Gilly Pickup takes you on a tour of Frankfurt. Much more than just a financial hub, this green city is home to incredible sights, delicious eateries and more culture than you can shake a bratwurst at.
So, there I was in the Bahnhofsviertel – that’s the railway station quarter for any non-German speakers reading this – once red light, now red hot. Over the last few years, the streets in this once seedy area have been cleaned up and are now peppered with an assortment of restaurants both swanky and unfussy, cafes with tables spilling on to the pavements, chic galleries and a surfeit of night clubs which swing through till dawn. Hotels too, including one that I stayed in. This neighbourhood is an eclectic mix of culture and lifestyle and exudes an obvious vitality, as well as a slightly gritty undercurrent that you don’t find anywhere else in Frankfurt.
I like Frankfurt. Although a financial hub with a glut of striking architecture, it is one of Europe’s greenest, most sustainable cities, popping with culture, character, tradition and fabulous architecture. It lays claim to a slew of world-renowned galleries and museums, so many in fact that there is an annual museum festival attracting around two million visitors.
3 major reasons you should visit Frankfurt:
Divided in two by the impressive Main River, an always busy thoroughfare with boating activities and city cruises that putter along, this city birthplace of Anne Frank and superstar-of-the-day poet and author Goethe, is where to find Germany’s largest botanic garden. Inspiration for its 1869 Palm House was drawn from London and Paris and its raison d’etre was to house the Duke of Nassau’s extensive tropical plant collection. Nowadays on summer evenings, the garden morphs into a concert venue, its focus on jazz and world music. If you’re in Frankfurt, do visit, it’s something special.
Frankfurt also lays claim to an inner-city forest dating back to the 13th century, which is not only the countries largest, but one of the world’s largest urban forests, home to a galaxy of wild animals including red foxes, wild boar, bats and deer. 55% of the city has been set aside for recreation and to offset climate change and is surrounded by a ‘green belt’ of meadows, woods, hills, orchards and water meadows extending for thousands of hectares. That’s pretty impressive.
Frankfurt’s most beautiful square
But now, time was marching on, and I was headed for Römerberg square, big on local atmosphere and centre of Frankfurt’s festivities almost forever. It looks like the buildings have also been there forever, but that simply isn’t true.
Anja, my guide, told me with an obvious touch of sadness that most of this medieval centre was wiped out in World War 11 but thereafter was carefully reconstructed so it looks terribly authentic. Not like a Disney fantasy, you understand, but as a modern version of its former self. Flanked by half-timbered buildings and gothic stepped gables, this is the central square in Frankfurt’s Altstadt (Old Town).
In medieval times, it was the scene of boozy feasts and massive trade fairs and these days is still always busy, awash with cafes, bars and restaurants. In December, it becomes the main site for Frankfurt’s giant Christmas Market, which this year, after the hiccups of the past two years, will be back, shinier and spanglier than ever between November 21st and December 22nd.
Now though, it was time for me to experience the gorgeously old fashioned Ebbelwei Express, a merry, multicoloured 1970s tram which circles the city on an hour-long loop every weekend. Frankfurt is famous for its apple wine, regionally known as ‘Ebbelwei’ or in the local dialect ‘Stoffche’ and when you take the tour you settle in your seat with drink in hand and pretzels to munch because they’re both included with the ticket.
Bowling along to a background of German oompah music is fun. Low alcohol apple wine, which locals tout as a stimulating beverage and say it has a positive effect on the nervous system, is served in a blue-grey crockery jug, called a ‘Bembel’. Traditionally it should be drunk from a slightly ribbed glass, called a ‘Gerippte’. I should also say, if you want to be like a local, true apple wine lovers drink their apple wine straight; it’s rare that they agree to drink a spritzer – apple wine mixed with sparkling water. Anja explained that some local doctors even recommend it to their patients as apparently, besides having a positive effect on the circulatory system, they say it delays the ageing process. Another glass for me, then!
Don’t forget to try this
Dinner that evening was at the centrally located and reasonably priced Café Maingold, its inner spaces cheerful. Cabarets of colour full of reclaimed furniture, vintage sofas and chairs, the surrounding decor in turquoise and shocking pink. “Ah, at dinner you must try the Grüne Soße,” I had been told, times without number. Its reputation preceded it because I knew that folks in Frankfurt folk take their Grüne Soße (green sauce) very seriously indeed.
This traditional cold sauce from Frankfurt and Hessen, traditionally served with potatoes and beef or fish, is a mix of sour cream, boiled eggs, spices and the herbs borage, chervil, cress, parsley, salad burnet, chives and sorrel. Ah, but there is more to it than that because the percentage of each herb included should be no more than 30%, while 70% of the herbs must have been grown in Frankfurt. Can’t blame them for being fussy really because Frankfurter Grüne Soße has protected geographical status in Germany.
Every May, when the herbs are at their freshest, there is a Green Sauce Festival and, would you believe? there is even a Grüne Soße monument in town, which consists of seven green houses, one for each herb! Now you can understand just how seriously the Frankfurters take their Green Sauce.
So, Frankfurt, a mix of modern and traditional, may well be the beating heart of Germany’s financial sector and home to the European Central Bank but, I promise, it’s a city that’s easy to enjoy. Next time you have a visit to Germany in your sights, do pay it a visit. You won’t be disappointed.