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Frankfurt – easy to get to, hard to leave

By Ron Smith

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I HAVE used the Lufthansa flight direct from Aberdeen to Frankfurt quite a few times, for connecting flights or to catch planes to visit other parts of Germany. This time I decided to visit Frankfurt itself.

There are several flights a day from Aberdeen, so you don’t have to go on the crack of dawn ones. From the airport station, the local trains run every few minutes to the main station in the centre of the city (the Hauptbahnhof). The fare is 4.35 Euros single adult, purchased from machines which have an English language option. The journey takes just 12 minutes.

The main station is huge; they claim that it is the second largest in Germany after Leipzig. Over 1,750 trains come and go from here every day. Public transport is integrated, which means that buses, trams, taxis, open-top, double decker sightseeing buses, all stop in front of the station. One of the tourist offices is in the main hall of the station as well, and from here you can purchase a Frankfurt Card. There are various offers; for example, a two-day card for an adult costs 14.50 Euros. If you send off and get one before you arrive, it covers the train journey to and from the airport as well as all city centre public transport, and a huge range of reductions in museums, attractions, river cruises, shows, concerts and operas, restaurants and some shops, botanical gardens and even the airport viewing terrace – well worth getting.

In the summer there is the Ebbelwei-Express. This is an old-timer tram that runs for tourists, taking in the Zoo, the green area that once was the city walls surrounding the centre, which was destroyed by Napoleon in 1800 (there is one tower remaining, the Eschenheimer Tor), the Jewish quarter (before the War there was a large Jewish population here) and many historic buildings, churches and monasteries, and convents. This runs at weekends and public holidays in the afternoons. Popular outings are on the large river boat cruises – these run during the summer and your Frankfurt Card gives you discounts here too.

Frankfurt has a population of 700,250 people. It is very cosmopolitan, English is widely spoken, maybe partly due to it having the European Central Bank, 227 other banks, and all the other financial offices with workers from many countries, and the language of international finance seems to be English. It is a city that is growing – it is almost impossible to take a photograph without a crane appearing in it – skyscrapers are dominating the skyline, and more are going up all the time. You can even go up to the top of some of them for a panoramic view of the city.

The tourists come from all over the world, in order of numbers, Americans, British, Chinese, Italians. In one of the big department stores the large panels by the escalators giving details of what is on which floor, have the information in German, English and Chinese, so language is not a problem for us.

Although it is vibrantly modern, Frankfurt does still have (despite the damage from the war) many old buildings that are fascinating, and which would have been here when Johanna Spyri wrote Heidi.

One of the famous sons of the city is Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe, who was born here at noon on 28.8.1749. His house still stands and can be visited, with a strikingly awful modern glass Goethe museum cobbled on to it. In one of the open spaces is a large statue from 1858. This depicts Johannes Gutenberg, with his main two financial backers, Schoeffer and Fust. Gutenberg was the inventor of printing back in the 15th Century. He is shown here as Frankfurt, together with Mainz (where Gutenberg was born) Venice and Strasbourg are the four towns where printing began.

The Römer area is the town hall. This used to be a rich man’s house but was taken over for a town hall in 1405. It has three frontages, facing an uneven and oddly shaped “square” with many fine old buildings and a fountain. There is a second tourist office here. Across the road is another square with St Paul’s Church. This circular building is where the first national assembly took place in 1848, creating the unified and modern Germany. Other old buildings are dotted around, slightly overshadowed by the modern shopping centres and skyscrapers, like the old guard house, now a café, and the splendidly proportioned Opera House.

There are a great many wonderful churches, all open during the day and interesting to visit, such as the massive dark Cathedral (ww.domturm-frankfurt.de). You can climb the tower, all 328 steps, during the summer months. The cathedral was started in 1415 and more or less completed in 1514. It suffered in the war and was reconstructed in 1954-55, and there have been several renovations since, as you would expect with such a venerable building.

Being a big city, Frankfurst has some seedy areas, strip clubs and so on, and streets full of shops and cafes selling ethnic things from all continents. However, the streets are cleaner than in the UK. If you go into a shop and buy a bottle of drink, or water, or coke, you pay an additional 25 cents “Pfund”, or deposit, which every shop that sells plastic bottles is obliged to refund to you when you return the empty. We should re-introduce this into the UK. It is not uncommon to see quite respectable looking people poking into litter bins (all of which are segregated into compartments for paper, plastic, etc) to extract the plastic bottles to take back to shops. Having said that the streets are cleaner – watch out for dog mess, city people who have dogs should be better at cleaning up after them.

The “Am Main” bit of the name of Frankfurt means that it is on the river Main, which gives a character to the city. There are 16km of river embankment, wide, pleasant places to walk, with high walls protecting the city from flooding. Across from Frankfurt is Sachsenhausen and there are many bridges, rebuilt after the war which destroyed all but one, linking the two. This extension of Frankfurt is famous for good food, including apple wine, a speciality of the city, usually served in earthenware jugs called Bembel. No visit to Frankfurt would be complete without trying the apple wine.

Sachsenhausen also has a museum embankment, 11 of the 25 museums are along here, making it easy to visit them. The Stadel Museum had a Durer exhibitionlast year and no matter what time we went to see it, there were queues right down the street. There are no end of cultural events – 20 stages in the city, 30 independent theatre groups, including the English Theatre, open-air concerts plays, jazz cabarets, everything. Another huge attraction is the “Messe”, which must be one of the world’s largest exhibition centres. You can get there by tram, bus, “U” bahn (underground), “S” bahn (local trains) or just walk. It is not that far from the main railway station and brings thousands of people to Frankfurt every year. It means that there are all the major hotels and lots of options for accommodation. I stayed in The Pure, a lovely boutique hotel five minutes walk from the main railway station in a quiet street. It is a small hotel, very modern, comfortable, and very relaxing, top quality and friendly (see www.the-pure.de); thoroughly recommended.

Shopping is a big thing in Frankfurt, which has several shopping centres. The Zeil is the main, pedestrianised shopping street with all the international names, as well as many good German shops. Prices are generally the same or a bit higher than here, but the bargains are better. Public toilets are to the same quality as here (i.e. not too good) and expect to pay 1 Euro to an attendant; this also applies in shops. Several weekly markets are held.

In the centre, as in most large cities, there seemed to be rather a lot of people sleeping rough, begging and busking, which contrasted with the wealthy and well dressed people, many wearing business suits. The stock exchange, the European Central Bank with its huge Euro sign in front of it, and the skyscrapers with bank signs on them, symbolise the prosperity and growth.

For a city break for all the family, Frankfurt has it all. The excellent and efficient tourist office (www.frankfurt-tourismus.de) will organise everything you may need, such as the Frankfurt Card, walking tours and audio visual tours, including for blind, handicapped or wheelchair users, usually ending up at the Main Tower with a visit to the roof top, 200 metres above street level, with views all around.

The Lufthansa flights (www.lufthansa.com) leave Aberdeen 05.30, 12.25 and 16.10 for the two-hour flight, returning to Aberdeen at 11.45, 14.50 and 22.15. I have just checked their website and if you are flexible and book in advance, prices start from £98 return. With hotel and eating out prices in Frankfurt reasonable, it would be a good destination without breaking the bank.

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