Fun in Frankfurt



Frankfurt skyline

Yes, I meant for the title of this blog to be provocative. For most people Frankfurt – the one on the Main river – has three leading associations: 1) one of the few European cities with a U.S.-style skyline, 2) the headquarters of the European Central Bank (ECB), and 3) a giant airport that they always transit through but never leave. None of the above (but especially the airport) typically brings the word “fun” to mind. But that impression changed for me when, after countless flight connections at FRA, my husband and I finally decided to venture outside having built two days in the city into our itinerary. And it was totally worth it!

Did you know that there used to be a Roman settlement here? While few artifacts remain, the Roman heritage lives on in the name of a hallmark medieval building in the compact yet surprisingly charming Old Town (Altstadt) called Römer, or Roman, after a merchant family that used to own it. Did you know that the world-famous Frankfurt Trade Fair (or Frankfurter Messe) dates back to 1150? Did you know that German kings and emperors were elected in Frankfurt since 855 and also crowned there from 1562 until 1792 at the impressive Frankfurt Cathedral of St. Bartholomäus? Did you know that Goethe was born here in 1749? I didn’t until I finally took the time to explore.

Our stopover in Frankfurt was largely motivated by music since our travel dates coincided with a concert we wanted to see at the Alte Oper, the Old Opera: Gustav Mahler’s 5th Symphony. The Opera house was built in 1880, destroyed during WWII 1944 (as was much of Frankfurt), reconstructed slowly in the 1970s and finally reopened in 1981. The Trauermarsch, or funeral march opening the symphony, with its sorrowful yet rousing trumpets, made me think of this beautiful building’s tragedy and resurrection.

Alte Oper

Alte Oper during the day

Alte Oper

Opulent restaurant at the Opera house

Alte Oper

Alte Oper – stunning at night

Dinner at the Opera house and the Mahler concert were both exquisite! And the next day they were followed by one of the most peculiar sightseeing experiences I’ve ever had… When we were walking back from the concert to our hotel, we noticed streets being blocked off by the police and barriers going up along the sidewalks. All we could find out from passers-by was that some sort of demonstration was coming. Little did we know that our trip – unbeknownst to us – coincided with Blockupy Frankfurt protests “against the austerity dictatorship” that on May 19, 2012 culminated in a march to the ECB. Staying in the city center, we were right in the thick of things: banner-carrying crowds, heavily armored police, and military vehicles. Thankfully the protest proceeded peacefully so we felt quite safe to explore. In fact, emptied of traffic and with few non-protester pedestrians, parts the city center that normally teem with activity were eerily empty!
Eschenheimer Tor

You don’t get this view of Frankfurt’s famous Eschenheimer Turm every day…

Blockupy Frankfurt

Blockupy Frankfurt protesters fill the street

Blockupy Frankfurt

The banner says “Billions for the banks, debts for us – thanks a lot!”

Blockupy Frankfurt

Heavy police presence but no trouble

I returned to Frankfurt last March and got to enjoy more of the city. No protests for a change – this time the streets were taken over by different kind of crowds as my trip coincided with the German Carnival, Fasching. I had a chance to enjoy colorful if sometimes peculiar gatherings of festive locals and sampled delicious Fasching doughnuts, Krapfen. But without a costume – or at least a chicken hat – I felt rather out of place!

Fountain of Justice

Fasching crowds surround the Fountain of Justice in Römerberg, the historic heart of Frankfurt


Famous Römer building

St. Paul's Church

The parade passing historic St. Paul’s Church, the meeting place of Germany’s first National Assembly in 1848


Polish connection? Not this time. Frankfurt’s and Poland’s flag and coat of arms look the same but that’s just coincidence (as far as I was able to determine)

Just a few blocks from the craziness of the Fasching parade I found peace and quiet at the mighty Frankfurt Cathedral dating back to the 14th century.

Frankfurt Cathedral

Frankfurt Cathedral

The view from the top of its steeple is truly impressive! It has changed quite a bit compared to this old drawing I found that shows Frankfurt as it was in 1612 but the Cathedral still proudly anchors the city and Eschenheimer Turm (Eschenheim Tower) – the remnant of medieval fortifications – still stands guard.

Old Frankfurt

Old Frankfurt (Source: Wikipedia)


Frankfurt from the top of the Cathedral today


Looking across the Main river toward Sachsenhausen

Frankfurt may be a sprawling metropolis but luckily most interesting sights and attractions are all within the walking distance. Just a short stroll from the Old Town there is a modern pedestrian shopping heaven, Zeil street.


Frankfurt’s premier shopping destination – Zeil


Dining at Dauth-Schneider in Sachsenhausen

And just across the river south of the Old Town there is Sachsenhausen district known for the Museum Embankment (Museumsufer), vibrant nightlife, and a historic cobble-stoned section that reminds visitors of Frankfurt’s medieval past. Don’t miss the traditional apple wine cider known locally as Ebbelwei. And let me add two restaurant recommendations in Sachsenhausen: Dauth-Schneider (Neuer Wall 5-7) serving local specialities such as eggs with green sauce and Ebbelwei spritzer, and Atschel (Wallstraße 7), home to amazing pork knuckle (Schweinshaxe) and admittedly weird Handkäs mit Musik – local sour milk cheese formed by hand and served with a side of chopped onions. As they say, after eating raw onions “die Musik kommt später” – the “music” comes later 🙂


Cobble-stone streets of old Sachsenhausen


Main River panorama with the view of Museumsufer on the right

So next time you have the flexibility of building in some time into your itinerary that involves a connecting flight through Frankfurt, don’t hesitate – go for it! Frankfurt will surprise you…


Römerberg at night


Sunset over the Main

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4 responses »

  1. This is a wonderful informative post, Ania. We’ll done! Been there before and like you, we were surprised with the city’s history hardly known by many of us. Love travelling to unspoiled places and Frankfurt is by far a city that offers a lot without the typical touristy-season scenes.

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