Take a longer look at Frankfurt

BY ROBERT SELWITZ Modified: November 4, 2012 at 11:23 am •  Published: November 4, 2012
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For eight centuries before Frankfurt am Main became Germany's and Europe's financial capital, it had already been a major center for trade and trade fairs.

Indeed, its reconstructed "Romerberg," the heart of Frankfurt's rebuilt old town where locals gathered, is named after Rome, the city from which many medieval traders came.

Now lovingly reconstructed, the Romerberg, commonly called the "Romer," includes the city hall (which once occupied three buildings) that originally debuted in 1405. Also here are half-timbered houses that once surrounded the site, several towers and Frankfurt's tourist information office.

Business travelers still flock to the city, many navigating its vast and frequently overwhelmed airport, one of Europe's largest. Many also arrive at the Hauptbanhof, the stately late-19th-century rail station that is comfortably close to major attractions and hotels.

But whether they are bound for the city's architectural highlights, reminiscent of structures past, or for the gleaming banking or corporate Manhattan-style office towers (indeed, a common Frankfurt nickname is "Mainhattan"), Frankfurt is definitely worth more than a casual pass-through.

Adding a day or more to a business trip or extra time during a Germany tour will prove to be time well spent.

World War II bombing, which peaked in 1944, destroyed 70 percent of the city. That means whatever initially appears to be very old likely has been reconstructed or seriously repaired.

Nevertheless, the city, home to some 680,000 residents, boasts many examples of legacy buildings, painstakingly and meticulously brought back to life.

One outstanding example is the Goethe House, where almost everything original except for part of its front steps was destroyed. This is where the author of "Faust," Johann von Goethe, lived during his first 26 years.

A magnificent four-story dwelling, it not only looks like the 18th-century jewel it once was, but its interior wooden floorboards appropriately squeak when trod upon.

Decorated with period furnishings, one highlight is the exquisite time and astronomical grandfather clock on the second floor. Another is the library, which is packed with legal tomes.

Goethe's father was a lawyer, and the future author is said to have consulted case studies that sometimes provided him with plotlines.

Nearby is the Cafe Karin at Grosser Hirschgraben near Hauptwache, a vibrant coffeehouse where the menu is as satisfying as the people-watching. Diagonally opposite Goethe House is trendy Riz. From snail soup to quiche, this is a great spot for clever dishes and relaxed dining.

Another terrific choice is Kleinmarkthalle, a favorite food hall for locals. Ilse Schreiber has been purveying wurst there for more than 30 years, and it's easy to spot her location since there's almost always a line out in front.

Frankfurt is also a wonderful walking town. A semicircular midtown green swath ensures trees and benches are never far away, and there's the delightful malled "Zell," a shopping, strolling and dining street starting at the Alte Oper House and ending at the busy Hauptwache.

Only the external shell of the Alte Oper, which used to be the city's prime opera venue, still stands. Inside a modern hall replaced the war-damaged interior and provides a fine venue for classical as well as popular music.

Nearby and worth searching out is the Eschenheimer Turm (actually a tower and gate), one of the few remaining remnants of Frankfurt's 15th-century city walls. It stands at the end of the Schillerstrasse pedestrian zone.

The Frankfurt Opera currently resides in a comfortable modern glass-enclosed structure with good sightlines, quite close to the city's signature Euro "E" sculpture.

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