On Tuesday morning we caught the train from Paris to Frankfort. It was an uneventful ride with the exception of the three uniformed and armed police that boarded the train as we crossed the border between France and Germany. They slowly traveled through the train, looking between the seats and making eye contact with passengers. I know that in our post 9/11 world, there are security measures at all borders, but it is still an eerie sight. That being said, as we walked back to our hotel in Paris on our final evening, we had come face to face with three military persons, carrying rifles held at the ready, walking the bridge toward the Eiffel Tower.
Upon our arrival in Frankfort, we were pleased to find that our hotel was directly across the street from the main train station. This would be helpful as we had plans for train travel to Marburg on Wednesday. Our hotel was spotlessly clean but it lacked any soul. It shouted ‘BUILT IN 1955” from every corner. The best feature of the Hotel Manhattan was the incredible continental breakfast that was offered. Pretzel rolls, strudel, freshly baked breads, pate, cold meats, hard boiled eggs, nearly a dozen choices of dry cereals and muscli, and most importantly for my plate, five different cheeses, all laid out in a beautiful mosaic.
We did a small walk-about of our hotel’s neighborhood Wednesday night. This only served to reinforce for inexplicable lack of enthusiasm for Germany. However, we had a lovely dinner, sitting at a window table, watching the local parade of shoppers and office workers moving about in the damp early evening.
Thursday morning we were up early and, following our breakfast, ready to head to Marburg. It was a cold morning. The train offered us a view of the countryside and my first glimpse of a beautiful Germany. As soon as we had left the outskirts of Frankfort, we could see frost everywhere. The farm fields were all manicured and dressed for the winter. They had been harvested and put to bed in a tidy manor, raked and plowed, lined up shoulder to shoulder. We caught glimpses of farmers out walking up and down the ditches that delineated each five-acre field. Most farmers were assisted by their dog as they surveyed the frosty fields. There were some fields with horses, most wearing their winter blankets. But, a few without blankets, were wearing the morning frost, tipping their brown coats with sparkle.
Marburg is a beautiful 800-year-old city that is almost untouched by any war damage or urban renewal. The city could not afford to tear down ancient structures and build glass and steel replacements. They had to retain all the old buildings and houses and make them continue to serve in the manner for which they had been built. It looks just like a fairy tale town. Marburg was the home of the brothers Grimm! Today, Marburg is also the location of the first major European school for the blind and the city has made itself totally accessible to the visually impaired.
The reason for our travel on this day was that Kath had dear old friends who lived in Marburg and she wanted to reconnect with them. They are living a quiet life now, having traveled the world, teaching and lecturing. We were to be their guests for lunch, followed by a tour of the area. They speak English fairly well, but not regularly anymore, so they spoke as one person. Dieter would start a story, pause for a word, confer in German with his wife Heidrun, and then one of them would finish the story. Kath has a very basic knowledge of some German words and could usually understand the theme of a conversation. I nodded, smiled and said “ahhhh” a lot. Then, Dieter would squeeze my arm and tell me I was now his sister. Dieter was our driver and tour guide. He explained to me how lucky he was to own his wonderful car. And, it was his car’s birthday this month. We were in a twenty year old, violet Mercedes. Not quite purple, but certainly violet. Rather like riding about in a grape soda.
Our tour included the ancient city of Amoneburg, which sits on top of a huge hill. The ruins of the ancient Celtic castle are still there. And the town is a labyrinth of alleyways, just barely wide enough for a grape Mercedes. Half-timber houses look as if they were built last week. We were presented with a three hundred and sixty degree view of the region, looking down upon more than thirty villages and towns.
Following dinner, Dieter delivered us at the rail station where we caught our train back to Frankfort with twenty-seven seconds to spare. The train doors snapped shut barley missing my coat tails.
It’s Thursday and we are now on the train to Bruges.