Every nation has its Heart — one city, THE city, where anything and everything happens, where the brightest and the best go to seek their fortunes, the fulcrum around which the rest of the country revolves. In the United Kingdom, this is undoubtedly London; in France, Paris has no competition; in the United States, New York, Los Angeles and Washington are in perennial competition for the title — and in Germany, Frankfurt stands head and shoulders above the rest.
A city of finances
Frankfurt is known for many things, and the three most famous of those things are: finance, history and transport. The city has been the financial capital of the country for centuries and even today, Frankfurt is the engine that drives the modern German economic machine.
Almost all important financial and commercial institutions are here: it is the home of the Deutshce Bundesbank, the birthplace of the Deutschmark, the seat of the European Central Bank, and the preferred operating centre of more banks, conglomerates and merchant houses than you can shake a stick at. Unsurprisingly, Frankfurt is also jokingly referred to as Bankfurt and Mainhattan (a play on the river Main which divides the city). Frankfurt is also famed for its trade fairs and conventions, which take place mostly during the March-May and September-October season. During these periods, the population of the city increases significantly, swelling the already-great ranks of sombre-suited businessmen rushing around the city.
Frankfurt’s deep love of lucre shows in the importance of commercial enterprises to the city is best symbolized by the sky-scrapers which tower above the business district in the north of the city. The Frankfurt business district is the proud home of the country’s greatest concentration of high-rise buildings, all built by this or that corporation, and include the tallest such structure in Europe, the Commerzbank Tower. In fact, the only two European cities with a greater concentration of skyscrapers in London and Paris, and its probably no accident that both those cities are major financial centres as well.
A city of history
The ultra-modern skyscrapers symbolize the contemporary side of Frankfurt, and are the futuristic counterparts to the city’s real attraction to most visitors: its great history. Frankfurt has been a metropolis for most of its two thousand year long life, and as befits such an ancient city, has a wealth of museums, memorials, churches, palaces and other such wonders. Despite the devastating bombing of the World Wars, many of the city’s historical buildings remained intact, or were rebuilt after their destruction, and are today are very popular tourist attractions.
One of the most popular sites is the Romerberg, Frankfurt’s oldest square and home to many beautifully restored 14th and 15th century buildings. Frankfurt also houses more museums than any other German city except Berlin. Among the many excellent offerings, perhaps the most splendid is the Stadelsches Kunstinstitut at Schaumainkai 63, which houses a fabulous collection of works by artists such as Rembrandt, Renoir and Vermeer. Less magnificently, but perhaps more intimately moving, are the quaint houses and pub, bars and restaurants of the Sachsenhausen district on the south side of the river, where the simple, everyday a life of the city can be experienced after touring the grander elements of its history.
The Capital That Never Was
Frankfurt’s historically high profile amongst German cities comes not only from what it does have, but also what it doesn’t have — the title of capital city. Frankfurt was the political centre of Germany for many centuries, first as the electoral city of the failed “Holy Roman Empire of German Nations then as the seat of the first democratically elected German parliament in 1848. In 1945, when the infant government of West Germany was choosing a capital city, Frankfurt lost out to Bonn by only one vote (Bonn was chosen mainly because it was the first West-German chancellor Konrad Adenauer’s home town). When Germany was reunified, it made more sense to select Berlin as the capital city. Despite losing its political importance however, Frankfurt is still prominent among the cities. In the same way that Sydney, while not actually being the capital of Australia, completely overshadows the true capital Canberra, so Frankfurt overshadows Berlin and Bonn.
The other thing Frankfurt is known for is for being Germany’s premier transportation hub, courtesy of its wonderfully convenient location and first-class infrastructure. Such a reputation is not the sexiest or most exciting of things a city could be known for, but it is a great boon to visitors. Frankfurt’s entire public transportation network is under the supervision of one umbrella organization. This means the system is wonderfully well-coordinated, on time and reliable — you can get off your place, step onto a train, grab a bus or hail a taxi, all without breaking your stride or waiting very more than a few minutes.
Frankfurt is not only an easy city to get around, but also to get to and away from to the rest of the country. Most of Germany’s famed Autobahn network converges on the city, as does the train system and the long-distance public buses. Frankfurt’s International Airport is not only the largest in Continental Europe, but also one of the busiest, being second only to Heathrow in terms of the amount of air traffic handle, but second to none in terms of efficient organization. And, since Frankfurt is situated in the centre of the greater Rhine-Main region, the whole of the Germany is open for exploration.