Frankfurt, while low on Old World charm, offers a good look at today’s no-nonsense, modern Germany. Ever since the early Middle Ages when, as its name hints, Frankfurt was a good place to ford (-furt) the river, people have gathered here to trade. A pragmatic city, Frankfurt’s decisions are famously based on what’s good for business. Destroyed in WWII? Take it as an opportunity to rebuild better than ever for trade. And that’s what they did.
Cosmopolitan Frankfurt — nicknamed “Bankfurt” — is a leading business center and home to the European Central Bank. Though it’s often avoided by tourists (who consider it just a sterile transportation hub), Frankfurt’s modern energy, fueled in part by the entrepreneurial spirit of its immigrant communities, makes it a unique and entertaining city that’s well worth a look.
Finished in 2000, the Main Tower offers the best (and only public) viewpoint from the top of a Frankfurt skyscraper. For €6.50 (about $9), you can enjoy a 55-second, ear-popping elevator ride to the 54th floor, 650 feet above the city. Frankfurt is bursting with striking architecture. By German law, no worker should be kept out of natural light for more than four hours, so work environments are filled with light. And, as you can see, Germans like their skyscrapers with windows that open.
For a cheaper — but still grand — city view, nurse a drink on the rooftop of the Galeria Kaufhof department store. All over Europe, towering department stores offer great cafeteria lunches…with rooftop views for no extra charge.
Anywhere in Europe, the market halls come with great eateries, priced for local shoppers and serving the freshest of quality ingredients. And when the locals are lining up, you know something exciting is being served up — like the best sausage sandwiches around, here in Frankfurt’s wonderful Kleinmarkthalle. This delightful, old-school market was saved from developers by local outcry, and to this day it’s a neighborhood favorite. Browse and sample your way through the ground floor. It’s an adventure in fine eating and a photographer’s delight.
All over Europe, WWI and WWII war memorials are located prominently, for all to remember…except in Germany, where citizens walk a fine line of honoring lost loved ones without celebrating their cause. This memorial, tucked away in a Frankfurt park, is very easy to miss. While other countries honor those lost “for God and country,” German casualties are “victims of violence.” On one memorial reads, “Germany brought the war to the world, and the war came back to Germany.”
The memorial to Frankfurt’s Jewish community, which was devastated by the Holocaust, is at the site of the old Jewish ghetto, where the city’s main synagogue once stood. Commemorating 12,000 murdered Jews, it’s a powerful and evocative collection of images: Around the cemetery is the Wall of Names, with a tiny tombstone for each Frankfurt Jew deported and murdered. This gives each victim the dignity of being named (a data bank inside the adjacent museum keeps their memory alive with everything known about each person). The pebbles atop each tomb represent Jewish prayers. A paved section in front of this marks the footprint of the Börneplatz Synagogue, which was destroyed on November 9, 1938. While this night is often called Kristallnacht (“Crystal Night”), recently historians have pointed out that real people were destroyed along with lots of glass, so the preferred name is now “Pogrom Night.” In the wake of WWII, American troops made Frankfurters memorialize each synagogue they destroyed with a plaque.