Dear Family, Friends, and Diary,
We landed. We collected our carry-ons and headed into FraPort (Frankfurt Airport). Our memories had been of a sprawling rabbit warren of hallways, passages, and formalities. Ten years later, it was still the same.
After a twenty minute walk, immigration formalities were a quick and efficient welcome to Germany. Baggage was late, as it always was when we arrived a decade or two ago. Somehow, the predictability was reassuring.
Bags in hand, we exited the nothing-to-declare passage and found our Sixt car rental kiosk just outside. Again, no line, but signing up for the car we would have for two months took some time. We had reserved a Tesla Model Y, just like we drive at home. We wanted our smart phones connected to the car, as we are used to, and this would be a new and untested process for the rental company. They promised it would happen in a few days. (It never did.) Meanwhile, we need to make do with a cumbersome card for manual entry. Seems primitive.
As we had agreed, Marianne was the day's designated driver, while I helped navigate. With just one wrong turn out of the airport, the same mistake we often did in the olden days, we were on Autobahn A3 ("ah drei"). Our driver seemed right at home. The GPS system led us to our hotel with little need for help from the human navigator. The ordinariness of the short drive was reassuring.
We had chosen to stay at the Macrander Hotel in Offenbach because it had been my weekday home in the last years of work, when my job had shifted to the Areva office just across the street. Then, as now, the Best Western was a not-fancy business hotel. Now, however, it seemed to be surrounded by a huge new construction project, a sign of local prosperity due to new European Bank expansion in the neighborhood. Construction had taken over the parking area, but we were allowed to take the taxi spot in front - convenient, but I worried about getting a place back if we ever leave.
Walking to dinner seemed like a good idea and the hotel recommended Föster's, a twenty minute stroll away. Offenbach is a blue-color city and the walk was through very German-normal apartment blocks, not large or fancy. Again, there seemed to be little change since I walked this same street in the 2010s.
At the neighborhood restaurant, we had neighborhood food - pork and fries for me and a salad with chicken for Marianne. The simple meal was as traditional as we remember neighborhood food. A good start.
We managed to stay mostly-awake until 8:30pm, and then crashed for several hours of not-very-good-sleep. The dreaded jet lag had descended. We wpouldsee how much it interferes with our reintroduction to Frankfurt.
Thursday started early with a writing session and then the hotel breakfast buffet that had not changed much in the years since this was my regular day-starter. Then it was a walk over to the Kaiserlai S Bahn Station for the 20-minute ride into central Frankfurt. It took a bit of figuring to operate the fare card machine, since THAT technology had completely changed, but it just meant a delay of one train, not a problem where rides come by every three or four minutes.
Our first goal was the T-mobile store in Sachsenhausen to see about getting a German phone line installed on our iPhone 14s. The German clerk was very friendly, but ultimately unsuccessful, since we had not had our AT&T phones "unlocked" when we bought them. I had asked for that, but I'm afraid our Fresno salesman was not aware of the subtleties of two-line phones. This whole process cost money and, more importantly an hour or two of time, only to be frustrated. Not good on our jet-lagged heads.
We had chosen Schweitzer Strasse for our phone store because Sachsenhausen was our old neighborhood, when we lived in Frankfurt 20 years ago. As we wandered around for the next hours, window-shopping mostly, we had all sorts of pleasant memories. Little on the shopping street had changed, with a majority of the stores, restaurants, shops , and services still the same. In minutes, we felt at home and could imagine eating from the delis, bakeries, fruit kiosks, and restaurants.
Speaking of home, we walked as far as Hedderichstrasse and our old apartment building. The place looked exactly the same, not unexpected for a century-old building. Our place had been half of the middle floor (#2 by American counting, #1 by European) and backed up to the tracks of the South Main Train Station, the Sudbahnhof. Our neighbor buildings were a train company office and the train station itself. This had been a wonderful location for travel with train, S-Bahn, U-Bahn, and street car lines easy walks away.
From Hedderichstrasse on the southern edge of Sachsenhausen we simply wandered north, past the old neighborhood apartments and businesses. We were tiring, but kept wanting to walk just a little more. Eventually, we reached the Main River and took required pictures of the skyline and river scenes.
After a short rest at a cafe, we extended our walk to the Galleria Kaufhaus, a traditional department store that anchors the downtown shopping area. Once again, everything felt little-changed. Up on the seventh floor, we enjoyed yet more cityscape photos.
Five hours after we started our wanderings, we were starved. We grabbed U-Bahn Line 2 from the Kaufhaus basement station back to Sachsenhausen. We went directly to one of the pair of very traditional restaurants on Schweizerstrasse, Zum Gemalten Haus ("To The Painted House".) We each ordered plate-smothering schnitzels, as traditional as could be. Tasty and traditional.
Fully fed, we took our two-ride subway trip back to the Macrander Hotel, tired but with a sense of success (despite the whole mobile phone fiasco.) After a short nap, we sat in the hotel garden to evaluate our day.
While sitting there, it dawned on me that the massive "construction" project that loomed over the hotel was not new at at all. In fact, it was the remains of the Siemens and Areva offices where I had worked 20+ years ago! My office had been on the ninth floor of the building on the right, one of the areas that had been removed. The changes were so extensive that it had taken me a full day to recognize the place.
With that, we ended the first full day of our Great European Road Trip. It was all good, almost all anyway.
Friday started with routine: breakfast, write, and plan the day. Because we would be leaving, we added packing to the immediate chores. After saying good bye to the friendly hotel staff, we headed over to Kaiserlai station for an S-Bahn ride downtown. The Frankfurt public transit system is immense and allows car-less transport throughout the region. We certainly appreciated it, as we had 20 years ago when we lived here.
The morning goal was a bit of shopping. We both needed new sneakers for walking in the summerish weather and Galleria Kaufhof at the Hauptwache station was the perfect location. The seven-story department store had a huge selection of all the name brand shoes I could imagine.
After shoes, Marianne looked for a white blouse, again a purchase made necessary by the warmer than expected weather. While she shopped, I watched people and the skyscraper construction far above our heads. Everything was big-city busy.
By mid-day, we were back on the subway. We picked up the car in Offenbach and then headed east toward our friends Fidi and Fritz. Marianne had driving duties again because of her city skills and because my navigation is sometimes necessary in unfamiliar places. As it turned out, the Tesla's GPS worked well enough that my skills were only needed when we went off the assigned path.
We needed to kill some time so we did not violate the local rule of punctuality - not too late and not too early. The village of Alzenau seemed promising, and it was. The small village center was picture-perfect Bavarian, with a square, a castle, and an 18th Century parish church.
After our properly-timed stop, we drove a few kilometers to Albstadt, an even smaller village. There, we greeted Fidi and Fritz, our hostess and host for a couple of days. I had worked with him in Offenbach, so we had been friends for over twenty years. I am happy to report that the pair had managed to not age a bit.
We were given a tour of their home, which also seemed unchanged from our last overnight, a decade-and-a-half ago. The garden and back view of neighboring fields was as perfect as we had remembered. We spent the first of several hours of catching up, sitting in the afternoon sun, admiring everything.
Fritz used his "Texas BBQ" to prepare a selection of pork while Fidi prepared a wonderful salad, baked tomato dish, and roasted potatoes. This was the best we've eaten so far!
After dinner, including cherry obstkuchen (coffee cake), we talked for hours. Fritz and I tried to solve world problems, as we usually do, without success, our normal result. Still, it was fun.
Saturday started with a classic German breakfast: great bread, butter (two varieties), cheese (5 flavors), cold cuts (four types), and enough fruit and vegetables to be healthy. And plenty of conversation.
Almost on time, we walked out the front door, slowed only slightly by more conversation, this time with a friendly neighbor.
Our plan for the day was a tour through the Odenwald, an area just south, that is littered with picture-perfect villages. We would stop in four of those small towns, and get saturated with churches, castles, and squares. ("CCS") In the old days, we used to take similar car trips to CCS throughout Europe, so this fit perfectly with our desire to relive parts of the olden days.
Fritz drove, so I could enjoy the scenery as we rode through forests and fields. The Odenwald ("Oden's forest") drive included the small, curvy roads that make me appreciate someone else being responsible for staying inside the white lines, while avoiding interacting with the numerous motorcyclists enjoying their last sunny rides of the year. As those thrill-seekers zoomed past us, we discussed the concept of "body parts" for local medical facilities.
Our first stop was Michelstadt's central square and its famous city hall and town well. This was the start of way too many pictures, but it's impossible to not want to have a record of everything. We managed a church picture, of course, but also found a small synagogue, a rarity in current Germany. The ladies also managed to work in some shopping while Fritz and I took pictures.
Ebrach im Odenwald
Just south of Michelstadt is Ebrach im Odenwald, another stop on our cute-village tour. Our village walk started with a chateau and its huge garden and grass area. Farther toward the center we wandered past a real castle, complete with tower, and an elephant ivory museum. Reportedly, this fascination with elephant ivory has a history of a few hundred years, and Ebrach im Odenwald is famous for it. OK. We also stopped at a locally-famous brewery for some quick hydration (non-alcoholic beer for Marianne and me - a good thirst-quencher).
Stop #3 was Amorbach and its huge Abbey. Fritz gave us a rundown on the tumultuous history of church property as redistribution was used in Napoleonic times to reward some and punish others. Today, the abbey and its attached protestant church are a museum. Not far away was St. Gangolf catholic church. As was often the case in Bavarian churches we have visited, there were lists of soldiers killed in war, in this case from 1870, 1914-19, and 1939-45. The last list was the longest (the picture is only one half).
Our fourth quaint and picturesque town of the day was Miltenberg, as charming as any of the previous three. Besides, it was dinner time. Fidi had made reservations at Hotel Zum Reisenkein, one of the oldest breweries in Germany that is also recommended for their typical Northern Bavaria food. Everything lived up to its billing. After our meal, we walked the streets, past even more half-timbered shops, offices, and upstairs apartments until we came to The old Market, aka: Schnatterloch. We were told this fachwerk collection is a special feature on Christmas cards. Below the village, we walked along the Main river, first passing three young boys doing what young boys apparently do in Michelstadt.
And with that, we finished our Odenwald tour. All that was left was Fritz needing to drive the hour back home. Thanks again for all the work!
John and Marianne