Monday July 30, 2012
Journey of discovery at Frankfurt's Bahnhofsviertel
SAMBAL ON THE SIDE By BRENDA BENEDICT
Bahnhofsviertel proffers the more ‘colourful’ life of the city, which may not be for the faint-hearted.
THE mention of Frankfurt’s Bahnhofsviertel often raises eyebrows. It is basically that part of the city that houses the central railway station, and then some. By “some” I mean various hotels, pubs, restaurants – and the city’s red light district.
The first time we drove past one of the side alleys here was an eye-opener as I spotted some people sitting on a kerb, shooting up in broad daylight. Having grown up on a steady dose of government-sponsored ads intoning the potentially fatal effects of dadah and the pitiless punishment that awaits you if you’re caught with it, I was gob-smacked.
The Husband, however, was nonchalant. “Ja, there’s a syringe dispensation centre here somewhere. You have to be careful when walking here though, because sometimes there may be used syringes on the road.”
I made a mental note then to never venture here alone.
But as fate would have it, one of my main clients recently moved their main office here, thus making regular treks through this quarter necessary.
I think anyone would have guessed that I was a Bahnhofsviertel freshie on my first solo outing here. I kept my eyes firmly on the ground partly because of The Husband’s aforementioned syringe warning and because of the shards of glass from broken beer bottles between the cobblestones. I made a beeline for the office, exhaling only upon entering its calming chrome and glass interior. A student escorted me to the station on the way back.
I was nevertheless repeatedly assured that given the heavy police presence here, it is probably one of the safer areas of Frankfurt – sort of.
On hindsight, I may have indeed overestimated the area’s notoriety. Sure, it is not uncommon to see police officers facing off with angry drunks or emergency services treating punched-up victims. Junkies and other shady characters also often mill about the main station’s various exits but they generally do not bother you. Clearly, in case of a ruckus, it bodes well not to stand by and gawk.
Therefore, on “uneventful” days, the Bahnhofsviertel makes an excellent people-watching spot. Besides, this is also where I get my vadai fix but more of that later.
Basically, the main streets are lined with establishments that peddle anything from latex wear to whatever prickles your predilections. The placards and posters that adorn the outer walls of some businesses are definitely not for the faint-hearted – or for the self-appointed moral police.
Others have TV screens mounted at the entrances touting the services patrons could experience in the dimly lit interiors. A week ago, I passed a group of snickering schoolboys glued to the screens.
I guess the area is interesting in itself for its incongruity. As the asphalt advances, the establishments evolve from seedy to swanky. The gleaming skyscrapers of the city’s banking district stand a stone’s throw away from here.
Hence, your fellow pedestrians could be anything from Gordon Gecko types in bespoke suits to exquisitely made-up aspiring Dita von Teeses to regular families staying at the hotels here.
While I was initially loathe to stray from the main streets, curiosity got the better of me when I spotted a row of shops with racks of colourful kurtas billowing in the breeze one day. It reminded me of Masjid India in Kuala Lumpur and since there were some aunties perusing the wares, I went in to inspect.
And sure enough, I stumbled upon a “Little India”. My favourite is the Sri Lankan shop that sells freshly fried vadais, samosas and gooey jelabees. It also stocks everything an Indian kitchen needs – right down to thosai pans and idli steamers made for induction cookers. It even has the type of banana chips my late Mum used to make, imported directly from Kerala.
Down another street is a Chinese restaurant, owned by a fellow Malaysian. Whenever hunger strikes (which in my case is often), I can be assured of some authentic Malaysian style sweet sour pork, egg fu yong, deep fried dumplings and even kangkong belacan, all in their fiery, not-watered-down-for-German-tongues, glory.
Even as I reread what I’ve just written above, it dawns on me that I may very well be thwarting my attempts to shed weight. All the train-hopping and walking will be in vain if I’m constantly refuelling along the way.
Meanwhile, my discovery of the area continues – all with a watchful eye out, of course.
■ Brenda Benedict is a Malaysian living in Frankfurt. She has grown rather blasé about some of the area’s less savoury “sights”.