“Bankfurt” • Germany’s financial capital
Frankfurt am Main is the largest city in the German state of Hesse (Hessen in German), but not the capital, which is nearby Wiesbaden. Frankfurt lies on the banks of the river Main (pron. mine). The city’s full name, Frankfurt am Main (“Frankfurt on the Main”), distinguishes it from the other, smaller Frankfurt on the Oder river (Frankfurt an der Oder) on the Polish border. Frankfurt am Main has about 730,000 residents (2015), but the greater Rhein-Main metro region is home to over five million people.
Some Frankfurt History
Evidence of first century Roman settlements can be found all around the Frankfurt area, but particularly in the center of Frankfurt, not far from the river, around a square called the Römerberg, which takes its name from the Romans. The city began as a place suitable for fording the Main river. The name Frankfurt means “the ford of the Franks.” (The German word for “ford” is “Furt.”) The Franks were a Germanic tribe who shared the region with another tribe called the Alemanni.
The Frankish king Karl der Große (ca. 742-814, known in English as Charlemagne) was crowned emperor (Kaiser) of the Holy Roman Empire in the year 800 in Aachen. Frankfurt (Franconofurd) was one of the most important cities in that empire. In 1372 Frankfurt became a Reichsstadt (imperial city), meaning it was directly subject to the Holy Roman Emperor, not to a regional ruler or a local nobleman.
As early as 1150, the Frankfurt Trade Fair (Frankfurter Messe) was drawing commerce to the city. Its famous Book Fair (Buchmesse), held annually in early October, began in the earliest days of printing, in 1478.
During the short-lived revolution of 1848, Frankfurt was the seat of the first democratically elected German parliament, the National Assembly (Nationalversammlung), which first met in the Paulskirche (St. Paul’s Church) on May 18, 1848. Unfortunately, the revolution collapsed in 1849. Frankfurt has survived several wars, from the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) to World War II, which left most of the city in rubble. Almost all of the “old” architecture seen in Frankfurt’s Altstadt (Old Town) and the Sachsenhausen district today was carefully rebuilt after 1945. The Römerberg (city hall square) reconstruction was not fully completed until 1983.
Following the war, Frankfurt rose to become West Germany’s (and now Germany’s) major banking and insurance center, earning it the nickname “Bankfurt.” The Frankfurt/Rhein-Main region was in the US occupation zone and was home to many American soldiers based there during the Cold War. The Rhein-Main Air Base next to the Frankfurt International Airport was a major US and NATO facility for 60 years until it closed down in December 2005. (Ramstein Air Base near Kaiserslautern and the Spangdahlem Air Base near Trier assumed all of Rhein-Main’s airlift duties.) The Rhein-Main Air Base also played an important role in the Berlin Airlift (1948-1949), during which C-47 and C-54 aircraft ferried coal, flour and other cargo to West Berlin. Over the years thousands of US soldiers, including Elvis Presley, passed through its gates on their way to or from Germany.
Frankfurt’s skyscraper skyline on the banks of the Main has earned the city another of its many nicknames: “Mainhattan.” All but one of Germany’s 15 skyscrapers (buildings at least 150 m tall) are found in Frankfurt. The 56-story Commerzbank Tower in Frankfurt’s center is Europe’s second tallest building, and the tallest in Germany. Since 1945, the city has become such a major financial, insurance, and transportation center for Germany, that people gave it yet another label: “die heimliche Hauptstadt” (“the secret capital city” of Germany). Frankfurt is also home to the European Central Bank (ECB, which controls the euro currency), the Deutsche Bundesbank (Buba, German Federal Bank), and the headquarters of most of Germany’s major commercial banks. The Frankfurt Stock Exchange (Deutsche Börse AG) is Germany’s largest. Only the London and New York stock exchanges are larger. The annual Frankfurt Book Fair in October is one of the largest and most important events for publishers from all over the world. (See our related Web links for Frankfurt below.)
The Main Tower (Mainturm)
Frankfurt’s Main Tower, the fourth tallest skyscraper in the city, is the only one with an observation deck open to the public. Located at Neue Mainzer Straße 52-58, the structure has two outdoor viewing platforms, with the highest at 200 m (656 ft). Admittance is €5.00 for adults, €3.50 for children 6-12. The viewing terrace is closed in the event of high winds or bad weather. There is also a restaurant and lounge on the 53rd floor (reservations recommended). The ground floor lobby and its art exhibit are also open to the public. The HR public broadcasting service also has studios in the building. The main tentant is the Helaba bank.
WEB: Main Tower (in English)
WEB: Restaurant (in German)
Frankfurt as an Air and Rail Hub
Most travelers flying into or out of Germany do so via Frankfurt International Airport, the largest in Germany, and one of the largest in Europe. The S-Bahn rail trip between the airport and the city’s main train station takes only about 12 minutes. (See more about the Frankfurt Airport.) Frankfurt is also a major rail hub, with many high-speed (ICE) train connections to German and European cities. (See more about rail travel in Germany.)
Travelers who only see the airport or train station are making a mistake. Frankfurt am Main is well worth spending a little time to get to know the city better. Below we tell you why.
See our Hotels and B&Bs page for Frankfurt hotels.
Known more as a business and financial center, Frankfurt nevertheless has much to offer in the fields of culture, history, and art. The city is a pleasant place to live for its permanent residents, with a wide range of dining, recreation, and other attractions. Here are some of Frankfurt’s top attractions:
- Der Römerberg | The ancient center of Frankfurt lies at the central square known as the Römerberg, or “Roman hill.” The Frankfurt city hall, begun in 1405 and known as the Römer, has been rebuilt and restored over the years after being destroyed by Allied bombs during the war. It is still a functioning city hall today.
- Der Main | The river Main (pron. mine) is one of Frankfurt’s best attractions. The city has wisely turned many stretches along the banks of the river into pleasant places to stroll, bike, or relax. Also see Museumsufer below.
- Dom St. Bartholomäus | St. Bartholomew’s Cathedral (Kaiserdom, “the imperial cathedral”) was established in the ninth century and was once where the Holy Roman German emperors were crowned. The gothic church (not officially a cathedral) has been reconstructed twice, most recently in 1950 to repair damage from Allied bombs. The 66-meter (216-feet) viewing platform is reached by climbing up 386 spiraling steps. There is no elevator, but for two euros you’ll get one of the best views in Frankfurt. (Photo at the top of this page.)
- Paulskirche | St. Paul’s church was the site of the assembly of the ill-fated 1848 revolution (see above). Built in 1789 as a Protestant church, St. Paul’s is no longer used as a church.
- Museumsufer | The “Museum River Bank” is a section along the Main, to the east and west of the Untermainbrücke (Lower Main Bridge), where you’ll find more than 20 museums on both sides of the river, with most located on or near the south (Sachsenhausen) bank. Some of the best: das Deutsche Architekturmuseum (DAM, architecture), das Deutsche Filmmuseum (cinema), das Museum für Moderne Kunst (MMK, modern art), das Goethe-Haus (see more below), das Jüdische Museum (Jewish Museum), the Städel (art museum) and the Naturhistorisches Museum Senckenberg (natural history museum, with dinosaur bones) just north of the train station.
- Wallanlagen | The “ramparts parks” are remnants of Frankfurt’s historic city wall fortifications that once surrounded the Old Town. The section between the Main riverbank and the Opernplatz, referred to officially as Taunusanlage and Gallusanlage, is also known as “Central Park” because of the skyscrapers that rise above it on both sides. A stroll through this park is a free and pleasant way to tour part of the city. Exiting the U-Bahn at Willy-Brandt-Platz you’ll see the famous blue and yellow “euro sculpture” as you enter the Gallusanlage. The green park stretches beyond the Opernplatz into the Bockenheimeranlage and beyond.
- Alte Oper | The “Old Opera House” (1880) is no longer used for operas, but is now a concert house. The modern Oper Frankfurt at Willy-Brandt-Platz is now the city’s highly respected opera house.
- Hauptwache | This Frankfurt landmark, built in 1730, was once a guardhouse, a prison, and later a police station. (See photo above.) Today it lends its name to the surrounding square and is a key station for Frankfurt’s S-Bahn and U-Bahn public transit system. The Hauptwache (HOWPT-vakh-uh) building itself is now a popular café.
- The Zeil | Frankfurt’s main shopping avenue is a long pedestrian zone that runs between the Hauptwache and Konstablerwache squares. (Photo below.)
- Skyscrapers | Frankfurt earns its “Mainhattan” nickname by having more tall buildings than any other German city. The title of Europe’s tallest Wolkenkratzer (skyscraper) was held by the Messeturm (Trade Fair Tower, 257 m) until 1997, when the Commerzbank Tower beat it by a mere two meters. While it is still the tallest building in Frankfurt, the Commerzbank Tower lost the claim of Europe’s tallest to the Triumph Palace in Moscow. Other tall buildings in Frankfurt include the DZ Bank building (208 m), the Maintower (200 m, with restaurant and a public observation deck), the DekaBank Trianon (186 m), and the Silberturm (Silver Tower, 166 m). The Europaturm TV tower at 337.5 meters is the tallest structure in Frankfurt.
- European Central Bank (ECB) | Before the euro replaced the Deutsche Mark, Frankfurt was home to Germany’s “Fed,” the Bundesbank (and it still is). In 1998, when the ECB was created, Germany insisted on Frankfurt becoming the home of the new Europäische Zentralbank (EZB). At first the Eurotower in the banking district housed the ECB, but in March 2015 the new ECB skyscraper in the Ostend part of the city was inaugurated. The ECB building offers guided tours to the public, for both individuals and groups.
WEB: About the ECB – From the official website
WEB: Visiting the ECB
- Sachsenhausen | This Frankfurt district, located south of the Main river, is a popular upscale residential area. The old town section is home to many restaurants, cafés, and bars. The 120-meter high Henninger Tower (1961) is a Sachsenhausen landmark. Every May Day a bicycle race is held that loops around the tower. The tower’s observation deck has been closed to visitors since 2002.
- Apfelwein | Apple or cider wine (Ebbelwei in the local dialect) is a Frankfurt specialty. Try it at almost any café or dining establishment in the area. Sachsenhausen is known for its Apfelwein-Kneipen (apple wine bars).
- Buchmesse | Frankfurt’s famous book fair dates back to the 15th century. It’s a good idea to book your hotel room far in advance of this annual event (usually in early October), when the city’s lodgings are filled to capacity. The public is allowed to attend the book fair on the last few days – for a fee of course.
- Das Goethe-Haus | Germany’s most famous writer and poet, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), was born in Frankfurt. Today the house in which he was born is a museum. Located in walking distance of the Hauptwache, his reconstructed house and a modern museum annex can be found on a street called Großer Hirschgraben. Frankfurt’s university, founded in 1914, is also named for Goethe. The Goetheturm (Goethe Tower) is a 43-meter tall wooden observation tower in Sachsenhausen that offers a panoramic view of Frankfurt. Built in 1931, the tower is still a popular place for locals who frequent a large playground and café at the foot of the tower. Climbing the Goethe Tower is free of charge.
FRANKFURT HIGHLIGHT: The English Theatre
Originally founded in 1979, the English Theatre Frankfurt offers professional stage productions, from musicals to dramas, for over 60,000 patrons each season. About 70 percent of the audience are native German-speakers, with the other 30 percent made up of expats and other English-speaking residents. Over the years the organization has outgrown several venues, but since 2003 it has been in a 300-seat theatre on the ground floor of the 38-story Gallileo highrise at Gallusanlage 7. The original building owner and sponsor, Dresdner Bank, was taken over by Commerzbank in 2009, which has continued to support the English Theatre. See www.english-theatre.de for the current productions.
Next | City Guides: Germany
COMING SOON: The Frankfurt Photo Gallery
AT THE GERMAN WAY
- City Guides: Germany – More cities
- Hotels and B&Bs
- Driving in Europe – Tips for driving in Germany and Europe
- Air Travel – Flying to or in Germany
- Rail Travel in Germany
- Travel and Tourism – Travel-related information for Germany, Austria, Switzerland
- Notable People – Bios of notable people from the German-speaking world
- Frankfurt.de (official city website, in English, German, and other languages)
- Buchmesse Frankfurt (Frankfurt Book Fair)
- Messe Frankfurt (Frankfurt Trade Fair)
- Frankfurt Airport City (arrivals/departures, etc.)
- Deutsche Börse AG (Frankfurt stock exchange, DAX, etc.)
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