Take the train, they said. You’ll love the train system, they said. Take a tour to figure it out, they said. Okay, yes…let’s.
When we moved here, everyone kept raving about the train system. What they don’t tell you is how insane it is at first to try to figure out…especially when you don’t speak the language. You can take the RE, the SE, the ICE, the TGV, the RB, the Dear-God-I-Have-NO-Clue-What-I’m-Talking-About-Express. So, we turned again to the local USO Tour to help us figure it out. This particular tour started at the Kaiserslautern hBf (Hauptbahnhof = train station) and would take us to the city of Frankfurt for the Frankfurt am Main Fest. I think there’s a theme going on with all of these fests. Up until now, the only thing that we had experienced in Frankfurt was the airport. Husband and I had flown in and out of it back in May before we moved here, and Dog ended up flying here when we shipped her here from Kansas. Obviously, there’s more to the city than just the airport.
We met the USO group at the Kaiserslautern hBf at a bright and early 6:45am. We were all pretty tired from the evening prior, so Girl Child was in a particularly
evil fabulous mood. Husband was smart enough to hit the bakery while we waiting for the whole group to show up. Girl Child is easily placated with pretzels, so her demeanor dramatically improved. Once everyone showed up, our tour guide started walking us through the steps to buying train tickets. As she began talking, we were witness to a fantastic brawl from one end of the station to the other end–complete with screaming, yelling, punching and chasing. Kaiserslautern train station = win. We ended up getting the tickets and had a stopover in Mannheim to change trains. The first train was a little ummmm…underwhelming? It was a Schnell Train…but it wasn’t very schnell. Seats weren’t very comfy and the first thought in my brain was the dude who said Amtrak was awful clearly hasn’t been on this train. Amtrak is like heaven compared to the Schnell Train.
In Mannheim, we switched over to a Regional Express into Frankfurt. Best discovery…Dunkin’ Donuts in the Mannheim station. Did I stop in to grab one? Sadly, not. But Girl Child managed to give Husband puppy dog eyes and ended up with a large fries from McDonald’s. The train to Frankfurt was a lot nicer and more of what I was expecting a German train to be. When we exited the train, I was in love. The Frankfurt am Main hBf was amazing. The biggest train stations I’ve been to up to this point were the Sacramento and Kansas City stations. Union Station in Kansas City is beautiful, but it only has maybe one or two Amtrak lines that run through it. This station in Frankfurt was full of trains going in every direction. I was half expecting there to be a Platform 9 3/4 somewhere. When we stepped outside, the area reminded me so much of San Francisco. It looked similar to the view when you come up out of the Embarcadero BART station. Our tour guide informed us that we needed to take the U-train to the altstadt/downtown area of Frankfurt. What’s a U-train? It’s a cramped and crowded underground streetcar. It made me really happy I remembered to put deodorant on that morning.
When we got to our destination, the tour guide walked us through a few different areas of downtown. We saw part of the altstadt, the river district and the indoor marketplace. We then split off from the group and formed our plan. We were pretty hungry, so food was the main objective. Since there was a fest happening, we decided that brats and beer for the adults and schnitzel sammy and soda/juice for kiddos, were the food du jour. Carnie food is always awesome, and German carnie food is just as awesome, if not better. Luckily, we had a beautiful view during lunch. It was right in the middle of the altstadt. In this area, the original city hall and timber houses built back in the 1600s are still standing. Because these particular structures are situated near a cathedral, they survived the bombing campaigns of the World Wars relatively unscathed. It’s the type of architecture that you seen in pictures and imagine European houses look like.
After lunch, we wandered down toward the river. There’s bridge that goes across the Rhine that is over 100 years old. Relatively young, by European standards, but it’s pretty and offers a great view of the Frankfurt skyline. The bridge is also the Frankfurt version of the Paris love lock bridge. There weren’t as many as the one in Paris, but it was still neat to see. We walked across the bridge and took a stroll on the other side of the river. That’s where we saw it. A food boat. Best. Invention. Ever. All the rage in the States are food trucks. This particular dude took it to a whole different level and has not a food truck, but a food boat. The world totally needs more of these.
We walked back across to the main side of the river and relented with the kiddos. They had been pretty good about wandering around (aside from Girl Child freaking out about bees every other minute), so we let them ride some rides at the fest. I’ll admit…I’m a little “fest”ed out. Husband agrees…he’s also a little guided tour’ed out. By the time the kiddos had their fill of rides, we still had about two hours to waste before meeting back up with the group at the U-train station. It was becoming unbearably hot, so we decided to head indoors at a mall. Apparently, everyone in Frankfurt had the same idea. It was packed. It reminded me of the American malls at Christmas…only minus air conditioning and it’s hot. We stopped for some gelato and Husband attempted to order in German. He almost passed.
After the gelato, we still had a little bit of time left. We walked over to where the entrance to the U-station is. As we were debating on what to do next, we heard a commotion at the entrance to the station. Two dudes were going at it (fighting…nothing else, pervert). One of them decided it would be a genius idea to spray the other guy with pepper spray. After he sprayed the guy, he decided it would be an even better idea to throw the whole canister into the station–where it basically exploded, sending pepper spray into unsuspecting passengers’ lungs. People came out coughing and wheezing and the polizei (police) showed up to take stock of the situation. Luckily, no one was seriously injured. It just cemented the train stations as a total win for the day.
After these particular shenanigans calmed down, we decided to cop a squat at the cafe. One of the things that Frankfurt is known for is their apfelwein (apfelwein = apple wine). It’s a city specialty and apparently this cafe has one of the best. We sat down and Husband and I both had one. It was quite refreshing. Almost like sparkling cider, but not quite as sweet and with just a hint of booziness to it. We ran into the tour guide and her fam at the cafe and just hung out with them until it was time to go.
On the train back to Mannheim, it wasn’t too crowded. We had enough time between trains to grab a snack (I’m sensing another theme here…eating. Lots of eating.). Croissants for the win! When the train that we were taking to Kaiserslautern rolled, a rowdy and incredibly drunk band of futbol (soccer) fans came stumbling off. The train was basically one big trash can…the floor was sticky from their drinks (and God knows what else) and there were empty mini-liquor bottles strewn everywhere and even a crate of empty beer bottles next to some seats. Honestly…it was gross. And it was a packed train. The tour guide essentially ditched the group and told us it every person for themselves to find a seat. Awesome. Luckily, Husband managed to procure a couple of seats for Boy Child, Girl Child and myself. He was Mr. Brave and stood the whole time. Luckily, the train was more expeditious than the one in the morning–there were only two stops this time.
By the time we got back to Kaiserslautern, we were stupid happy to get to the car and get home. Frankfurt is a lot bigger than we had given it credit for, and a lot more crowded than what we had thought. I think the only time I’ll go back is for the airport (it’s the closest one to us) and maybe if I have a serious jonesing for Chipotle (there’s one hiding in a mall somewhere there). The train system is still under review. I wasn’t impressed at all. Maybe the ICE/TGV trains that go at the speed of light are better and more efficient. For now, I think driving may be the
easier faster way of getting around.