herrisch, for awhile about what it’s like being an Iraqi in Germany, and he appreciated my understanding of how even though he was born here the Germans will never let him feel German.  Having just read a book on that very subject I knew all the right things to say, and anyway it was just a really nice conversation. 

When he left, our beers were about finished and the sky was starting to get brighter.  That motherfucking sun was coming up.  So now I went with Paddy and Gavin and walked all the way back to their hotel, which was no short distance, considering going back to my hostel but figuring I’d never see these guys again so if I could crash at their place why not?  I made sure I could crash there because fuck knows after a joint I would not be walking back. 

Crossing the river at dawn was kind of nice too, but soon enough we were in their hotel room, a nice cozy little two-bed flat with its own bathroom and everything, and we smoked a joint that Gavin rolled up.  I set my phone alarm for 8:00 because check-out time at my hostel was 9:00.  Unforuntately it was past 6:00 already so I knew I wouldn’t be getting much sleep.  After the doob had been smoked, they laid out some cushions on the floor and tossed me a pillow.  I passed out immediately. 

7 - Absolutely Curtains 

When I woke up, I checked my phone and was startled to see that it was 10:40.  Of course—when I went to the theatre I put it on silent mode and forgot to change it back.  I’d missed my alarm and my check-out time, and all of my stuff was still back at the hostel including the train ticket and other essential things like my passport. 

I immediately leap to my feet, and went into the bathroom to take a piss, but somehow Paddy had wound up sleeping there on the floor.  I tapped him awake and helped him to his bed, then relieved my bladder and wished those guys goodbye.  I’m sure they passed out seconds later and probably slept until well after I’d left the city. 

Leaving the city was the objective now, as when I’d bought the ticket I planned to stay as long as possible, assuming I’d have company the whole time.  But I really didn’t want to wait until my scheduled departure time of 6:20, seeing as how there was nothing I wanted to do and I really didn’t want to get back to Hannover at 9:00 anyway. 

I stumbled out of the hotel, head pounding like a motherfucker, but the long walk along the river back to my hostel cleared me up a bit and the headache magically disappeared.  When I got back to the hostel I explained what had happened, and one of the front desk guys took me back to the room where the cleaning lady was just getting to it.  Unbelievable luck—all my stuff was still there.  Not only that, there was no talk of a late departure fee or anything.  Once I’d got my shit together (unfortunately I couldn’t take a shower) I left, gave them my key and they gave me my receipt.  If only I’d known I wouldn’t be sleeping there Saturday night I could have saved some money. 

Now I had to get to the train station, and I decided I didn’t want to press my luck riding ticketless on the U-Bahn again so I’d walk.  Unfortunately the Hauptbahnhof is one of those rare places in Frankfurt that I never actually walked to so I wasn’t sure how to get there and ended up taking a really roundabout route, asking lots and lots of Germans along the way how to get there.  They all knew exactly how to get there but for some reason none of their explanations alone were good enough and I’d find myself without any bearings just minutes after I’d gone down the ways they recommended.  But each time brought me closer until the last guy’s directions finally took me all the way there. 

I got into the station and went up to the Reisezentrum to ask about changing my ticket.  Well, I’d have to pay a €15 fee (which I expected) but the earlier train was also more expensive, so it added up to €39.  I figured “fuck that” and I just asked the guy about lockers where I could keep my things and roam around because that seemed like way too steep a price to pay.  I found the lockers but they cost €4 and I had…exactly zero.  I went to an ATM, drew some cash, and looked at the clock.  12:20.  Six hours with nothing to do but walk around Frankfurt all smelly and hung-over.  Suddenly €39 didn’t sound too bad.  So I sucked it up, went back and changed the ticket, reducing my wait time from six hours to one hour, and bringing my scheduled arrival in Hannover back from 9:00 to 5:00.  I killed the remaining hour in a nearby internet café, where among other things I saw that Justin had responded to my message and he’s going to be working near Amsterdam come this Fall so there’s a chance we could meet up and hang out. 

I made it back to the station just in time, then began the long 3 and a half-hour journey to Hannover with a changeover in Fulda.  I listened to Obscured By Clouds while departing Frankfurt, then spent the rest of the time listening to other assorted Pink Floyd, which I’ll probably now go a few more months without listening to again.  As much as I love the music I think it’s probably best to only bust it out on special occasions. 

At any rate, the journey was long and it sucked not having showered but I made it back to Hannover, got back to my apartment and took a shower, then started writing this at about 6:00.  It’s now 10:15 and I haven’t eaten dinner or done anything else but I’m quite glad I came back early so I could get this done when it’s as fresh in my mind as it’s ever going to be.  Such a detailed account of such an awesome trip is well worth €39 in my opinion—at least that’s what I can tell myself and it sounds plausible enough. 

So all in all this was without a doubt, the best trip I went on since coming back to Germany, and ironically it was to the place where I first lived.  Even more ironically, if that bullshit with Claudia hadn’t happened (and the odds of it happening were really a million to one) then the whole experience would have been radically different and probably not for the better.  Having gone alone was the best thing that could have happened because it really let me do whatever I wanted to do and forced me to open up and try to meet people, which I did quite successfully.  I feel a bit more like a real adult now than I did last week. 

I still can’t decide whether I like Hannover better than Frankfurt, but whatever the case that city will always have a special place in my heart.  If this past weekend was the epilogue to my experience there, then it was a very good ending indeed.