At the heart of Western Europe, Frankfurt serves up quick and easy connections to a plethora of eye-grabbing destinations. But before making tracks on a grand rail romp with my Eurail Pass from Rail Europe, I gave Frankfurt a proper exploratory, while shaking off the jet lag. It’s a city where medieval architectural majesty mingles easily with ultra-modern confections. Despite being almost completely decimated during World War II, somehow the Dom, officially known as St. Bartholomew’s Cathedral, avoided being bombed.
This heaving pink sandstone Gothic behemoth is where 52 Holy Roman Emperors were crowned from 1356 onwards. It’s a place decorated with all the trappings of royalty, with exquisite stone and glasswork. Admission is free and a must-see. What I particularly like about Frankfurt is the harmonious mingling of old and new, the ultra-contemporary and the venerable co-exist as seemingly happy bed pals.
Medieval structures line the riverbanks of the Main, backed by glinting skyscrapers reaching ever higher to the heavens, giving rise to Frankfurt’s nickname, “Mainhattan.” (The city has the biggest concentration of skyscrapers in continental Western Europe.) For a great 360 city panorama, head up the Main Tower, which boasts an observation platform on the 55th floor. It was Deutsche Bank that kicked off the skyscraper craze, challenging other banks to reach for the sky. The twin towers of Deutsche Bank were built in 1984, attracting the endearing local nickname of “Credit and Debit.”
Adjacent to the to the business district, the high-end residential district of the Westend is lovely to stroll through, ogling the palatial 19th century villas. But much of Frankfurt’s medieval texture in the Altstadt (Old Town) is not as old as it looks – painfully reconstructed post-WWII. Such meticulous, impeccable attention to detail will leave you scratching your head as to whether the gabled roofs and timbered facades are merely reproductions or the medieval originals. The headline attraction is Romerberg, the quintessential town centre, where the timeless ambience and cluster of medieval timbered buildings gets the cameras clicking.
Following a coronation at the Dom, the celebration banquets were all held in the imperial hall (Kaisersaal) which the city purchased in 1405, as the town hall. Ever since, this gorgeous three-gabled architectural landmark has maintained its civic stripes with the city council holding its meetings here. Frankfurt’s legacy as a trading mecca is also steeped in centuries of tradition. Exhibit A: The Frankfurt Book Fair, the publication industry’s biggest event in the world.
The city’s first fairs and markets were staged over 1000 years ago inside the town hall and across the cobblestones of the plaza. Like many European cities, Frankfurt’s downtown shopping district is heavily pedestrianised. The Zeil is a 2km-long vehicle-free promenade that snakes its way through the heart of city. I first visited Frankfurt in 2009, and My Zeil, a futuristic shopping mall had just opened. Seven years on, it still looks ultra-modern and currently undergoing an expansion.
Not only does it have Europe’s longest escalator, transporting you up five floors non-stop, but the edgy interior design is enthralling. The glass bubble-like ceiling and wall features have to be seen to be believed, created to resemble a huge curved glass vortex starting on the ground floor and reaching the roof. It’s absolutely stunning. Art and culture lovers should make a beeline to the embankment district.
Draping the banks of the Main River, a veritable feast of museums and art galleries await your exploration, including the fabulous Architecture Museum which traces the development of architecture from primitive huts to gleaming skyscrapers. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is Frankfurt’s most famous son, born in the city in 1749.The philosopher and writer is regarded as Germany’s Shakespeare, and not far from Romerberg you can visit his family home, a splendidly period furnished Baroque mansion which is now the Goethe Museum. He once wrote, “offer plenty and you will surely please some.” His hometown seems to have taken that to heart.
The city’s entertainment scene caters to all tastes, whether it be a night of classical music at the gorgeous Opera House which was meticulously restored after its wartime bombing and finally re-opening in the 1980s’, or sampling the vibe at some of the numerous jazz and live music venues. For an authentic Frankfurt experience, head to the labyrinth of little laneways in Sachsenhausen district, replete with the best traditional apple cider taverns in the city. This traditional brew doesn’t attract excise tax. Cheers!
As one of Europe’s great gateways, Frankfurt Airport is ingeniously integrated with the ultra-efficient German rail system, including the short and sweet transfers to Frankfurt city, before you plunge deeper into your European adventures by train. Purchase a pass to suit your needs, in advance from Rail Europe, the experts in great rail travel. www.raileurope.co.nz