Don’t ask me why I thought spending a month vacationing in Germany was a good idea. I don’t even know myself. To me, Germany has always been associated with Hitler, bratwursts and scowling Herrs and Fraus.
But to be fair, I was seven months pregnant at that time. I suppose hormones had a lot to do with that decision.
Misery loves company.
And so we arrived in Frankfurt — as most visitors do — on a day when the city was ablaze with dance and music. The Museumsuferfest was in full swing, and IMHO, it’s the only time worth visiting this otherwise bland, staidly city.
Museumsuferfest translates into the Museum Embankment Festival. Because if anyone can come up with a three-day festival revolving around museums, it’s the Germans.
The celebrations are mostly free and centers around Mainkai Street, a lovely promenade overlooking the River Main. We got a button each for EUR7 that allowed us to museum hop. With a toddler in tow. Yeah, we were a wealth of great ideas, weren’t we?
The best of this lot is Staedel Museum. There are Boticellis, Rambrandts, Monets and Picassos gracing its walls. It was, however, quite small and frankly quite underwhelming if you’ve been to Europe’s other great museums. Or maybe I was just seven months pregnant and quite fed up of all that walking.
Ironically, we discovered that the main attraction of Museumsuferfest isn’t its museums. There are carnivals for children and a whole lot of partying that happens in between, especially in the evenings when the musicians and fireworks take centerstage.
As for us, we just enjoyed strolling around the flea markets and stopping every once in awhile to stuff our faces with brilliant cheap and hearty street food from the vendors lining the riverbank. It would be one of the most memorable meals I had there.
There was also lots of delicious homemade apfelwein (apple wine) on sale — not that I could take more than a sip. It looked like piss and tasted like someone spiked the fruit juice. It’s not for everyone, but I’d chug two pints of the stuff if I could.
Frankfurt quietens down a great deal once the festivities are over. It’s quite hard to believe that this is the financial capital of Europe, home to one of the world’s largest stock exchanges and where most major banks congregate, but there they were at the commercial center, their names emblazoned over the city’s tallest skyscrapers — no higher and no shinier than the ones you’d find in Asia.
Much of Frankfurt was obliterated during World War 2, so these buildings are relatively new and unremarkable.
A slice of the Old World can still be glimpsed at the Roemerberg, a collection of 15-century buildings huddled around a lively square. All tourists to Frankfurt inevitably end up here in the Altstadt, where a suitable amount of apfelwein-swigging and merry-making was going on.
But our trip was about to get even more exciting. We snagged what we thought was a good deal for Holiday Inn Frankfurt, an adequate enough hotel for a few night’s rest. It was only later that we realized that this hotel was located in an unsavory part of town, just a five minute jaunt away from Frankfurt’s red light district, Bahnhofsviertel.
This was the place yo mama warned you about. Except that we brought our mamas with us and they were probably questioning our parenting abilities as they threaded gingerly down a sidewalk filled with glassy-eyed meth-heads and coke addicts. And had lunch in a nearby Lebanese restaurant as a gaunt, underaged whore with track marks on her arms solicited for customers on the sidewalk.
Sex and drugs. It’s all legal.
Every day, we walked past the bordellos and BYOH Clinics (short for Bring Your Own Heroin ; it is here that Germany dispenses needles to addicts for free) to reach downtown Frankfurt. And every day I am AMAZED at how safe it is. How civilized it is. No one tried to approach us for money. We never felt harassed or threatened, not even once.
Ah Frankfurt. Even your notorious “no-go zones” are boring! (but yes, I’m ALL for liberal drug policies after this).
Still, we were secretly glad that Mika was too young to realize what was going on. And also more than ready for a change of scenery after the third day.
Thankfully, the UNESCO-heritage Rhine Valley — specifically the town of Oberwesel — was world’s apart from Frankfurt, despite being only an hour’s drive away.
This part of Germany overflows with quaint turreted towns resting languidly among tumbling vineyards, but we chose to stay in Oberwesel because it had The Schonburg.
Burghotel auf Schonburg is a LEGIT MEDIEVAL CASTLE straight out of Game of Thrones and I don’t know about you folks, but staying in a European castle never gets old for me. It is there that I get to strut around like I’m Queen Cersei and lord over others. And I don’t even have to be drunk to do all of this.
It’s all about getting your money’s worth, y’know?
Anyway, each room in the castle is different, but we got a truly luxurious one that came with its own effing STONE WALL AND WATCHTOWER where armour-clad soldiers presumably patrolled once, a long, long time ago, in the 10th century. It proved to be a bit windy, so we spent most of our time snuggled up inside in our gorgeously furnished room listening to Beethoven instead.
The castle was wonderfully restored and you could easily get lost amongst its many rooms and secret passageways, all of which oozed Middle Ages chic. Its beautifully landscaped gardens overlooked the River Rhine and had many nook and crannies that are worthy of exploration, especially for young, inquisitive children and snoopy adults like us.
We whiled away the hours gaping at our surroundings like a bunch of country bumpkins. We also attempted to play boules but gave up within five minutes because the scenery were just too distracting.
We spent some time in Oberwesel and neighboring towns, but the only memory I have of that was gorging on pistachio ice cream (maybe because I was seven months pregnant)…
…but there were an awful lot of cutesy, half-timbered buildings judging from the pictures we took.
As night fell, we were treated to a four-course dinner in the castle’s child-friendly restaurant. They slapped a knight’s bib on Mika and distracted him with lots of castle-themed colouring activities; we managed to eat in peace for 10 WHOLE MINUTES! *cue the Angelic choir*
The food was surprisingly good and our sleep, fabulous. Maybe Germany wasn’t such a bad idea after all.
Holiday Inn Frankfurt-Alte Oper Comfortable, no frills hotel good for a few night’s stay. Location in a slightly dodgy but perfectly safe part of town may put off some people however. $
Burghotel auf Schonburg, Oberwesel Rooms and suites of differing sizes (and prices) set in an imposing 10th century castle. Some with views to die for. Plush interior and massive gardens that would enthrall little (and big) ones. Half-board is included in price. $$$-$$$$
- Most people treat Frankfurt as a transportation hub but the city could be rewarding on certain days like the Museumsuferfest. Still, I wouldn’t stay for more than two nights — the city, while real, is low on charm.
- The Rhine Valley is a great quick getaway for those who love the countryside. But I hear the Moselle is even better. Be prepared to splurge for a castle stay while you’re in the vicinity — it could very well be the highlight of your trip!