I have arrived in Frankfurt am Main, ready to take a brief nap and then head out into the night. My hotel is, by choice, in the middle of the city’s largest Red Light District. Located in the Bahnhofsviertel (Train Station Quarter) area, it has resisted persistent, sometimes even violent, efforts at gentrification.

Aerial View of Train Station and RLD

All of Frankfurt is an anachronism in itself, dystopian in a way, but here, in the Bahnhofsviertel Red Light District those tendencies aren’t just put on display for everyone to see, they’re the whole raison d’etre for the area. Homeless and addicts live on the streets below the massive glass-and-steel bunkers housing tens of thousands of bankers and brokers pushing trillions of € and $ and Yen every day, determining the fate of markets and directly affecting the livelihoods of every living being in the world.

Between Gucci shops and luxury car rentals, you find addicts sleeping in the doorway to $400/night hotels and $9000/month luxury condominiums, separated from each other by steel doors and gruff security. Hipsters saunter by, feeling “hipsteria,” the dread one feels if it becomes clear that it might not be possible to visit that new taverna or café before it becomes too common, racing to get a quick Gin & Tonic in before attending the screening of an Art Noir film down the street. And, around the corner, the Harm Reduction and Medical Services program I once worked for.

Frankfurt by Night

I knew most people down here.

Pan who was kicked from his home after coming out as trans to his parents and wound up on the streets, eating discarded Doners from trashcans, begging for money and water from Johns passing by. On the street since he was 16, the poison had retarded his aging and puberty enough to keep him in a perpetual state of pseudo-youth until his death by the hands of a drug dealer three years later. I was the only one at his funeral, the small marker next to his paper urn’s final resting place had his deadname on it.

Oliver who either caught his wife cheating or was caught cheating and lost everything in the divorce, his house and car and the kids and access to all but one of his bank accounts with less than a few bucks in it. He came too late to his job, having to walk there, and was fired. He lived in one of the more “luxurious” dwells at the end of the quarter, begging during the day and caring for many of the other homeless in the evenings, getting them appointments with their PO or social worker, or making sure they were seen by us if they looked more seriously ill than usual. He was robbed and killed by a group of juveniles filming the whole thing for Internet clout. And while he lay bleeding on the street, a few stories above him an investment banker shrugged off a multi million $ loss as peanuts. We know this, because both articles appeared in the newspaper the next day, the investment banker on Page One, Oliver in the police blotter section behind the want ads.

I knew them all. The ones who fell into sex work, begging, or petty theft. The ones who rented rooms by the day and offered services for money, and the ones who came here, got hooked on drugs, and never left.

It causes a feeling of almost survivor’s guilt in me to have left. Here I am, writing this after emerging from the first class compartment on a train speeding me away from home in the green and quiet parts of the alpine foothills of Bavaria. My $1000+ tablet is connected via 5G to the Internet, thanks to my “Premium” phone contract, and I am drinking coffee. I have an amazing job, received and receive a great education, and I’ll be staying in a hotel tonight that overlooks the Harm Reduction and Medical Services program’s entrance, the street in the perpetual shadow of three massive finance towers reaching into the sky as if to steal even the sun from those less fortunate.

View of Frankfurt's Train Station District. First the RLD, then in the distance the train station. To its left the newly gentrified 'Europe District'

When I left, I vowed to come back. To become a better Street Medic, to help more. To bring medicine, as well as I could, to those who would or could not go to receive it. I have no illusions that many of them will be left. Life expectancies on the street are low, especially for drug users and street sex workers. Violence, bad hygiene, hunger and thirst, drugs, and community acquired diseases are bad enough, but the recent pandemic also led to a shuttering of the bordellos, keeping most of the people who spent a buck or gave a half eaten Doner out of the area. Instead, violence and more death came to the streets.

I come here to remind myself why I am doing this. Why I am spending my days cramming anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, and more. Why I, a man suffering from extreme(!) test anxiety to the point of physical blackouts in front of an easy MCQ, went back to study medicine and research for my PhD.

And I come here to alleviate the survivor’s guilt.

I am not sure the latter will work.