When the bankers go. Frankurt for holidaymakers

By | Category: Travel destinations
Frankfurt from the observation deck on main Tower

Frankfurt from the observation deck on Main Tower… but it is more than just skyscrapers

Many years ago when I first visited Frankfurt I went on business. As one of the pre-eminent financial cities of the world that is how many people still think of the city- as a place teeming with bankers, analysts, financial whizz-kids and suits.

That’s pretty much true but it still doesn’t mean that it isn’t ideally suited for the leisure traveller as well and, at certain times of the year, it becomes a real bargain destination for holidaymakers.

Think about it. When bankers holiday in July and August, the city loses those flying in for business. Hotel prices drop. Since hoteliers don’t build one and two star hotels for business people, the standard of accommodation is high and relatively expensive from Monday to Friday. But at weekends and in those summer months that accommodation has to sell so the discounts come into play. Quality accommodation at reasonable prices.

Kleinmarkthalle,  bland outside but buzzing - and crowded - inside

Kleinmarkthalle, bland outside but buzzing – and crowded – inside

Where business people go, good restaurants follow and Frankfurt is full of them providing visitors with a variety of different cuisines. With an influx of Chinese visitors over the last few years, Asian fusion restaurants have set up so you can get traditional bratwurst restaurants and bars alongside international cuisines.

Those in the know though head to Kleinmarkthalle and buy sausages, meats, cheeses and fruit and then head up to the balcony above and buy wine or soft drinks. On a mid-week evening, albeit a pretty hot one, the place was packed. Even their kindest fans wouldn’t say that the little square in which locals congregate was beautiful but this is where Frankfurt life meets to chat, catch-up with friends and set the world to right. The other thing that you will notice is that no beer is on sale in the bar; only wine and soft drinks but that does include the favourite local tipple – apple wine. The local apple wine festival begins in just a few days time.

Every city has shops but financial centres act as a magnet to up-market ones so the quality and quantity of shopping is high. If you can’t find it here, then maybe it doesn’t exist. London has its Bond Street, in Frankfurt it is Goethestrasse.

note that the paternoster lift is roped off. had I "played" on it too many times?

note that the paternoster lift is roped off. Had I “played” on it too many times?

Wherever you go in the city, it is hard to miss Goethe. Born in Frankfurt and his home for the first 24 years of his life, there are roads named after him, a statue and references to him wherever you go. But then as Germany’s greatest literary figure that is what you would expect. Even Flemings Hotel has a little yellow model of the famed author and poet in their window. But Flemings is a hotel you should visit. Next to the reception area is a paternoster lift, the sort you no longer see because of health and safety concerns. You jump onto a continuously travelling floor and it takes you up and down. On an oval loop, it’s a “toy” that you can ride up and around and down and back up again. There is no door and you must be careful to keep your hands and feet well away from the open entrance as you travel from floor to floor. I didn’t know these lifts still existed and more.

The other reason to visit Flemings is the bar on the top of the building. From there you get a good view of part of the city and on a warm summer’s evening there are a few better spots. You could easily wander in, see the sights and not bother with a drink. That is if you can reach the edge of the balcony. After only being open for six weeks it has already become one of the trendy places to be seen and can get very busy.

Goethe was not the only famed person who called Frankfurt their home. Oskar Schindler who rescued so many Jews was a resident as was Anne Frank who, more usually associated with the house in which she hid in Amsterdam, was born here.

Romerburg - all  modern on this side of the square

Romerberg – all modern on this side of the square

If the accommodation, shopping and food lives up to expectations then what is there for the visitor to see? Historic buildings you won’t find in abundance because many were bombed in WWII. Those that remain are few and far between. Don’t be fooled when you walk into Romerberg. These timbered buildings that reek of a Frankfurt long gone by are not yet thirty-year old modern replicas decided upon by the city fathers to return the old town to how it was before the bombs fell. And the work continues. Some buildings nearby that were described to me as seventies architecture at its worst, have been demolished and by the end of 2017 more replica buildings will have been constructed. But I defy anyone who isn’t an architectural historian or mediaevalist to know, until they were told, that the buildings were only years old rather than hundreds.

Otto Dix - The Artists Family.

Otto Dix – The Artists Family.

What did survive the war were countless artworks. For safety, just as happened in the UK, pictures, prints, drawing and pieces of sculpture were safely spirited away only to be returned at the end of the way into one of the great museums of the world – the Städel Museum. Founded in 1815 when Friedrich Städel left his extensive collection, money and house for a non-profit making museum. Today it houses over 100,000 items including one of the best collections of William Hogarth’s drawings of life in London during the eighteenth century. It contains some wonderful art such as Otto Dix’s “The Artist’s Family” where Dix and a baby almost compete to see who is the most fearsome looking human although the guidebook doesn’t describe it that way! Still thinking of the city as a financial centre I was surprised to see just how many museums and galleries Frankfurt had.

To start your visit, head for the tallest building in the city, the Main Tower and take a lift to the top. From 200 metres above Frankfurt you see an overview of a city that ranges from the mountains which surround most of the city to the skyscrapers that have grown up as this financial centre has developed. Stuck out on its own is the new building of the European Central Bank although the sculpture of the euro sign still remains outside its old building in the middle of Frankfurt. The airport, at just 20-25 minutes away, is visible as is the River Main, the old opera house now used for concerts, the cathedrals and the greenery that is in the middle of the city- much more greenery that you would I expected. But then a surprising thing is that the city is quite small at just over 700,000 people. Dwarfed in population by its international financial rivals such as New York, London, and Tokyo, it means that it is easy to get outside the city and explore the countryside.

the euro sculpture which might symbolise the banking heritage of Frankfurt but today is nowhere near the new ECB

the euro sculpture which might symbolise the banking heritage of Frankfurt but today is nowhere near the new ECB

But before you do, the other way that you should see the city is from the river. A local company – Primus-Linie – that, for six generations has been in the same family, provides daytime and nightly tours with commentaries in English and German. From the river you can see the plush apartments that have become the places in which to live and the changing river frontage as industry and office blocks increasingly are converted to apartments. From the road you get no sense of this changing feature of the city. In August alone, when the bankers have retreated to their own countries and the city is quieter and inhabited by just locals, Primus-Linie have 67 tours along the river compared to just 22 in October when the bankers start commuting again, suggesting the locals know a good thing when they see it!

As a smallish city, Frankfurt is walkable although there is a good tram and local train service. If you prefer something more personal, powered bicycles with awnings to protect passengers called Velotaxis are available to transport you around the city centre. There are also double-decker bus tours. If you do walk, there are large green tourist signs available in streets and squares and these are both in English and German. The city is proud of being a transport hub for not only is the airport connected to the city by rail but fast intercity train services leave the airport as well as the city centre and connecting you with the rest of Germany.

A Frankfurt Card at €9.90 for the day which gives unlimited access on the transport network, 50% off admission to museums and 20% off a trip up the Main Tower may be a good bet if you are planning to do a lot as it also gives discounts off some restaurants.

sausage, onion and grune sosse. Locals have it with anything it seems

sausage, onion and grune sosse (green sauce). Locals have it with anything it seems

Could you spend a week just visiting Frankfurt? Probably not but there is more than enough for a weekend and a week would quickly go by as you explored the towns, the mountains and the rivers nearby. Not forgetting the vineyards and the apple orchards that produce that local tipple I mentioned, apple wine.


For more about Frankfurt, click here.


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