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Public Activities

February 1990

One thing Germany provides for its taxes (it doesn’t take long to reach the 58% bracket) is lots of activities — every week there’s something going on. Last week there was a marathon, with various musical groups at sites all over the city to spread out the spectators. The week before there was a huge book fair; we saw Peter Ustinov speaking German on an interview on TV. Actually speaking German, not dubbed. Actually, quite a few educated British, at least older ones, studied German. I guess it took a generation or so after the Second World War for interest to pick up again.

The week before that we went to the Frankfurt Auto Show at the same place, the "Messe," whose exhibition grounds includes a couple of dozen buildings each the size of the DC Armory. So they had plenty of room for the trucks, buses and car carriers — one had a luxurious Mercedes cab pulling a double trailer. If that one got in an accident on the Autobahn, it would be a multi-million dollar loss! There were even mobile cranes — actually, they were more like cherry pickers with a thyroid condition. They were giving selected lovelies a birds-eye view from the top of one, about twenty stories up!

We went on a Saturday and it was so mobbed it was difficult to get near some of the cars that were being introduced here. I can see why the first several days are for journalists only. Messe (pronounced like mess-uh, so it doesn’t really make you think of a mess) means something like fair or exhibition. They’re a big business in Frankfurt, and in fact in many other German cities. At Messe time, it’s nearly impossible to find a hotel room, and those that are available are likely to cost double the normal rate.

In the nearby Red Light District, the prostitutes' rates also soar.

Some restaurants qualify the days they’re closed (Ruhetag, literally rest day) with the note "except during Messe." (In German, of course.) Even the little pocket date books printed here include symbols that tell when and where the various Messes are scheduled.

The week before the Auto Show there was a Rheingau Wine Festival downtown, where you could taste literally hundreds of different wines, and keep the decorated tasting glasses for the one mark deposit. We’ve already gotten so many we’re going to need a new china closet to display them all. And the German government subsidizes the arts to the tune of billions of dollars annually. A modern art museum is nearing completion and the south side of the Main has so many museums they call it "Museumsufer" — shore, or bank, of museums. When I first saw the name, and realized it referred to the river area, I thought it had something to do with surfers!

The south bank is also the site of a flea market every Saturday from 10 to 2 (opening hour laws, you know). The bridge that crosses the Main at about the center of the flea market is closed to automobiles then, which makes it pleasant to attend by bicycle. There are all kinds of things for sale: used clothes, cheap tools, books, records, tapes and CDs, and plenty of junk; even some items which are actually decent antiques. One of Betty Lou’s friends who lives in Sachsenhausen, which begins at the Main and extends southward for a mile or so, has found some real buys over the years. Since the opening of the East we have noticed Polish and Czechoslovakian buses parked along the bank a mile further down the river. When the flea market closes, vendors flock to the buses with their unsold goods and head home until the next week.

© Copyright 2000 Jack Ludwick - All Rights Reserved

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