All I remember about the Wayne Newton song “Danke Schoen” from law school is that it was the subject of a Supreme Court (?) contracts case (?). Wayne, it turns out, was singing the song all wrong. “Schoen” should be pronouned “shun”, not “shayne”, as in the following sentence: “Should Tiger Woods be shunned by his corporate sponsors for his less than upstanding behaviour and nefarious connections?” My children were only too happy to point out my lack of linguistic skills this past weekend in Frankfurt, Germany.
After hearing Bea Long and MCV wax on about the German Christmas markets, I just knew that a trip to the Vaterland would put even the loneliest of teens in the Christmas spirit. It certainly would me. What’s not to like about schnapps, schnitzel, and over-the-top decorations? There’s nothing like a good frankfurter to put a spring in the shopping step!
New to the world of cut rate airline tickets, Mr. Understanding and I scoured the websites of easyjet.com and Ryanair. Our easyjet flight to Paris was such a success that we tried Ryanair, since easyjet doesn’t fly to Frankfurt. An amazing deal, the tickets to Frankfurt Hahn cost next to nothing for a family of five. My credit card misbehaving (not my fault), Mr. Understanding booked the tickets. Most of the hotels in Frankfurt were full but, via Expedia in Spain, I booked two rooms at the Westin; they assured me they would try to have the rooms connect. The Expedia rep spoke English and was extremely friendly – a good thing, as their website is not for those traveling with families.
An hour before we left for the airport, Mr. Understanding looked at the tickets and thought there was something wrong. A quick investigation determined that the airport of Frankfurt Hahn was an hour and a half away from Frankfurt am Main, the city commonly referred to as Frankfurt. RyanAir, being a budget airline, does not have clearance to land in the nation’s airport hub, just like easyjet. Hmmm …. what to do? We ordered a hotel van, the whooshing sound of money leaving our bank account making my stomach sick. Detlef the driver, formerly from the land behind the wall, came to our rescue. I do not know where the rest of the passengers from the completely packed airplane went but disperse they did, even the two week old baby in the Carolina Herrera baby buggy, presumably via friends or buses. Frankfurt Hahn is squarely in the middle of nowhere.
After negotiating with the desk clerk, we managed to obtain side by side rooms on the same floor (but not connecting), way in the back of beyond of the nearly empty hotel. I love connecting rooms. I love connecting rooms with cots for extra children. But this time, the sucking air financial wound fresh, I forewent the extra 35 Euro bed: it was girls in one room, boys in the other, and the Princess had to share a bed.
One thing I love about traveling is talking to taxi drivers, at least native taxi drivers. Usually a wealth of information, Detlef was no different. He pointed us in the direction of all our our meals, gave us a short personal history, including stories of two escapes as a child from East Germany and how he met his Korean wife, along with the nicknames of Frankfurt (Mainhattan, Bankfurt). The first evening, at Detlef’s behest, we went to Adolf Wagner, a rousing restaurant with family style seating. We sat next to three American men from Maryland, all former policemen. Adolf Wagner’s schnitzel and potatoes are, frankly, unrivaled and, if you are a foodie, worth the trip to Frankfurt alone. Adolf Wagner, like the restaurant next door, Zum Gemalten Haus, does not serve beer, only the local apfelwein. Detlef, to his eternal credit, was clear on this. Apfelwein, or apple wine, is not taxed, unlike beer. Served in a blue painted jug along with specially crafted glasses, it smells rather like the inside of a barn, the taste being similar. The apple champagne, twice as alcoholic as the wein, was infinitely better. A table of Germans behind us having their holiday white elephant gift exchange were on apfelwein and Jaegermeister overload, whooping it up.
The next day we strolled in the rain through the stalls at the Frohweinachtmarkt, which runs from the main shopping pedestrian street down through the platz and deadends at the river Main. A generally acknowledged atheist nation, the German Christmas market is nevertheless a time honored tradition and money maker. Cups of gluhwein (hot spiced wine) and kinderpunch in hand from the Lions International booth, we ogled and ogled. No one had told me much about the killer food: nutella crepes with bananas and Cointreau, chocolate covered fruit and marshmallows (kusse), bratwurst in a baguette, gingerbread hearts decorated in frosting, wrapped in cellophane and tied up in ribbon – no need to eat at the hotel. One girl wore a giant gingerbread heart which said “Ich Liebe Diech” around her neck as she held her boyfriend’s hand. Glass ornaments, tin and wooden toys, handicrafts – a shopper’s paradise.
Our all-time best ever public toileting experience came from the public restrooms, “Toi Toi”, in the market. For 1.5 euros, a girl can pay to pee in serenity. Clean! Staffed and equipped! Men get in for free! Perhaps discriminatory, but who cares? There’s even a squatty potty for those missing China.
And then there were the stalls with the Buddha heads. This I don’t get. Who gives a Buddha for Christmas? Apparently, plenty of people. Maybe all the German men with Asian wives – have you noticed it is never the other way around? Thai restaurants almost outnumber the schnitzel haus’. Outside the merriment of the Christmas market, there is a strange, inexplicable, oppressive feeling in Frankfurt. Many of the buildings are new – the rest were bombed in WW2. A few pockets of old buildings exist, nestled in the city. The churches are darkened. The ruins of Roman bath’s outside St. Bartholomew’s cathedral only add to the battleground feeling of Charlemagne’s “ford of the Franks” and the long march of time. According to Wikipedia, part of St. Bart’s skull resides in the cathedral; St. Bart was one of Jesus’ twelve apostles and legend has it that he was flayed alived and crucified upside down. The Jewish synagogue destroyed on Kristallnacht in 1938 has been rebuilt. Once home to 30,000 Jews, now only 7,000 live in the city.
In the van on the ride back to Frankfurt Hahn, Thing 3 said to me, “Mommy, I could have bought a lot more.” Me too. I left one happy hausfrau, filled with the Christmas spirit and a cup of cheer. Next year, Nuremburg, if I can convince Bea aLong. Maybe my next trip to Frankfurt am Main will be for the book fair to sell my book? In the meantime, danke schoen, Frankfurt, for both the joy and pain. Next time, I’ll pay the big bucks to land in the right airport.
Question: Do you have a favorite Christmas ornament or decoration? Or do you just dust off your old Buddhas?