Nestled along the banks of River Main (pronounced ‘mine’), Frankfurt may have entered the global consciousness as a major commercial centre and an international trading hub. But dig beneath its glistening glass and steel surface and you’ll discover that the birthplace of famed German author and poet Wolfgang von Goethe is as multi-layered and complex as its famous son.
The old town centre or the Römerberg, for instance, is arrestingly attractive. It’s studded with traditional half-timbered houses that have been thoughtfully re-constructed, according to the original blueprints, in 1986. I admire the Gothic structure of the Protestant Old Nikolai Church, a reminder of the city’s past. The Römer or City Hall, consisting of re-created step-gabled 15th-century houses, is what attracts architecture buffs.
For a grand overview of all that the city has to offer, hop aboard the Ebbelwei Express. This colourful heritage tram lets you alight at some of the city’s key attractions – the City Hall, the zoo and Baseler Platz. Another good spot from where to view the city is the observatory platform of the Main Tower, a public building. If you’re seeking a quick trip, there’s nothing like a sightseeing cruise on the Main river.
For a traveller even remotely interested in museums, the city has a lot to offer. The museum mile, stretching along the river embankment, is studded with cultural gems. The Städel (Staedel) Museum is home to one of the most important art collections in Germany. The Museum Giersch displays the cultural history of the region. Other spaces that lead me off the straight-and-narrow, and down new paths of discovery, include the German Architecture Museum, the Museum of World Cultures and the Museum of Applied Arts.
Chances are that if you have a special cultural interest, you’ll find an institution in Frankfurt to deepen that knowledge. Being a literary buff, I’m instinctively drawn to the Goethe Haus, the house of Wolfgang von Goethe. In rooms – all faithfully restored to their original splendour – you will find writing desks and his childhood puppet theatre. For more insights into the life of the great writer and statesman, I pop into the Goethe Museum. With its special exhibitions and display of paintings, sculptures and documents, it illustrates the relationship the writer shared with every artistic element that surrounded his life.
The other icon of the region’s cultural evolution is the Old Opera House. This traditional building, originally constructed in 1880 and faithfully rebuilt, has an active event calendar. If you have time, try to attend a performance in the Great Hall, known for its splendid acoustics.
To truly appreciate the city, I learn to keep an eye open for both the great and the small. One moment, I’m climbing to the top of Frankfurter Dom, Frankfurt’s red sandstone cathedral with its 95-m-high Gothic tower. The next, I’m peering at engraved water level marks from a more than 100-year-old iron bridge, that indicate how high the water once stood in the city.
But despite Frankfurt’s monumental quality, what makes the city really special are its intensely liveable conditions. The abundance of green spaces and cafés provide plenty of opportunities for quiet introspection. Follow your nose into the Kleinmarkthalle, an indoor market hall boasting a wide array of artisanal foods – from cheese to sausage and from flowers to Greek olives. Here, you can sample the diversity of the city’s population and feel its energy and vibe.
An illustration of Frankfurt’s love affair with green spaces can be seen at the Palmengarten, also called the Botanical Garden Frankfurt. Spread over 20 hectare, this green area houses every species of flora you can imagine. Here’s a rock and heather garden; there’s a sub-Antarctic section peppered with exotic flowers from the Southern Hemisphere. Everywhere, there are flowering plants, among which are many from exotic locales like the Canary Islands. There is also a
9,000-sq-m conservatory space within the compound.
My final stop is Berger Street (or Strasse). This seemingly endless road, punctuated with eateries, stores, cafés and clubs, is a pleasure to navigate. With lots on offer to taste and savour, keep some time in hand to stroll here. As I walk along it, it’s really the spirit of Frankfurt that shines through – a society pulsating with life and energy, ever open to new influences without disregarding its
The author is a travel writer and the views expressed in this article are her own