Friday, April 11, 2014

Toronto to Tel Aviv via Frankfurt - With Frankfurt Visit

I wound up with another flight from Toronto to Israel via Frankfurt.  So I thought I would add in another article since I also stopped in Frankfurt for the day this time. I wrote a blog about flying through Frankfurt previously - you can find that one here.  That was about three years ago, so I thought it would update it.

First of all, the prices between Toronto and Tel-Aviv have been rising dramatically.  This is probably connected to the fluctuation of the dollar (the Canadian dollar has taken quite a beating).  It is probably also related to the fact that US Air has left the Star Alliance and that Air Canada has increased prices significantly on this route.  Secondly, I was a bit late with my booking - so the options for finding a reasonably priced flight were more limited, particularly on Air Canada, United or El Al.

So I decided to find a less expensive route.  I took a Lufthansa flight from Toronto to Tel-Aviv - with a 12 hour stopover.  The savings were more than $400 over the Lufthansa flight with a 2 hour stopover - and I figured I could see a few sites in Frankfurt.  It was $800 less than flying El Al or Air Canada. 

This time, I flew Lufthansa for both legs of the route.  The flight from Toronto to Frankfurt left at about 6:30 p.m in the evening.  The plane was reasonably comfortable and clean.  The flight crew were extremely friendly, helpful and attentive.

I ordered an Indian-Vegetarian meal.  It was really quite good.  Curried spinach and curried tofu together with basmati rice.  It also came with glabjammon (an Indian dessert) and some yoghurt.  It was one of the better economy class meals that I have had in quite a while.

The airline staff went up and down the aisles quite frequently offering drinks - so I took advantage and had some wine - and some cognac.  The European airlines still serve alcohol at no charge on trans-Atlantic flights - as does Air Canada.  The U.S. Airlines tend to charge $7 a glass - and usually the wine is not even as good as the free wine that you can get on the European airlines.

Lufthansa has a personal entertainment system.  It had a reasonable collection of movies and music.  I watched one movie and then tried to sleep.  Lufthansa also has available wi-fi - though it is about $20 or so for 3 hours.  There are no electrical outlets on the plane or USB plugs, so you cannot recharge your electrical devices.  I didn't need internet that urgently - so I simply listened to my own music and tried to sleep.

The flight is about 7 1/2 hours from Toronto.  We arrived around 7:30 a.m. and I was quite tired.  The next flight was leaving for Tel-Aviv at 7:20 p.m.  So I had about 12 hours and had to decide what to do in Frankfurt.

At first, I thought that I would rest for another hour or two.  I went to look for a lounge.  The Frankfurt airport is huge and the nice lounges are all in the B terminal near gate B40.  There were two or three Lufthansa lounges that I could have used but I came across an Air Canada lounge there.  I decided that this would be a decent place to spend some time.  It was quite a nice lounge.  It had lots of fresh fruit, yoghurt, croissants, bagels, omelets, and many other food items. There was a cappucino machine and some big comfy chairs.  It also had free wi-fi and lots of outlets.  So I charged my phone, had a couple of coffees and plotted my  Frankfurt trip.

Frankfurt has two Jewish museums - the Juedische Museum and the Judenstrasse Museum.  I figured I would start with the Juedische and then see how I was doing for time.

Frankfurt has a huge network of convenient public transportation.  There is train service from the airport to
Frankfurt Train
downtown Frankfurt and it is quite easy.  I walked to the train station from the Airport.  There were so many trains that it was a bit of a challenge trying to figure out which train to take - on which platform.  My German is quite limited (my exposure is mainly from  the Yiddish that my grandparents used to speak and sometimes my parents - when they wanted to say things that we couldn't understand...).  I got some help from the information desk and bought an all day Frankfurt public transportation pass for the grand total of 8.5 Euros.
Then I took the train from the airport to the main Frankfurt station - which is enormous.  I went over to another information counter and was provided with walking directions to the museum and a map.

I didn't have a gps with me and I couldn't make out the names of the streets that well.  I thought I was headed in the right direction...  Anyways I sauntered through the streets of Frankfurt for a while - quite a nice walk actually - before realizing that I might be headed in the wrong direction. Along the way I passed many different Turkish restaurants, Mid-Eastern banks (not Israeli...) and, of course, many coffee bars, high end stores and other German specialty shops.  I stopped at a coffee shop and asked for some help.  The barrista was quite friendly - but she told me that I had gone in the exact opposite direction.  So I decided to grab a cab and head over the museum.

The Juedische Museum is housed in quite a nice building.  There is an admission cost of about 7 Euro - though you can get a combination pass to both Jewish museums for 10 Euro.  The reception staff were helpful both with information about the museum and with directions to the next destination.

For me, the Museum itself was a bit of a disappointment. If has three floors.  The top floor had information about the history of the Frankfurt Jewish community.  Some information went back to the 4th and 5th centuries. Much of the information was about the period between 1100 and 1700.

The exhibits detailed the history of persecution, isolation and discrimination to which the Jewish community was subjected over hundreds of years.  There was a particularly poignant section addressing the change in Martin Luther - from being sympathetic to the Jewish people initially - to being one of the most vicious anti-Semites in his later years.  Most of the museum was pre-enlightenment.  I felt that there was a complete disconnect between the history of this "Jewish people" and the Jews of later years.  There was very little on the vibrancy of Jewish life in Germany post enlightenment.

Even more disturbing was the minimal detail as to what happened to this community.  There is virtually no information about the Holocaust.  One is left wondering what happened to this Jewish community.  For someone who might not have very much historical knowledge - it would appear that the community simply vanished.

On the second floor, there was a collection of items used for Jewish ritual and holiday celebrations and an explanation of the various holidays and how the items are used.  There was a synagogue display (with an open Torah on the wall), a collection of Chanukiyot, Shabbat candle sticks, Havdalah spice boxes and many other items.  Most of the items were from anywhere from 700 to 1600.  Some were quite ornate.  But all of these traditions were described historically, with no connection to something that still exists.  I suppose that is true of Judaism in Frankfurt (largely), but I felt uncomfortable in this museum.

Tram from Judengasse
So after about 45 minutes, I decided to try the other one - the Judengasse.  I was able to take a short tram ride over to this one 

Judengasse means "Jewish Alley."  (It is not a word describing what eventually happened to much of the community).  In any event, this museum focuses on the Judengasse which existed between 1462 and 1796.  The museum features preserved sections of 5 buildings there were part of the old Frankfurt Ghetto.  There is a decent article on Wikipedia describing it here.

I wandered around the museum and looked at these sections of very old stone buildings.  There were remnants of ancient Mikvot, ovens and other rooms.  There was some information as well.  Interesting enough to see, I suppose.  I would not be running back...

So I was done by about 3 p.m.  I could have wandered around Frankfurt and sat in a cafe or a bar or just taken in the sights and sounds of the city.  But I would have to confess that I simply had no interest.  I don't really view Germany at the top of my list for site-seeing, for obvious reasons, even though many Israelis see things differently.  I felt quite uncomfortable, even on the tram ride.  Looking around, there were quite a few Muslims and Indian people.  But I wouldn't really describe what I saw as feeling cosmopolitan.  On the contrary, I had the feeling that this was now a place almost completely devoid of Jews.  I did not really see very many east Asians, black people or others for that matter - but the combination of these two museums and the feelings about Germany that I simply couldn't suppress led me to return to the airport rather than wander around more.

Judengasse Frankfurt
The museum was right across the street from a tram stop.  I was able to take the tram to Frankfurt main station - and then a short train ride from there to the airport.  Total travel time would be about 1/2 hour or so.  I made my way through security and headed over the Lufthansa "Senators Lounge" which is located right near gate C13 - the Lufthansa gate that is used for flights to Tel-Aviv.  This time (unlike on my previous visit three years ago) there was free wi-fi in the lounge.  There was also a wide ranging selection of food and drinks.  The lounge has showers, comfortable chairs and other facilities.

Finally, after about 2 hours in the lounge, I was ready to go to the gate for the flight from Frankfurt to Tel-Aviv. There is an extra security check-in for flights to Israel featuring a full pat-down for every traveller.  But not much has changed since my last blog about this flight.  It is a very cramped airplane.  There are no amenities on board - other than some washrooms at the back of the plane.  No personal video screens or overhead screens.  Limited space.  Fortunately it is only a three and a half hour flight.

I had another Indian vegetarian meal.  Not as good a the first one but still decent.  I tried to sleep.  I arrived in Tel-Aviv at about 12:30 a.m., having travelled for about 24 hours.  It was a long journey.  Overall, it would probably be worth spending some more money to avoid 12 hours in Frankfurt next time but it is always worthwhile to have the experience of seeing and trying new things.

Happy to be back in Israel for the upcoming Pesach holiday.  I will try to write one more blog before then.  So for now - Shabbat Shalom!


  1. Thanks for sharing your travel insights.
    Well written and informative as usual.

  2. Have you considered flying Turkish between TLV and YYZ? They are still Star Alliance, and even over Pesach this year, they had economy flights under 1000 CAD. Although we decided to go with Premium Economy since that's much more comfortable and was selling for the same price as the AC Economy (1800 CAD).

    If you aren't keen on spending time in in Istanbul, the connections are still pretty good and the lounge is fantastic!

    1. Thanks. I have been thinking about it. A bit wary of flying through Turkey for security reasons, but many people have suggested that it would be worth a try. Thanks!