Frankfurt, Germany April 2017

And now back to Frankfurt for about the 100th time on my travels.

After saying goodbye to the Wiesbaden flatmates, I made the short S-Bahn journey to Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof. Goodbyes have become part of the reality on my travels, but there’s still always a slight sadness about them. I promised to at least send a couple of postcards and let them know if I was ever back in Hessen. As it was still light during the journey, it truly felt like springtime. On the S-Bahn, yet again, my thoughts began to drift. To my time in Germany, the people I’d met and the time that remained. Just a few months. But also then I realised: I was definitely enjoying my life right now, having almost exactly what I’d wanted at that moment. Something which I’d previously only envisioned and aspired to, I now had. OK, it’s possible it’s because that’s far easier now than it ever was in the past. But still, I imagined: what if this trend continued? What if life was whatever you want it to be? Nowadays, there are definitely far more resources and opportunities there. To achieve what we truly value and structure our life accordingly. Compared to the past, so much more is now accessible to so many more people. I then imagined: What if that was just the beginning? What if this became the rule rather than the exception?

Frankfurt Altstadt

If you’ve read my other posts, you’ll know it wasn’t my first stay in the Five Elements. So I checked in knowing what to expect (in a good way). Looking forward to meeting a whole range of people and talking about anything and everything. And that’s what happened! Over the next three days I got to know people from basically every continent. Though they were mainly Americans on this occassion, there were also travellers from Ireland, England, Greece, China, India and Colombia. So often, in the lobby we talked about attitudes in our home countries – including to travel. Very often, our decision was very unconventional: people won’t really get it until they do it. This led on to talk of culture, politics, religion, the modern USA and the world. We concluded: people generally believe what they’ve been brought up to believe from a young age. And the only way to realise it is to expose yourself to new environments. Meet people who hold different views. Engage. Experiment.

New European Central Bank headquarters, opened in 2014

Frankfurt is certainly not one of Germany’s most cultured cities. As well as being far more commercial, some areas are let’s say, seedy. There’s a Red Light district and, like I did, you can very easily see drugs (taking and selling) and fighting in the streets.

Near Willy-Brandt Platz and bridge over the Main

Over the next days, I got to know William, an American. We went to the Frankfurt Archaeological Museum and Architecture Museums (both do student discounts). I also joined a free walking tour which meets at 14:00 in front of the Gold Exchange most days. This gave a bit more insight into the city and its problems – which it’s effectively had to deal with since the end of World War II. For example, for drug addicts: more has recently been dedicated to support and providing clean needles etc. There was even a clinic just round the corner from the hostel. This approach, like that found in the Netherlands, has led to less people dying in the streets each year.

Archaeological & Architectural Museum Tickets

The tour really opened my eyes to the impact of the Industrial Revolution. This is how Frankfurt really flourished, as represented by its station, skyscrapers, major company headquarters, and as of recently, the new European Central Bank. The commercial, financial areas such as Messe and Willy-Brandt Platz are similar to Canary Wharf in London.

Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof. The statue of Atlas and three figures represent the Industrial Revolution – steel, coal and electricity

Over the next days we discussed all sorts of topics, including what I’d thought about on the train. Lefteris, from Greece, talked about how in the past you had far less choice: you found something, a job or whatever, or you starved to death. But nowadays, with automation of so many processes, humans are required less and less. So again we can end up in the situation, “What the **** am I supposed to do with my life?”. It seems this is a question we will need to confront over and over throughout our lives. As the dynamic changes, jobs will change, and our lifestyles will change. Coupled with the resources and opportunities available today, we have almost infinite options.

Spider-Man Easter eggs – apparently there are around four to be found in the city

Then one of the most unbelievable incidents. I always knew Frankfurt had its problems, but nothing like this. I heard: just after we’d gone to bed the night before, an argument began in the lobby. Then a fight. Chairs were thrown a knife was pulled. The police were called and it took several officers to break it up. I’d seen disturbances on my travels, but never violence like this. I felt worst for the Americans trying to get out of their travel comfort zone.

Roman armour, in Frankfurt Archaeological Museum

On the final day, waiting for a heavy thunderstorm to pass, we spent most of our time in the hostel. Again we contemplated: overcoming, emotions, mindset, attitude. What is really important in life. We concluded there is no real end point; it’s a constant journey of learning and experience. In that respect, it makes little sense to plan now absolutely everything you want to accomplish. Then another point I’ll always remember: I showed them the poem Slow Dance by David L. Weatherford, as mentioned in Tim Ferriss’s The 4-Hour Workweek. The very book Lefteris was currently reading! Incredibly, he reached for his bag and pulled out his copy. Bizarre things like that (good & bad) have happened at a few points on my travels. But at the end of the day, it’s those unbelievable moments that have only made experience richer.

Tools & Tips

  • The Art of Non-Conformity by Chris Guillebeau – Leaving off from his World Domination Guide, this book really challenges conventional assumptions about how to live your life. After reading this around four summers ago I felt really inspired to take action on visions and goals I’d been holding.
  • Slow Dance by David L. Weatherford – short poem that really puts a lot into perspective.
  • The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss – Not that I’d be surprised if you’ve heard of this, but really changed the way I think about money, work, time and life. Funny it’s over 10 years since it was released now.
  • “The Future of the American Dream”– Sean Ogle’s Tedx Talk that was also mentioned in discussion. Covers setting priorities, adventures of a lifetime and modern living; “Most people will choose unhappiness over uncertainty.”

Random Takeaways

Though I’ve largely talked about this above, I got so much out of this trip – just from the people I met. So much revolved around culture – how different they can be, and there’s no real right or wrong “one”. Like back home for me, we agreed the conventional approach in many cases was to study, work, find a “good job” where you could earn good money. Basically, demonstrating ability and competency. There wasn’t so much emphasis on the idea of doing things for the sheer learning experience: overcoming fears, getting a different perspective etc. Or just for the sake of proving to yourself you can do something. Over the past couple of years, and during my time abroad, I’ve learnt to ask myself:

  • What assumptions are my views based on?
  • Are you assuming that the person you are speaking to wants the same things out of life that you do?
  • Is what I want now really what life’s all about?

After a bit more discussion, we concluded that nowadays, every second is an opportunity to bring your dreams one centimetre closer. In the sense of resources available. The people you can speak to. The information and books you can easily access. The technology and methods to plan, refine, and test ideas. It’s just a question of motivation and sometimes leaving your current comfort zone.

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