(ED NOTE: Something funny is up with the punctuation–quotes and apostrophes and other things seem to all be question marks. Not sure what’s up with that, but too sleepy to fix it all right now.)
As it turned out, Frankfurt was a fine decision. It?s funny, going someplace about which I had neither a particular attraction nor romantic ideas (like Paris or Amsterdam, say) I was able to meet the place on its own terms. And expectations low, things worked out quite well. Turns out the city is very walkable, and that the hostel was perfectly located for several days? amusements.
Friday morning I set out first to take care of some business. The Stadl, the major general-art museum, was about 10 minutes? walk from the hostel along the Main River. (I love European cities on rivers. This, already, helped augment Frankfurt?s charm considerably.) Evidently about 80% of the city was burned during WWII, but a lot of the pretty houses along the river were preserved.
I get to the museum just as they?re opening. I start asking my question to the first woman, who then gets a second woman to come and speak to me in English. They were both very confused at first.
?Let me get this straight, you want to pay for a ticket now but you don?t want to come in??
?That?s right. Is it possible to buy a ticket to the museum now but to actually come tomorrow??
The second woman paused to consider this for a moment, and then something clicked, her face sort of lit up with that ?Ah!? expression. She leaned forward and asked, in a conspiratorial whisper,
Evidently she?d worked in this place for 20 years, and only one other time had somebody tried to pull the Shomer Shabbos trick?but she remembered them. She was very sweet and managed to hook me up with a pass for all of the museums in Frankfurt for 6 euros, dated the following day. Turns out they had a fine collection, loads of good early medieval Annunciations and German Expressionists. My eyes were happy.
But that was Shabbos day. Friday from the museum I walked across the very cool pedestrian bridge (everything in Frankfurt has serious design going on) to the miles-long Christmas fair that was just setting up. Christmas fair! It was a total trip. Loads of little booths set up with little crafts and apple wine and Rhineland cuteness abound.
I was further softened when I remembered that this is the part of the world from which many fairy tales emerged. I am a sucker for dragons and their accompanying aesthetic.
I spent a bunch of hours just wandering around Christmasland entertaining myself, chatting with the vendors, contemplating buying a really dorktastic hat that was, unfortunately, a bit too much ?dork? and not enough ?tastic?, taking free tastes of homemade honey schnapps and the like. Eventually I got hungry, which was a real problem as Germany had a lot of pork. Pork fried, pork cured, pork grilled, pork in about every possible imaginable way. Even the cheesy pretzels had little pork bits in them.
Since my kashrut levels prohibit buying food someplace where they?re also cooking pork (or non-kosher cow, really) that pretty much ruled out everywhere.
And then I saw something that looked quite familiar. I wasn?t sure. I squinted into the lone frying pan at this guy?s stand.
?You speak English??
?A leetle bit.?
?Is that?. Potato??
?Ya, ya! Potato pancake!?
Score. So after eliciting his assurance (and forcing a German guy with good English to double-check for me) that there was nothing funny in the vegetable oil, I had meself a big pile of latkes with applesauce outside amongst the Christmas. Happy Hanukah to me. Of course, they were a lot less fun by Sunday evening, when I was ravingly hungry and just wanted something that looked like a substantial dinner, and the only thing in Germany (or at least the part of town where I was) that I could find to eat was? more latkes. By the time I left the country I was darn right ready for things that were neither fried nor potatoes. Nor fried potatoes.
It was interesting, though, being in the country called (in Hebrew) ?Askenaz?, ie the place from which Yiddish culture got its liftoff. Lots of little things felt oddly familiar?malty dark breads, the guys playing for coins doing very klez-like things with a clarinet. And best of all, I saw words for which I have pretty specific associations being used in.. well, another context.
Spent Shabbos in the museums and sleeping?I am still sick, after all. There was a fleamarket happening the whole length of the river between the hostel and the Stadte, so it was fun to just wander among the stuff, no money in my pockets, taking in the colors and jostle and noises.
It?s been strange to be out of Israel. There are some things that have me jumping for joy to be someplace with a few more luxuries?heated rooms! Hot water on demand! I turn the faucet, and hot water just comes out! In Israel you turn on the electric water heater and then wait about 20-25 minutes for things to get to a shower-able temperature. Lately I?d started timing my dish-washing to my showers, else dish-doing is a chilly and terrible experience. On the other hand, every time I daven the part of the Amidah that talks about Jerusalem, I feel a little tug on my heart. I hadn?t expected that. I also hadn?t expected how much I?d miss speaking Hebrew on a daily basis (or realized how much I do, maybe even.) So like most Jews who spend time there and then leave, I?m feeling that weird ambivalence about it. I?m glad I get a little break. I?m also glad I have another 6 months when I go back.
It was also FRICKIN’ COLD. But they had indoor heating, so that was kind of a toss-up. I am sniffley and coughy and my blood has been thinned by years in California. I once was tough. I am now soft. Cold is bad. Warm is good.
Sunday I took a day trip. I was gonna try to go to Rothenburg, as it is probably the place from which my last name derives, but it was just far enough away that it was of only dubious wisdom to attempt this as a day trip. Also, I was informed by the ticket guy at the train station that there is Rothenburg (about 3ish hours away), and then there?s also, in a different part of the country, Rottenburg (about 6 hours away). Makes it a little hard to do a roots trip when you?re not even sure which bloody town in which you?re supposed to go commune with your roots. And it?s not quite sure what I would have accomplished there anyway (having been to the town in Poland where my great-grandmother was born was in ?95 and already knowing how depressing and sad it is to be someplace where the Jews are but a faint, ghostly echo of the town?s memory).
They also had?yes, of course?a Christmas market. I learned firsthand the potent effects of hot applewine, visited the ?museum of pharmaceutical history? (read: a history of Western alchemy and herbal magic), and eventually, having had quite my fill of Christmas markets, made my way back to Frankfurt for one last night before heading to the airport.
Now I’m in this strange country where everything, it seems, is shiny and new, where money is green, and where?inexplicably?George W. Bush is the President. Weird. More to be continued, hopefully tomorrow.