By Ken Yeager
Sunday morning, February 21, 2010 – Grosshansdorf Germany
Most of you are still asleep as I write this Sunday morning missive and probably you’re got bored and thus sleepy from reading my previous input(s) if you took the time and nothing better to do. One nice thing about a blog is that you can glance at it and decided this isn’t worth my time..I, on the other hand, enjoy this, giving me the opportunity to exercise one of my few skills – the ability to type fast. During my initial years in the Foreign Service when I worked in communications, I could type 100 WPM plus. Of course, that isn’t the case anymore but I can still pound out the words…trouble is I can’t think fast enough and my fingers get ahead of my brain.
OK, for those of you who are bound stateside, I thought I might introduce you to a couple of German cities that you may or may not have ever visited…..let’s start with Hamburg. Wikipedia has a pretty good write up and some nice photos of Hamburg (also repeated some of my food information from my last Sunday bore). While not having traveled extensively within Germany (both east or west) I still find it a very clean city and the folks are pretty friends. It is quite easy to find English speaking people in the city, but it gets a lot more difficult once you go out into the suburbs. At one time (certainly back in the 1970’s when I was posted to Hamburg) only New York had more consulates that Hamburg. Unfortunately that is no longer the case as many countries have closed their consulates to save money. The American Consulate is maybe one fifth of its size (in employees) as when I was stationed there. This is kind of a surprise as Hamburg is the second largest city in Germany after Berlin and was the largest when Germany was divided. It is a very international city still, partly because of the seaport but also because of the numerous shipping companies located here as well as international firms. More millionaires live in Hamburg than any other German city. Hamburg is also host to a yearly MOGO (Motorrad Goddestdienst – Motorcycle Church [really God] service) sponsored by a Protestant Church in Hamburg which brings in about 35,000 motorcycles each year. Hamburg also has it’s Harley Days which is a subject for contention in the local government…the event brings in lots of money but also lots of complaints about the environment, noise, and rowdy behavior by some of the participants. At first, the Senate (Hamburg, as a city-state has a Senate as a government) disallowed a Harley days this year, but over sufficient protest, finally OKed it for this year, but not next year. We shall see.
Gisela and I also spent four years in Vienna, Austria and I think that I have to say, that was our best assignment. We had a very nice apartment in the 18th district, good local transportation connection to work and east to downtown. Admittedly the locals speak a funny German with much influence from Hungary and Italy as well as the Czech lands. Vienna is a very cultural conscience city with concert halls, opera buildings, galleries, museums, etc. And of course, restaurants. If you are a Wiener Schnitzel fan, as I am, the place to go is a restaurant called Figlmüller . Check it out. The website is in English and I would highly recommend it to anyone who visits Vienna. Just outside Vienna is a wine-growing area (Burgenland) that produces some excellent wines. If you have a chance, rent a car and drive to the Neusiedl See (a lake) which is slightly south east of Vienna and look for a town called Rust. There are number of wineries in the town and some decent places to eat. The southern part of the lake is in Hungary and of course, the wine growing area extends into that country as well, although I have to say, we never ventured over there. Strolling around downtown Vienna is a treat and one has to be sure to try out some of the local cafes for their cakes and pastries as well as the coffee. The Ottoman Turks tried but failed to capture Vienna but they still managed to leave their influence in coffee roasting and drinking. A “kleiner browner” is the equivalent of an espresso. Again, I refer you to Wikipedia for much information on this beautiful city.
Frankfurt am Main (as opposed to Frankfurt an der Oder in eastern Germany) is the banking capital of Germany and also is home to the European Central Bank. We lived here for four and half years during my tour at the American Consulate. This was our final Foreign Service assignment and from a working standpoint, was my best assignment. However, we did not find Frankfurt a terribly enjoyable city. The U.S. government leases quite a bit of property in Frankfurt and as a result, we were required to live in government housing on a compound with about 300 other American families. While our apartment was more than adequate, we did not enjoy living in a ghetto- type atmosphere. Plus, Frankfurt is not a terribly clean city and every third person in the city is a foreigner (including me). It is often one strolls down the Zeil (a major shopping area) and hears every language in the world but German. There is a heavy eastern European influence in Frankfurt with lots of Russians. Of course, like any place, it has its good points such as being a centrally located city in Europe…Paris, Brussels, Vienna are all reasonably close, it has the major airport for Germany, some good restaurants, and nice parks. The best part thought is its proximity to the Rhine Valley and it’s wine grown area. Gisela and I enjoyed getting out and visiting various wine makers on both sides of the river. And cruising on the motorcycle through the valley is a dream. Unfortunately, Frankfurt also contains what is probably the ugliest American Consulate in the world and the largest with over 1100 employees. The Consulate is made up of a number of connected buildings and is a former U.S. military hospital. The security fences and barred windows make it look like a prison. Certainly not inviting to Consulate visitors or visa seekers.
OK, I’ll stop here and let you get back to something more fun, like darning socks (my excuse for missing receptions at the Ambassador’s residence) or cleaning the toilet. Have a nice week and be safe. Ken