Eric's Germany Journal, Frankfurt, Gießen, and Heidelberg

Thursday, May 22, 2003

I went to the train station for an early train to Frankfurt, with stops in Stuttgart and Mannheim. While waiting in the train station, I noticed a man reading USA Today, so I asked if he spoke English. His name is Jerome, and he was catching the same train, so we got on together and talked. Jerome was born in the US Virgin Islands and works for the US military in Stuttgart. He gave me some tips about places to find other US citizens in Ulm. This was the first time I tried train travel without seat reservations, and it was packed, so we stood until Stuttgart, where Jerome got off.

The train was late getting to Mannheim, which worries me. I am going to take the same train on Wednesday and have to change trains in Mannheim to get to Köln. If Wednesday's train is as late getting to Mannheim and the train to Köln is not late, I will miss it, because there are only seven minutes between trains. I looked in Mannheim to confirm that platform 2 (where I get off) is the same piece of concrete as platform 3 (where I get on the next train). If everything works, I will walk in a straight line from Ulm to Köln—Get on from platform 1 in Ulm, walk straight across the train, get off in platform 2 in Mannheim, walk across the platform, get on from platform 3, walk straight across the train, and get off in platform 4 in Köln.

For today's trip, I continued on to Frankfurt and arrived mid-morning.


It was drizzling a little in Frankfurt-am-Main, but not too badly. (Frankfurt-am-Main is "Frankfurt on the Main." The Main is a river.) I walked down pedestrian road that leads from the Hauptbahnhof to the Altstadt (old city) and Innenstadt (inner city).

Short skyscraper with red brick-like facade
A building in Frankfurt.
Frankfurt is Germany's financial center and is compared to New York City. It has a big city look and building density and store types and street layout, in places, but it does not have the bustle of New York. There were not many people visible or much traffic, although there were lots and lots of cars parked along the streets. Some of the buildings, like the one to the right, have interesting designs. There are a few buildings tall enough to be called skyscrapers.

Huge sculpture of blue euro symbol with yellow stars
The almighty euro.
The huge € sculpture to the left is in front of the Europäische Zentralbank, the European Central Bank. If somebody erected a huge green dollar sign, it would be a symbol of greed, not prestige. The euro may be viewed differently here. The bank has an euro information center and shop, where you can get euro coffee mugs, euro placemats, euro gift sets, and so on.

Near the city center, I ducked into the underground tunnels to look for a bathroom. As in München, there is life below the streets. There are lots of shops, and also more people walking around there than aboveground. The tunnels go on for some distance, so it might be possible to get around parts of the city down there even without taking the trains. The U-Bahn and S-Bahn are on an even lower level. I think most of the people down there were workers. Later in the day, after the drizzle cleared up, I found many tourists walking the pedestrian streets. Workers belowground and people enjoying life aboveground—wasn't there a Star Trek episode like that?

Castle tower in midst of modern city
I wandered around Frankfurt for a while. I had no specific plans other than to see the city. Frankfurt has the usual pedestrian shopping zone of German cities, but it was mostly like any other shopping district, with the usual chain stores. Shops aimed at tourists were denser on the south side of the district. I did find a nice chocolate store, Die Praline, in Kleinmarkthalle (little market hall). There are dozens and dozens of food stands in there, lots with produce but also bakeries, cheese and meat, fine foods, and so on.

Church across Main river
A view from the Main.
I left the shopping district to see the Main. Then I went back north past the Dom, an old church. Next to the Dom are excavated Roman and Carolingian building foundations.

Square with fountain and old buildings
Walking west through the shopping district again took me to Römerberg, Frankfurt's old central square with restored 14th and 15th century buildings. The Font of Justice and Paulskirche are on the right side of the picture. The Römer itself is not in the picture. It is Frankfurt's old town hall, and was the site of the election and coronation of emperors during the Holy Roman Empire.

Heading north took me past Nutelleria, a café where you can get Nutella-filled crêpes, Nutella-frosted doughnuts, hot Nutella drink, Nutella waffles, Nutella fruit wraps, Nutella ice cream, Nutella milk shakes, Nutella muffins, Nutella cappuccino, Nutella croissants, Nutella panino, and Nutella fruit nests.

Here are some more pictures taken from the Main.

City scene across a river City scene across a river City scene
Several views of different parts of Frankfurt from the Main.

As my time left in Frankfurt diminshed, I headed back to the Hauptbahnhof to catch my train to Gießen. I passed the Jewish history museum but did not have time to see it. Some of my future trips may take me through Frankfurt again, in which case I will try to schedule another stop.

At the Hauptbahnhof, I did have a few minutes before my train, so I photographed Straßenbahnen, show below with a few pictures I took earlier in the day.

White streetcar Blue streetcar Blue streetcar
White Straßenbahn. Blue Straßenbahn. Blue Straßenbahn.
Yellow streetcar Orange streetcar Orange streetcar
Yellow Straßenbahn. Orange Straßenbahn. Orange Straßenbahn.
Open streetcar steps Closed streetcar steps New blue streetcar
The steps open for street stops and close for travel or platform stops. New blue Straßenbahn.

Note that in addition to the opening and closing steps pictured above, there are two sets of buttons for opening the doors, at different heights to accommodate stops with or without platforms.

Frankfurt has new Straßenbahnen that are similar to but different from the ones coming to Ulm. I did not ride them in Frankfurt, but Heidelberg has them too, and I did ride there. They have some snazzy new features, which I will discuss in the Heidelberg section. For now, I got on the train to go to Gießen.


Mathematikum sign
Mathematikum sign.
In Gießen, I headed straight for the Mathematikum, the first mathematics museum in the world. Five hundred square meters, three floors, and fifty interactive exhibits. I was not alone in the Mathematikum. There were people there. Kids, teenagers, and adults. They were participating and having fun. Even the teenagers. German culture is not like US culture.

Digits of π written in a spiral on a wall
Digits of π on a wall. The missing digit should be easy to spot.
My first stop was the π room. In the π room, there is π on the wall, a circle on the floor to walk around and across (counting your steps so you can find the ratio of circumference to diameter), plastic circles to roll and measure, 12 pie wedges to fit approximately into a parallelogram (the approximation gets better as the number of wedges increases), discussion of whether π is "normal" (in the limit, each digit appears with equal frequency), a computer to find the digits of your birthdate in π, and a book with π printed in base 26 (using letters for digits).

Red, yellow, and blue irregular wheels composed of distinct arcs
Constant-width wheels.
Another exhibit shows noncircular constant-width wheels. Even though the yellow and red wheels are not circular, the distance between a wheel's highest point and its lowest point is always the same no matter how you turn the wheel. There is a board on top of the wheels, visible in the bigger and more complete picture (click on the small picture to see it). When you push the board, it rolls smoothly along the tops of the wheels, without moving up or down.

Curved red and blue ramps
Blue straight ramp and brachistochrone. Red tautochrones.
One of the probability exhibits has a set of intransitive dice.

The red ramps in the image to the right are tautochrones or isochrones, meaning "same time." The two red ramps are identical and have a special shape. When two balls are placed on the ramps at different heights and released at the same time, they reach the bottom at the same time. Even though the higher ball has farther to go, it accelerates more, because the ramp is steeper higher up. Using that, the slope is designed so that the time to reach the bottom is the same from any point.

Eric floating in mid-air
Me floating in mid-air.
The curved blue ramp is a brachistochrone. Its shape gives the fastest possible descent along a ramp from the top. When two balls are dropped from the top of the straight ramp and the top of the brachistochrone, the ball on the brachistrochrone reaches the bottom first, even though the path it travels is longer.

(I suspect these ramps are designed for "ideal" point masses sliding without friction, rather than real balls with rotational inertia.)

In another room, you can float in mid-air. So, the museum has exhibits on numbers, geometry, spatial projection, combinatorics, probability, and other mathematical subjects. It is somewhat entertaining, but it is not as informative as I would like a museum to be. There are neat things in mathematics that make you go "Aha!"—the sudden comprehension you get when ideas fit into place and explain something.

I bought a few things in the gift shop and headed out into the city of Gießen. There is not much to see, at least, not that I found. Gießen is not listed in my guidebook. The shopping district is large for the size the city seemed to be, but it has the common stores. There is a lot of public artwork in the shopping district—sculptures, fountains, painted benches, patterns in colored stones in the street.

I went back to the Hauptbahnhof and had dinner at Pasta Mista. Their four-cheese pizza mixed all the cheeses together instead of organizing them in quadrants, and it was a good blend I have not had before. I do not have the words to describe one of the flavors. You will have to go to Gießen and try it. The price of water at Pasta Mista was not bad. I have not mentioned before the price of water and soft drinks in German restaurants. It is high, as much as alcoholic drinks or more. The price varies from place to place, but restaurants may charge you, say, €2 for .25 liters (8.45 ounces) of water.

After dinner, I got on the train to Heidelberg.


Arrival in Heidelberg went very well. The Straßenbahn stop is right in front of the Hauptbahnhof, and it had a nice new ticket machine with English instructions. I bought a ticket, and the Straßenbahn I needed appeared less than a minute later. That was fortuitous, because it was a time of day when service gets less frequent. I rode one stop to a transfer station, crossed the tracks, and my next Straßenbahn also arrived quickly. The hotel directions fit exactly. I got off at the Kranich stop, walked down the street to the hotel, checked in, went to the room, and prepared for the next day.

As I mentioned before, Heidelberg has new Straßenbahnen. One new feature is a fancy display that shows the upcoming stops in order and moves the names as the stops are passed. Another feature is a solution to the button problem by the door. Older Straßenbahnen have two buttons, one to ask the driver to stop and one to open the doors. It is not always clear to newcomers which button is which, since there may be no labels or worn labels or German labels. Occasionally, a person trying to get off will jab at the wrong button repeatedly in confusion and miss their stop. In the new Straßenbahnen, there is one button. When the Straßenbahn is moving, it asks the driver to stop. When the Straßenbahn is stopped, it opens the doors.

The light switches in Hotel Kranich are on when up. That is the first time I have seen that in Germany.

Frankfurt, Gießen, and Heidelberg make three new cities in one day. (Well, I have been in Frankfurt before, but only the airport, so it does not count.)

Friday, May 23, 2003

Several hundred bicycles
Bicycles outside the Hauptbahnhof.
In the morning, I reversed last night's travel from the Hauptbahnhof and stored my overnight bag in a locker at the Hauptbahnhof. Then I bought a 24-hour transit pass and set out to see Heidelberg.

Metal sculpture with faces and legs and hooves and squares and circles and stuff
Sculpture across from Hauptbahnhof.
There were a few bicycles outside the Hauptbahnhof. Across the street is a very large sculpture.

I found the psychiatric hospital art museum, but it did not open until 11 a.m., so I headed for Heidelberger Schloss (Heidelberg Castle). On the bus to there, two young women were speaking in English about their college classes, and they had US accents, so I introduced myself. They were studying in Heidelberg. Another woman, Ana, joined the conversation. She was touring Germany and was headed to the castle too. As it turned out, she and I had similar plans for the day, so we spent the day together.

Ana and I got off at Rathaus/Bergbahn to go to the castle. We were disoriented and were not in sight of the castle, so we wandered a block, asked directions, went back the other way, and started to follow signs to the castle. Not every intersection had signs, so we guessed a couple of times. ("Up" is a good hint for getting to a castle on a hill, but sometimes there were two ups.)

Castle courtyard
Heidelberg Castle courtyard.
We reached Heidelberger Schloss around 10 a.m., and the first English tour did not start until 11:15. We spent the time looking around the courtyard, visiting the Museum of Pharmacy inside the castle, and walking around the grounds.
Big wine cask
Großes Faß.

The wine cellar has a large cask for storing wine. It holds 221,726 liters (58,574 gallons). The townspeople paid some of their taxes in wine. There is a dance floor on top of the cask. That is a lot of wine, but alcoholic beverages had an important advantage hundreds of years ago. Alcohol kills some nasty things, and they did not have good means of purifying water, so drinking wine could be better for you than drinking water.

We visited the Museum of Pharmacy and wandered around inside the courtyard a little. The pictures below are from the terrace.

View across Neckar river View of east Heidelberg View of Heidelberg
Three views from Heidelberg Castle.

Here is Ana. She is a Harvard graduate, studied economics, worked in marketing, was born in China, and has lived in San Francisco, Hong Kong, and New York.

Ruined castle tower with vegetation growing over a fallen part
Pulver Turm (Gunpowder Tower), ruined by French forces in 1693.
We still had time before the tour, so we explored the grounds outside the castle. French forces invaded the castle in the 1600's, but were later repelled. Before they left, they detonated explosives to ruin the castle.

It was finally time for the tour, and it was not bad. A few rooms in the castle have been restored for illustration, but much of the castle is left ruined. It is a better tourist attraction that way.

Rooms projecting out from castle wall, two below and one above
Castle toilets.
The structure on the wall to the left used to overhang the moat, before the castle was enlarged and a terrace was built underneath it. The structure is three toilets, two below and one above. They are gravity operated, which is why they overhung the moat.

Castle wall with sky visible through windows
Remaining wall of destroyed building.
Placing one gravity-operated toilet above another is an example of bad engineering almost beyond belief.

The lone wall to the right was a building before French forces destroyed it.

After the tour, we went to the funicular (a cable-operated railway on the side of a mountain) and took it down to the Kornmarkt station. We came out of the station to find we were exactly at the Rathaus bus stop. We completely missed the station right in front of us when hunting for the way to the castle. I think we missed the station entrance because it is low and dark.

For the next two or more hours, we explored Haupstraße, which is mostly a shopping street. At the east end is Heiliggeistkirche, a Gothic cathedral. We climbed the tower (nothing compared to the Münster).

McDonald's in a lavishly decorated pink building
Former royal pharmacy.
The shopping along Haupstraße is not bad. There are interesting shops, with things that are worth buying. There are more traditional tourist shops too, but they generally do not descend to the level of schlock you see at many tourist sites. Nobody tell Catherine, but I got her a nice stuffed turtle for her fourth birthday. There were a couple of chocolate stores, but neither was as nice as Die Praline in Frankfurt. I did see a shirt I could really use. It said, "I am not a tourist. I live here." However, it was all in English, with nothing to mark it as German—no German language, no local image, no place name.

Heidelberg is filled with tourists, especially along Hauptstraße, but it still feels like a community. People are enjoying life there, and the tourists are enjoying the town and not just rushing to see the sights.

English is spoken a lot in Heidelberg. In Ulm, most stores and restaurants have somebody who will speak English if you ask. In Heidelberg, you do not have to ask; they will start speaking English to you as soon as they hear your accent.

Heidelberg University is along Hauptstraße, and we visited its jail, where bad students were incarcerated. My Lonely Planet guidebook says they were generally kept a minimum of three days and fed only bread and water. (By the way, Ana was using the Let's Go guidebook because she knows the authors.)

Prison cell Prison cell Prison stairway
Studentenkarzer (Students Jail). From 1778 to 1914, students were incarcerated here for misdeeds such as drinking, womanizing, and singing.

Straßenbahn in multiple colors
Multicolored Straßenbahn.
It took us a while to finish Haupstraße—shopping, grabbing lunch, and talking. Eventually we reached the end, where there is a major bus and Straßenbahn transfer point. One of Heidelberg's routes has a pretty multicolored Straßenbahn.
Painting of a woman's face looking at the viewer with another face in the background
Self portrait by Anna Frieda Lohse-Wächtler.

The Prinzhorn Collection of art created by psychiatric ward patients was on my to-do list but not Ana's, but she liked the idea, so we went. They had a special exhibit of the work of Anna Frieda Wächtler. She was born on December 4, 1899, was in a mental institution or being treated for about the last ten years of her life, and was killed by the Nazis on July 31, 1940.

Sculpture of a horse with legs and wheels and rider
Sculpture by a patient.
I was looking for more art that portrayed something of the mental states of the patients, some expression of their perceptions. I think most of the art was done as therapy or hobby, rather than as expression of their illnesses.

The Prinzhorn Collection completed our tasks in town. The guidebooks suggest crossing the river to get away from the crowds and see the view from Philosophenweg. So, we crossed the Neckar river and headed up.

Castle on a mountainside
Heidelberg Castle seen from Philosophenweg.
Philosophenweg is a paved road, not a hiking trail, and is open to cars, for at least part of the way, but only one car passed us. There is no separate sidewalk and that does not seem safe, but such things work in Germany.

Ana in front of Heidelberg
Former stranger.
We were there in the right season, with flowers in bloom. The walk is surrounded by plants, and Heidelberg is spread out before you across the river, with the castle presiding over the city. Ana and I walked and talked and had a great day. We finished up with a walk to and up a small tower near the path, and then I had to head back into the city, since I had a train that evening. Ana and I had spent about seven hours together.

Stone-walled path through foliage down a mountainside
After we parted, I continued along Philosophenweg to Schlagenweg, which is a footpath that winds down the mountain. The picture to the left is a typical section.

Towers and gate before a bridge
Crossing the bridge at the bottom put me back in the east end of Heidelberg, with time for dinner before I had to catch a bus to the Hauptbahnhof. The gate and towers to the right are at the bridge.

I checked a couple of Lonely Planet suggestions for restaurants with vegetarian meals. After looking at the first, I went to Starfish 'n Coffee. It did not have the dish described in the guidebook, but it had some vegetarian crêpes. (Lonely Planet is very good overall, but its restaurant recommendations are not always the best. Of course, it can be hard to find good vegetarian meals.)

I eyed the dinner crêpes but went for Crêpes Austria, with Quarkfüllung, frischen Früchten, Rosinen, Sonnenblumenkernen, und Sahne (curd filling, fresh fruits, raisins, sunflower kernels, and cream). It was good, even without chocolate.

Finally, I headed for the bus stop. While I was waiting, a Brazilian family came up and asked for directions. This makes three foreign cities I have given directions in. I have got to make a button that says, "Directions, €1." They were going to the Hauptbahnhof, so I told them to come with me. However, they had run out of euros and needed to change dollars, so I paid their bus fare and took dollars. We transferred to a Straßenbahn, and, from the Straßenbahn, I saw vegetarian restaurant with a large sign, so that is on my list to try if I get back to Heidelberg.

I caught the train back to Ulm, and the ride was uneventful. I wish I had more time to add to this page. However, I have to rush off on my next trip.

⇐ To journal. ⇒

© Copyright 2003 by Eric Postpischil.