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Surprised and charmed by Frankfurt


Frankfurt, officially Frankfurt am Main, was never on the top of my list of places I wanted to visit. Now I find myself here for six days and I can’t be more surprised and delighted. It’s pretty, well planned, interesting and most of what I want to see is contained in a square mile or so near the River Main.

Also called “Mainhatten”—it’s on the River Main—Frankfurt is the financial capital of continental Europe and the seat of the European Central Bank. Some of the world’s largest banks are headquartered here, and it is the continent’s largest air and rail hub.

But besides its booming city skyline with its sleek new bank towers, I find an interesting and beautiful city to discover. There’s the old city with colorful medieval buildings and a magnificent cathedral towering over it all; the Green Belt, abundant with flowers, trees, ponds, statuary and playgrounds; exquisite old-world buildings housing a multitude of museums; a sophisticated shopping area; and a charming suburb just waiting to be discovered. And I find myself here during Oktoberfest and anticipate with great pleasure some beer, pretzels, sauerkraut and wurst.

The Romerberg (Old City)

Within the Romerberg I find the Catholic Dom (cathedral), the main church of Frankfurt dedicated to Saint Bartholomew and the place where kings have been elected and emperors crowned since 1356. I watch enviously as youthful tourists climb almost 400 claustrophobic steps to the top of the spire for a 360-degree view of the city.

Frankfurt from the air

Also here is the Romer, nine medieval patrician residences that were acquired by the city council in 1405 and serve as Frankfurt’s town hall. All are situated on a charming old cobbled square with a fountain in the middle. The Romerberg is about one block from the river and is enclosed by the Green Belt.

The River Main (pronounced “Mine”) runs through the southern part of Frankfurt. It is a working river and I see barges hauling containers and boats transporting tourists. Several bridges span the river, including the Eiserner Steg, an iron footbridge that was built in 1868. Lovers attach padlocks with wedding inscriptions to the iron railings and toss the keys into the water below, sealing their love for eternity.

Oktoberfest, Germany’s annual celebration of beer, is observed from mid-September to early October and I am thrilled to run into a local event close to city hall square. Tents are set up, an oompah band is playing, couples in lederhosen and dirndls are performing folk dances, and people are eating wurst and sauerkraut and drinking beer. I join in and take pictures of many happy people.

The Wallenlagen (Green Belt)

A flyer in the hotel maps out a 4.6 kilometer walk through a ring of seven parks surrounding the old town that starts right outside my door. These are narrow parklands that run along the former course of the medieval city walls, which were abraded and landscaped in the early 19th century. The walkways are lined with trees, fountains, sculptures and a variety of memorials and monuments.

I take a right, walking through the first green space called Eschenheimer Anlage. It is peaceful and quiet, there are lovely manicured beds, and I stare into the haunting eyes of old statues covered with a green mantle of moss. They speak to me in a silent language, propelling me on to my next stop, a small body of murky water with a fountain at the other end. I am alone in this wilderness in the center of the city.

I take a slight detour and enter Bethmann Park with its Chinese feng-shui garden and giant chess set, then I head back into the ring, now Friedberger Anlage. I cross over the Zeil, an important shopping destination, but it’s Sunday and most of the stores and markets are closed for a “day of rest”.

I’m now at the River Main and take a right toward Untermain Brucke, one of the bridges over the river. There’s a small garden, the Nizzagarten, or Garden of Nice, in this area that benefits from the unusual microclimate along the river. Succulents and palm trees thrive here, very unusual for Germany’s generally cooler conditions. The views from the bridge are mesmerizing. Sleek modern skyscrapers housing the headquarters of major financial institutions tower over classical European buildings and churches of the old city.

I take a right into Willy Brandt Plaza where a modern art installation consisting of a giant blue symbol of the euro catches my attention. It is decorated with big bright yellow stars. Then I re-enter the parks and gardens for the final leg of my walk through Gallusanlage, Taunusanlage and Bockenheimer Anglage. Back at my hotel, I pass the Eschenheimer Tor, a Gothic tower that stood at the entrance to the old walled city.

I feel refreshed and energized from the beauty I have just seen.

Museum Mile

There’s a museum here for everything—archaeology, film, caricatures, natural history, modern art, the cathedral, Anne Frank, the city’s history, icons, the Bible, money, children, applied arts, communications, porcelain and more. There’s even a museum about “Shock-haired Peter”, the protagonist in the first story of the children’s book, “Struwwelpeter” by Heinrich Hoffmann. These interesting little gems are housed in elegant old European structures and many are located on what is called “Museum Mile”, the stretch of road directly across the River Main from the Old Town.

The Stadel has a collection of European art from the 14th century to today and is a must-see. I’m not surprised to learn that it was founded by a banker, Johann Friedrich Stadel. Here I admire works by Botticelli, Rembrandt, Renoir, Monet and Warhol and a special exhibit of Matisse and Bonnard.

The Museum Embankment Card entitles holders to free admission to participating Frankfurt museums, so if you have the time and are a museum lover, this is the way to go.

Main Tor (Tower)

I buy a ticket and take the elevator to the top of the Main Tor in the financial district of Frankfurt. There’s a 360-degree observation platform and here I have a view of “Mainhatten” from twelve stories above the ground. It is stunning. I see miniature versions of the buildings I admired so much at ground level—the opera house, the stock exchange, St. Paul’s church, the sleek black twin towers of Deutsche Bank, and the River Main winding its way between the old city and museum-mile.

Palmengarten

Encompassing fifty acres of parklands and nearly 100,000 square feet devoted to greenhouses, Palmengarten is a botanical garden a few blocks north of the Green Belt. It has an impressive collection of flora from all global climate zones and lovely classical buildings juxtaposed with new greenhouses that are a work of art in themselves. There are gardens devoted to roses, dahlias, and alpine plants and greenhouses for succulents and cactus. A highlight is a large body of water in the center with timed “dancing” fountains. There also is a small train that will transport you from one end of the garden to the other and a lake where you can rent paddle boats.

Suburb Hochst

The train takes me six miles west of Frankfurt’s downtown to tiny Hochst where I wander through some of the most picturesque streets in all of Frankfurt. Hochst has a well-preserved old city just a few short blocks from the train station. Narrow pedestrianized lanes lined with historical half-timbered houses, a cobbled square, and a magnificent castle built in the 14th century are enchanting. St. Justin’s Church, Justinuskirche, was built in 830 A.D. and is just a stone’s throw away; I listen to the sounds of the organ coming from inside the locked building. I sit at a cafe in Castle Square with a pint of beer and a German pretzel and then get “lost” in the small lanes as I admire the lovely architecture and the colorful doorways. This little town is a worthwhile detour from the city’s sights.

If you go:
Flemings Selection Hotel—Frankfurt City, Eschenheimer Tor 2, 60318 Frankfurt (+49 69 4272320)
Tourist Information Romer, Romerberg 27, 60311 Frankfurt am Main. Buy their map/guide, “Frankfurt Information”, for a list of places of interest, museums, parks, shopping, theaters, etc. and an excellent map of the city and the network of trains.

About the author: Elizabeth von Pier loves to travel. After she retired from her lifetime career in banking, she has been traveling the world, photographing, and writing. She has been published in the Los Angeles Times, In the Know Traveler, Go Nomad, Wave Journey, Hackwriters, Travelmag—The Independent Spirit, and Travel Thru History. She also has recently published her first book, “Where to Find Peace and Quiet in London”. Ms. von Pier lives in Hingham, MA.

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