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Frankfurt’s Hidden Gems: Journey Through History & Modernity

Frankfurt Germany

A Stroll Through FrankFurt Old Town

On the first day of my visit to Frankfurt, Germany, I set out for a walk around the city’s medieval core, known as the Old Town. Just a few steps from my hotel, I noticed a bronze block embedded in the cobblestone sidewalk and stopped to read the engraving. It listed the name, date of birth, and death of a Nazi Holocaust victim who once lived in a nearby building.

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Karen LeBlanc, aka The Design Tourist, and tour guide Dave Jones, examining a Stumbling Stone on the sidewalk in Frankfurt.

This bronze block is known as a stumbling stone, one of many throughout the city memorializing Holocaust victims.

StumblingStoneIt’s a piece of Germany’s history you metaphorically stumble upon, making it impossible to forget, deny, or distract. 

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Frankfurt Am Main, Hessen, Germany – View over Frankfurt city center and financial district with Main river.

Modern Skyline Meets Historical Charm

Such unexpected discoveries fuel my fascination and admiration for this country of contrasts. Germany is the land of modern skylines and storybook settings, the cradle of modernism and the heart of Christmas, with landscapes crowned with castles and cities scarred by bombs.

Germany is the birthplace of Beethoven and Bach and the home front of Hitler, a country once divided by East-West borders now reunited.

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Karen LeBlanc, aka The Design Tourist, at the European Central Bank and Euro Sculpture in Frankfurt, Germany.

Frankfurt’s Global Financial Eminence

Frankfurt is a global financial and trade show capital located in the state of Hessen, where modern life and medieval history coexist. Frankfurt prospers as a global financial center, home to the European Central Bank and international trade show capital. 

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Frankfurt am Main Hauptbahnhof (Hbf) is the main station in the city. The Neo-Renaissance train station was designed by Johann Wilhelm Schwedler and Hermann Eggert in 1888.

Hauptbahnhof’s Historical Significance

The city plays host to business travelers from around the globe as home to the world’s largest trade fair and event organizer, The Messe Frankfurt Group, owned by the City of Frankfurt and the State of Hesse.  They often arrive by rail at the Hauptbahnhof station, the busiest railway station in the country, constructed in 1888 and designed by Johann Wilhelm Schwedler and Hermann Eggert.

The Neo-Renaissance building suffered damage during World War II and underwent repairs. Today, it has 2 of the 4 mainline tracks serving approximately 450,000 passengers daily commuting into Frankfurt from across the Rhine-Main region. The station has high-speed links to major cities throughout Germany and Europe, as well as a direct connection to Frankfurt am Main airport.

MesseFrankfurtThe Frankfurt exhibition center stages consumer and business-to-business trade shows and events, including Frankfurter Buchmesse, the world’s largest book fair.

MesseFrankfurtCitySkylineFrankfurt’s skyline view from The Old Town sums up the city’s rich history and architectural contrasts. Here, skyscrapers soar above medieval buildings, a 13th-century Cathedral and 16th-century half-timbered houses.

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Karen LeBlanc, aka The Design Tourist, and tour guide Dave Jones exploring Frankfurt’s historical old town center populated with half-timbered houses, rebuilt in 1986 according to the original plans.

Whether traveling to Frankfurt on business or vacation,  a day dedicated to exploring the city’s rich history and architecture is worth your time. 

I toured the city with an English-speaking guide, David Jones,  a retired banker, from Manchester England, who has lived in Frankfurt for 40 years. I highly recommend booking a personal guided tour, rather than a group situation so you can educate and immerse yourself in Frankfurt’s fascinating history, art, architecture, and culture at your own pace, rather than rushing as a group through the city’s many significant sights and experiences.

KarenandDavidWalkingFrankfurtStreetsDavid met me at my hotel and before we headed out on our walking tour, he offered up a brief overview of Frankfurt to put the present and the past in context.

“Frankfurt is one of the most international cities in Europe. In the 1960s and 70s, many people moved here from Southern Europe to work in finance and trade,” David explains. Today this banking and trade center claims a population of approximately 760 thousand with many cultural assets including world-class museums and the largest English-speaking theater in the UK.

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The Rebirth of Frankfurt’s Old Town

The Old-New Town, as locals call it, is a mix of historical reproductions of buildings, crafted with original, salvaged architectural components mixed with modern-day architecture.

On March 22, 1944, the old town suffered a heavy bombing attack destroying most of its buildings. The city government rebuilt 35 buildings in the old town, 15 of which are exact architectural reproductions, including the House of Golden Scales, a stunning golden shingled building originally constructed in 1619 as the home of a Dutch spice trader. Today, the building hosts a restaurant and an events venue.

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Karen LeBlanc, aka The Design Tourist, touring the House of Golden Scales in the Old Town of Frankfurt.

 “When the city decided to rebuild the old town, they had to bring in craftspeople from throughout Europe with specialized skills for woodworking, slate work, and gold leafing,” Dave explains.

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Karen LeBlanc, aka The Design Tourist, and tour guide Dave Jones exploring The Archaeological Garden in Frankfurt’s historical city.

Frankfurt’s Cultural Crossroads

Within the old town, you’ll find the ruins of a Roman settlement on the site of an imperial palace dating back to Carolingian times. The Archaeological Garden (Archäologische Garten) is located in Frankfurt’s historic city, located on the Cathedral Hill between the cathedral and Frankfurt’s Schirn Art Gallery.

The Holy Roman Empire’s German nation covered the area from the beginning of the 9th century until the start of the 19th century, redrawing boundary lines many times throughout history.

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Karen LeBlanc, aka The Design Tourist, and tour guide Dave Jones exploring The Archaeological Garden in Frankfurt’s historical city.

“The Holy Roman Empire did not have a capital city, so the ruling emperor, to maintain the faith of his people, had to keep traveling around to prove he was still alive. He would come to Frankfurt and stay a few weeks at his palace, then move on to another palace. From 1562 to 1792, the Cathedral hosted ten emperor coronations,” Dave says.

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Karen LeBlanc, aka The Design Tourist, with tour guide Dave Jones on the rooftop of the House of Golden Scales with a view of the Frankfurt Imperial Cathedral built in the Gothic style between 1315 and 1358.

Frankfurt Cathedral survived the incendiary bombs that burned most of the old town and is the longest-standing witness to the city’s history. The Roman Catholic Gothic church towers over this medieval area, populated with stores, craft workshops, pubs, cafes, half-timbered houses, and gabled buildings.    

FrankfurtSquare“The coronation of the emperors took place in the cathedral from 1562 to 1792. The Coronation Path of German kings and emperors runs through old town and leads to the Emperor’s Hall, which houses portraits of the 52 emperors that ruled over the Holy Roman Empire German nation,”  Dave says. Today the Emperor’s’Hall plays host to famous dignitaries from around the world. 

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Karen LeBlanc filming her travel show, The Design Tourist, airing on all major streaming platforms. To watch, go to https://www.bingenetworks.tv/series/the-design-tourist-206487

I visited Frankfurt at the end of November as the city prepared to host its annual Christmas Market, one of the oldest in Germany, founded in 1383. A visit to the market offers a window to the region’s history, heritage, and culture through handmade items and culinary treats including, Glühwein, a warm spiced wine.  

IMG 3801For centuries, artisans have made and sold handicrafts that embody traditions, telling the story of a people—what they value and celebrate.

FrankfurtChristmasMarketsExploring a country through its legacy of craft tells a  story in a way that traditional tourism cannot. It’s a different way to travel— by meeting artisans and craftspeople, you can learn a lot about the people, the country, and the culture through their creativity.

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Frankfurt’s Culinary Delights

We end our day with an apple wine toast at one of the city’s many apple wine pubs, the Apple Wine Restaurant Wagner. The cider-like beverage is a local favorite served from a stoneware jug called a “Bembel” poured into diamond-patterned glasses. You can drink it pure or mix it with sparkling mineral water.

FrankfurtAppleWineFrankfurt has the largest concentration of apple wine producers and apple wine pubs. These cider taverns populate the city and are definitely a must for foodie traveler. 

FrankfurtApplewineLunchApple wine goes great with Frankfurt’s traditional dish, a green sauce made of herbs over meat with a fresh pretzel from the baker known as the “Brezelbub” who roams from restaurant to restaurant selling fresh pretzels from his basket.

PretzelmanAs night falls, the Frankfurt skyline lights up with twinkling towers, home to one of Europe’s largest concentrations of high rises. It’s a sight to see as stars merge with skyscrapers in their own constellation in the Frankfurt night sky.

Frankfurt am Main Frankfurt am Main Skyline bei Sonnenuntergang

To learn more, watch The Design Tourist episode featuring fascinating Frankfurt beyond the typical tourist attractions.

What to know if you go:

The Old Town is located on the cusp of a gritty area of downtown Frankfurt, where you will encounter some of the typical issues associated with most large urban cities, including homeless beggars and heightened crime. When booking your hotel, do your research and make sure you balance comfort and convenience with personal safety.  

As a starting point to plan your trip, I recommend a visit to the Germany Tourism website, a comprehensive resource for travelers throughout the country.   The city of Frankfurt website provides detailed information, including current travel protocol and rules regarding COVID.

I also recommend checking VISA requirements for travel to Germany by consulting the easy-to-use website, IVISA.com, which simplifies the application process for getting a travel VISA. 

Explore More Germany Destinations with Me:

Exploring Germany’s Remarkable Dessau Bauhaus Heritage
Discovering Lauscha Germany: The Cradle of Christmas Ornaments
Explore Regensburg, Germany with The Design Tourist

 

 

Picture of Karen LeBlanc

Karen LeBlanc

Karen LeBlanc is a freelance writer living in Orlando, Florida with many published bylines in magazines, newspapers, and multimedia sites. As a professional lifestyle writer, Karen specializes in art, architecture, design, home interiors and personality profiles. Karen is the writer, producer and host of the streaming series, The Design Tourist (www.TheDesignTourist.com) that brings viewers a global dose of design inspiration with episodes featuring the latest looks and trends from the world’s premiere design events and shows. She also publishes a quarterly magazine on design travel that you can read by clicking the link: https://thedesigntourist.com/the-magazine/ Her journalism background includes seven years on-air experience as a TV news reporter and anchor covering a range of issues from education to politics. Her educational credentials include a Master of Arts in Mass Communications from Northeast Louisiana University and a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from Louisiana State University. Throughout her career, Karen has written and produced dozens of documentaries and videos for educational, commercial, corporate, and governmental clients and appeared in many TV and video productions as a professional host.

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Karen LeBlanc

Karen LeBlanc is a travel host and writer with a popular travel show, The Design Tourist, and a companion lifestyle blog. As a widely published travel journalist and content creator, Karen is a member of the North American Travel Journalists Association. She also serves as the Design and Travel editor of the national lifestyle magazine, LaPalme. Karen believes that every destination has a story to tell through its local art, architecture, culture, and craft. This immersive creative exploration begins with authentic accommodations where the narrative of place unfolds through art, accessories, accouterments, furnishings, fixtures, and food. 

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