Thursday, August 6, 2009

Frankfurt: The Wild Wild East Goes West II

Frankfurt, Infinite Wisdom, Oskar Shindler, Shindler's List, Michael Conrad and Leo BurnettFrankfurt comes on the heals of Vietnam like a powerbleached metropolis built between the lines of commerce and commerz. The difference is striking. Surreal. The Mercedes taxi slides past Festival Park, the Frankfurt convention center and home of the world's largest auto show, at 180km an hour as the driver speeds towards the train station near to where our hotel is located. Architecture blurs in a pastiche of Bauhaus office meanderings mixed with function over form human filing cabinets, or apartments, as the Vietnamese might call them. It is explained while driving through the neighborhood of signs displaying "Sex Show" or "Table Dancing" that our hotel is located in this area for the factors of reasonable price and proximity to the train station for our escape to Paris later in the week. I have little trouble agreeing with that.

The flight, from Hanoi to Frankfurt is eleven hours and jet lag takes it's toll on my partner as we settle into our room. Breakfast has been served at the end of one of our longest days and after, the only reasonable thing to do is sleep - but we can't, so we don't, quite yet.

Frankfurt, Infinite Wisdom, Oskar Shindler, Shindler's List, Michael Conrad and Leo Burnett
Waking at 3 pm from a flight that arrived at 5:50 am I spy one still dead traveling companion and decide that it's a good time to survey my environs, the more than large train station that lies to the east. And it seems that bums were designed to live in train stations as I am approached by a young t-shirt wearing, German engineered bum who seems more like a college drop-out than an actual bum. "No thank you", I reply to the request. Here at the Frankfurt am Main station, classical European architecture meets steel and glass rennovation to present a shopping mall of Mac Le Grand proportions as Burger Kings and bagel shops grab out for one's ever so well healed attention - or at least that of the locals. The price of my Double Whopper meal nears ten dollars as I realize that in Vietnam, that would be equivent to 180,000 dong and buy you a gourmet entre and appetizer. I wolf that sucker down in classic western carnivorous fashion anyway, as if I am eating the very hollogrammed-silver-threaded-security-embeded Euro note from my pocket. Heaven, in the financial nirvana of Deutchland - delivered in all it's flamed broiled glory.

Frankfurt, Infinite Wisdom, Oskar Shindler, Shindler's List, Michael Conrad and Leo BurnettI buy
a baguette for my partner back at the room, knowing she will be little interested in venturing out to this sea of commercialism that thrives on the almost mechanical meticulism of the populace of this less than vibrant metropolis. What you do see in Frankfurt are the spoils of bean counting of the highest German order. What you don't see is heart. And that's what I was about to find to be a byproduct of a strictly German education. Compassion, removed by education - replaced by ambivalence.

The next day brings Ericka. Ericka and I had met on YouTube nearly two years ago and now we were finally going to meet in person. How wild in the world of virtual friends and relationships the Internet has cobbled together for all of us these days.

Frankfurt, Infinite Wisdom, Oskar Shindler, Shindler's List, Michael Conrad and Leo BurnettEricka Dickens-Gerhardt fronts a jazz and blues band in the city and goes by the moniker "That Broad Abroad" to her fans back in her hometown of L.A. She meets us at one of the more than ubiquitous foreign-owned Irish Pubs that seem to dot the globe and greets me with a warm and gracious hug. We settle down to a less than Irish Lunch and begin to chew the fat, American style, as my Vietnamese counterpart and Ericka carry sidebar conversations in German. Oh how International it's all become. Finishing lunch, Ericka takes us around the corner to the former apartment of Oskar Shindler, of Shindler's list fame. She then presents me with a book about him, signed and commemorating our meeting, along with a small bag of cookies baked by her daughter. So sweet. My partner, ever still victimized by jetlag and a few other traveling demons, decides, not surprisingly, to retire back to the room as Ericka and I continue our venture into the city formerly occupied by the Americans in WWII.

Frankfurt, Infinite Wisdom, Oskar Shindler, Shindler's List, Michael Conrad and Leo BurnettOur afternoon walk travels through Zeil, a posh area of shopping malls and higher class boutiques and ends, accross the Main river at the Deutsche Architekturmuseum for espresso and espresso induced conversation. A large bottle of Pellegrino hits the table and I feel I#m almost in L.A. - Oh and that "slash-mark"? Welcome to the wondrous world of the German keyboard - where Zs and Ys are transposed and all the little nuggets like @ signs, // marks and "quotations are buried in odd, possibly shift or possibly alt key locations making a tour of the typescape a real romp and a speedbump for virtually everz sentence I venture. Fun? No.

But Ericka answers my big question of the tour. "Could I, and the partners of Infinite Wisdom, find work in Frankfurt"?

Frankfurt, Infinite Wisdom, Oskar Shindler, Shindler's List, Michael Conrad and Leo BurnettAnd her answer is an uniquivocal "Yes"! With over 922 jobs per 1,000 inhabitants, Frankfurt has the highest concentration of jobs in Germany. The areas of Management Consulting and Advertising are represented by all the big names and just a short train ride brings Munich, home to Germany's film production and creative community. So why are we not hanging out longer here and in Munich and instead going on to Paris? Ah, the answer to that question lies in a last minute cancellation of our apartment in Munich and a quick plug in of Paris to fill the hole. Once in Paris, I'm sure we'll sit around and ponder that logic for awhile. Or maybe not.

Ericka's last statement to me on the subject brings us to the beginning of my memoir, Wild Wild East. In further deliberation on the possibility of using my Asian knowledge back here in the West she said,
"David, look. The man who got you to Korea can get you to Frankfurt"

From the memoir Wild Wild East:

"Chicago, April 1995: I’m sitting in my office on the 26th floor of the Leo Burnett building watching the sailboats go by when the telephone rings; it’s Michael Conrad, our Worldwide Creative Director, and he has a question: “What do you know about Korea?”, he asks. “Nothing”, I said – and that’s how I got the job."

Michael Conrad & Leo Burnett remains one of Frankfurt's premier agencies for Advertising, Branding and Corporate Image.

Amazing. What goes around, really does come around. More
Infinite Wisdom from Paris...

For more in the WWE Goes West Series check here:

I) The Wild Wild East Goes West: Onward Ho!
II) Frankfurt
III) C'est Si Bon
IV) Bon Jour Paris!
V) Les Picassos en Paris

VI) Nothing Much Happened en Paree Today
VII) Paris Wallpaper: Sometimes The Best Prayers Have No Words
VIII) Au Revoir Paris
IX) Is Publicis Groupe a Dead Brand?
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