It was easy to understand why Frankfurt was commonly referred to as the "Gateway to Europe". The Frankfurt Airport easily ranked among the busiest in the world, accepting flights to and from over 100 countries on five continents. Most travelers going anywhere in Europe east of Paris landed in Frankfurt am Main along the way.
Frankfurt might be the "Gateway," but unless one was traveling on business, Frankfurt would never be thought of as a destination. But actually, it was a rather nice place to go. The downtown was very easy to get to from the airport, just a few stops away from the local train terminal, so if one was experiencing travel delays, getting to the downtown for a few hours was a pretty good option. While not as memorable as Heidelberg or Rothenburg, Frankfurt was worth the time. There were two primary options -- mega-shopping on the main streets, or sightseeing along the Main River.
The mega-shopping was truly 'mega', after all Frankfurt was a major European commercial hub. The shopping district began at the train station along Kaiserstrasse until the massive square known as the Hauptwache (shown in the second photo with the namesake Hauptwache building at left - a former guardhouse cum café). It continued along a very wide (about thirty yards wide) pedestrian boulevard down the Zeil that was lined with all modern structures on both sides. The shopping centers on both sides were huge and modern, offering products from around the world. Most of the eateries there were of the budget variety, with plenty of quality fast-food to please the shopper on the go. As wide as the boulevard was, it was incredibly crowded. Probably the only other with a larger and busier shopping district in Germany was Berlin.
This travelogue reflected our preference for the second option, the sights. However, unlike a number of other German cities, Frankfurt lost practically all its original landmarks in WWII, so all those shown here were rebuilt or restored versions. The premier attraction is depicted in the first photo, the Ortszeile at the Römerberg. This market square was lined on one side with beautiful and classic Hessian half-timber buildings and on the other with the huge Römer, the old town hall that resembled a palace. The Nikolaikirche is shown in the background of the photo. The Ortszeile was the primary festival ground for the city's annual Christmas Market, that also extended all the way along the modern shopping boulevards back to the Hauptwache... yes, that was huge!
From the Römerberg, we went several different directions and found more of Frankfurt's finest attractions. To the northwest was the Goethehaus and Goethemuseum, boyhood home of the famous poet and scientist. The Goethehaus has become a famous tourist haven. To the north was the Paulskirche, once home to the German parliament. To the east was the Kaiserdom, whose altar appears in the third photo. Almost completed, the Kaiserdom was a beautiful red sandstone reconstruction of a cathedral that was heavily damaged in World War II. Just outside the Kaiserdom was an archaeological site displaying some old Roman walls. In its midst was a metallic scale model of the original Roman site.
We then headed south toward the Main River. There, we encountered many of the usual German riverside amenities -- boat tours, pleasant walking paths, open-air cafés, great restaurants. We walked across the Main along the Eiserner Steg, a green metal pedestrian bridge . [On the bridge was a plexiglas sign with words written in Greek that translated to "crossing dark seas, meeting people of cultures we cannot understand"1] The fourth photo, showing an island on the Main and a church in a nearby suburb, was taken from this bridge. The fifth photo was taken from the opposite end of the bridge, capturing one of the many barges traversing the Main. The Kaiserdom towered overhead while the riverfront's many residential buildings lined across the front.
Frankfurt am Main has a long storied history with Americans and flight that bears mentioning here. Adjacent to the airport was a military airfield once known as the Rhein-Main Airbase, which was closed in 2005 to make way for the Frankfurt Airport to build a much-needed third terminal. Near the former airbase was an Aviation Monument right off of Autobahn 5 to commemorate German aviation. Frankfurt was also home to the headquarters of the V Corps during the Cold War days. Units of this Corps stared down the Fulda Gap at Soviet forces in the former East Germany until the Berlin Wall fell. Finally, there is the matter of the Frankfurt Galaxy of NFL Europe. When we lived in Heidelberg, a number of our American colleagues starving for American football found solace in Frankfurt, who annually hosted special events just for the Yanks.
So, next time you roll into Frankfurt, or get stuck there for an extended period of time, don't feel like you have to suffer the indignity of expensive airport food and the company of ten thousand weary would-be passengers. Hop the subway to the real Frankfurt am Main and have a good time!
Trip taken 30 April 2002 -- Page last updated 26 October 2006 -- (C) 2002 Tom Galvin
1With acknowledgment to reader Stefan Jaag. Thanks! (4 March 2003)