I had last left you in Basel, hoping to find some comfort for the night…which I did not. From 2-3am I spent a chilly yet productive hour at the train station (which has no doors so it’s always cold, to discourage homeless people from bedding down for the night, I suppose) booking a bed for the following night in Frankfurt and figuring out a plan for the next day or two. Then, after a look around the station had ascertained that NOTHING was open, not even the toilets, and that there was nowhere warm or clean or comfortable to have a sneaky sleep, I decided I might as well go for walk.
Like Bern, Basel felt pretty safe to explore at night, but this was the middle of the night on a Saturday night so occasionally I’d see a group of drunk revellers on their way home and suddenly feel myself drawn to the foyer of a nearby bank (brightly lit, warm, and CCTV), or develop a keen interest in a window display tucked away in a side street.
From what I could tell in the dark, Basel old town has a heavily Germanic influence, the buildings, look like they could have been cut from the pages of Bavarian Hikers’ World. The newer sections seem to be along the lines of contemporary concrete and glass, but like I said, it was dark. They could have been made out of papier-mache and rice for all I know. It was a full moon that night so the walk across the river was particularly stunning, and I kept coming across wonderful surprises like tucked away, ivy covered courtyards, and mechanical steampunk fountain displays. It’s those type of things that make nocturne exploration worth the arctic temperatures.
Having said that by 5:30, I was so exhausted I dragged my feet back to the train station, and couldn’t face going back out into the city when the sun came up, there was also a light drizzle – drizzle, a sure harbinger of doom. Instead I hung out at the train station trying to warm up, and spending my last Swiss francs on hot tea and breakfast. Unsurprisingly, I slept most of the way to Frankfurt.
Frankfurt is an interesting mix of old and new. Glass and steel skyscrapers sit along side three story churches with gargoyles and painstakingly tiled rooves. Everywhere you go traditional and modern seem to be at war with one another. I felt slightly off-kilter the whole I time I was out and about, but that could have been the sleep deprivation. It may well also have been that Frankfurt is huge and very modern, and that clashed with the immersion into the land of Heidi that I’ve had the last few days. It did feel vastly larger than the Swiss cities I had visited, and metropolises bring problems with them as well as innovation, I got asked for money many, many times. Of course I was staying bang slap in the middle of the red light district (true – the hostel had strip clubs to one side, and a dildo shop to the other) so it is possible that hard working folks were trying to negotiate terms with me.
Having said that, there were many attractive things about Frankfurt, such as the random avant garde sculpture; the scenic paths and grassy parkland that run alongside the river, and the frequent bridges that cross it. Joggers intermingle with drinkers in an effortlessly haphazard manner at waterside taverns and beer tents. Walking into the bustle of the old town square, bands busking on the street, you find a delicate fountain depicting the lady Justice with her sword and scales, that has probably stood there for a century or more, and has now become the epicentre of a vast installation comprised of a large wooden grid that sprawls across the floor like a rose tiling. Balanced upon the vertices of the grid are laughing green men, about a foot high. Most people stay on the outside of the installation but some will delicately pick their away across the grid to either take photos or to feel more involved, or more alone depending on your view point. You can buy one of the little green men for 50 euros and have him added to the grid, apparently this is a world wide installation now, and it is meant to be an expression of joy I think. Honestly though, those little guys are creepy, they look like demented leprechauns.