A Local Park in Frankfurt

My first-trip-ever in Europe began in the city of Frankfurt, Germany…

Tung and I landed at Frankfurt Airport at 7 A.M, on July 2nd, 2017, after a long flight of over ten hours with layovers in two capitals: Bangkok, Thailand, and Doha, Qatar. Each layover involved switching to a new plane, which might have been tedious for frequent flyers between continents, but for someone like me, stepping foot on a new continent for the first time, it was exciting. Throughout the long flights, I spent most of the time binge-watching movies provided by the airline, enjoying a complete relaxation despite feeling a bit weary, of course.

Frankfurt greeted us with a light summer rain that still felt chilly, reminiscent of the early days of winter in Hanoi. I realized I was in the midst of a European summer that felt cool.

Throughout the car ride with Tung’s cousin from the airport, cruising along the iconic autobahn highways of Germany, until we reached Tung’s family home in central Frankfurt, enjoying a hearty German-style meal with white sausages, various cheeses, beers, and apple wine; and even as we leisurely strolled around the quiet residential area, I still couldn’t believe that I was in Europe, thousands of miles away from bustling Hanoi. Just a month ago, I was still struggling, anxiously waiting for my visa, unsure if it would be approved.

Tung’s cousin’s family was settled here, so we were fortunate to live with them in a typical European garden house, complete with a garden, a swing, lush green lawns, and vibrant flower beds meticulously cared for. Surrounding us was an absolutely tranquil residential area, populated by German families, each residing in villa-like homes, painted in smooth bright colors, with low white fences enclosing them and pathways leading to small garden plots filled with characteristic temperate flowers and plants.

For common tourists, visiting a non-touristy city like Frankfurt and wandering around deserted and “lonely” streets in residential neighborhoods like this would likely quickly feel boring and wasteful. They would feel the need to visit highlighted tourist spots, mandatory check-in places, as if it were a forced habit in a short span of time.

But for me, I enjoyed it, truly enjoyed it, being able to wander and live amidst a place filled only with locals like this, feeling like a part of everyday life and silent communication: living in local homes, preparing breakfast with coffee, butter, and freshly baked bread, going to the supermarkets and cafes frequented by locals every day… Just the act of breathing in the fresh, fragrant air, filled with the scent of temperate grass and refreshing coolness, already made me feel amazed and fulfilled. Perhaps, for the first time, I understood the definition of truly pure living space, with no hint of smoke or dust and an abundance of pure oxygen. I wished, truly wished, that I could capture a bit of the air and flavor of this completely untainted Frankfurt neighborhood to bring back as a souvenir. I knew that atmosphere and vitality couldn’t be found anywhere else outside Europe.

Our days in Frankfurt always started with a hand-made breakfast featuring A-grade coffee brewed with a specialized small pot, not using a phin like in Vietnam, a few slices of freshly baked crispy bread from a one-minute toaster, eaten with soft butter and yogurt-like fresh cheese, a plate of apples with bell peppers arranged in a colorful flower shape, and two glasses of refreshing cold milk; accompanied by Jazz music in the background, of course. We savored such a fragrant breakfast in a dining room that was equally aromatic, flooded with sunlight, and breathed in each refreshing gulp of the cool morning breeze, streaming through the transparent glass curtain onto the dark green pine branches and the red, yellow, and pink flower clusters interspersed in the garden. From late morning until evening (summer evenings in Europe lasted until eight or nine o’clock), if we weren’t strolling in the charming garden plots or wandering in the gigantic forest park of Frankfurt, then we would take buses and subways to the city center for casual dining and leisurely listening to street musicians playing music everywhere, on street corners, in markets, or in a corner of the city park.

During our time in Frankfurt, Tung and I collected three memorable stories.

The first story was about the annual food festival held at the Alte Oper City Theater, which we were lucky enough to visit at the right time.

The festival lasted the whole week from morning till night with hundreds of food stalls offering typical German dishes and specialties from various continents including Europe, Asia, and Latin America. Tung and I had an unforgettable food tour with authentic steaks, traditional doner kebabs, German sausages, French fries, Spanish tapas, chicken burritos with rich sauce, mouth-watering cheeseburgers… and German beers served in giant mugs… On the closing night of the festival, despite being tired, we still immersed ourselves in the lively atmosphere, dancing to energetic German songs performed by passionate German artists, in colorful costumes and with eye-catching dance moves, amidst the aroma of fresh beer and the crisp scent of apples. That night, we wandered around aimlessly, searching for the subway station until late before finally returning home.

The second story was about our stroll on the pedestrian bridge across the Main River, the river that gave Frankfurt its name “Frankfurt am Main” and our visit to the childhood home of the German literary giant, Goethe.

The three-story house has been redesigned to serve as the Goethe Museum. Inside the house are many small rooms painted in different colors and named after the colors they represent: The Red Room, The Blue Room, The Yellow Room, The Grey Room… symbolizing each member of the Goethe family or the purpose of using that room. Among all the rooms, my favorite was the kitchen with its intact structure of an old European kitchen and numerous copper cookware neatly displayed. I spent a lot of time admiring the large paintings hanging in the cool blue living room and the antique bookshelves in the warm brown reading room. One small room displayed an old toy made by Goethe’s grandmother when he was a child, which was considered one of the inspirations for Goethe’s great literary career. The toy was a small puppet theater, complete with red curtains and tiny puppets portraying characters for vividly imaginative stories created by Goethe’s grandmother and later by Goethe himself. Only the model of the theater was left. The tiny puppets were lost, leaving only paintings depicting them. A literary giant was nurtured from such a small toy.

The third story was when we were invited into the garden of an elderly German man while we were leisurely walking around the quiet residential area.

The man told us stories about each plant in the garden and led us to see the small car garage in the garden and the vintage Mercedes that had been with the family for decades. For us Vietnamese, Mercedes symbolized luxury, the image of a high-class house, of being “posh”; but for the Germans here, a Mercedes was just as common, as ubiquitous as a scooter:D He also showed us to the city’s largest park, where we later had to wander around to find our way out. It wasn’t because the man’s directions were difficult to remember, or the paths were confusing, but because we easily got lost in the park without realizing it. It turned out, the park was a giant forest right in the city, without any entrance gates or fences like typical parks I knew. Frankfurt City Park was purely a vast green forest with large old trees and streams flowing through it. The Germans planned the forest park as a park in a seemingly unplanned way, just to be natural, adding only small winding paths as running tracks, cycling paths through the forest, and charming wooden bridges over streams. At the river bend, there was a wooden bridge, where German parents often brought their children to play, carrying along apples and carrots to feed the eager water rats, and even the crowded flock of ducks came for food. They weren’t afraid of humans at all; they just approached whenever they saw people, waiting for fresh fruits that humans brought to them. We stopped to watch the wet rats play, climbed onto the bank to lie lazily, then walked for hours on the forest paths or ran along the lush green streams, occasionally turning into vast open fields to lie down or sit and meditate on park benches. The cool, fresh breeze and the pure, crisp air. Although there were many city dwellers who came here to jog and ride bikes, each person could still enjoy their own tranquil space because of the vast green space.

I thought about the definition of parks in Hanoi, Saigon, or the small cities I had passed through while lying on the vast green grass of this Frankfurt park. Suddenly, I realized, there are some extremely simple and obvious definitions, ingrained in everyone’s minds, sometimes throughout their lives if they never travel beyond… This park in Frankfurt truly had the ability to make people get lost…

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