Thursday, July 11, 2013

Heidelberg, Frankfurt, Germany

Not a good start to my trek as it's a wet day in Heidelberg (population 150,000) with the ruins of Heidelberg Castle shrouded in a steady downpour.
Another view of Heidelberg Castle taken from a bridge in the middle of the Neckar River.
Cycling along the river, it's a nice (but wet) 15 mile ride to the industrial city of Mannheim (population 315,000). This is the main entrance to Mannheim Palace. Built in the early 1700's, this massive Baroque palace is now primarily used by the University of Mannheim. It's not a good picture taking day as the main courtyard is being used for a local sports festival.
The palace is too big to get in one shot so, this is the right side.
This is the left side of Mannheim Palace.
My last visit to Frankfurt (population 700,000) was back in 1999. Being a major financial center I knew not to show up during the work week and remember downtown turning into a ghost town on weekends. I purposely planned to arrive late afternoon on a Saturday to have the place to myself and also to get a much cheaper weekend rate at a hotel. Imagine my surprise to find a food fair in progress with blocks and blocks of streets absolutely packed with people
This is the edge of the festival. My bike and I did manage to work our way through the crowds and find a suitable tent to have a sausage and beer.
This photo shows the 56-story headquarters for Commerzbank, Germany's second biggest bank. Until a few years ago, it was the tallest building in Europe. I chuckle to myself as I recall my visit to the bank and building back in 1999. I was given an extensive tour of the massive building (1.2 million square feet of gross floor space housing 2,400 employees) by an  American from the bank's corporate communications department. The three biggest banks in Germany at the time were Deutsche Bank, Commerzbank Bank and Dresdner Bank and to say were competitive would be an understatement. Anyway, I'm taken into a restroom on one of the top floors (senior management) and you're immediately confronted with several urinals flush up against the wall. In this case the wall is a huge glass window and as you're standing there you have the most panoramic view I've ever seen from a bathroom. But, that's not the funny part. Directly in front of your line of sight while relieving yourself is the top of the shorter head office building of archrival Dresdner Bank. I ask my tour guide if it was part of the original building plans or is it coincidence. He unconvincingly says it's a coincidence. In 2009 Dresdner Bank was gobbled up by Commerzbank Bank.
Frankfurt has a small but picturesque old town.
Another photo of old town.
I've seen hundreds and hundreds of street performers during my years of travels but these two guys will stick in my mind for a long, long time. As you can see, the guy sitting on the ground has his arm extended and is holding out a wooden pole--which is NOT touching the ground. Sitting cross-legged atop the pole is a man.  How the heck do they do this? I stood around circling the two for 10 minutes hoping to see the man dismount the pole.
We in the USA have the Federal Reserve Bank. The second most important bank in the world would be the ECB or European Central Bank. This 48-story glass twin tower building going up along the Main River near downtown Frankfurt will be the new head office of the ECB. Completion is 2014.
The European Central Bank's riverfront property lies about a half-mile from downtown on the site of the city's former wholesale market hall.
Frankfurt is one of very few cities in Europe with a skyline.

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