There is a great market in Offenbach-am-Main three times a week, including Saturday morning. It’s a good place to practice speaking English. The repetition of buying fruit and vegetables and bread and cheese and fish and meat helps to remember the words. One of the stalls sells nothing but potatoes. I explained to the woman serving that I wanted to make Kartoffelsalat. ‘Fester’, she said squeezing her fingers together tightly. You need hard potatoes to do this properly. If you have the nerves for it you can brave the terrifying woman who runs the butchers stall. If you get one word wrong and she has to exchange one type of salami for another, or a chop for a steak, or a chicken for a bratwurst she will pull a face that could stop a tank. The day you stand your ground and manage to order exactly what you want from her is the day you can say you passed elementary German, grade 13. There are only 12 more grades to go. What you learn of course is that a little language begets more language and if you speak and speak and speak you start to get more right than wrong and you begin to understand the responses from people. It’s no longer just you speaking lines you’ve practised, you’re beginning to have conversation.
There were so many things I wanted to do that there was a risk of not doing any of them. So I went through a list in my head of what I could do on other days. Things which would be there beyond a Saturday afternoon. And realised that I wanted was to experience the centre of the city. There’s a certain atmosphere at this time. Of crowds and people shopping and eating out and generally not being at work. But I didn’t go there directly. Firstly I walked through some of Offenbach itself. And then the magic started of getting slightly lost and recognising a street or two and then getting my bearings once again and taking a new direction north because that seems to be unexplored. I walked as far as the S-Bahn at Kaiserlei and then caught the train to Hauptwache.
There were large crowds all along the main shopping street. It was busy but relaxed in a crowded sort of way. Loud music from what I took to be a happy clappy religious sort of group. Three people playing xylophones, a group in support of the Kurdish people. And along the street some street drunks and then a market. It might not seem obvious, perhaps it’s all too obvious, but the people and their clothes and attitudes and mannerisms are the same as I see in the streets of Birmingham and Manchester, London, Munich, Berlin, Paris and Copenhagen. If I had the means to travel more I’m sure these scenes would be repeated in many different places.
I wandered. In and out. Up and down the same street and then back again. Loitering in front of a multi-storey car park. Sitting in the churchyard of Peterskirche. Studying the front of a sex shop trying to work it all out. Taking photographs of a shop selling wigs. Perhaps because I was pointing a camera every person who walked past stared into that shop window. What did they see there? What did I see there? For me, an evocation of something but I’m not sure what. Not everything has to be described in detail. Sometimes a sense-phenomena is what we want. A mystery, enigma, a sense that something unconscious might be happening. Surely that’s it. Playing with one’s own sub-conscious, to see if it can be tricked, to see if it can be revealed.
I’m aware of looking into something, is this the reality of Frankfurt-am-Main on a Saturday in May 2022? What is this reality? What is it to different people? It fades in and out. There is a dialogue going on inside my head, a film going on inside my head, but I’m in this other film too, this film out here in the streets with all these other people and buildings, the blue sky, look up, white fluffy clouds, aircraft, the noise. I take some film footage and when it’s played back there are all sorts of sounds that were not obvious when it was recorded. The conversations are closer and louder and they have a different sense now that they have been turned into a digital format. No single voice dominates. The sound of passing conversation is more democratic and equitable than it was remembered at the time.
Hans Flesch was one of the great pioneers of German radio. He was based in Frankfurt in the 1920s and produced many inventive shows and programmes. You can walk through the streets now and find voices and sounds that he might have heard and recorded. Be your own radio show, be your own producer, be your own creator
“Radio had an interesting history in Frankfurt. A significant electrical engineering industry developed, making not just machines but household goods including radio sets, encouraging purchase. A cable radio network was created, and this was built into much of the housing where people could listen by attaching a speaker or headphones. The person who took a lead in broadcasting was Hans Flesch who has been described as “the most innovative programmer in German radio history”. Plays were commissioned from socialist author Bertolt Brecht, children’s stories from the philosopher Walter Benjamin and music from the avant garde composer Paul Hindemith. The writer Theodor Adorno and others were invited to deliver lectures. An audio montage entitled Radio Magic “mystified its listeners”. Outside broadcasts “painted the colours and the people for their listeners, and sent the sounds of the city and the crowd, live over the airwaves”. What must this have sounded like and how vibrant and alive the city might be?”
The woman in the supermarket who serves me is the same type as the woman who serves me in the supermarket close to home. She looks tired. Underneath her uniform there is a different person who the shoppers never see. This is a fragmentation of her soul. She has one identity for her real life and another identity for her work life. But the way it works is this. The capitalists pay her wages and therefore they buy cheaply not just her labour but her identity, her soul, her very being. This is not just a robbery of the body, but of the very essences of a person. Her earrings aren’t put in for work, they’re part of what she sees as her real life. The way she’s put her make up on and plucked her eyebrows. These are not for the hundreds of customers that she must serve each day and for the bosses that she must bow down to. Most of all they are for her own self when she exists outside the domination of the capital-labour relationship. She doesn’t want to sell her labour or her soul so cheaply but what alternative does she have. The dignity of labour is stripped in all so many ways.
Back onto the S-Bahn. Into the subterranean world. It has it’s own air and atmosphere too. I only travel one stop from Hauptwache to Konstablewache on the the S-4 just for the change of scene. And then the S-9 turns up and I catch that to Marktplatz. Once again the allotments and market gardens of New Frankfurt. What a fantastic idea. Creating market gardening so close to the city. This is what every city needs; open space and fruit and vegetable growing close by the large mass of city populations.
There was just time to have one of those late afternoon naps where the world momentarily disappears to be replaced with strange images and a sense of out of body experience. One snaps alive again wondering about that space between sleep and consciousness and unconscious being. There was a knock on the door. I had a visitor here in Offenbach-am-Main and they explained the arrangements for the evening’s party. It started around six o’clock and was one of the loveliest parties I’ve been to for some time. I won’t reveal its secrets as that would destroy it’s magic.
New Frankfurt became even more alive because in direct and indirect ways and in all sorts of ways, I was meeting the people of the city and its environs. Take a deep breath; history is made up of living individuals.