Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Frankfurt---Germany's Mainhattan

By Roy Heale

Arriving by plane at night as you approach the city of Frankfurt and catch your first glimpse of this metropolis on the banks of the River Main, you will instantly understand the origins of the nickname “Mainhattan”. The outline of the modern, tall avant-garde buildings and classic German architecture are distinctly reminiscent of New York’s skyline. Although the city only has a population of just over 600,000 residents, it is the home of the European Central Bank and all of Germany’s important banks that are renowned for their affinity towards modern skyscrapers and opulent designs. Perhaps the very existence of such financial wealth has assisted the GLBT community to proffer a much larger presence than one might expect from a city of this size. Whatever the reason, Frankfurt is an extremely gay-friendly city with a significant thriving gay business community.
This is a city of contrasts. At it’s heart is the Romerberg historic seventeenth century old city centre—completely leveled by bombs during the second World War—reconstructed just over twenty years ago from the original plans. Surrounding the Romerberg square and throughout the downtown are thirteen major modern skyscrapers, including the Maintower opened in the year 2000, constructed to a height of two hundred metres with the first public observation deck at the top, and the Commerzbank Tower—the city’s tallest at three hundred metres. Old and new architecture exists in harmony to create a thriving downtown core.
The central pedestrian promenade of Zeil and Fressgass Streets attracts people from all walks of life comprising all age groups and encouraging major retailers, bars, cafes and restaurants to locate here. Also, ensuring a lively atmosphere throughout morning, noon and night times. The Zeil Gallery is a major shopping centre with a fantastic restaurant and observation deck on the top floor. Located on Ziel Street boulevard—at number seventy-two—is the popular gay restaurant-bar the Birmingham Pub which is open twenty-four hours a day, ensuring a gay presence in this popular city hub.
Yet another dichotomy of this city is located on the south embankment of the Main River on Schaumainkai Street—the Museumsufer or Museum Embankment. Here you can find sixteen diverse depositories housed in both brand new buildings and restored historic mansions—a project that was undertaken between 1980 and 1990 to showcase the culture of Frankfurt and Germany. Don’t let the sound of the word museum scare you because here you will find the German Film Museum, the Museum of Applied Arts, the Communications Museum, the Stadel Institute of Art, and the German Architecture Museum—just to name a few of the fascinating topics to explore. As an added bonus on Saturdays the street is partially closed off to traffic for Frankfurt’s largest flea market. And if that’s not enough, during a summer stroll along the river embankment you are likely to encounter one of the many cultural festivals or events. Plus, this is the best place to view and take photos of the impressive Mainhattan Skyline.
After experiencing the beautiful and historic mansions of the Museumsufer, or the riverbank promenade, a short five-minute walk will place you in the old Sachsenhausen neighbourhood. The historic, original half-timbered buildings create a journey back through Frankfurt’s heritage. The main street is called Schweizer Straße, a cosmopolitan boulevard with bars and two of Frankfurt’s most traditional ciderhouse tourist attractions: Zum Gemalten Haus and Wagner. These historic wineries produce their own Apfelwein (applewine) and can be identified by the presence of a wreath of evergreen branches hanging outside the location or a similar image included on their signage. The Textorstraße and the old town, Altstadt, have the best known ciderhouses in Frankfurt, where the locals can be found after work enjoying their relaxing glass of the local brew. Warning—the first glass may taste a little sour but the flavor improves with each subsequent glass! Complementing this local specialty should be the traditional Handkas’ mit Musik—small cheeses marinated in a vinegar and onion sauce—with green herb sauce, or pork chops with sauerkraut. All of this should be experienced on the patio of a sidewalk café and bar with a clear blue sky and the hot sun glowing before sunset. This is a German epicurean experience at its best.
In this diverse city it is not surprising to learn that the gay community has its own gathering place. Known locally as the Bermuda Triangle surrounding the Konstabler Wache Square, the cafés and bars are the local’s favorite place to start a gay night out. The reason for this location probably stems from the fact that once you are at The Triangle most gay establishments are within walking distance. The nearby Zum Schewjk is a very popular, always busy, local bar. Just down the street is Fraggels where great home-style food can be enjoyed at reasonable prices. Around the corner is Lucky’s multi-level bar, which has been serving the city’s gay community for over twenty years—and is still one of the most popular gay venues for tourists and locals alike on any night of the week. Close at hand is the Monte Carlo where you will have to ring the doorbell to gain admittance but the crowd inside will make it worth the effort. From here a short walk will take you to the Piper Red Lounge complex with a restaurant, classic bar, basement club and outdoor chill-out patio—a must visit during your stay in Frankfurt. In this vicinity, there are also three conveniently located upscale saunas and spas plus many shops and services catering to the GLBT clientele.
These are only a sampling of gay venues to enjoy and a full list can be found in the Friends Gaymap that is readily available at gay businesses throughout the city centre. With more than thirty gay establishments, Frankfurt offers a lively gay vacation and caters to every age group and entertainment choice. It will take several days before you have enjoyed all that gay Frankfurt has to offer.
Unfortunately, gay accommodations are scarce in Frankfurt, but the very gay Downtown Hotel is an excellent property in the heart of the Bermuda Triangle and is conveniently attached to and above Lucky’s. The rooms are large, recently renovated and reasonably priced. A breakfast for guests is served daily in Lucky’s lounge—at which time it is closed to the public—and the friendly staff will provide any assistance you might require for the perfect gay get-away. From here, everything in downtown Frankfurt is within walking distance and you are assured of a very gay welcome.
A short distance from the centre of town are the gay and gay-friendly Enjoy Bed & Breakfast, Hotel Falk and Hotel Villa Orange, all of which require a taxi or transit ride to reach the gay action.
Even though this city may seem to be all about tall buildings, historic architecture and shopping malls, there are several very large urban parks and gardens to enjoy on a sunny day. In fact the local residents are very much concerned about preserving green spaces and natural environments within their urban landscape.
There’s an oasis of green in the heart of the city for a nominal admission fee at the Palmengarten botanical gardens—where tropical plants are housed in one of the world’s largest greenhouses, built in 1969. You can visit the Blossom House plus many of the other glassed-in gardens, or enjoy the fountains or rent a rowboat on the lake. This tropical retreat will easily make you forget that your vacation is an urban experience.
Adjacent to the Palmengarten is the city’s largest parkland the Gruneburgpark, created by Meyer Amschel Rothschild—a member of the famous banking family. Rothschild created the park in English landscape style at the beginning of the nineteenth century and today it remains relatively unchanged and true to the creator’s concept. On warm days, both Frankfurters and tourists head to this park to enjoy the grassy lawns, to picnic, walk, jog, and play football. Rumour has it that there is a popular gay cruising area and nudist-lawn at the rear of the park to the right of the main entrance—of course local gay residents have staked their claim within this place of nature in the heart of the city!
The Ostpark is renowned for its large lake, spacious lawns and ancient trees. At the Bethmannpark—once the private garden of the Bethmann family who founded Frankfurt’s oldest bank—the Chinese garden is particularly beautiful. Lastly, the Holzhausenpark features a magnificent lakeside villa open to the public for special events.
Every major city seems to be proud of their zoo, and Frankfurt’s Zoologischer Garten boasts thirty acres, which are home to wildlife from around the globe. Exotic and nocturnal animal exhibits have made this one of the most renowned zoos in Europe.
Yet another fascinating and unique part of this city’s past can be found between the Technisches Rathaus, the Schirm Kunsthalle and the Dom. Here lies an excavation area with ancient Roman remains known as the Archaologischer Garten—Archaeological Garden. Excavation work began on this site over fifty years ago and has produced finds from a Roman settlement, including parts of a Roman bath. Archaeologists have also uncovered the remains of a twelfth-century royal palace, thought to have been the favourite residence of the East Franconian kings during that century. The Archaeological Garden thus throws light onto several different eras in the early history of Frankfurt.
No visit to Frankfurt would be complete without a stop at the site of the eighteenth-century home of one of the city’s most famous citizens—the birthplace of J. W. Goethe—where he began writing his most famous novel Faust. This is a faithful reconstruction of the original house where Goethe was born, with furnishings and artifacts from the late baroque period of his residency. The tours of the house and adjacent museum will give a greater perspective and understanding of the conditions at the time when this novelist, poet, playwright, and scientist called Frankfurt his home.
Similar to European palaces, the majestic plaza and Alte Oper—Opera House—is a central meeting place in the core of the city and this impressive example of 1880s architecture is dazzling. Although the original structure was another victim of the bomb blitz during WWII, the original facade and forecourt were reconstructed in 1981, faithfully following the original plans. Today, the Grosser Saal seats 2450 people and the Mozart Saal accommodates 720 audience members, making this one of the most sought-after venues for performing artists in Europe.
Almost one in three of the people living in Frankfurt do not hold a German passport, meaning no matter where visitors come from, they will always meet people here who speak their language and a restaurant that serves their favourite food.
So, whether Frankfurt is your vacation destination or a stop along the way during your tour of Germany, the Mainhattan Skyline has much to offer when you are beneath the tall buildings and amidst the historic structures.
If you have visited the Big Apple don’t be surprised if it all feels vaguely familiar. But there’s a difference in the openly friendly German hospitality—especially during Octoberfest! —but definitely throughout the year.

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