Frankfurt – a city of Contrasts
Frankfurt am Main, the metropolis at the heart of Europe, is defined by stimulating contrasts of tradition and modernity, trade and culture, business and tranquility. The famous international trade fairs held here, the financial business conducted, the city’s cultural scene and its accessible location all contribute to Frankfurt’s metropolitan reputation. Frankfurt’s famed skyline features more skyscrapers than any other German city.
The former Roman city “Nida”, later part of the Carolingian Palatinate, emerged from the depths of history on the 22nd of February 794, to be mentioned in official documents as Frankfurt. The city was named francono furd after its geographical location, being situated near a natural ford close to where the Main river meets the Rhine – right at the heart of the Franconian Empire.
Although never a bishop seat, Frankfurt’s Dom, or cathedral, was the place where German kings were chosen from 1356 onwards; German Emperors were also crowned there some 200 years later. The banquets that followed were held in the imperial hall or Römer, a building complex consisting of three half-timbered merchant houses. In 1405, the city purchased the complex and converted it to the town hall. Ever since, the three-gabled silhouette of the building has been the symbol of the city.
Even today, Frankfurt’s city council – an elected municipal parliament – holds its meetings here. As far back as the Middle Ages, fairs and markets took place inside the town hall’s Römerhallen and on the Römerberg outside. Today, the Römerberg is in the heart of the old town centre and a popular tourist destination. And the Römerhallen are still in demand as a venue for a large variety of events.
Not far from the Römer is the St. Paul’s Church, where the first German National Assembly was held in 1848. Since then, the church has been known as the cradle of German democracy.
Due mainly to the 13 museums located on both sides of the Main, Frankfurt has developed a reputation as a significant cultural centre. The museum embankment represents a unique synthesis of renowned exhibition culture and far-sighted city planning. Several 19th century buildings worthy of preservation were gutted and given a new lease of life; their exteriors are still a characteristic feature of the riverbank. Many of the newer buildings and extensions are true architectural gems, designed by internationally renowned architects. The Museum of Modern Art, designed by Viennese architect Hans Hollein, is one such gem, the building being shaped like a slice of cake. Other highlights from Frankfurt’s range of museums are the German Architecture Museum and the Museum of Communication. With its healthy budget for cultural events – unusually high for German local authorities – the city has been able to fund not only opera, ballet and theatre productions, but also numerous private theatres. Another symbol of Frankfurt’s commitment to culture is the Concert and Congress Centre Alte Oper Frankfurt, rebuilt after the Second World War to return it to its original Italian Renaissance style. The university, founded in 1914,carries the name of Frankfurt’s most famous son, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. He was born in Frankfurt on the 28th of August 1749, spending the early part of his life here. His birthplace is one of Frankfurt’s most popular tourist attractions, and also includes the Goethe Museum.
The museums on Frankfurt’s Museumsufer (museum embankment) are lined up like pearls on a string. A total of nine are situated on the southern Main bank alone. Two museums are located directly on the northern bank and three in the immediate vicinity. Plenty of other museums can also be found all over the city.
The famous old opera house (Alte Oper) was built in 1880 by the architect Richard Lucae. It was one of the major opera houses in Germany until it was heavily damaged in World War II. Until the late 1970s it was a ruin, nicknamed “Germany’s Most Beautiful Ruin”. There were even efforts to just blow it up.
“On the 28th of August 1749, as the midday bell struck twelve, I was born into Frankfurt by the Main. The stars were favourable…” This is how Johann Wolfgang von Goethe describes his own birth in “Poetry and Truth”. Although Goethe’s relationship to his city of birth was later ambivalent, it would always remain the place of his childhood and youth. Here he would roam the streets in the old part of the city, experiencing the excitement around and the preparations for royal elections and the crowning of emperors.
The Städel, officially the Städelsches Kunstinstitut und Städtische Galerie, is an art museum in Frankfurt am Main, with one of the most important collections in Germany. The Städel was founded in 1815 by the Frankfurt banker and merchant Johann Friedrich Städel. In 1878, a new building, designed according to the Gründerzeit style, was erected on Schaumainkai street, presently the major museum district.
The Naturmuseum Senckenberg in Frankfurt is the second largest museum of natural history in Germany. It is particularly popular with children, who enjoy the extensive collection of dinosaur skeletons: Senckenberg boasts the largest exhibition of large dinosaurs in Europe.
St. Paul’s Church (Paulskirche) is a national historic monument in Germany with great political symbolism, because it was the seat of the first democratically elected Parliament in 1848. It was established in 1789 as a Protestant church but was not completed until 1833. Its importance has its root in the Frankfurt Parliament, which met in the church during the revolutionary years of 1848/49 in order to write a constitution for a united Germany.
Frankfurt´s traditional apple wine has been associated with the city on the Main for over 250 years. However, its history goes back much further than that. While it is impossible to tell exactly when apple wine was invented, it is an established fact that it was a common drink as far back as the time of Charlemagne, over 1,200 years ago.
Thanks to the renowned “Lohrberg”, Frankfurters have a slice of the famous Rheingau wine-growing region on their very doorstep. The wines produced by the vineyards at “Hochheimer Stein”, “Hochheimer Hölle” and “Lohrberger Hang” are made from grapes cultivated by the City of Frankfurt´s time-honoured municipal vineyard. Frankfurt was presented with its own vineyard in 1803, thanks to Napoleon Bonaparte and his policies of secularisation. It was at this time that the City of Frankfurt took possession of the vineyards on the Lohrberg and in the Rheingau region
There has been a Christmas market in Frankfurt for over 600 years. In terms of the visitor numbers and size, the Frankfurt Christmas Market is one of the most important Christmas markets in Germany. The elaborate and creative stand decorations, the scenic surroundings of the Römerberg and Paulsplatz and the huge Christmas tree also make it one of its most beautiful.
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