Wednesday, July 4, 2012

I ♥ Frankfurt.

I never thought about living in Frankfurt … or anywhere in Germany for that matter. I’ve always been a Francophile and someone who appreciated and enjoyed the Latin culture, and Germany was so … well, German. Nevertheless, when my job transferred me to Frankfurt, I thought, “Oh well … at least, it’s in Europe.”

At first glance, Frankfurt looked like an ordinary American city, the skyline, the slew of modern buildings, and even the wide Autobahn (highway) that’s spread out throughout the city. Then, as I traveled and saw other cities in Germany, I learned that much of the country looks quite similar, and the layout of the major cities like, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Darmstadt, etc, are almost identical. This is because as so much of Germany was heavily bombed and destroyed during WWII, a lot of the reconstruction and rebuilding was done hastily during the same period. Therefore, with the exception of smaller villages, which were considered insignificant to the Allied Forces, and Munich, which surprisingly was able to maintain most of its structure, the rest of Germany was in ruins after the war.

However, Frankfurt is unique in a way that it has something that only few cities in Europe has, diversity, and it's the only city in Germany where I can see the presence of people from all over the world … not including tourists.

Being the headquarters of the European Central Bank and some of the largest banks and financial services, Frankfurt is a hub for international expat community. Also, for centuries, the city has been a gateway for various migrants groups, attracting immigrant from all over the world. Also, known as “Little Istanbul”, Frankfurt is home to one of the largest Turkish immigrant population not only in Germany but also in Europe.

Once I’d learned to look past Frankfurt’s austere appearance, I began to appreciate the city for all the comforts it provided me as an expat, a foreigner, an ethnic minority, and more importantly, as a person of color.

I appreciated that there was a variety of ethnic restaurants in Frankfurt, especially wonderful Korean restaurants. I loved that there was a sushi bar on my street, even if they served only two types of fishes. I also loved the Turkish Imbisses, the American burger joint, which oddly enough is called the Kangaroo Bar, the wannabe Mexican hotspot, and most of all, the fantastic tapas restaurant around the corner.

However, it wasn’t just about being a foodie that made me appreciate Frankfurt.  It was that I was able to see people of all ethnicity in these restaurants and throughout the city.

Most often, when I was traveling in Germany, especially in the cities and villages in the eastern and southern regions like Bavaria, I felt as if I was the only foreigner or a person of color in the entire city … and I probably was.

I began to realize the importance living in a diverse environment, being around people from different countries and cultures, and seeing other people of color. This is something that I took for granted while living in the US, especially in ethnically and culturally diverse cities like NYC and Houston. I was always surrounded by an array of different ethnic groups. Sadly, in Europe, ethnic diversity is not something that can be found easily. There are only handful of cities that are culturally and ethnically diverse, and Frankfurt is one of them.

So, in a way, I was glad that I was living in a city that reminded me of America and the multicultural environment I was accustomed to, and although I can't say that Frankfurt is as fascinating, beautiful or interesting as NYC or Paris, I love its ethnic and cultural diversity, and best of all, the people I have met and gotten know in Frankfurt.
My recommendations in Frankfurt.
Aside from all of the tourist sights listed in guidebooks and brochures, to see the fun side of Frankfurt and experience the local culture, you must visit 3 neighborhoods: Sachsenhausen, Bornheim, and my old hood, Bockenheim.

Sachsenhausen covers a rather big area to the south of Main River. Some of Frankfurt’s finest museums are located along the river, called Museumsufer. Also, the neighborhood is known for its cider and its old, half-timbered houses. Especially on the elegant Schweizerstrasse, you can find most of the traditional German bars and restaurants, and the area around Schweizer Platz is a rather pleasant neighborhood with a lot of old houses and restaurants offering a wide variety cuisine. Finally, the area around Südbahnhof is great for those seeking Apple Wine bars (Frankfurt's infamously favorite drink) and clubs.

To the north of the city center is Borheim, a quiet residential neighborhood that feels more like a little village. However, the great thing about Bornheim is that it spans the divide between the traditional and the trendy, as it offers everything from the old-world cider pubs and spanking-new bars, to exclusive boutiques and simple corner shops attract a mixed clientele. At the heart of this residential area is Bergerstrasse, a great place for strolling and shopping.

Then, there is my favorite area in Frankfurt, Bockenheim … and I’m completely biased as this was my old neighborhood. Home to Frankfurt's Johann Wolfgang Goethe University, Bockenheim is vibrant and lively. The cafés, bistros, pubs and shops near the university and near Leipzigerstrasse are filled with students and locals from all over the world, and you can find a great selection of ethnic restaurants as well as little Kneipe that serve local specialties. Not surprisingly, most of my favorite restaurants are in or near Bockenheim.
  • Andalucia, Konrad-Broßwitzstr. 41 – serves great tapas and grilled seafood
  • Ban Thai, Leipziger Str. 26 - As the name should indicate, this is a Thai restaurant with not only great food but also a nice atmosphere and excellent service.
  • Bistro Sahin, Markgrafenstr. 1 – hands down the best Turkish Imbiss in Frankfurt. Also, the atmosphere of the restaurant is quaint and has a lovely outdoor seating area facing a beautiful church and a market place.
  • Cafe Extrablatt, Bockenheimer Landstr. 141 – the food is nothing to write home about but the ambiance, especially the outdoor seating, next to the university is great, especially for people watching
  • Cafe Hauptwache, An der Hauptwache 15 – a nice place to stop for lunch, afternoon snacks or drinks
  • Goethe Haus Café – an absolutely charming little café attached to Goethe Haus, an ideal stop for mid-day snacks
  • Leonhards restaurant - favorite tourist spot as it offers Frankfurt's most panoramic views, but it also has a good selection of lunch/dinner items and an excellent dessert selection, which makes it an ideal stop for afternoon Kaffee und Kuchen.
  • Le Crobag - Don't let the chain-restaurant appearance fool you, this place has some of the tastiest pastries and sandwiches. The location at the Hauptbahnhof is especially convenient for picking up tasty snacks before heading out of town.
  • Orfeo's Erben, Hamburger Allee 45 – technically a theater, but it has a wonderful restaurant/bar attached to it
* WiFi in Germany is called WLAN (pronounced "vey-laan"). There are quite a few cafes that offer complimentary Wifi. However, you will need a passcode; so, ask the wait staff, and it will be written down for you in a very "Mission Impossible" manner.

Being a major hub in Germany, there is a wide selection of hotels in Frankfurt, ranging from extremely modest to luxurious, and I have stayed in a handful of them. However, the only hotel I can/will recommend is Hotel Adina, as it is without a doubt one of my favorite hotels I’ve stayed not only in Frankfurt but also worldwide.

Special Events & Festivals:
  • Nacht der Museen  – An evening of museum hopping, live music and festive outdoor gatherings all over Frankfurt, the night provides an easy way to get a glimpse of the city's cultural offerings in one go.
  • Ufer Fest – Usually takes place in mid-August, this is one of Germany's' premiere festivals.  Unlike the rowdy Oktoberfest in Munich, the Ufer Fest is focused more on celebrating art. The whole riverbank on both sides of the Main, are filled with about 600 stands selling art, crafts, food and drink, and with about 20 stages providing music of all sorts. All you need is to buy a 4 euro button and you can visit 18 different museums the entire weekend long.
  • Weinachtsmarkt (the Christmas market) - a long held tradition in Germany, it is a wonderful event that should not be missed

Fun things to do with children in Frankfurt:
When my husband and I decided to take out little boy to Frankfurt, my first concern was whether we would be able to find fun activities that are appropriate for children. Unfortunately, aside from the postings on travel forums, there isn’t a lot of information on this subject … then again, it’s difficult to find information on things to do with children anywhere in Europe as if the children are merely bystanders of adult travelers. To my surprise, once we arrived in Frankfurt, we found plenty of fun things to do for my little boy … so much so that we got around to only half of them. Well, we look forward to visiting and seeing the rest next time we’re in Frankfurt.
  • Senckenberg Museum – By all means, this isn’t the American Museum of Natural History in NYC; however, it is one of the largest museums dedicated to natural history in Germany, and it was big enough to entertain our 4 year old. The museum showcases more than 400,000 exhibits, ranging from fossil amphibians, and American mammoths, to Egyptian mummies, but my boys favorite was the dinosaur exhibit, esp. the Tyrannosaurus Rex.
  • Palmengarten – This isn’t just your average Botanical Garden, and there is a lot more here than meets the eye. Aside from being the most perfect and safe place to let kids just run around, Palmengarten has 2 large play space, a waterpark and a playground dedicated to small children. There’s no better place to spend a beautiful summer day, and be sure to bring a towel and change of clothes.
  • Rebstockbad – Indoor swimming pools in Germany are like visiting a small waterpark in the US, at 1/3 of the cost. It’s a perfect place for children of all ages, as it has 2 very big (fun) slides, a wave pool and even a kiddie sauna and whirlpool. There’s also an outdoor pool, which makes it a great place for all seasons/weather.
  • Apple Cider Express – What a fun way to discover and see Frankfurt, as this historic tram that takes you through the heart of Frankfurt and connects popular sights like the historic Romerberg Square, Paulskirche, the Museum of Modern Art and the Frankfurt Zoo. While listening to some local Hessian music, the grown-ups can enjoy a glass of "Ebbelwei" apple cider, the signature drink of Frankfurt, while kids nibble on some pretzels. (only on weekends)
  • MyZeil – This latest architectural highlight in Frankfurt is a futuristic shopping complex (mall) called MyZeil. It is one of the most significant inner city development projects in Europe, designed by Roman architect Massimiliano Fuksas, with an eye-popping glass façade along the Zeil in the shape of a vortex, and the interior is even more spectacular with irregularly shaped ramps and glass columns. It’s definitely a welcome addition to the placid landscape of Frankfurt’s pedestrian zone and city center, and I was told that there is a nice kids area as well; however, we’ll have to check it out next time.
  • Frankfurt Zoo – It offers a wide scope of programs throughout the year, including festivals for the entire family, exciting presentations, exhibits and themed tours.
  • Toy stores – Toy stores in Germany are extensive, and almost every one of them we’ve come across functions as a play space for children.


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