Calling Frankfurt Mainhattan is the same as calling some stinking canals Little Venice or a range of mounds a bit higher than a molehill Switzerland. Everything is relative, as no other German city has more high-rise buildings than Frankfurt (which has 50 in the centre) and the city lies on the banks of the river Main, Mainhattan it is.
What do people associate with Frankfurt? Most can only come up with the international airport and banks (they own most of the high-rise buildings), some may be able to add Stock Exchange and City of the Euro which goes in the same direction. There are more than 400 banks which are responsible for the city’s other nickname ‘Bankfurt’. The other day I read that 70% of all visitors come for business and only 30% are real tourists who want to visit the city as such, the people responsible for tourism work hard to make Frankfurt more attractive to visitors, they don’t have to exert themselves too much in my case as I travel to Frankfurt occasionally for a day out, I want to take you with me today and show you what there is to see.
We arrive at the central train station (Hauptbahnhof), let’s not rush out at once but look around a bit, it’s one of the most beautiful train stations in Germany (there is a ranking list); it was opened in 1888, the track hall and the reception hall have neo-renaissance features, the outer hall which was added in 1924 follows the style of neoclassicism, when you look at the eastern façade you can see a large clock with two symbolic statues for day and night. Considering that every day 350.000 passengers move through it the station is surprisingly clean. Stepping off the platforms one comes to an area with shops, the tourist information office is in the outer hall, at the end on the right side, friendly staff (they speak English) give you a small map of the city (50 cent) with a red line meandering through the centre suggesting a walk which touches the important sights.
As I‘ve been to Frankfurt before, I know what I want to see and don‘t follow the red line obediently, I don‘t use the underground as the centre isn‘t too far away from the station, my first destination is the Main Tower, about 15 minutes away on foot. I won‘t give you precise directions all the time, the map is really easy to follow.
The Main Tower was completed in 1999, the first European high-rise building with a façade made entirely of glass, with 200m it‘s only the fourth highest building in Frankfurt but the only one that has a publicly accessible viewing platform (with a restaurant), some 300,000 visitors come every year (4,60 €, concessions 3,10 €, open from 10am-9pm). Some of the other high-rise buildings have acquired a certain fame in Germany, we often see them in films, the Commerzbank Tower with almost 260m is the highest European office building, the twin towers of the Deutsche Bank are 158m high and also fully glazed, they‘re nicknamed ‘assets‘ and ‘liabilities‘, the Messeturm (trade fair tower, 256m) has become one of the symbols of Frankfurt - to name but a few.
But it‘s not only these buildings that attract attention, looking down we see that the city is surprisingly small and green, it‘s only the fifth biggest city in Germany and has about 660,000 inhabitants (almost one in three of which don‘t hold a German passport). It‘s greenness is partly a relatively new thing, Frankfurt was severely bombed in World War II, and the once famous medieval city centre, by that time the largest in Germany, was destroyed. The reconstruction after the war took place in a modern, i.e., simple, concrete style (today considered ugly), thus irrevocably changing the architectural face of Frankfurt, only very few landmark buildings have been reconstructed historically (I‘ll point them out later).
After the war people wanted traffic to move quickly through the city on broad streets, something that didn‘t heighten the quality of life! At the end of the 1960s an underground was built, the traffic largely disappeared and pedestrian precincts were created. The Zeil, an inner city street with many department stores got four rows of trees which now have grown so big that seen from above they form a green roof above the street, very nice. And then there is the Main, a river always gives a city or a town a certain charm. The Main gave the place its name btw, Frankfurt meaning ‘ford of/for the Franks‘.
From the Main Tower it‘s another quarter of an hour to the Römer, the so-called parlour of Frankfurt, a slightly sloped square that‘s nearly closed by buildings and has thus quite an intimate atmosphere, on one side there‘s the town hall, opposite a row of narrow, high, half-timbered houses with shops and restaurants which *all* tourists take a photo of! They‘re not the genuine article, though, but rebuilt after the war which can be seen looking at the horizontal timbers, were they hundreds of years old, they‘d be crooked, but these are straight.
From the Römer several destinations can easily be reached; let’s start from the town hall, the building is behind us, from there we can turn left, cross the street and walk about 50m to the Paulsplatz where we see the red sandstone Paulskirche (St Peter’s Church), the seat of the first German national assembly (1848/49) and the symbol of German democracy. It was rebuilt already in 1948, three years after the end of WWII, many Frankfurters found that scandalous, they thought living quarters were more important, but the mayor was adamant, the Paulskirche was to be finished for the 100th anniversary.
Back to the Römer, to the right of the half-timbered houses some steps lead up to the Schirn, a post-war concrete monstrosity, one of Europe’s most renowned exhibition halls, I’ve seen some fine exhibitions there, when we walk down on the other side of the slope, we come to the Cathedral, also built in red sand stone, in the anteroom there’s a haunting photo of the bombed city centre, have a look. The interior has a friendly atmosphere, the walls are white, the pillars are painted red as if they were built of the same sand stone as the outside. Some fine altars with woodcarving are worth looking at. If you’re into history, this is a place for you, ten emperors were crowned here!
Not far from the Cathedral is my favourite museum, the Museum of Modern Art, no visit to Frankfurt without visiting the MMK as it is called in German. In case you like museums as much as I do, we can now go back to the Römer and from the town hall turn right, after about 100m we’ll reach the river Main, from the opposite bank we can admire the skyline of Mainhattan or go to one of the nine museums which are lined up like a string of pearls. The Frankfurters love their museum riverbank, every Saturday there is a flea market and once a year, at the end of August for a whole weekend, a big party, last year 350.000 people took part!
In case you’ve done enough sightseeing you can stay on the museum riverbank and move into the side streets, you’re now in the part of Frankfurt which is called Sachsenhausen, home to many olde-worlde Cider Pubs in charming half-timbered houses! The local cuisine can be described as hearty, the speciality going with cider is ‘Handkäs mit Musik‘ (literally: hand cheese with music), a small cheese with a dressing made of apple vinegar, oil, small pieces of onions, salt, pepper and caraway seed. Why music? Try it, *you*‘ll produce the music!
Too much culture for your liking? Well, forget the museums then and walk from the Paulsplatz towards the Hauptwache (about 100m) where the Zeil begins (the street with the four rows of trees, remember?). If you can’t spend your money there, something must be wrong with you! Not far from the Zeil is the Freßgasse (literally ‘gorging alley) with loads of restaurants which nearly all have tables and chairs outside - when it isn’t freezing or raining, Germans like to sit and eat in the open. From the Hauptwache you can take the Underground back to the station, enough walking for a day!
Anyways, as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), the greatest of all German writers and Frankfurt's most famous son (the house were he was born and lived as a young man can be visited), once said "Frankfurt is full of curiosities". Come and find out for yourselves!