A Rough Guide to Germany : Things to do in Frankfurt
It's remarkable when the airport bus ride is longer than the actual flight. But that's Ryanair and their idea of a satellite airport that's 75 miles away from the main target destination.
That being Frankfurt of course. But I enjoy coach travel almost as much as air travel and the two often go together with Ireland's finest budget airline.
For €30 a return trip from Scotland is not a bad deal at all even with the extra €24 on the bus there and back. Plus you get an hour and forty-five minutes sight-seeing on the way including a crossing of the famous River Rhine.
Top 5 things to do in Frankfurt
1. Marvel at the skyscrapers in the financial centre of the city.
2. Relax in the park with cycling and walking paths by the River Maine
3. Enjoy food & drink in the bohemian area of Sachsenhausen.
4. For the young, dance the night away in the famous Techno discos.
5. See the authentic old buildings of Hochst in the south of the city.
The bus trip ends at the Hauptbahnhof and with time to kill I sat on a bench on a platform eating my sandwiches. The station seemed very quiet from where I was up at the far end with just a few folk passing by.
Opposite was an empty train which lay there silently for 10 minutes or so. Then the train slid away like the proverbial iron curtain to reveal a platform full of commuters. It was quite a transformation to see this line of humanity suddenly and unexpectedly revealed.
There were business people in smart shirts and ties, a man and a dog, music lovers plugged into iPods, others looked tired, some were quiet and subdued while others engaged in passive acticity reading newspapers, magazines and books. It was business as usual in Frankfurt and business is the catchword for the financial centre of Europe.
The Ford of the Franks
Before the city settled into becoming a modern counting-house it had a long and troubled history being fought over and occupied by many different tribes and nations over the centuries.
There are traces of settlements going back as far as 3,000 B.C., the Romans were here in the 1st century A.D. and then the Franks came in the 6th century.
You will not be surprised to learn that the latter are responsible for the name of the city. It derives from the phrase 'Ford of the Franks' and in the time of Charlemagne in the 8th century it was called 'Franconovurd', the first recorded mention of the name. In 1372 it became a 'Reichstadt' or Imperial City of the Holy Roman Empire
From 855AD German Kings and Emperors were elected in Frankfurt before their coronation in Aachen over on the western border with modern France. However in 1562 Maximillian II was the first to be crowned in the gothic St.Bartholomau's Cathedral in Frankfurt. A tradition which lasted until 1792. In the years of modern history it has been occupied by the French during the Napoleonic Wars and administered by the Prussians in the late 19th century.
A Hive of International Activity
Modern Frankfurt is a major international city of finance and business and home of the European Central Bank. Over 180 nationalities are represented in the city with around one-third of its residents having a foreign passport and one-quarter who are not native German speakers.
Consequently it has Europe's largest airport which is also one of the top ten in the world. It carries around 50 million passengers every year and is also the biggest airport for cargo in Europe.
And despite my quiet introduction at the sandwich break the city has one of the busiest railway stations on the continent with 350,000 passengers passing through every working day.
That's a helluva lot of iPods. It also has a roller-skate evening every Tuesday in the summer so many means of exotic transport are available here.
The impressive statistics continue for this fulcrum of world business, trade and finance. But it's not all cold commerce as the city has 60 museums, 30 theatres and over 100 art galleries for the more aesthetic. Those leisure hours can be filled with many places to visit in Frankfurt.
On and off the rails
And that's not all, like many German cities it has a fantastic subway and tram system all interconnected underground and overground.
It's highly efficient as you would expect with some of the inner-city lines providing transport every 10 minutes.
Underneath the streets of Frankfurt you will discover a subterranean city of massive central subway stations interconnected with many smaller ones in the centre and streching out into the suburbs.
A day ticket will allow you to travel around all day stoppping on and off wherever you like.
Frankfurt seemed to be very much a 'Four-Storey City' as every street appeared to have endless rows of apartment blocks. You would be forgiven for feeling slightly claustrophobic walking around for any length of time. It was quite rare for me to see a small detatched house with a garden anywhere.
It was on this urban excursion that I saw the site of the new European Central Bank over to the East side of the city centre. It is the old Grossmarkthalle which will have two massive twin towers built beside it and which will dominate the skyline over at that side.
It will also have a memorial to the Holocaust as the building has a darkside to its story. During the Second World War it was used as a gathering area for Jewish people before they were transported to the horrors of the concentration camps.
Normally it was a huge market especially for fruit and vegetables until its closure in 2004. A fine example of expressionist architecture it was designed by Martin Elsaesser and opened in 1928. Now it will be given a whole new lease of life and the old building will be used for conference space, press facilities, a restaurant and visitors area whilst the towers will house the offices of the bank.
But back in the business heart of the city there are many skyscrapers or 'Wolkenkratzer' as described in German and include the tallest office building in Europe.
The competition seems fierce as many huge office blocks compete for air-space stretching up towards the clouds.
They completely take over the heart of the city and the expression 'Mainhatten', due to the name of the river, is entirely appropriate.
With their glass-covered cladding they reflected the blue sky and seemed to blend in to the airscape above the city.
This strangely makes them appear less imposing despite their perpendicular dominance over Frankfurt.
They are massive totemic symbols of capitalism squeezed into a small area looming high over the older buildings of the city. Crystal stalagmites thriving on sunlight and accumulated financial deposits over many years.
Considering the dominance of the financial sector the city was nicknamed 'Bankfurt' by some witty punster and the name has stuck. Little surprise when you look at the names on the buildings from all over the world which have converged here.
As well as the German Deutsche Bundesbank and Commerzbank you will find the names of Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan, Credit Suisse, Mizuho Bank etc. etc. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) have also set up operations there. In fact all the leading players will have buildings and offices in Frankfurt. The Frankfurt Stock Exchange is the second largest in Europe after London and the fifth biggest in the world.
The Cider House Rules
After all that feverish activity on the floors of the Stock Exchange or over the red hot telephones of financial wheeling and dealing the Frankfurters can relax in pleasant local surroundings.
The River Main is lined with parkland offering grassy embankments under shady trees. Here people can relax or stroll and cycle along the river.
The area of Sachsenhausen immediately over the river on the south side has much to offer for a pleasant afternoon or a social evening.
I wandered along the Schweizer Strasse which had many bars and plenty of shade from the sun provided by attractive lines of trees. It is a cosmopolitan boulevard with an easy-going atmosphere and a pleasure to walk along.
It was not as badly decimated as the centre of the city in the Allied bombing and therefore retains many older buildings. Within you can partake of its active night-life with over two dozen bars, taverns and restaurants. Sachsenhausen also contains two of Frankfurt's most traditional cider houses 'Zum gemalten Haus' and 'Wagner'
Things to see in Frankfurt
The name of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is synonymous with Frankfurt. His original house was destroyed in 1944 but has been re-built in the city centre and the inners re-created with original furniture and artifacts .
Located just north-west of the city centre, Goethe University was founded in 1914 and then named after the famous poet and writer in 1932. The University is famous for the Institute for Social Research which began in 1924 and has produced notable thinkers and scientists such as the famous Psychologist Eric Fromm among others.
Nearby is the 'The Palmengarten' Botanic Gardens which is a relaxing attraction on a wet day. You will find cactus plants, mango, banana, coffee, and other exotica as well as statues and fountains.
You will also find charming red squirrels scarpering around the undergowth. There is also a Zoo in Frankfurt although it has had mixed reviews from travellers to the city. I didn't visit myself as it's not my kind of interest.
Of interest to me on the way back was a wheat beer that I had in Hugelstrasse served on the streetside table by a friendly Indian man. I watched people go by before heading back to the central area. I absent-mindedly walked on the cycle path and then started hearing a ringing in my ear.
I always forget about the special cycle lanes on the wide pavements of many European cities. It's something we're not used to back home and it kind of marks you out as a wandering 'head in the clouds' tourist I presume. Maybe I should have taken the stylish 'Velo-Taxi' service that was available and travelled in style. The modern pedallised rickshaw is the way forward I think.
Places to eat and drink in Frankfurt
For the diners among you, signs to look out for are 'Mittagestisch' which is a set lunch-time menu and 'Gutburgerliche Kuche' indicating simple home-style cooking.
Aside from the legendary Frankfurter sausage the city is traditionally associated with 'Frankfurter rippchen' comprised of pickled pork ribs served with sauerkraut.
You will also find an egg and potato dish with 'Grune Sosse' a green herb sauce. It's made from eggs, oil, vinegar, salt, mixed with fresh herbs and was apparently a favourite of Goethe.
The traditional drink in Frankfurt is 'Ebbelwoi' which is apple wine and which you will find in particular in the previously mentioned area of Sachsenhausen. Of course with apples a-plenty you can also get cider here too alongside the many beers on offer.
But if the local cuisine is not to your taste then you will find many international flavours in exotic dishes to whet your appetite. There are plenty of Turkish, Chinese and American-style restaurants as well as the likes of Thai and Ethiopian establishments.
An unusual feature of Frankfurt's drinking establishments is that you may find that they are bars, restaurants and discos all rolled into one. It depends on what time of day it is when things will magically transform.
Presumably a big change will occur around midnight or whenever the dancing shoes are on. Of course it has the ubiquitous Irish Bar prevalent the world over as the Irish cultural diaspora continues. But at almost €5 for a pint of Guinness you'd need plenty of cash to have a good night out in O'Reilly's bar near the train station.
I chose the nearby Kaffeebar Express just a couple of blocks along Kaiserstrasse. After battling with the folding chair legs and settling in I enjoyed a reasonably priced bottle of Radeberger for only €2.80 and again watched people pass by. It was interesting for me to see beer drinkers strolling by with a bottle in hand.
Since public drinking was banned in my hometown it looks really incongruous to see a more relaxed attitude to having a beer in your hand as you go along the street. I could hear lots of American accents too and would presume that most will be working in the finance industry.
Another incongruence under the affluent gaze of the skyscrapers was the number of homeless people I saw sleeping rough in the city centre. Both ends of the economic scale exist in Frankfurt. It also apparently has a higher than average crime-rate than other German cities. In fact my friend who lives there said there was recently a shooting in the shopping area in broad daylight.
Cultural things to do in Frankfurt
It's not all business in Frankfurt as the German cultural scene in the city is second only to Berlin for the number of museums it contains. The museums charge for entry but every Wednesday the Municipal Musuems open their doors for free.
The Senckenberg Museum of Natural History is the largest and most important in Germany. It is popular with children because of its collection of dinosaur skeletons. It also boasts the worlds largest collection of stuffed birds and many other animal exhibits from throughout world history including reptile and marine life
On Schirn Kunsthalle next to the cathedral you will find private collections of art. It opened in 1986 and specialises in modern art
- Museums in Frankfurt
See TripAdvisor's traveler reviews and photos of the many Museums of Frankfurt.
- Theatres in Frankfurt
A detailed A-Z list of theatres in Frankfurt.
- Churches, Frankfurt am Main
At VirtualTourist website; Church reviews and photos from real travelers and locals in Frankfurt am Main, Germany.
The Frankfurt Opera Company is the best in the country and the William Forsyth Company offer internationally renowned ballet performances.
The 'Alte Oper' or Old Opera House is actually a concert hall nowadays having been built originally in 1880 for Operatic performances.
It was almost completely destroyed in World War Two with only the facade surviving. But it was eventually restored and re-opened in 1981 at a cost of 160M Deutschmarks
Hessian economic minister Rudi Arndt denied he was serious in the 1960s when he said it should be blown up but the nickname 'Dynamite Rudi' still stuck. A rather ironic remark considering it had already been attacked with high explosives.
There is even an English language theatre and a cinema called the 'Turm Palast' used to screen movies in their original language. Despite protests it closed down recently. However the nearby CineStar has begun to screen such movies although it does not appear to be as popular as the old cinema.
The Gallus Theatre was established in 1973 and is situated in the historic Adler Werk. It was begun in 1978 to produce alternative theatre peformances and is named after the Gallus Quarter in Frankfurt.
Every two years the 'Luminale' or Festival of Light takes place in early summer when the buildings are lit up in the night. It comprises 150 events and attracts designers and artists from all over the world.
Then every few years the city holds the 'Wolkenkratzer Festival' an Open-Doors day when most of the skyscrapers are open to the public. Sky-divers, base-jumpers, fireworks and laser shows take place to add to the attraction. The last one took place in 2007 and another is scheduled for 2013.
The famous international book fair the 'Buchmesse' takes place in October. It is the most important trade fair for books in the world with a history stretching back over 500 years. Around 7,000 exhibitors from over 100 countries will attract over a quarter of a million visitors. Lucrative publishing rights are negotiated during the fair.
The city is well served for classical music as it contains the Radio Sinfonie Orchester (RSO), the Museum Orchester, the Emsemble Modern and the Mutare Ensemble.
The rising temperatures and early buds of March bring the arrival of the 'Spring Dippemiss', a folk festival that takes place over a three week period. Then to close off the season there is the 'Autumn Dippemiss' although this lasts only one week. In the summer many open-air concerts take place in the Opernplatz. In the week that I was there we could hear Italian music streaming from the square.
For the Technocrats
However on the other side of the coin there is more to offer musically and socially for the young and energetic.
Frankfurt lays claim to be the Techno-Music capital of Germany and the city was the birthplace of 'Trance-Music' in the early 1990s.
So if you fancy a rave-up then you'll feel right at home in the flashing lights and electro-beat of the city hot-spots.
One of the most famous discos is the 'King Kamehameha' which includes an outdoor swimming pool of all things.
Another is the 'Praesidium 19/11' which takes place in an old police station replete with chandeliers, columns and a grand staircase.
Places to shop in Frankfurt
The city has a large mixture of different types of shopping experiences from upmarket Chanel and Tiffany stores and trendy fashion boutiques to second-hand shops and open-air markets.
The most exclusive shops are to be found in the Rossmarkt which surrounds the Alte Oper and in Goethestrasse you will find expensive items in Armani and Gucci stores. There are also more in Shillerstrasse, Steinweg and Fressgasse.
For the more down-to-earth experience there is the area in and around the 'My Zeil' shopping mall. Many bargains can be found around mid-summer and in December when the stores have sales.
There is even a flea market on Schaumainkai. The Kleinmarkthalle is open through the week and there are weekly markets or 'Wochenmarkts' at Kaiserstrasse, Schillerstrasse and Konstablerwache.
In the rebuilding of Frankfurt after 1945 it was decided to restore the Romerberg Square to its former glory.
It's the central square of the old town or 'Altstadt' part of the city.
Here the Romer Town Hall has existed since 1405 and the historic and quaint surroundings have been faithfully recreated.
However it wasn't until 1983 that the 'Ostzeile' or east-side of the square was eventually rebuilt.
Semi-timber buildings surround the square where outdoor markets are held and where street performers entertain.
You can also lunch in one of the many restaurants and enjoy delicious ice cream if it takes your fancy on a hot day.
My friend and I sat and had lunch in a restaurant after a deluge of summer rain had plunged down onto the streets. The design inside was traditional as well as offering a pleasant and reassuring welcome.
But despite the rain it was very warm inside as the premises consisted of small adjoining rooms upstairs. Even with the windows open it was lacking a little in air. But I enjoyed a local pork dish with sauerkraut washed down with a beer. The staff were friendly and the atmosphere was relaxed.
Hotels in Frankfurt
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Places to stay in Frankfurt
The time to avoid Frankfurt if you are on a budget is when there are trade fairs.
Obviously this is the time when the suits descend on the city.
At these times the hotels are busy and charge premium rates for their rooms.
It's business-class all the way and expense accounts take an upward slope on the wall-chart.
None more so presumably than the Frankfurter Hof, an impressive looking building catering for the classy client with bulging wallets or indestructable plastic.
Unusually it has a courtyard surrounded on three sides by the rooms themselves and open to the street. Here guests can sit at tables in fair weather and have their food and drink.
But you will find that the hotels may charge less in between trade fairs such is the competition for guests. Having many empty rooms makes no sense for business conscious hoteliers and a lower return is better than none at all.
Needless to say the further away from the centre of town you book the cheaper price you will be quoted but there is also a large Youth Hostel on the south riverbank near the centre.
The suburb of old Hochst
A secret treasure of modern Frankfurt is the old town of Hochst on the south-western outskirts of the city. The area is dominated by a huge industrial park the size of a town and nearby there are many modern apartments housing workers and research students who inhabit the area.
Unfortunately, it doesn't enjoy a great reputation and can be regarded as a bit of a rough area, especially at night-time. But not far away is the old part of Hochst with its many charming buildings of traditional design and construction lining narrow streets and lanes.
There are also many small shops, bars and restaurants but which seem far off the beaten track of the tourist trade. I was there in the late evening and in the dark it was like an authentic step back in time. You would find it hard to comprehend that you are still in a major European city.
However, unlike the Romerplatz in central Frankfurt these are the genuine article as they were not destroyed during the bombing.
You may not hear many complaints from its older residents about the proximity of the industrial plant because apparently that is what spared the town.
It seems that even in 1944 the Allies had post-war plans to utilise the factories and therefore left them alone. Consequently Hochst town did not become part of the 'collateral damage' of the bombardment.
After our stroll around the old village we went for a beer at the 'Beach Bar' down at the river. A place that is only open during the summer with basic amenities set out on the grassy banks of the Main.
Here you sit on a deckchair under a parasol if you like and if you want to use the facilities there are two portaloos nearby. A real contrast to the modern bars in the city centre and a marvelous place to hang out.
The Highway to Hahn
I spent an enjoyable few days in Frankfurt and the good weather helped too as I went out and about exploring its streets. Certainly it looks very much like a business metropolis with a skyline more in common with New York, Houston or Dallas than a typical German city.
But it has a great deal of arts and culture, leisure and parkland to enjoy as well as fine food and drink. The mix of international residents and visitors lends it a cosmopolitan air and an interesting social and cultural scene.
It's a modern city recreating itself after the Second World War but still restoring elements of its past architecture and traditions. There are surprisingly many things to do in Frankfurt.
Time to go home and take the long journey back on an early bus to Hahn Airport. I inconveniently forgot where the bus stop was at the Hauptbahnhof and was about to ask someone in uniform in my faltering German when I heard someone else beat me to.
"Hahn Flughafen?" I heard a couple ask, saw the employee point and then followed along behind them. A big crowd had gathered and I feared I wouldn't get on. But no worries and I grabbed myself a seat for the 75-mile return trip saying 'Auf Wiedersehn' to Frankfurt.