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.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!
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!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. 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. 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. 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 🙂 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…
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.
Indeed! And it should be worth another visit soon. Construction cranes over the Old Town mark progress in the effort to partially rebuild the city’s historic center between the Cathedral and the Römer destroyed in Allied bombing raids in 1944. See: http://tcf1.frankfurt-main.de/cms/tourismussuite/system/galleries/tcf/dok/8417.pdf
what an adventure! informative assortment of wonderful photos and great articles of a city
I know little about.
Thank you so much, Eddie!