One of the things that really strikes me in European cities is the number of bicycles and just how bike-friendly they are. People ride everywhere, there’s sensible bike lanes, not only on roads but through parks, and bikes can travel both directions in one-way streets. The green shady bike park below is one of several large bike parking facilities in the centre of Frankfurt. I also loved the push trike taxis in the city centre.
I was excited to discover the Thursday Farmers Market in the centre of the city on my second day. As well as the usual fruit and veg stalls with massive kohlrabi, root celery and the biggest turnips I’ve ever seen, there were specialist stalls with all kinds of cheeses and meats, mushrooms, a free-range chicken farmer, an organic beer tent, lots of stalls selling local wines and apple cider, plus local sweets, cakes, plum slices (Zwetschgen), wood-fired breads and lots of hot sausage kiosks.
I enjoyed a glass of new season (first ferment) apple cider to wash down a Zwetschgen Dagi slice before exploring the old city. I love the sense of time and history imparted by these old buildings and that they are so well preserved and cherished. Our contemporary buildings seem so sterile and lacking in craftmanship. These buildings still shine with the love and creativity that went into their design and construction. And then there’s the cobblestones with their mesmerizing interlocking pattern sweeping in graceful seamless curves beneath my feet.
Back in the main mall in the centre of town, I paused to listen to the haunting strains of a busker singing and playing his Middle Eastern music, a casualty of the ongoing wars plaguing the middle east. He was happy for me to take a photo and I contributed some change to the few coins in his music case. Germany has hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Middle East and Africa, arriving every year, and this story is the same throughout Europe. Australia has such a miniscule impact from the global refugee crisis, yet the way people carry on is shameful when you look at the big picture of what happening elsewhere.
So people, refugees and migrants, try to earn a living as best they can, be it through their music (there were quite a few middle eastern music buskers in the mall) or other enterprise. I loved this mobile food vendor selling halal sausages, complete with umbrella strapped on his back to keep off the rain.
Wandering through the park on my way back to the hotel, I paused to look at the children’s playground. It was the see-saw that first grabbed my attention, we never see them in Australia anymore. Then I noticed just what simple fun things were there for kids to play on and explore, and the natural ground cover of a deep layer of sand.
Then it really struck me what a kill-joy nanny state we’ve become in Australia.
Kid’s playgrounds are so ‘safe’ here there’s no adventure anymore. This playground in Frankfurt would never be approved by Australian authorities. Also seeing adults riding bicycles freely in the city without compulsory helmets – no wonder the free bike share programs work so well here, and it also helps that motorists actually respect cyclists and share the roads safely with them. Even smoking laws, and consenting adults free to smoke in outdoor cafes. It’s crazy how restricted life has become down-under and even crazier how everyone is content to have more and more aspects of their freedom, choice and personal liberty stripped away with restrictive legislation and over-zealous compliance. The latest “No jab no play”, “no jab no pay” is simply yet another case of stripping away the right to choose.
It’s healthy to get out every now and then and look back in from the outside to get a fresh perspective on life and the cumulative changes that too soon just become the new normal in our culture.
Robyn Francis in Frankfurt, Germany, August 20, 2015