Manhattan to Mainhattan: An American Introduction to Frankfurt am Main

Apartment buildings in Frankfurt am Main.

Apartment buildings in Frankfurt am Main.

Summer’s rolled around, bringing vacation time with it. Your passport arrived weeks ago, your suitcase is open and ready to be packed, and now there’s just one question remaining: where to go?

For the burgeoning traveler, Frankfurt am Main is the perfect location.

Located, as you might guess, on the Main River in the German state of Hesse, Frankfurt am Main is a modern city with lots of history. Rebuilt in modern styles after extensive bombing during World War II, Frankfurt is now famous for housing the most skyscrapers of any German city; further benefiting from American occupation and the new found isolation of post-war Berlin, the city quickly grew into a commercial metropolis that only narrowly lost to Bonn as capital of the BRD. Sixty years later, the resulting development of the city offers a blend of western modernity and European cultural history — the perfect mix for someone still testing the waters abroad.

Herzliche Willkommen

Haus der Jugend

When I visited Frankfurt, I stayed in the Haus der Jugend youth hostel, which is conveniently located for seeing much of what the city has to offer. For a quick introduction, however, there are two options for acquainting yourself with the city: the Main Tower, or via river tour. Personally, I found that it’s more than worth it to fork over a couple of euros to hitch the 200m ride up to the top of the tower; with beautiful panoramic views of the city and surrounding country, it’s easy to feel like you’re the Main Tower provides an amazing introductory experience that quite literally lays the city at your feet.

For those less comfortable with the height, however, it’s also possible to stay closer to the ground and cruise the city on a river tour. A warning, though: if you, like me, take this tour soon after arriving early in the morning, after a ten hour flight across the Atlantic, you do run the risk of the warm summer sun, tranquil river, and soothing scenery lulling you to sleep.

 

 

Something Old

Once you’ve gained a feel for the city, the city offers a full list of museums, restaurants and pubs to explore and relax in. Many of them are located close to the aforementioned Haus der Jugend, and the meticulously rebuilt old town (Altstadt) is a great place to get a bite to eat and try some of Frankfurt’s famed Apfelwein (I’ve heard a lot of people describe it as a love-it-or-hate-it drink, but to me, it just tasted like a somewhat sharp white wine. Römerberg Square is also a site of festivities, such as it was when I first visited Frankfurt, having arrived on the morning of Ascension Day. If you’re looking for some of that aforementioned culture shock, I can safely say there’s nothing quite like a couple of drunk Germans standing on tables giving celebratory speeches while you enjoy your first bite of authentic German beer and bockwurst.

Many of the buildings on the square have themselves been around since the early days of the city in the late eighth century, but just around the corner there stands another must-see of Frankfurt: the famed Kaiserdom, the Imperial cathedral in which Holy Roman Emperors were crowned for more than two hundred years.  Admission is free, and if you’re lucky, the cathedral might be hosting a choral concert for you to listen to as well. This church holds a special note of interest for me, as it was the first European cathedral I’d had the pleasure of visiting; it’s not the most magnificent of the churches Europe has to offer, but even so, you can forget what you learned from Hunchback of Notre Dame — seeing the sturdy Gothic architecture and listening to the echoing choir in person is something you can never quite appreciate without experiencing it for yourself.

The famous facade of the Römerberg Square in Frankfurt’s Altstadt.

Something New

In the modern world, Frankfurt has made a name for itself as a banking capital, and while it still pales alongside cities such as London (though not for lack of trying), it still has a strong economic presence. The twin towers of Deutsche Bank stand as an eternal reminder of this fact, as does a monument built to commemorate the introduction of the Euro in 2001. My group had the pleasure of being invited inside the DB towers for a lecture on banking, but as an Arts & Sciences major, I can assure you I remember very little of it.

The city itself is a constant reminder of modernity as well. With roughly thirty structures reaching heights of 100m or more (a massive feat in an of itself, given the swampy, unstable ground the city stands on), streets full of modern apartments, and a heavy emphasis on business and economics, Frankfurt am Main is far from being Germany’s busiest tourist trap. Even with all of that corporate mayhem, though, the city has plenty of its own kooky European quirks which have noted on the web by natives and tourists alike (Faces of the City, anyone?), but even so, when I finally left the city, I couldn’t help feeling a little homesick for it (not bad for someone who had been out of America for less than a week at that point).

A handful of the towers that make up Frankfurt's famous skyline.

A handful of the towers that make up Frankfurt’s famous skyline.

* all photos taken by Rachel Alvord