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Take a Longer Look at Frankfurt

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By Robert Selwitz

For eight centuries before Frankfurt am Main became Germany's and Europe's financial capital it had already been a major center for trade and trade fairs. Indeed, its reconstructed "Romerberg," the heart of Frankfurt's rebuilt old town where locals gathered, is named after Rome, the city from which many medieval traders came.

Now lovingly reconstructed, the Romerberg, commonly called the "Romer," includes the city hall (which once occupied three buildings) that originally debuted in 1405. Also here are half-timbered houses that once surrounded the site, several towers and Frankfurt's tourist information office.

Business travelers still flock to the city, many navigating its vast and frequently overwhelmed airport, one of Europe's largest. Many also arrive at the Hauptbanhof, the stately late-19th-century rail station that is comfortably close to major attractions and hotels.

But whether they are bound for the city's architectural highlights, reminiscent of structures past, or for the gleaming banking or corporate Manhattan-style office towers (indeed, a common Frankfurt nickname is "Mainhattan"), Frankfurt is definitely worth more than a casual pass-through.

Adding a day or more to a business trip or extra time during a Germany tour will prove to be time well spent.

World War II bombing, which peaked in 1944, destroyed 70 percent of the city. That means whatever initially appears to be very old likely has been reconstructed or seriously repaired. Nevertheless, the city, home to some 680,000 residents, boasts many examples of legacy buildings, painstakingly and meticulously brought back to life.

One outstanding example is the Goethe House, where almost everything original except for part of its front steps was destroyed. This is where the author of "Faust," Johann von Goethe, lived during his first 26 years. A magnificent four-story dwelling, it not only looks like the 18th-century jewel it once was, but its interior wooden floorboards appropriately squeak when trod upon.

Decorated with period furnishings, one highlight is the exquisite time and astronomical grandfather clock on the second floor. Another is the library, which is packed with legal tomes. Goethe's father was a lawyer, and the future author is said to have consulted case studies that sometimes provided him with plotlines.

Nearby is the Cafe Karin at Grosser Hirschgraben near Hauptwache, a vibrant coffeehouse where the menu is as satisfying as the people-watching. Diagonally opposite Goethe House is trendy Riz. From snail soup to quiche, this is a great spot for clever dishes and relaxed dining.

Another terrific choice is Kleinmarkthalle, a favorite food hall for locals. Ilse Schreiber has been purveying wurst there for more than 30 years, and it's easy to spot her location since there's almost always a line out in front.

Frankfurt is also a wonderful walking town. A semicircular midtown green swath ensures trees and benches are never far away, and there's the delightful malled "Zell," a shopping, strolling and dining street starting at the Alte Oper House and ending at the busy Hauptwache.

Only the external shell of the Alte Oper, which used to be the city's prime opera venue, still stands. Inside a modern hall replaced the war-damaged interior and provides a fine venue for classical as well as popular music. Nearby and worth searching out is the Eschenheimer Turm (actually a tower and gate), one of the few remaining remnants of Frankfurt's 15th-century city walls. It stands at the end of the Schillerstrasse pedestrian zone.

The Frankfurt Opera currently resides in a comfortable modern glass-enclosed structure with good sightlines, quite close to the city's signature Euro "E" sculpture.

A recent artfully designed and performed production of Samuel Barber's "Vanessa" confirmed its reputation as one of Europe's major companies.

The Jewish Museum in Frankfurt has two locations. One, focusing on the history of the Jewish community between the 12th and 20th centuries, occupies a former 19th-century Rothschild family palace.

Also intriguing is the Museum Judengasse on Borneplatz. Here it's possible to examine 18th-century foundation walls from five houses, two ritual baths, two walls and a canal, all of which were uncovered during 1987 excavations for an office building project. Today the structure rises above the museum.

Also here are exhibitions detailing everyday ghetto life and a model portraying more than a thousand buildings. It gives a fascinating overview of what the entire, jam-packed community might have looked like. Next door is a cemetery that was active for centuries. The key to its always-locked gate can be requested from museum staffers.

Across the Main a special trove of museums stretches along "Museum Bank." The most important is the newly expanded Stadel Museum. It's easy to spend two or three hours here roaming amid modern expressionists such as Max Beckmann and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, and works by Manet, Renior, Rembrandt, Cranach, Holbein, Durer, Monet, Botticelli, Vermeer, Matisse, Munch and Picasso.

The Stadel is easily reached by taking a footbridge crossing the Main that starts near the InterContinental hotel and ends virtually at the museum's front steps. Nearby are more riverside museums, including the German Architecture Museum, German Film Museum, the Liebieghaus Sculpture Collection, Museum for Applied Art, Museum of Communication and Museum Giersch. Elsewhere in the city and also notable are the Cathedral Museum and Modern Art Museum.

When it's time to move on, a longish walk or short cab ride leads to Sachsenhausen, Frankfurt's bohemian area. While its architecture and winding streets are pleasant to venture through during daytime, the district really comes to life at and after dinnertime. Dozens of convivial beer halls serving sausages, traditional German brews, drinks and food abound. The dry, ciderlike apple wine, is perfect with spicy sausages and boiled meat accented by the ubiquitous local "green sauce." Tangy but not fiery, it turns up in many different supposedly secret recipes.

While there's plenty to do in Frankfurt, other places of interest are close by. Tne of the most appealing surely is Heidelberg, less than an hour's train ride away. Suffering little World War II damage, this enchanting university town, imortalized by "The Student Prince," provides a fabulous step back in time.

Other highlights include Heidelberg Castle, one of Germany's best, and the Old Town. Not to be missed are the Marktplatz and Rathhaus (city hall). Other easy-to-reach rail-excursion destinations include finely restored Mainz, a medieval powerhouse and the birthplace of Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor of movable type.

WHEN YOU GO

I stayed at the InterContinental Hotel, which is walking distance from the Hauptbahnhof as well as major museums and historic sights: www.intercontinental.com.

Riz restaurant: www.riz-frankfurt.de

German tourism information: www.germany.travel

Frankfurt Opera: www.oper-frankfurt.de

Rail Europe offers continental, multicountry or German rail passes: www.raileurope.com.

Robert Selwitz is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

COPYRIGHT 2012 CREATORS.COM




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