For months I've been worrying and fretting like a motherly mouse in a children's book about my first major buying trip for work. My destination was the Frankfurt Book Fair and I knew I had to last a whole week in Germany, a country whose language I speak absolutely zero of. Colleagues and other publishing industry folks gave me the lay of the land every time we'd meet. Frankfurt, a hideous place. Frankfurt and honeymoon - two words you'll never hear in the same sentence. Frankfurt (followed by knowing chuckles). Variations of these phrases had been repeated to me since the spring.
I've been to New York for a buying trip and didn't really worry much at all beforehand. The actual "work" part of it doesn't phase me; I know I know what I'm doing. I'd been to NYC many times and we all speak English so there were no major foreseeable obstacles. But without fail the dining part gets me on edge every time. And knowing I was headed for a new place for an entire week where possibly no one would speak English - frightening. Should I leave my job? Should I run away? Should I become a stay at home mom so I never have to go on a work trip again?! The dramatics were popping like fireworks while on the outside I appeared to be a normal young woman getting on a plane and taking Instagram selfies.
I would like to thank compartmentalization for allowing me to get through this trip. My solution for dealing with the stress was to simply pretend I had never heard of it. What work trip? Who, me? I did, however, touch base with Kourtney from Allergy Girl Eats who lives in Berlin. She gave me an awesome translation to use and some very thorough info about how food allergies are handled in Germany. Knowing that she has had good experiences really put my mind at ease and lifted a huge weight off my shoulders. Suddenly I was actually excited to go on this trip.
Frankfurt itself was a cold, grey, utilitarian place. The train station was seedy at night and I literally caught someone with their hand in my purse trying to pick-pocket me. Fortunately we were staying in Bad Homburg, a smaller town on the outskirts of the city that was very accessible by transit. Every morning my colleague and I would get an espresso from this adorable bakery at the train station and head to the fair. We didn't stop for breakfast or lunch so I packed my meals ahead of time. Yes, I actually brought sandwiches all the way from Canada. But I can't even tell you how little spare time we had that week. If I hadn't brought food I would have had to go without.
What I packed:
- One loaf of homemade banana bread (breakfast)
- 7 sandwiches on homemade bread with Sunbutter and honey (lunch)
- 3 boxes of Enjoy Life Chewy Bars (mid-day snacks)
- 3 bananas
- a bag of mini carrots
What I bought in Bad Homburg:
- 3 more bananas
- many bottles of sparkling water
- a few apples
- 3 oranges
- a daily espresso (phenomenal)
The first night we were there I fell asleep well before dinner and didn't eat anything. The following three nights we had vendor dinners and each time we went to Italian restaurants. As I pulled out my German translation card at the first dinner I was very surprised to learn that the staff spoke Italian and only a little German. And then, completely out of nowhere, one of the vendors revealed he spoke fluent Italian. What are the odds? At the second dinner we were in a similar situation but the waiter spoke enough German and English to understand. The publisher hosting us had also been visiting that same restaurant during the book fair for over 25 years, so he made sure they took care of me.
But then on the final night there was a bit of a sticky situation. We were eating in a casual place and the waiter spoke no English at all, or Italian for that matter. I showed him my German translation card and he scoffed at it, shook his head, and came back laughing. He declared "only salad" (ok so he knew a couple English words) and I ended up eating a plate of plain lettuce for dinner. Once back in my luxurious hotel room I stuffed my face with whatever food I had left in my bag, thrilled that it was my final sleep before heading back to Toronto, back home.
Overall I felt that Frankfurt was just an ok city for an allergic traveler and perhaps a more popular tourist destination such as Berlin would be more accommodating. My tips would be to bring both a German and Italian translation of your allergies. I'd also suggest bringing a lot of snacks and breakfast foods as I did since their takeout seemed to be a lot of pastries and sandwiches, none of which would have been safe for me.