Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Frankfurt am Main, Germany

There is a small city called Frankfurt in eastern Germany. But when people say “Frankfurt” they are talking about the western city of Frankfurt am Main. It means Frankfurt on the Main (pronounced “Mine”) river.

It’s Germany’s 5th largest city and a major financial center. Sometimes it’s called “Mainhattan” because Frankfurt is home to the European Central Bank, the German Federal Bank, and the Frankfurt Stock Exchange, in addition to, +300 national & international banks.

Frankfurt was heavily damaged by allied bombers in WWII. Some things were rebuilt but overall, the city feels modern. Its many skyscrapers make it look like any other American city. Here are some of the weekend’s highlights…

St. Bartholomew’s Cathedral is the city’s main church. The Gothic building was constructed in the 14th and 15th centuries. From 1356 onwards, this is where the kings of the Holy Roman Empire were elected. From 1562 – 1792 this was where the roman-German emperors were crowned.

Paulskirche, St. Paul’s Church, was established as a Protestant church in 1789. In 1848, it was the seat of the first democratically elected Parliament. The church was partially destroyed during the war but was quickly rebuilt. It is no longer used for religious services but it used for exhibitions and city events.
The old opera house was built in 1880. Until the late 1970s, it still had not been rebuilt from the war and was nicknamed “Germany’s Most Beautiful Ruin”. Due to public pressure, the opera house was finally reconstructed and reopened in 1981. The inscription says: "Dem Wahren, Schönen, Guten” – “To the true, the beautiful, the good".

On Saturdays, there is a big flea market along the Main River. Lots of Germans, Poles, Turks and Russians all out selling everything from old records to clothes and from electronics to china. You could also see rowers practicing on the river and a free concert. This weekend was also the Smart Beach Volleyball tournament in the center of town. It was a busy Saturday!

The Römer is a medieval building and one of the city’s most important landmarks. It has been the city hall for over 600 years. In the Römer Square is a memorial to where Nazi students burned books in 1933.

The European Central Bank is responsible for monetary policy over the 16 Eurozone countries. There is even a Euro gift shop. With everything going on in Greece, plus Spain and Portugal, several newspapers had headlines this weekend questioning the Euro and if perhaps Germany needed to go back to using Deutsche marks.

Westendtower was completed in 1993 and is 208 meters (682 feet) tall making it the 3rd highest skyscraper in Frankfurt. The façade is made of fine, golden granite which makes it look whiter and brighter from afar. The building’s steel crown is heated in winter so that icicles can’t form which would endanger pedestrians below.

Maintower was completed in 1999 and at 200 meters (656 feet) is the city’s 4th tallest building. 
This was the first high-rise building in Europe to have a façade made entirely of glass. 

This is the only skyscraper with a public viewing observatory. For 5€ ($7.50), you can ride the speed elevator for 20 seconds and check out the 360° view from up on the roof.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was one of the key figures of German literature and author of the two-part drama Faust. For €5 you can visit the 17th century house where he was born. The museum was closed for renovations but the house was worth seeing.

The Frankfurt Jewish cemetery is the 2nd oldest in Germany. At the start of the 20th century there were ~7000 headstones. In 1942, the Nazis destroyed the cemetery and by the end of the war about 2/3rds of the headstones were destroyed. Only a small portion of the cemetery is still in the original condition. There are 11,134 small blocks placed on the cemetery walls, each one is engraved with the name of a Frankfurt Jew that was killed during the Holocaust. I know that there is a tablet with Anne Frank’s name but I didn’t see it.

Frankfurt even has dinosaurs out on the streets. Cool!

After a full day of sightseeing (and dinosaurs), nothing beats currywurst and ebbelwoi. Currywurst is a pork sausage, cut into slices, and seasoned with curry sauce and curry powder. Ebbelwoi is 5,5% - 7% apple wine with a tart, sour taste. It is refreshing in the summer and served hot in the winter.

The last time I was in Frankfurt was in 1992. The two obvious things I noticed were several new skyscrapers and fewer Americans than before. Frankfurt used to be the headquarters city for the U.S. Army in Germany. In addition, there were 7 air force bases (Hahn, Zweibrücken, Rhein-Main, Bitburg, Sembach, Spangdahlem and Ramstein) all within 100 km (62.5 miles). With the end of the Cold War, 4 of those bases have been closed. I had hoped to maybe find some American products while I was there but no luck. All I was able to find was a 16-piece pack of Oreo cookies. I guess it’s time to start hinting for another care package from home.

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