Thursday, May 7, 2015

Five Good Five Bad, Frankfurt

As I am winding down my time in Frankfurt, I will contribute to the FS' Five Good, Five Bad series.

The Good

1. Travel - There are absolutely fantastic travel opportunities from Frankfurt.  The airport has flights to practically everywhere and the flights are cheap.  Last minute deals abound, I often book a weekend getaway less than 10 days out (particularly, if I don't have a specific place in mind) and find multiple options for under $300.  Trains and roads are also great.  Four or less hours to Paris, Amsterdam, Munich, Zurich, Brussels.  Less than 2 hour flights to almost all of Europe.

2. Running and biking trails - For me personally, this has been huge.  I started running while I was in DC, but I moved it forward here.  In part, that is because there are just hundreds of miles of running options.  I can run from my front door and go 15 miles while only having to cross 2-3 roads.  Weather allows for running outside 8 months of the year.  Simply put, if I had been posted somewhere else, I doubt I would have run a marathon.

3. Great Post for families - I don't have a family here myself, but Frankfurt is clearly a great fantastic family post.  Multiple options for good schools.  Lots of other kids around.  Two playgrounds on the Siedlung.

4. Great, easy shopping - I often overlook this, because it is so easy.  Numerous grocery store options with plenty of fresh produce.  Meats, cheese, and fish galore.  High end and low end clothes and electronics.  Malls.  IKEA.  If, somehow, you aren't satisfied with the German options, you are 30 minutes from the base in Wiesbaden with a U.S. style grocery store and PX.  Ramstein and its giant Commissary and PX are only 90 minutes away (I went to Ramstein twice in 2 years and left wondering why both times).  Oh, and Amazon too.

5. Cool shit - This is entirely due to my position and not really due to Frankfurt, per se, but I have gotten to do a lot of fun stuff.  I have toured Porsche and the largest commercial passenger plane in the world.  I have visited the European Space Agency and some of the world's largest banks.  I have met German governors, high-ranking CEOs, Senators and cabinet members.  I have eaten at a Michelin star steak house and seen a satellite that is now in space.  Pretty fun stuff.

The Bad

1. The Siedlung - The housing compound is perfectly okay, but nothing more.  There is not a single feature of my apartment that I will miss when I am at future posts.  Outside the war zones, I haven't heard of or seen worse housing in the FS.  There is nothing specifically wrong with it, but it just doesn't have anything special about it.  To make matters worse, it's in a fairly boring part of town.  Being on a compound, I don't have any German neighbors.  It's like being in Little America.  If that's your thing, then Frankfurt is for you.

2. The lack of community and support - I understand that this is a European malaise, but it still came as a shock when I arrived.  I assumed with so many people here, it would be easier to make friends, but it's actually harder.  The community is so big that you can never know everyone.  People don't introduce themselves to new people the way you do at a small post (I am as guilty of this as anyone else).  People aren't actively looking for new friends the way they do at a small post.  There are so many options for things to do that people hang out with each other less.  It took me 6 months to get a good group of friends and since then I haven't looked back.  But those first 6 months were hard.

3. Working in a Consulate - Working in the Consulate is quite different from working in the Embassy.  I may be more attuned to this because of my position in the Pol/Econ section, but it really affects your work.  Despite the huge consulate, our bilateral mission is quite small.  Political, Economic, and Public Diplomacy work is covered by just a handful of officers.  Most things require an extra layer of scrutiny.  Different portfolio than what you see at the Embassy.  I would consider working a political job again.  I would consider working in a Consulate again, but I don't think I would work in a Political/Economic job in a Consulate again.

4. Germans being German - Two weeks ago, I needed to replace a windshield wiper while on the road.  After 30 minutes, I finally found an auto parts store where they had dozens of windshield wipers available.  Somehow, it took us an hour to find the right part.  Why?  All car models in Germany have a unique identifying number listed on the registration, which allows auto parts stores, repair shops, etc., to input that number and see exactly what parts can be used.  Since my car is an American spec. car, it doesn't have one of those numbers.  Therefore, they couldn't figure out which part to use.  This is one of the most German things in the world - a brilliant system that, when it works, is absolutely fantastic.  AND absolutely zero ability to improvise when that brilliant system doesn't work.

5. Minor annoyances - There are a couple of things that regularly annoy me, but don't really classify as bad enough to warrant their own point.

  • No right turn on red - Waiting at a light for minutes for the light to turn green only then to have to wait for pedestrians to cross the street is extremely frustrating.
  • Sameness of the beer - All of the beer in Germany is good.  None of the beer in Germany is great.  Due to a 16th Century Beer Purity Law, there are basically only three types of beer - Lager, Pilsner, and Hefeweizen.  No ales, no stouts, no light beers, no ciders.  On a scale of 1-10, every beer in Germany is between a 6-8.
  • Internet issues - Germany is a first world, technologically driven country.  Yet, my internet regularly sucks.  I rarely get the promised performance of what I pay for and we often have streaming issues.

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