Frankfurt: ‘Mainhattan’ Goes Both Big and Small


These days over the skies of Frankfurt it seems there are more planes than birds. Not surprising, given that its airport is a international hub that’s a hive of activity at all hours. Its skyline, too, speaks of thrusting commercial energy, opportunity, creativity, and wealth. Yet there are also more low-key, old-fashioned, cultural, even folkloric sides to Germany’s business capital, too, to delight the visitor.

The city was able to reconstruct the buildings of its historic centre after the terrible bombardment of World War II, and now they co-exist harmoniously alongside the sleeker modern architecture of the postwar era. So on and around old town square, the Römerberg, site of 13th-century cattle fairs (above, against the skyline), we can still see examples of charming old German wooden houses.

Here is the old city hall, with its two towers and famous “bridge of sighs”. Across from it is the Kaiserdom (cathedral), within whose own impressive tower we can see Gothic tombs and Renaissance frescoes, as well as all manner of exhibitions and concerts. A short stroll away in Paulsplatz, another distinguished church (though no longer used as such), the Paulskirche, where the first freely elected parliament in Germany was seated in 1848.

Yet another ten-minute strolls west in Kaiserplatz, the cobblestones of yesteryear are reflected in the gleam of today, as you have to crane your head up to take in the Commerzbank tower, which was Europe’s tallest until 2003. Around here you’ll also want to take in the Goethe Haus, the museum-home of perhaps the greatest figure of German letters; the gracious reconstructed opera house, the Alte Oper; the 19th-century stock exchange building; and the soaring modern European Central Bank HQ before crossing the river. 

Frankfurt is also very much a museum city. Musts on this fron include the Städel (with European art, including master like Picasso and Bacon), the MMK (modern art, featuring the likes of Lichtenstein, Warhol and Beuys), and the Senckenberg (natural history, starring ginormous dinosaura skeletons). And there are plenty of parks, as well, but one you shouldn’t miss is the Palmengarten, a botanical garden with some 6,000 species from all over the planet.

For shopping, head to the thoroughfare known as the Zeil (much of it pedestrian), and for getting the flavour (quite literally) of old Hessen, hie thee to Sachsenhausen, a quaint, village-like neighbourhood full of taverns and pubs. Here the eternal German love of beer shares billing with the regional taste for Apfelwein, aka Ebbelwoi, aka Most, aka cider. You’ll want to accompany it with Frankfurter Würstchen, of course.

A perfect way to cap off the night is with some live music on Bockenheimer Strasse, aka Jazzgasse (Jazz Alley).

Useful Facts

  • Frankfurt has 680,000 inhabitants.
  • Its climate is one Germany’s most temperate and pleasant. Average summer temperatures range from 18° to 20° Celsius (64°-68° Fahrenheit) and winter 2°-3° C (35°-37° F).
  • The currency is the euro.
  • More details:; Iberia flights from Spain; from the USA


image | Thomas Wolf