Despite the six hours difference in time, members of our group were relatively bright-eyed upon their arrival. It didn't take them long to realize Frankfurt was super-clean, its servitors efficient, cordial, accommodating and even "friendly."
It is standard operating procedure, on a tour of this kind, for the company's tour guide, and also locally hired guides, to have the coach traverse each city to provide a "bird's eye view," while the guide dispenses pertinent orientation information.
For example: Frankfurt is home to numerous cultural and educational institutions; it is one of the two largest financial centers in continental Europe, the other one being Paris; the three pillars of its economy are finance, transportation and trade fairs.
Frankfurt is a multi-cultural city where 180 nationalities reside. It has the second largest Jewish community (after Berlin) in Germany. Most of its other citizens practice Catholicism.
Frankfurt is unique for its skyscrapers. Only a few European cities allow skyscrapers anywhere near the ancient central parts of town. Therefore, Frankfurt is one of the few European cities to have a "skyline." The others are Paris, London and Warsaw.
Atop some of the tall buildings, we could easily see the headquarters of BMW, DELL, KIV, FIAT and other names familiar in the automotive and technology industries.
Frankfurt hosts 88 consulates, is home to the largest stock exchange in Germany, has more than 300 national and international banks and has all manner of convenient modes of transportation, including excellent motorways, a train system, city electric trams, double-decker buses, numerous taxis, subways and rental bicycles. Traffic is heavy with small trucks and private vehicles.
There were several things we noticed right away which stood out as "different or impressive" at our Imperial Hotel. The accommodations were, as reputed, clean as whistles with gleaming white bathroom facilities, which had extremely high-sided tubs. Quite frankly, the tub was difficult for me to climb into. For a taller person, it might not have been a chore, but for me, it bordered on an athletic feat.
Soon after arrival, our group was taken to Frankfurt's "centuries old, cobble-stoned, market center." For several hours, we shopped and gawked at the six-story, pitch-roofed, "split beam and timber" buildings. They looked like they'd stepped out of the pages of a child's story book.
Music from a carillon wafted across the market square while we browsed through souvenir shops, munched frankfurters with mustard, people-watched, took snapshots and just soaked up the "other worldliness" of the old city's ambiance.
Dinner was on our own and, as noted previously, we ate in a Turkish restaurant which must have been a neighborhood favorite meeting place. It reeked of curry. Tables were all full and the crowd was loud and happy-sounding. Of course, the menu was unreadable, but the waiter was extremely patient and helpful. Goat grills seemed to be a local favorite, although nobody in our group ordered one.
In the Turkish restaurant, I noticed an unusual manner of settling the tab. No cashier was involved. And, this was generally true throughout the tour, unless it was a deli or a market of some kind. In restaurants, apparently it is not unusual for large groups to ask for separate checks. Waiters were not dismayed or annoyed. Each waiter patiently added up the tab on a little notepad, took the money and made change right there at the table. He had a most interesting "cash register." It was an accordian-pleated, black, leather wallet in which he had all manner of bills and change. He did the addition in his head without the aid of a calculator. This method of settling a tab eliminated long lines in front of a cashier.
Also, in many instances, some servers, both men and women, wore white, long-sleeved shirts, vests and long, black wrap-around aprons, which came down to their ankles. The aprons were neat as well as practical.
Back at the Imperial Hotel, the beds were made up with a bottom sheet, but no top sheet. Instead, there was a downy comforter to sleep beneath. This way of making up beds was the same throughout the tour in each hotel and in every country. I had experienced that before and was glad to experience it again.
In our first hotel's small dining space, each super-neat and attractive table had something on it which I'd never seen before, and that was a small stainless steel "waste pot" for getting rid of little bits of paper or unwanted debris. I mentioned this to Ken Moody at Western Sizzlin' and he thought it was "a pretty good idea."
Continental breakfast there consisted of scrambled eggs, cold cuts, "slice-your-own" bread, hard rolls, jellies and jams in little, tiny cups which looked like a miniature "sugar cone" for some child's doll, cereals, fresh fruits, juices, milk, coffee, sausages and sausages and more sausages plus hard-boiled eggs, complete with little metal egg cups "for your dining convenience."
After Frankfurt, the 14-day journey was launched. The travel day to Berlin would cover 360 miles through Weimar, "one time intellectual heart of Germany and host to such luminaries as Luther, Bach, Liszt, Shiller and, of course, Goethe." Weimar was known at one time as "The Athens of Germany." It is also home of the world famous Zeiss Optic factory. Ophthalmologists Tom Pruitt, Jerry Bryson and my brother, Edwin Nolan, would be familiar with that name, and no doubt had Zeiss precision slip lamps in their offices in Harlan and Louisville.
Our arrival into Germany's capital city, Berlin, after dark, immediately included cursory visits to the Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie and some stretches of what's left of the Berlin Wall. Those places and many others of historic interest were scheduled to be explored later in daylight.
In the meantime, a complimentary dinner in an attractive German restaurant featured guitar and accordion music. The duo played throughout the evening as we enjoyed pork or shrimp, or frankfurters, rice or potatoes, fruits and vegetables, hard rolls and "unlimited drinks." Our Harlan group and our additional 13 fellow travelers had a good opportunity to get better acquainted as we sang along to many familiar songs and show tunes while hoisting glass after glass.
Editor's note: This is the third column in a series relating some of the highlights and experiences of nine Harlan Countians on their recent 14-day motor-coach tour through Germany, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Austria. The group was comprised of Adam and Bruce Howard, of Baxter; Naomi Craig, Jim and Mary Faye Roark, of Pathfork; Paul Blanton, Sue and Bill Lee, of Wallins.